Do you believe that you are a mind-reader? Do you assume what others are thinking or feeling? Do you react to your assumptions as if they are fact? Do you believe with all your being that you are right in those assumptions? Are your moods determined by your mind-reading?
If you are honest with yourself, you will have to answer yes to all the above questions. It is a rare human being who has attained that degree of wisdom, self-discipline or enlightenment required never to assume another’s thoughts or feelings. When you assume others’ thoughts, intentions or feelings without having all the facts, you are mind-reading.
So, let’s start with the admission that we all do mind-reading. We observe another’s facial expression and assume that he or she is angry or displeased with us. We see someone hesitate when we voice an invitation and assume that they don’t really want to spend time with us. We listen for the tone of voice or inflection and believe the person is irritated, disapproving or displeased. We observe apparent distance and conclude that they don’t love us (or at least don’t love us as much as we love them).
Our mind-reading assumptions allow us to fill in the missing information in our social interactions, but is it accurate information or misinformation? How often are our mind-reading assumptions simply wrong? Inaccurate mind-reading assumptions may fill our emotional sails, pushing us forward quickly, but unfortunately pushing us off course. We make decisions and choices based on our assumptions. If the assumptions are wrong, the choices will also be wrong.
When we do mind-reading assumptions, we do so based on our expectations. We could have expectations based on the particular individual’s prior behavior. If Uncle Henry has tended to be critical in the past, we assume that the ambiguous statement he made today was said with critical intent.
We also may have expectations based on our prior experiences with other people. If Cindy felt rejected in her previous high school, she will expect to be rejected at the new high school. If Jeff’s parents were critical and difficult to please, he may perceive his current supervisors to be critical and displeased with him.
The correct answer to the question about what someone is thinking is “I don’t know,” because that is the truth. When we assume we know another’s thoughts or feelings, we act on those assumptions and we close the door to other possibilities. When we remind ourselves that we actually don’t know what they are thinking, we leave the doors open for all possibilities.
Try to catch yourself doing mind-reading. Remind yourself that you don’t actually know what they are thinking. I believe you will find this simple practice to be helpful in your relationships and your personal mental health.
Mind reader photo available from Shutterstock