How good is your mind reading?
Might be a useful skill in some walks of life, or on some days. Perhaps if you have teenagers, you might desire the ability to get inside their heads and actually get some idea of what is going on in their lives.
Maybe you are applying for a promotion at work, and reading your boss’s mind would truly circumvent a whole lot of anxiety.
Or you would like a new relationship to blossom, but are unsure of what the other person actually thinks of you.
But then again, do we really want to go poking about in someone else’s head? It might be enlightening but it might also expose us to thoughts and truths that we would rather not know.
The thing is, we subconsciously fall into the trap of mind reading far more often than we realize.
How often have you made assumptions about what someone else is thinking about you? I know I fall into this trap every so often.
Mind reading is a form of cognitive distortions.
I started reading about cognitive distortions because of a class I taught about a week ago. These are wrong ways of thinking that are often habitual and subconscious and – crucially – have a negative focus.
You may also jump to conclusions, worst case scenario and “black and white” thinking. We assume the other person is thinking negatively about us.
We mess up.
We say something we think is stupid. And quickly our mind points out our perceived stupidity and brings to our attention and now you think you’re stupid.
Or we wear something and catch a glance from someone looking at us, and assume they think we look awful/ugly/ridiculous.
And of course the truth is that other person may be thinking no such thoughts. They might be thinking positive or neutral thoughts about us. Or, they may not be thinking about us at all, (probably just thinking what they need to do next, or what’s for or maybe thinking nothing at all.
But we have chosen to assign to them negative thoughts about us, that often serve to reinforce our own negative beliefs about ourselves.
This type of thinking is destructive and taking away the power of your mind!
Trying to read someone else’s mind to seek understanding is different as this implies empathy and the outcome is different. Empathy generally builds connection and fosters good communication.
Mind reading, where we assume the other person is thinking the worst of us, generally causes a separation, destroys trust and connection (because of what we assign to the other person in our head) and causes us to feel worse about ourselves.
Ever take things personally that actually have nothing to do with you? Well…. You’re jumping to conclusions based on your emotions, without engaging your thinking brains to look at the objective evidence.
I know that if I am tired, or feeling emotional, or hungry, I am much more likely to distort my thinking with either mind reading or by assuming it is all about me.
It’s all my fault, I am responsible, ‘they’ are out to get me.”
….is what plays in my head
Being hungry, or worse, hangry, is a trigger to pay attention to prior to having a potentially difficult or emotionally charged conversation. Address the physical needs first, to give ourselves the best chance of remaining calm and objective and rational.
Sounds exhausting, right?
What we focus on, grows.
I love this simple reminder. When we choose to focus on the negative, and what we believe the other person is thinking about us that is feeding that negativity without any evidence, we drag ourselves down. And that negative view of ourselves grows. But when we choose to focus on objective evidence rather than assumptions, we grow in confidence in our thinking. And when we choose to remind ourselves of what we are able to do and the skills and attributes that we do have, we are able to be open and curious and growth-oriented in our thinking.
Questions to ask yourself FIRST:
What do I know to be true?
What do people I know, like and trust say about me?
What evidence do I have that says the opposite of this negative belief?
Is this really about me? Or is this out of my control?
Start your new week off with a goal to not slip into mind reading and instead be open minded and curious and give the other person – and yourself – the benefit of the doubt.