It is quite normal to second-guess what other people are thinking. However, when most of these guesses are negative, mind reading can cause a great deal of emotional distress and can affect your mental wellbeing, as well as being utterly exhausting!!
But the truth is that other people don’t care nearly as much as you think they do. They are most probably concerned with their own lives. In fact they may well be too busy worrying about what you’re thinking about them!
To help you break this habit of mind reading, and stop worrying about what people think of you, use these 5 steps below:
5 steps to help you stop worrying about what people think of you
1. Initial thought – What am I saying to myself?
The first step is to become aware of what thoughts are going through your mind at the time. What exactly is it that you assume the other person to be thinking?
For example: “My boss must have thought I was stupid in the meeting.”
2. Fact or interpretation – Do I really know that for a fact?
At this point you need to differentiate between factual evidence and what you believe to be true.
For example: You may be convinced that the way your colleague looked at you means that she doesn’t like your new haircut. But has she actually said that to you or is that your interpretation from her facial expression?
The truth of the matter is that unless someone makes it clear how they feel about you, you have no way of knowing for sure.
3. Alternative thought – Is there another way to look at it?
It’s important to consider that your initial thought may not be the only explanation.
For example: You’re talking to another mum outside the school and she looks away. You may think that she is not interested and finds you boring. However, it may be that she is keeping an eye on her other child, or has just had some distressing news and is a little pre-occupied with her own thoughts. So there may be lots of reasons her gaze diverted away, which may have nothing to do with you.
It may however be difficult at first to consider alternatives, as you may be in the habit of only considering the evidence that backs your initial thought. So try this. Imagine if your best friend were describing a negative thought, what would you say to them? You would probably want them to be more compassionate with themselves, and see things in a more balanced way.
4. Is it testable? – Can I test it out to make sure?
In some situations, you can gather more information to determine whether your statement is accurate or not. One way to do this is by directly asking that person.
For example: Your partner is unusually quiet and you think that they are upset with you. If you just ask them directly, they may explain that it’s because of an incident that happened at work. This can then enable you to shift your perspective on the situation, and save you a whole lot of worrying for nothing.
5. Worst – case scenario – What if it’s true?
You may find that after looking at all the evidence, it appears to support your initial thought. This doesn’t have to be a negative outcome, as it can give you the opportunity to make a change.
For example: If you realise your friend is upset with you because you are always late, you can look at ways to manage your time better.
However, you can’t always determine whether your initial interpretation was accurate or not. Someone may well decide they don’t like you because of the way you dress. This is the sad reality. There are always going to be people who judge you. But doesn’t that say more about them than about you?
The truth is you have no control over other people’s view of you. So instead of worrying what others may be thinking of you, accept that not everyone will like you, and that’s ok. And if the worst-case scenario is that someone is judging you, knowing that you can handle that, enables you to accept it and let go of your negative thoughts.
Challenging your thoughts in this way may feel a bit forced and unnatural at first, but with practice it will get easier. And remember, this is not about changing negative thoughts into positive ones, it’s about finding a more realistic and balanced thought.
If you would like further support or any more information, please contact me.