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Unhelpful Thinking Patterns 7/11 - Mind Reading

Updated: May 9

Two people surrounded by thought bubbles, each filled with negative assumptions about what the other one is thinking, illustrating the overwhelming impact of the mind reading cognitive distortion on one’s mental health

This is the seventh part of a series looking at common unhelpful thinking habits. These are patterns of thinking that our minds can slip into as a way of coping with challenging situations.

You can read more about this in my earlier post here.

The Impact of Assumptions on Our Daily Lives

We spend our lives trapped in our own heads, with no real way of being sure what is going on in the heads of others.

Our minds have a tendency to compensate for this by making assumptions about what other people are thinking - it helps us make sense of the world and negotiate our way through our daily lives.

However, we are all unique individuals and although there are come common features in the way we think there can also be quite a bit of variation; sometimes the assumptions we make can be quite far off the mark and this can have negative consequences for our relationships and interactions with others.

Unpacking Assumptions: A Practical Approach

As with the other unhelpful thought patterns, getting things down on paper can be really helpful as it is the first step to helping us explore whether there might be alternative perspectives.

Sometimes just getting that thing out of our heads and written down can put some space between us and the thought, which then gives room for us to start examining the logic behind what we're thinking.

So write down what it is that you are predicting is going on in the mind of the other person, then start to think about what evidence you have for or against.

This starts to build some flexibility into our thinking and encourages us to be open to alternative explanations of things.

The Benefits and Costs of Holding Tightly on to Assumptions

Possibly you've never thought about this before, but thoughts have functions behind them, so there will be a benefit in there somewhere, but unfortunately that will also come at a cost.

For example, by assuming that the other person is thinking the worst and acting accordingly, you may be sub-consciously trying to protect yourself and hide your potential vulnerabilities.

This protection is a benefit, but what is the cost?

Perhaps as a result you become more self-conscious, or you over-think and analyse all your interactions with them.

Over time this can lead to anxiety and low mood.

Building Flexibility in Thinking

Once you have explored this thinking habit in this way, try responding differently in the future when it comes up.

Notice your mind's tendency to make the assumption and look out for what it tells you to do, for example avoiding eye contact when you meet someone new.

Changing Behaviours: Responding Differently to Assumptions

When the situation arises try out a new behaviour, perhaps the complete opposite to what your mind tells you to do, and see what happens - you might find that you get a very different result from the one you are predicting and you may gather more evidence to help you challenge future occurrences of this thinking style.

Self-Compassion in the Journey of Change

Don’t forget to show kindness to yourself – slip ups are inevitable, so be open to forgiving yourself on the occasions that you fall back into the old habit; after all, you don’t want to wake up your inner critic after working so hard on that in my earlier post!

Conclusion: Breaking Free from the Mind Reading Unhelpful Thinking Habit

Change is the name of the game here – noticing and acknowledging when we get caught up in the thinking habit and then using appropriate tools to transform our mindsets.

We all stumble when trying out new things, but that’s just a fact of life and it is how we learn…it’s all part of being human and, in a way, it is something that connects us all – our common humanity.

What’s important is to cut ourselves some slack when we do falter, tell our inner critics to ‘do one’ and keep embracing the journey.

Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good!

As I mentioned above, this post is part of a series about the unhelpful thinking habits that we can fall into. You can find the other posts here:

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