The assumptions we make, make us

We have assumptions on how life works. But where did our assumptions come from? Well, we were indoctrinated as children, taught as students, and as adults continue to be influenced by society. The problems are, we usually don’t stop to question our assumptions, fail to understand how false ones limit our enjoyment of life, and don’t realize we have the power to change them at any time.

The assumptions we make, make us. They make us happy or sad, rich or poor, healthy or sick. Take Eric and Stanley, for example. Eric assumes that if you give people a chance, they are all decent. Stanley, on the other hand, believes people are untrustworthy and given the opportunity, will rip you off. Whose assumption is correct? Well, it is not a matter of whose assumption is correct, but whose assumption is most helpful.

That is, whose assumption leads to happiness and success? Because Eric believes in people, he treats them with respect and kindness. As a result, he has many friends, receives their support, and is happy and successful. But poor Stanley, who doesn’t trust anyone, has no friends, and is always running into problems. Can you see how the assumptions we make create our experiences?

If we want to change how life treats us, we’re going to have to change how we treat life. We’re going to have to change our assumptions. NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming), which is the study of excellence, is based on several assumptions, all which lead to success and happiness. Below is a list of some of its assumptions (which NLP Practitioners call presuppositions). These presuppositions or assumptions represent signposts on the path to success, making them worthy of following.

1. The first presupposition of NLP is “The map is not the territory.” It was first stated by Alfred (Habdank Skarbek) Korzybski (1879 ~ 1950) in 1933 in his book “Science and Sanity.” He was also the originator of general semantics.

The “territory” means “reality” and the “map” means our perception of it. So, this presupposition simply means, we never perceive reality in its entirety. For our perception is colored by assumptions, biases, and our personal experiences. Here’s how Stephen R. Covey expressed this idea, “We simply assume that the way we see things is the way they really are or the way they should be. And our attitudes and behaviors grow out of these assumptions.” So, everyone has a different perspective; everyone views the world differently.

How does this presupposition, or assumption, guide us to success? Well, once we come to understand that EVERYONE has a different opinion on how life works, we will realize that although no one has a monopoly on the truth, everyone has a kernel of it to share. The attitude that everyone is worthy of respect and has something of value to teach is one that leads to success.

2. “People are not their behaviour.” When considering our own behaviour, and that of others, it is important to remember that the person and the behaviour are not identical. For instance, Tommy may LOSE a skating competition, but that doesn’t make him a LOSER. On the contrary, if he had the courage and enough skill to participate in the competition, that means he is a successful athlete. He simply did not win a particular match. By embracing that attitude, Tommy will find it easy to accept his loss and move on.

Another way this presupposition leads to success is by assisting in the building of relationships. You see, if we understand people are not their behaviour, we can accept them, despite their faults, for it is their behaviour that is faulty, not them. It’s okay to hate the behaviour, but never the person. As long as we get along with others, we will continue to grow successful, for we need the support and cooperation of others to achieve our goals, and we need the friendship of others to be happy.

3. “There is no such thing as failure, only feedback.”
This powerful presupposition guarantees success. For as long as we recognize there is no such thing as failure, only lessons to be learned, we will continue on our journey toward our goals. But those who believe in failure, also believe in quitting, giving up, and abandoning their dreams.

4. “People create their own experience.” If I believe in failure, I experience failure. My beliefs and behaviour create what happens to me. This presupposition reminds me to take responsibility for my life. Blaming circumstances and others for my failures gets me nowhere, while accepting responsibility for my action, or lack of it, puts me in control of my life.

5. “There is a solution to every problem.”
This type of thinking is embodied by every winner, champion, and achiever. They are solution oriented and believe nothing is impossible. When they come across a problem, they immediately look for a solution. And since we always find what we look for, they will ultimately find a solution and move on. When defeatists run smack into a problem, they stop dead in their tracks and look for someone or something to blame. The result? Progress come to a screeching halt! Which assumption is empowering? Which leads to success?

6. “If you want something different you must do something different, and keep changing what you do until you get what you want.” This presupposition explains how we can find a solution to every problem and achieve every goal. If what you’re doing, doesn’t work, stop doing it! Try something different, and keep doing so until you get the results you want.

7. “If one person can do something, anyone else can learn to do it.” This presupposition summarizes what NLP is all about. For NLP studies how extraordinarily successful people think, feel, and act. It then extracts those characteristics and builds a model that we can follow. And once we follow a model of success; that is. once we start thinking, feeling, and acting as successful people do, we too will grow successful. A good way to start modeling successful people is to live by the assumptions they make. So, you can begin by embracing the presuppositions found in this article.

8. “Genuine understanding only comes from experience.” There are two types of knowledge: intellectual and experiential. I can KNOW ABOUT success and happiness because I’ve read about it, or I can KNOW it because I experience it. This assumption reminds us that reading and study are not enough. Unless we apply what we learn and integrate it into our lives, it remains powerless to help us.

9. “Change can be fast and easy .”
Why do we so often forget this simple fact? Why do we try to complicate life? For example, when someone decides to quit smoking, why do they need to go on the patch or gradually cut the number of cigarettes they smoke? Haven’t you met people who quit cold turkey? They made a change FAST. In fact, they made an instantaneous change. One moment they were a smoker; the next moment, they weren’t. That is an example of the power we have but often neglect to use. This presupposition also summarizes another characteristic of NLP. For NLP is about making positive changes QUICKLY.

10. “Change makes change.” This merely means that if I change myself, I change my world. If I am unhappy about the way things are, it is fruitless to demand or expect the world to change for my convenience. I am not the center of the universe and neither the world nor the people in it will change to suit me. If I want my life to be different, I must initiate change. I must change the only thing under my control, which is myself. When I change myself from a cranky, nasty old man to a gentle and kindhearted one, people will treat me differently, making my world change.

11. “I am in charge of my mind and therefore my results.”
The greatest power we have is the power of choice. I can choose to be happy, choose to be grateful, choose to be forgiving. I can choose to be successful. I can choose my thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and actions. There is no question about it, we have enormous power at our disposal.

Renown psychiatrist and author of “Man’s Search for Meaning,” Victor Frankel (1905 ~ 1997) illustrates the power we have. Although the Nazi guards could control every action of Dr. Frankel and his fellow inmates at the dreaded Auschwitz death camp, Dr. Frankel realized that they could not control his thoughts. Even in the blackest period of his life, he refused to be broken, refused to think like a victim, and refused to give up hope. He remained in charge of his mind, so it was he, not the Nazis, that remained in control of his life.

12. “We already have the resources we need to succeed.” Courage, patience, persistence, enthusiasm, any emotional resource you need for success, you already have. You had it as an infant; it’s part of your nature, and you cannot lose it. True, it may be buried under emotional baggage today, for you may be allowing anger, resentment, or another negative emotion to hold you back. But it doesn’t have to be that way. For you have the power of choice. You can choose how you feel and you can choose the assumptions you base your life on. But what about resources other than emotional? For example, what if I would like to be a pianist, but I don’t know how to play the piano? Well, I have the capacity to learn, the ability to practice what I learn, and the power to earn money to pay for piano lessons. So, you see, we already have the resources we need to succeed.

13. “Behind every behavior is a positive Intention.” Why do people engage in self-defeating or destructive behaviour? For instance, why would anyone want to damage their health by smoking? Obviously it is not damage to their health that they’re looking for. Rather, it is some positive intention such as the desire to take a break, relax, socialize, or appear manly or demure. This presupposition reminds us to analyze our negative habits, find the positive intention, and replace it with non-harmful behaviour. For example, if the main reason I smoke is to have a break, I can switch from cigarettes to tea. This way I will still get the break I want, but instead of damaging my health, I will help maintain it.

14. “Whatever you think you are, you are always more than that.” Our capacity to learn, love, and lunge into action is always far greater than we imagine it to be. Let’s use this inspiring assumption to work on developing our potential and enjoyment of life to the fullest.

Let me sum up by quoting Michael Sky ( “The real challenge (in life) is to choose, hold, and operate through intelligent, uplifting, and fully empowering beliefs.” After all, the assumptions we make, make us, so it is in our best interest to choose our assumptions carefully. Empowering assumptions empower us; defeatist assumptions defeat us.

Although my list of NLP Presuppositions is not exhaustive, it is enough to introduce you to a fascinating and useful subject, which I hope will also provide you with food for thought. For reviews on NLP books and more information on NLP see: