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Jumping to Conclusions: A Favorite Exercise of Most Humans, and a Favorite Possibility Blocker Too

Message 9, January, 2021

Dear Guest,

"Once, there was a farmer, who had enough of everything, but not always much extra. She had been through many good times and many bad times, and was known for her reliability and thoughtful words. One day, a horse wandered onto her farm. It seemed content to stay there and it did not belong to any of her neighbors, so she fed it and put it to work. All of her neighbors exclaimed, “That’s great!” To which she replied, “Perhaps.”

"The farmer’s son was a very spirited boy. One day, he decided he did not want to live on the farm any longer. He took the horse from the farm and began to ride briskly away. All of the farmer’s neighbors said, “That’s bad!” To which she replied, “Perhaps.”

"A short distance from the village, the horse bucked the boy off and ran away. The son was brought back to the farmer with a broken leg. All of her neighbors cried, “That’s awful!” To which she replied, “Perhaps.”

"The following week, the emperor’s army sent a force to collect all of the able-bodied young men and horses to fight in a war. When they came to the farmer’s home, they saw that her son had a broken leg and she had no horse, so they passed her by without another word. All of her neighbors said, “That’s good!” To which she replied only, “Perhaps.” "

- Adapted from a traditional Zen story.

I like to say that jumping to conclusions is our favorite kind of jumping exercise. I also think that jumping to conclusions is our favorite possibility blocker.

What’s the problem with jumping to conclusions? Well, our brains like it for the wrong reason. It takes very little energy to skip ahead in the story, past all of the hard stuff or scary stuff, to the end of anything we might dream about or hope for. It conserves a lot of calories for our brains to believe in the ending that seems most likely. And we tend to make that judgment based on our past experiences.

Or, like in the story above, the people around us draw the conclusions they think are most likely. And then they tell us what’s sure to happen. They tell us a lot, and with loud voices.

Whether it’s our own brain that’s trying to keep us from exerting ourselves too much, or the neighbors who think they know what’s best for us, jumping to conclusions blocks our possibilities.

When we think we already know how it’s going to end, especially if that ending involves taking any kind of risk, we’ll never take a chance on what could be. Our brains just think there’s too much at stake to be willing to see a possibility.

Like the farmer in our story, try to notice when you are jumping to conclusions. And to give your brain the space it needs to see and consider possibilities, make it a habit to respond to concerns with simply, “Perhaps.”

In the next message, I’m going to break down the myth of trying to live a balanced life. It's not actually encouraging, and it blocks possibilities.

Please let me know how this is working for you, or if you have any questions, by leaving a comment here.

Kay Coughlin


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