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The Magic of Testing Your Assumptions

The gist: Every day, you make many assumptions that quietly shape the direction of your life and work. You should test the validity of those assumptions. Here’s how.

Every day, you’re faced with a number of decisions:

  • What if I eat _______ for lunch?
  • Should I go home or to the gym?
  • What if I tell my boss what I don’t like my job?
  • Should I buy a new car?
  • What if I try skydiving?

It’s all a part of being human; you weigh options against each other to decide which is best for you.

And another part of being human is falling into routines; it’s great when you’ve optimized for the best outcomes but terrible when you’ve settled into a bad one.

Of all the questions you ask yourself each day—”This or that?,” “X or Y?”— how many do you actually test?

Do you actually entertain both options or do you choose based on a routine you’ve developed over time?

Actually testing your assumptions every day is like a magic decision-making machine that finds the right answer every time.

Here are a few major assumptions I’ve tested in my own life only to realize my initial choice was wrong.

Example #1: Getting people to buy coffee online

Some years ago, a partner and I started a subscription service for fresh, artisanal coffee. We knew how to source great coffee, but we had a lot to learn about selling it.

At first, we thought our great marketing and reputation would do the heavy lifting and help us make sales.

But when we opened, visitor after visitor would hit the pricing page and then disappear forever.

We’d made a poor assumption.

In reality, ordering coffee online was still a new idea at the time. People didn’t trust that we had a great product.

So, we tested another assumption: Would people buy if we offered a trial?

The answer was yes. A lot more people got over that initial lack of trust when the stakes were lowered. Offering a trial increased our actual, paid customers by 30% almost immediately.

I’m glad we tested that rather than just talked about it.

Example #2: Choosing a sport to play

When I was in high school, I enjoyed wrestling and playing soccer. Every day, after school, you could either find me on the field or in the wrestling room.

I was… mediocre… at both sports. I never made the varsity soccer team. I never won any wrestling tournaments.

Why did I focus on two completely different sports? I was better at wrestling, but I’d played soccer since I was five and assumed I had more opportunity there.

After my sophomore year, I decided to test that assumption. I asked myself, “What if I quit playing soccer and spent that same time wrestling?”

I quit the soccer team and started a new routine of running every day after school and then 30 minutes practicing technique with Adam, our wrestling dummy who was bolted to the wall. He wasn’t much for conversation, but he was a good practice partner.

My soccer coach did not like this plan. Even my wrestling coach pushed back at first.

But the results speak for themselves. Before testing the change, I won nine wrestling matches in two years. After the change, I qualified for the state tournament. The next year, I earned a spot on the podium. The year after that, I was accepted onto a Division 1 college team.

I’m certainly no Olympian but, wow, what a difference a little focus made. I’m glad I tested my assumption because I was very wrong at first.

Example #3: Growing traffic at Riskology

I learned a long time ago that I’m not very good at picking titles for my articles. And that’s a big weakness because most people choose whether to read something exclusively on the title.

So, a few years ago I decided to stop trusting my gut and let readers decide for themselves. I downloaded some A/B split-testing software and set up several variations for every article I wrote.

Now, rather than relying on my own terrible intuition, I explore all possible options. Whichever title ends up winning the split test1 is the title that sticks.

Sometimes, the results are nearly identical, and I just pick the one I like best. But other times, the difference can be up to 50%. That means 50% more people will read my articles if I use one title over another.

Start Your Magic Decision Maker

You can’t test every assumption you make each day. But you can test a lot of them, and the difference it can make—as I demonstrated from several examples in my own life—can be profound.

If you need to make a decision and you’re not sure what to do, don’t just pick one on a whim! Use that enormous brain of yours that took millions of years to evolve and test your options.

Don’t spend another day saying, “What if I tried this?” Just try it already!

Your life will never be the same.

Do This Now:

As you go through the day today, take note of the things you do automatically. These are your implicit assumptions. They’re the decisions you automate without thinking.

Some of them might be good. Others might not. Make yourself aware of them so that you can ask yourself, “Is this actually the best decision? What if I tried something else?”

And, where you can, start testing them immediately. You’re pretty smart, but you might find a few assumptions you want to test for yourself.


  1. Based on things like # of reads, opens/clicks on emails, and social shares