What are other people thinking?
I challenge you to a creative quest: Go out and sit in a coffee shop, or a burger joint, or your local park on a nice day and watch other people. Write down what you know they are thinking.
Spoiler Alert! You will most likely be wrong. Extra Spoiler Alert!!! Go compare your notes with those people to find out for sure that you are most likely wrong.
Mindreading is something we do everyday. We think we know what other people are thinking but really we’re just projecting our thoughts onto them. We interpret their non-verbal cues: facial expressions, body posture and movements. The above task is fun and great for those of us who like to people watch and write stories. But it is all subjective.
Mindreading is a cognitive distortion and it would benefit us and our relationships with others if we recognize when we are applying that distorted thought to a situation so we can nip it in the bud.
“I’m thinking this way, so they must be thinking this way, too.”
We play this game with people we know and don’t know. A lot of the time we assume people can read our minds, too.
“She should know what I want. I shouldn’t have to tell her.” “We’ve been together for 10 years, he should know how I feel about this.”
Yeah, not true. Should statements are, also, cognitive distortions.
A good thing to do to avoid any confusion in your relationships would be to talk to your partner, parent, sibling or friend. Talking openly with curiosity with anybody you engage with will do wonders for that interaction. You’ll gain a clearer understanding of them, know what they are thinking and how they are feeling because they will tell you. No misinterpretation there.
Asking and listening to another will make you a safe person to talk to. If you are a safe person to talk to, you’ll learn so much about other people. You’ll start a bond with others and grow your own support network. You’ll secure that bond when you open up about yourself.
On the podcast The Knowledge Project with Shane Parrish Episode #62 he interviews Emotion Focused Therapy therapist Dr. Sue Johnson. She speaks adamantly about the human’s innate need for connection. If we reach out for connection, but meet rejection or feel abandoned we will shutdown, effectively killing the relationship. Of course, there is more to it than that but think about it. If you talk to someone and they don’t look at you or show interest you end up feeling rejected and will move away from them. Depending how much that relationship means to you determines how many attempts you’ll make to reach out to connect with them. Eventually, with repeated reject you will move away from that relationship and whatever bond was there with that person will be severed.
Recognize when you’re trying to mindread. Stop and go talk and connect with that person. That is what we want in the first place. We’re mammals and we’re born that way.