You may have heard the phrase, “Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.”  While I have a personal tendency to do this, I don’t feel it serves me as well as a different approach that I’m trying to embody lately instead: Assume the best.

When we try to “prepare for the worst”, our brains are living in anxiety and negativity.  When we force our brain to remain in that constant state of fight, flight, or freeze, our relationships suffer, we diminish our ability to be flexible and overcome adversity, and we can amplify feelings of anxiety or depression.  When all our mental energy shifts to thinking, “What if the worst thing happens?” it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, subconsciously steering us in that direction, or at the very least, spiraling us down into fear, despair and anger.

Instead, then, let’s strive to assume the best, especially of the people in our lives, including ourselves.  Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston and a visiting professor in management at the University of Texas at Austin McCombs School of Business, has spent decades studying how to help people wade through the difficult times to arrive at a place of courage and strength.  One of her top tips is, “Assume others are doing the best they can.”  This works from a leadership perspective as well as a way of becoming a better friend to ourselves.

As a leader, when one assumes the best of their team, they respect people for who they are and are in a better position to reassess their skills, teach them, and ultimately evaluate them based on what they are actually doing.  Take a moment to think about someone you might find frustrating or who angers you on a regular basis.  What assumptions are you making about that person’s behavior?  Does it sometimes feel as though they might be doing something just to annoy you?  Now try seeing them through a different lens: try assuming the best about that person.  How does it change the way you feel about them and the behavior that annoys you?  Assuming the best about someone’s intentions puts us in a position where we are less likely to take personal offense, and if needed, we are in a better place to help that person instead of judge them.  This is an especially effective technique for parents to use with their children!

When we turn this idea inward, we become much kinder to ourselves and others, and I think everyone can agree that it is easier to work for someone who is kind than someone who is harsh and critical.  Imagine how much more you can accomplish when you treat yourself and others with kindness and assume the best instead of the worst.  As Cheryl Richardson said, “If beating yourself up worked, you’d be thin, rich, and happy.”  Let’s try assuming the best of ourselves and others and see what can happen!