The Art of Knowing Nothing.

There are so many things in this world that we don’t know. As humans, instead of leaving the unknown as a blank page we tend to make things up. In other words, we are constantly making assumptions. 

For example you are in a bar and a man looks over. You make eye contact and he smiles at you. You don’t know anything about this man or what his interest about you could be. You only know a couple of facts: two people looked eye to eye and the corners of his mouth turned up. 

The rest, the parts you don’t know you fill in based on your perception of the world. You might assume, “that man is creepy”, or “ooh this one really likes me”, neither of which are founded in any kind of reality. 

We walk around all day long filling in the parts of the world we don’t know with our projections. But what is a projection, and how does this process work? 


As we talked about in our blog on Neuro Linguistic Programming, or NLP, there are two billion bits of info coming at us per moment in chunks of data. Yet we only process seven (plus or minus two) at a time. This means that in order to take in our experience we are constantly in a process of deleting, distorting and generalising the real experience. (If you’d like to know more about this you can read our NLP Blog or even better: join us for our 4 day INLPTA training this July 26-29)

We usually take in the data that already fits in with our current beliefs about the world, and we are always filtering data dependant on our current state (ie if you are sad, you look for depressing data. If you are angry you look for infuriating data etc).

After we have filtered out everything that doesn’t fit we are left with our projection. This is how two different women may sit in the same bar while the same facts happen and have two different experiences. One sees the man smile and feels, “oh, creepy” while the other feels “ooh he likes me”. 

Also, our projections are constantly creating our experiences and another word for this is manifestation. What we think about the world is then how we take action and create the next steps of our existence. We are always manifesting whether we are conscious of it or not. We can manifest great things in our lives by focusing consciously on what we want and by being grateful and positive, or we can manifest more pain and suffering by staying in our limited and negative perceptions and assumptions of the world. 

The problem with assumption

It is normal to try to fill in the gaps. Making assumptions is a survival trait: just as we discussed in our article about negative emotions, these parts of ourselves exist because they got us right here where are through a long line of ancestors. 

Throughout time, we used assumptions because we needed to know about the world and people so we could understand what is safe and what is not. The problem is not that we fill in the gaps with guesswork, the problem is in assuming that it is the truth. 

Your assumptions about the world and about people are not real. While at times they could be accurate they are far more often inaccurate. Then we begin to base our words and actions on conclusions that are not real and often harmful. This is most prevalent within relationships where both parties are living separate realities but assuming they know and understand the other. 

The cure 

It is important to understand that the only way to find out the truth of something is to ask: everything else you believe is simply a projection. And when I say ask: I mean ask and then really listen. Clarify what you have heard. Be like a great investigator that will not stop until they have arrived at the truth. There are many tools you can learn to do this; modalities that teach communication or getting yourself in front of a therapist who will guide you to talk with your loved ones.

Asking for clarification may look something like this: 

Person 1: “Two, it looks like you are angry at me but I am not sure, can you tell me what you are felling right now?”

Person 2: “Yes I am angry, but not at you. I had a challenging day at work and I have a huge headache and I was hoping for an hour to myself tonight”. 

Without gaining clarification Person 2 may have spent hours in ruminating thoughts about how awful Person 1 was being to them and creating all kinds of stories in their head that aren’t actually true. Much damage can be done to relationships in this way. 

It can be very scary to ask for clarification as most of us are terrified of conflict or of being hurt or rejected by the truth. This fear often keeps us tied to our assumptions. We therefore live in a world full of projection: seeing the world only from our own perspective. 

A fun (but challenging) exercise 

An exercise that I love to give my clients is to take a whole week and try not to make any meaning. Look only at the facts. As much as you can see a smile for simply what it is, a smile. See anger for what it is, simply anger. Look around you and take out all the stories, assumptions and projections. Just be with what is. If you get caught anywhere and if you’re feeling brave, ask for clarification. Try to remember that just because you think it, it doesn’t mean its true. 

Good luck, I’d love to hear how it goes. 

Published by

Jenny Podorozhnaya

I am a Clinical Supervisor and Psychotherapist, Hypnotherapist, Coach and Trainer living on the Eyre Peninsula in South Australia. I have four children and two cats and am married to Dimitry. All of this keeps me reasonably busy.

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