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  • Writer's pictureDena Lampert

If Only I Could Read Your Mind...

Have you ever been asked what superpower you’d like to have if you could choose any? Invisibility, being able to fly, super strength, being able to read people’s minds…which would you choose?


Mind reading is one of those superpowers that lots of us might choose. And actually, many of us act as if we can read people’s minds on a day-to-day basis. You might not be aware of it, but chances are that you’ve done it several times before, as mind reading is one of the most common cognitive distortions.


If you remember from our previous blog on catastrophizing, cognitive distortions are types of thoughts that cause us to perceive reality inaccurately, and generally in a negative way. They occur when our minds essentially play tricks on us, making us believe things that are not actually true. They often lead to us experiencing negative and uncomfortable feelings such as anxiety, anger, sadness, and irritability.


In today’s blog, we’re going to talk about what mind reading is, how it might present itself in your life, and strategies for realizing and acknowledging when you might be trying to read someone's mind.


What is Mind Reading?


Mind reading is a cognitive distortion that can be defined as believing that you know the thoughts or intentions of others (or that they know your thoughts or intentions) without having sufficient evidence.


If we try to read minds too much without having enough evidence about what people are actually thinking, we can start to make mistakes about what others think of us, and this can significantly impact our mood in a negative way. Mind reading can lead to feelings of sadness, anger, and anxiety—especially social anxiety.


Mind reading can present itself in our thoughts in lots of different ways, but here are some examples:

  • "I don't want to go to that party because no one will like me"

  • “He’s thinking that I failed”

  • “She thought I didn’t know what the project was about”

  • “I can’t wear this top because people will think that I look silly”

If used occasionally, mind reading can actually be a useful tool as it allows us to use people's body language and nonverbal reactions to give us an idea of what someone might be thinking. For example, if we tell someone something and their jaw drops, we can assume that they are surprised by what we have said. However, when we rely on mind reading too much, and when we don’t have sufficient evidence to back our assumptions, it can start to affect our thinking in a negative way.


How to Recognize If You Are Mind Reading


The first step towards reducing the amount you use mind reading is to become aware that you are doing it in the first place. One of the best ways to recognize if you are mind reading is to write down your thoughts or say them aloud. Sometimes even just doing this can help you see the holes in your thinking and give you a more objective stance.


Once you have these thoughts written down, you can identify if they are accurate or not by asking yourself the following questions:

  • How do I know that this person thinks that?

  • What evidence do I have to support my assumption?

  • What evidence do I have against my assumption?

By collecting the evidence for and against your assumptions about what other people are thinking, you can figure out which side has more evidence. This approach to weighing up the evidence on both sides will provide you with a more objective stance and will help you detect whether the thought is legitimate or not. It’s also important to consider the quality of the evidence that you have for each side. Getting someone else to look at your evidence can also be very helpful.


Another question to ask yourself is: does assuming something make it true? I can guarantee you that the answer will almost always be no.


Once you have weighed up the evidence you have, the next step is to let the thought go. Stop thinking about it and dwelling on it, because most of the time we won’t know what other people are thinking. Most of us are unable to know what someone else is thinking unless it is communicated to us by that person.


Effective Communication Strategies


The best way to rely less on mind reading and to better understand what other people are thinking is to communicate effectively with them. We can only really know what someone is thinking if they tell us directly—otherwise, we are basing our actions on an assumption, and often that assumption is incorrect.


By putting in the effort to understand someone more, we can better understand what they are thinking without jumping to conclusions. Some of the most effective ways you can do this are:


Be more self-aware — The more you understand your own thoughts, beliefs, reactions, and emotions, the better you will be able to empathize with others.


Ask questions — If you’re unsure of what someone is thinking or feeling, the best way to find out is just to ask. Try using the following questions if you’re stuck: “What’s on your mind?” or “How do you feel?” or “What do you think about…?”


Put yourself in their shoes — The practice of putting yourself in someone else's shoes and trying to understand their perspective can be a great way to understand why someone may be thinking or feeling a certain way, which might not be the same as ourselves.


Clarify things — To make sure you correctly understand what someone is saying, make sure you clarify things with them. You can repeat back what they’ve said by asking “so what you're saying is…?”. This ensures that you accurately understand what that person is saying, and it also shows them that you’ve been paying attention and are actively listening to them.


Mind reading can be difficult to identify, so if you’re looking for some additional support in managing these thoughts, we recommend reaching out to a qualified CBT therapist. By working with a CBT therapist, you will be supported through identifying when you are mind reading, and restructuring your thoughts into more logical, objective, and positive ways of thinking.

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