Jumping to Conclusions: Mind Reading

In jumping to conclusions we assume the worst. Today we’ll focus on the aspect of mind reading. Next time I’ll talk about fortune telling.

Oh, my. I certainly didn’t limit myself to art or sport for this one. In high school (remember high school? how most of us were insanely insecure?) I was mind reading when I assumed that a girl in my class didn’t like me, simply because she was quiet. I was mind reading when I decided that the whole audience thought I totally messed up when I dropped out for 8 bars while accompanying the chorus. (Click on the following to go to read that blog:
All-or-Nothing Thinking: My Story)

Here are some other examples: “My peers think I have no talent.” “The rest of the team believes I let them down.” “Coach is angry at me.” “The audience thinks I suck.” “No one likes my poetry.”
Let’s apply the familiar questions.

1) What is the evidence? Did your peers actually come out and say, “You have no talent?” Did everyone on the team say, “You let us down”? Or was there a look that you interpreted negatively? What superpowers do you possess that enable you to read the collective mind of an audience? Performers tend to focus on the imperfections (in spite of all we know now about mental filter) and many in the audience don’t even have the technical knowledge to critique you in the way you fear they are critiquing you.

2) What are alternative explanations? If your peers actually did say something, why else might they have done that? Could they be joking? Maybe your team members are doing burdening themselves with their own thinking errors. Maybe what you’re seeing is simply their disappointment that the team didn’t do better. Is coach angry at you? Is coach angry at all? Or just intense? Maybe people loved your poetry but the folks at this reading are too shy to say so.

3) What are the implications? You’re not necessarily a pariah, even if some of your assumptions are accurate. One performance or competition or critique does not a career make. If coach is angry she’ll get over it. The implications may be that you pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again.

4) Is this thought useful? Rarely, for sure. Never, probably.

Foiling Mental Filter

Photo by Nicole LeBlanc

In mental filter you obscure the positives and only see the negatives. If there had been Mental Filter championships I would have been a contender. This is still one of my weaker links. (When I review evaluations of my workshops I still have to force myself to focus on the majority of positives instead of on the few negatives.) To illustrate mental filter I return to my piano-accompaniment experience. How many pages of sheet music did I get through competently? It was a medley and so I’m going to go with a conservative estimate of 8. Let’s say there were 20 bars of music on each page. 8 X 20 = 160. That means that I successfully played 152 bars of music, yet I stopped playing piano in public for years because I dropped out for 8 bars. A bit of overreacting, wouldn’t you say?

How do you foil mental filter? As with most thinking errors, first ask yourself, “What is the evidence that everything I did was lousy?” Note the aspects that were acceptable or even good. Some people find that imagining they are evaluating a friend helps them be more objective. You can ask trusted friends and colleagues for honest feedback. Keep an open mind about the positive things they say.

Remember the question, “Is this thought useful?” Again, it can be helpful to acknowledge the negatives so that you can work on them. This is different from totally ignoring the positives. Since a big part of improving is building on the positives, mental filter is actually destructive.

I hope you’ll soon enjoy beginning to see things clearly rather than through the fog of mental filter.