Most of us want better relationships – to be kinder, and to have greater communication with others. But sometimes, it’s the little things we do on a daily basis that stand in the way of that. Let’s talk about one of those things. The habit of jumping to conclusions.
This is one of those mental habits that we carry out unconsciously as we go about life. That is, we don’t even realise we’re doing it. However, this seemingly small habit can lead to big problems in our lives, sapping our mental strength, fracturing our relationships and causing us unnecessary stress and suffering.
In this post I’m going to share with you a practice that will help you shift to a more mentally strong mindset that fosters healthier relationships. With yourself, with the people in your life and the world around you. Read the article below or hit play below to listen to this episode of the Mentally Stronger podcast to learn how jumping to generous conclusions can grow your mental strength.
Why we get caught in this unhelpful habit
Let’s look at why we have this mental habit of jumping to conclusions in the first place. I want to start by sharing a short story, line by line…
Johnny was on his way to school.
He was worried about the maths lesson.
He was not sure he could control the class again today.
It was not part of a janitor’s duty.
What did you notice happening in your mind as you read those sentences? Most people find that they repeatedly update their view of what is happening in their mind’s eye. First, they assume Johnny is a young student, then a teacher, then the vision morphs into janitor.
This example illustrates how our mind is continuously working ‘behind the scenes’ to build a picture of reality. Because the mind does this so quickly we rarely, if ever, experience life as it is. Instead, we experience it through inferences we make based on the ‘data’ that we are given at any moment.
The mind elaborates on the data. Attaching stories to it. Making assumptions based on past experience. Anticipating what this will likely mean in the future. As a result, events experienced in the mind’s eye can end up differing massively from one person to the next. And they can also differ from objective ‘reality.’
Too often, we get it wrong
On any given day, we are constantly making guesses, assumptions and predictions about the world and other people and we’re barely even conscious of it. But these assumptions are often wrong, and can lead to a lot of misunderstanding, conflict and suffering. The Johnny story does point to a simple lesson about jumping to conclusions. We often get things wrong.
Furthermore, because of the brain’s built in negativity bias we are quicker to jump to negative conclusions rather than generous ones. Our conclusions are basically our interpretations of other people and how they behave. As well as our conclusions about ourselves, events, and situations.
Consider this scenario. You leave a message on a friend’s voicemail asking for some advice on an urgent issue you are trying to resolve. You know they have expertise in this area. You wait, you call again. But hours go by, then days go by – no reply. You end up having to figure the issue out on your own without their help. What goes through your head at this point?
For many of us, in a situation like this, we will jump to negative conclusions. Perhaps thinking “obviously this person doesn’t really value me or like me much.” Or we might conclude that this person is lazy, selfish, or rude. Maybe we conclude that we’re seeing their ‘true colours’ now, just when we really needed them? Perhaps we tell ourselves they are just a ‘such and such’ kind of person.
Here’s how jumping to conclusions negatively impacts your relationships
Making assumptions and jumping to these kinds of conclusions can have a very detrimental impact on relationships, as well as drumming up alot of turmoil and stress within ourselves. When we take our friends’ lack of response personally and assume they don’t care or value our time, these assumptions will result in feelings of anger, frustration, or annoyance.
Perhaps we send a blunt text back saying “don’t worry, I guess I’ll just figure it out myself.” If we’re feeling particularly vengeful, we might tell a friend or two that we’ve realised this person is lazy or selfish. Or perhaps we just decide we’ll never help them again and ignore their calls in the future.
Of course, it’s natural to feel some frustration when faced with a situation like this. But is jumping to such negative assumptions really the appropriate response? It is important for us to recognise that in situations like this, we are jumping to a conclusion a lot of the time. We are interpreting the situation with a negative spin.
We often reflexively assume the worst of people, because our mind easily tips that way. This is a mental habit that draws us into reactivity, negativity, conflict, and hostility. But what if instead, we intentionally chose to assume the best of people and jump to generous conclusions? How can that strengthen our relationships and reclaim our own peace of mind?
Better relationships come from jumping to generous conclusions
In her book Rising Strong, Brené Brown describes how she learned the importance of assuming that people are doing the best they can and have good intentions. Whenever she had a conflict with a colleague, she would ask herself,
‘What is the most generous assumption I can make about this person’s intentions or what this person said?’
So, what would happen if we learned to jump to the best conclusion instead of the worst?
Let’s recap on the scenario I touched on earlier. Your friend doesn’t call you back in a time of need. We might consider instead, that our friend is a kind and decent person who has their own problems and demands to deal with. We might remember that they have shown us that they care many times, and feel confident that they care about us.
We may even take a moment to step outside of what we want from them at that moment. Perhaps we think “gosh they must be busy, I wonder if I could do anything to help out?”
A very different assumption about the same situation, but one that leads to more compassion, curiosity, understanding and better relationships.
How to apply this in your own life today
This week, I invite you to try jumping to generous conclusions, rather than negative ones. The next time someone lets you down, is late, cuts you off in traffic, or rubs you up the wrong way, ask yourself this.
What is the most generous interpretation I can make about this person’s intentions or behaviours?’
As you practice this mental strength skill this week, pay attention to the effect it has on your body, mind, and in your life.
If it’s helpful, keep using it to get mentally stronger! I think you’ll find that by jumping to generous conclusions you’ll be cultivating more understanding, more connection, and more peace, both within you and with those around you.
If you’re finding these practices beneficial to your life, and you’re ready to take your mental strength to the next level, I invite you to join me in Headstrong. It’s my 8-week intensive mental strength program. Headstrong offers the best of everything I’ve learned in over 2 decades of mental strength training and teaching. It’s designed to get rapid transformational results and arm you with powerful tools and skills that will last a lifetime. This program will help you not only survive, but thrive, even in tough times.
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