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We’re all guilty of it … acting on impulse, acting on assumption … and then, more often than not, getting it wrong.

In today’s fast-paced world we’re constantly under pressure to act now, to respond now, to deal with this, so we can move onto that!

But the thing is, that in our fast-paced world, particularly our highly competitive, ever-changing business environment, as leaders, we need to make sure our actions and our decisions are founded on fact.

But the fact of the matter is that often we jump to conclusions.

Jumping to conclusions is something that happens within the unconscious mind and it’s driven to a large extent, by our past experiences, which influence the meaning we give any situation. The exciting part about this is that new research by neuroscientists has identified why we are most likely to jump to conclusions:  and it is when we are uncertain about a situation.

As humans, most of the time we learn progressively, building connections between actions (events) and outcomes. However, sometimes we immediately jump to conclusions by quickly associating a ‘cause’ with an ‘effect’.

Uncertainty about The Relationship

The interesting thing is that jumping to conclusions can actually serve us well … Researchers also identified a part of the prefrontal cortex that is associated with complex cognitive activities that appears to evaluate causal uncertainty and enable us to jump to conclusions when needed. What this means is that when we don’t have all the information at hand our brain is able to draw upon stored experiences or knowledge that helps us to ‘fill in the gaps’, essentially to problem solve. So from this point of view, it’s an important cognitive function. The trick is to master how we use it, so its serves us well in all situations.

Certainty Matters More Than Accuracy

The interesting thing is that when we ‘jump to conclusions’ our brain rewards us by releasing feel good ‘dopamine’. It does this whenever we recognise and complete patterns, and whenever we fill in the gaps and reach an understanding about something. The brain doesn’t actually care if we are ‘right’, we just have to ‘think’ we are right to receive the dopamine hit.

And this is why we run into trouble with making assumptions and jumping to conclusions. Being in situations filled with uncertainty don’t come with the same physiological reward, so we create our own ‘certainty’ and finish the stories ourselves, sometimes re-writing the whole scenario in our own head based on stuff we think we know, rather than what actually happened.

But by being self-aware, conscious of the meanings we attach to particular events and situations, we’re better equipped to stop the ‘stories’ from forming in our minds to begin with. Then we have a chance to put our ‘investigative hat’ on to explore all points of view and understand the myriad of things that we can inadvertently overlook when we go on ‘autopilot’ and let our unconscious drivers just ‘assume’ and carry us away to the (often wrong) conclusion.

When we are able to do this – that is, to step into a mode where we can ask questions and get more information, then we vastly improve our decision-making, and we work better with others.

We All Have Blind Spots

How do we stop before we jump to conclusions?

The first step is self-awareness. Observe yourself, and start practicing the ability to separate fact from fiction …  Take a moment, even get a pen and write down what you know to be true about the situation that’s worrying you as well as the assumptions you’re making. Try to figure out what other possibilities might be contributing to the situation and whether or not you need more information.

Through self-awareness you can connect with what emotion you are feeling. And … if you feel a pull or a ‘trigger’ then you can identify your underlying feelings and work with them.

There is enormous power in questioning everything because it moves you towards resolution. A questions like “why am I making up this assumption?” and “why do I think this is the right thing to do?” challenge your thinking. Are there other actions you could consider to change the outcome?

Do you tend to make assumptions easily? Do you tend to select only part of the information you’re presented with at any one time, and if you do this, do you notice that you select the bit that supports the assumption you’ve already made?

These are not bad character traits or personality weaknesses – we all have them. They are simply ‘old’ programs that aren’t always useful as we move forward in life …and like old habits; it takes effort to change them.