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Assumption Hacking Your Stress

Mar 27, 2023

a 5 minute read...

A friend asked me the other day if I’d be willing to share some insights with a group of CEOs. But this wasn’t your typical business group. Instead these CEOs had gathered themselves together for the express purpose of de-stressing.

“Hmmm”, I wondered aloud, “what about assumption hacking your stress?”
My friend thought this was a great idea and so today I’m going to share with you what I’ll be sharing with them.

Mind & Body & Soul

Stress is one of those areas in life where mind, body and soul need to talk with each other. By intentionally moving from the external to the internal, we can hack the faulty assumptions at the core of our stress.

So let’s start with the first indicator of stress: our bodies. The tension is physical. Are you clenching your jaw? Tightening your upper back or hips? Is your head throbbing? Belly churning?

When I’m stressed, I feel it as a tightness in my shoulder blades and in my jaw. Which is exactly where I felt it last week as I attempted to juggle too many balls in the air. From programs with clients to community events that I had volunteered for, to my daughter’s upcoming wedding and so much more, the to-do list was long and daunting.

Not only was the stress manifesting in my shoulder blades and jaw, my patience for other people was running thin. All external bodily indicators of stress and not the way I like to be.

A Practical Approach

So did you listen to your body? Did you ask it how it's feeling in this moment? Good, now take a few deep breaths.

I personally like focused breathing, during which I imagine a triangle or square. To do this, close your eyes and imagine your breath is drawing a triangle. Breathe in to a count of 4 while going up one side of the triangle, breathe out to a count of 4 while going down the other side, and hold to a count of 4 to close the triangle along the bottom. Repeat a few times.

Then sit still for a moment and ask yourself, “what is the emotion underneath my stress”. Let the answer come to you, don’t force it. Is your emotion sadness? Fear? Anger? There is always an emotion that bubbles up as stress.

Feelings: Good or Bad or Neither

Most people categorize feelings as “good” or “bad”. In reality, there is no such thing as a good or bad feeling. Our feelings are what they are. All too often, we treat what we’re feeling and what we do as a result of the feeling as if they are the same thing. They’re not.

Sit with that emotion for a moment or two. Don’t try to push it away. It’s your feeling, let the feeling have its say.

Assumption Hacking Your Stress

A trick from Chen Lizra, Somatic Intelligence expert and coach, is to welcome the feeling as if welcoming an old friend. Invite the feeling to sit alongside you, while you put your imagined arm around it. Offer the feeling an opportunity to be heard.

I have followed this advice on many occasions these past couple of years, and here’s what happens to me when I do. More often than not, an uncomfortable feeling dissipates. In the cases it doesn’t, the feeling lets me know why I’m feeling that way. The word for the actual emotion and the assumption at its source come to mind, giving me an opportunity to hack the assumption.

In my case last week, it turned out to be two emotions showing up as stress: Fear and Anger. Fear of letting people down if I couldn’t complete what they were counting on me to complete. Anger, mostly at myself for overcommitting. And OK, a lighter anger (more like annoyance) with others for adding more to my plate.

By intentionally sitting with your feelings and emotions, even if you find it tedious or boring, you can discern between what’s truly stressing you out and what you assumed was stressing you out. And this is really important, because its hard to change your situation or solve a problem if you’re starting from the wrong premise.

If the assumption wasn’t revealed in the step above, I have one last step for you. A magic question. Ask yourself, “why am I feeling this way.” If you sit with that for long enough, the assumption in need of hacking will usually show itself.

How I Assumption Hacked My Own Stress

So I did a quick diagram to help me rapidly uncover the assumptions I was making. As I wrote, I realized that there were actually 3 feelings at play, and the hidden assumptions that led to those feelings nearly exposed themselves. A cleaned-up version of my diagram is below.



The first assumption I challenged was this: “The situation is out of my control”. Nope, that assumption was invalid. And once I shed that assumption, I regained confidence, lost the sense of being overwhelmed and proceeded to challenge the other two. Of course, not everything was of equal urgency, and with a couple of conversations, I was able to discern the most urgent and important from the rest. I then proceeded with a “focus and finish” mindset.

I’ve shared the model below with you in the past, which illustrates that if we want to change our results we need to change our assumptions. 


I think the model needs a bit of refinement, as we consider the role our feelings play.



Whenever you're ready, here are a couple of ways I can help you:

  • SBC Assessment. In a one-on-one session, I guide you to use the Assumption Hacking framework to uncover the faulty assumption at the core of your Single Biggest Challenge.
  • Jenrada Programs. Customized workshops and longer engagements to help you create an organization of aligned problem solvers delivering extraordinary results. Complete this form, send me an email or schedule a discovery call.

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