Here’s another A-1 way to ruin your own day (week, month, etc.). And it’s an easy one. Assume you know what someone else is thinking. Assume they are thinking something negative about you. Proceed to make yourself miserable. Wash, rinse, repeat.
See what I mean?
All kidding aside, it is only human nature to assume that we can read other people’s minds. And most likely, you are right about as often as you are wrong, if not more than that. But those times when you are wrong can result in painful emotions that you don’t have to feel – disappointment, anxiety, frustration, anger, fear, etc. – and that can do damage to a relationship. So I think it’s fair to say that mind reading is a trap.
Why is it so easy to fall into the mind reading trap? The human brain acts on information. We take the facts, we evaluate them, and we react. But here’s the problem. Without the facts, our minds create stories to fill in the gap. After all, our minds need something to work on. If you are not aware of the stories your mind is creating, you will believe that story is true. And then you’ll react.
Without real information, the stories we create may be based on past experiences with that specific person, or with other people from our past. Here are a couple of examples:
Maybe your doctor is having a bad day, or is worried about you, and he/she says something to you that sounds harsh. Your mind tells you that your doctor isn’t interested in helping you anymore, or that he/she is uncaring, or that you are a complete disappointment as a patient.
Or, your boss is in a hurry and rushes by your desk without saying anything. Your interpretation might be that you messed up on something, that your boss is mad at you. Or maybe that the boss is off to an emergency meeting that might mean you should be worried about your future.
Another example might be calling a friend or someone you are dating, or a spouse, and having him/her rush you off the phone. You might assume that you don’t matter anymore, that you did something wrong, that he/she is more interested in someone else. Yikes, what kind of images does that one conjure up for you?
Do you see the pattern here? What might have been a simple, though admittedly thoughtless, action may feel to you as if it were a major event, if not a catastrophe. How did your mind get from Point A to Point B so quickly? Well, because you didn’t have enough information. In other words, you didn’t know what that other person was actually thinking or feeling, why they were behaving that way. And without the facts, your mind went to town and created a story all its own. And took your emotions along for the ride. Talk about a trip to nowhere!
And most likely, the story you created was part of a bigger story. People don’t appreciate me. I am never understood. I am never enough. And on and on.
So what can you do when you find yourself falling into reading minds?
One, be aware. When those familiar feelings descend upon you, ask yourself a simple question: Am I reacting to the facts or am I reacting to a story I just created?
Two, review the facts of the situation. How many of the facts do you have? Do you have all of them? Decide what you know and what you don’t know.
Three, ask yourself if your reaction matches the facts. Do you know enough to feel the way you do, or have you embellished the story just enough to make yourself feel really bad?
Four, treat yourself to an alternate story. Balance out the catastrophe in your mind with a couple of stories with happy endings. Maybe your doctor has that sharp edge because he/she cares about you and wants you to be as healthy as possible. Maybe your boss is just in a rush – aren’t you glad you aren’t? Maybe that friend would love to talk to you more and is annoyed that he/she doesn’t have time.
Five, remind yourself that you don’t know what you don’t know. You may know what’s going on at some point, and you may not. If it doesn’t directly affect you, then it doesn’t matter. And by the way, if you are concerned, would it make sense to just ask what’s going on? You know, gather a few more facts?
Six, focus on the big picture. How is your overall relationship with this person? Is it possible that this is a “glitch” and not a day-to-day occurrence? Is there something going on that doesn’t involve you and that you don’t need to be involved in? And, how have similar situations in the past turned out? Does it have to be a disaster? Is this reminding you of a person or situation from the past that has nothing to do with this person or situation? In other words, give yourself some perspective.
Seven, remind yourself – with a big sigh of relief – that you are not the center of the universe (or God for that matter). Things happen that don’t involve you. You don’t have to fix everything, and you don’t have to take the blame, either. Negative comments may be directed toward you, but that doesn’t mean that did anything to cause them. You aren’t in control over how other people choose to think, feel, or behave.
Eight, relax. Focus on what you can control. Starting with being mindful about that mind-reading trap and how you can avoid falling into it.
Life is good.
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