Let The Circle Be Unclosed.
How To Ditch Assumptions & Conclusions and Start the New Year Off Right!
DRIVEN’s 2021 Word of the Year, Space, provided readers with the motivation and the necessary discipline to explore multiple angles of creating space in life. This came in handy for those who were overwhelmed by the rollercoaster nature of 2021. Whether it was struggling for:
- the headspace to recognize and manage emotions, or
- the space of a breath for perspective to recognize what you THINK is important, and what actually IS important, or
- the space at the beginning of a meeting to connect with others on your team as people rather than task-mates— in other words, creating safe space.
We all benefit from restricting the brain’s snowball effect when the temperamental amygdala takes over, which comes down to creating Space with as little as one cleansing breath.
My own “space travel” aligned with one of the highlights of my year: Attending a virtually livestreamed retreat at the Omega Institute with author Don Miguel Ruiz. He and his two sons dived deep into their famous book, The Four Agreements. It felt luxurious to create the space in my calendar for this 16-hour retreat. I walked away with a notebook full of insights, soundbites and lessons.
As I continue to marinate on the learnings (for three months and counting!), what strikes me are the parallels between The Four Agreements and Judith E. Glaser’s body of work called Conversational Intelligence®. Upon reflection, the concept that really came to life, kicked me in the butt, and tied directly into DRIVEN’s Word of the Year was how Miguel Ruiz, Jr. introduced Gestalt Theory to explain the 3rd agreement, which is, “Don’t make assumptions”.
Jr. delivered the lesson by humbly sharing an intimate personal story. The unfortunate punchline humorously and tragically demonstrated how we make assumptions subconsciously— and at lightning speed. He illustrated WHY we have this need for speed by explaining the Gestalt “law of closure”. Much like with our aversion to uncertainty, the brain seeks completion, particularly in the visual realm. For instance, when the brain sees a circle that isn’t fully closed, it gets perceived in the mind’s eye as a full circle. This holds true with stories, too. As the brain’s grey matter hungers for closure, it tends to complete unfinished stories.
We humans, who make assumptions within 7 seconds of meeting others, are biologically conditioned to race to conclusions based on our thoughts and feelings. We don’t simply climb up the ladder of conclusions, but we soar in ascent. We come to snap decisions without even realizing it. My colleague Valia Glytsis once put this into perspective when she spoke about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. She used the visual of a ladder with the word “Thoughts” at the bottom, the word “Feelings” a rung above, and then “Behaviors/Actions” at the top.
If you want to try it for yourself, take a moment, slow down and check in below the neck as you read through this stream of thought:
- Imagine walking along the sidewalk.
- Notice someone you know walking toward you.
- Wave “Hello” but receive no response. Notice your response to the lack of response.
- Get noticed by the person, who then waves “Hello”. Notice your response to the response.
- Notice any differences between your two responses.
The Gestalt imagery of closing the circle showed me that we have the power to allow the circle to remain open— to give a situation some Space and witness it unfold. Because once that circle is closed, so is the mind, to an extent. And when the mind is closed, possibilities are excluded.
So how do we keep that circle unclosed? Or depending on your mental screenshot, how do you stop making assumptions or stay off the ladder of conclusions? Simply introduce Space into your conversations, your thinking, and your responses. Space— simple! But simple most certainly does not imply easy.
How is this accomplished?
- Practice Mindfulness: Coming to the present so you’re not “reacting” but rather “responding” to a situation.
How do you do THAT?
- By following a noticed thought or felt emotion with an intentional breath. This will serve to bring you back to the present to observe how a situation unfolds. Staying out of judgement allows you to witness a situation.
Okay, then what?
- Once you’re present, you can intentionally move your brain from warp speed to slow and steady. Daniel Kahneman’s famous book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, describes how “Fast Thinking” is instinctive and emotional, while Slow Thinking is more deliberative and logical.
How can you give yourself the space for perspective?
- I like to use the imagery of going up to the balcony and looking down at a dance floor. When you’re on the dance floor, you can’t get the whole picture of your surroundings. But from above, you can get real perspective!
How does this fit into not making assumptions, the Law of Closure and the Ladder of Conclusions?
- You’re able to suspend the “need to know” by collecting more facts, insights and possibilities. With the willpower of Space, you’ll gain greater power of choice.
So, as we close in on 2022, choose to embrace the present, consider curiosity and take some comfort in unknowing. When you stay open-minded, a spectrum of options, ideas and opportunities will reveal themselves.
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