“I know what you’re thinking!”
Are you sure?
We’ve probably all been on both the giving and receiving end of this common flaw in logic. Sometimes it’s easier to notice it when others direct it toward us. Starting a sentence with, “You must think…” is an almost guaranteed way to get someone to disagree with us. The reality is that we have no idea what anyone else is thinking, yet we so frequently try to impose those guesses on others.
In this article, we look at specific ways we find ourselves in this all too familiar trap:
- Reading too much into text. So much of our communication is text-based now. Depending on our mood, we could view a message of “Thanks, you’re so helpful” as a genuine compliment, or a sarcastic insult. Communication is far more complicated than simply the words we convey. Tone, volume, and body language speak just as much, if not more meaning than the words. When these cues are absent, our minds are prone to fill in those gaps and assume additional meaning. Frustratingly, we often get it wrong, which can result in tension and hurt feelings.
- Assuming it’s all about us. “Why did my friend ignore my text? Is he mad at me? I must have said something to upset him.” Sometimes a missed text is just a missed text. The mind dislikes gaps in information. Our desire to understand why people behave the way they do can lead us down dark paths if we are not cautious. We assign meaning – and often blame – in the interest of filling in gaps in meaning, but be careful with this. Until the other person has confirmed your assumptions, you may not be in as much trouble as you thought. Maybe their actions have nothing to do with you.
- Acting like we’re right. If I assume a person dislikes me, I’m going to behave differently around them than if I assume they like me. This leads to the trap of the self-fulfilling prophecy. If I ignore a person because I assume they don’t like me, they’re not going to like me because I’m ignoring them. By acting this way, I’m making myself very unlikable.
So now what? Once we catch ourselves mind reading, what do we do about it?
- Don’t take it personally. If you feel tempted to blame yourself for your friend’s mysterious absence recently, or a family member’s failure to return a call, take a step back. What else might be going on in this person’s life that could explain their behavior? True, there are times when we might have actually done something wrong and they are in fact avoiding us. Why start with that assumption, though? There’s just as much of a chance that we were wrong as there is that we were right.
- Test your theory. There are many ways to do this. My favorite is perhaps the simplest: Ask. Approaching someone with kindness, honesty, and a genuine sense of curiosity has rarely steered me wrong. “Hey, I haven’t heard back from you after I texted you the other day. Just checking in. Is everything ok?”
- Remember that sometimes the mind lies to us. Simply second-guessing our thoughts is a powerful ability. Just because we have a thought doesn’t mean we have to believe it or agree with it. We have the power to choose which of our thoughts we hold onto, and which we let go. Letting go of the questions, the insecurities, and accepting the ambiguity of not really knowing can bring a calmness to our lives that we rarely find when we buy into the pressure to solve all of the mysteries.
Written by: Erin Shadle, LCSW