The last thinking trap that I posted about was Jumping to Conclusions (embed) – Now, to delve a little deeper, I would like to talk about mind reading. It’s a sub-section of jumping to conclusions and very popular when reacting to a certain situation.

What is mind-reading? When we assume what others are thinking and feeling without having any evidence to support this idea.

Example: Walking past a group of people who are whispering and laughing, thinking that they’re talking about you.

A mind-reading superpower would be completely beneficial in this instance, so you can confirm if your response to this assumption should be true or not. It’s highly likely that it’s not true, but our minds are funny this way

Since this superpower is non-existent, we need to challenge this thinking trap that we put ourselves into.

Ask yourself these realistic questions:
What evidence do you have that this is what the person/people are thinking?
Have they said this to you, or are you imagining what they might be thinking?

It’s effortless to assume what others might be thinking, but if you don’t investigate your assumptions, you’ll be prone to think negatively with every interaction. Withdrawing from this situation might seem valid, but you’ll never know if you don’t ask.

In this instance, I’m not saying to go up to this group and demand to know if they were talking about you. My god, that alone is anxiety-inducing in itself! (If you can do this, honestly, KUDOS to you!)
All I’m saying is to think critically in these situations, and don’t jump the gun on what others are thinking or feeling.

BUT if you do somehow gain this superpower, please give it to others with anxiety!

When I was younger and didn’t know how to assess my anxiety correctly, I fell into several thinking traps. The biggest one that I had to overcome was jumping to conclusions.

I was an expert at making predictions about what was going to happen with little to no evidence.

After my first panic attack, I remember when my heart was racing that I was going to have a heart attack. Even though I was young and in excellent health, I honestly thought that this was going to happen even though I had no evidence that this was likely to happen. Worse, it happened in front of people, which caused me to think that I was crazy.

Learning to recognize when this was happening and questioning my conclusions was an actual work in progress. It takes a lot of hard work to switch a negative thinking trap, but there are still ways that you can challenge yourself.

The trick is to view your situation objectively and ask realistic questions:
(1) Ask yourself if you have any evidence to suggest that your outcome is likely.
(2) Ask yourself if you DO have any evidence that suggests it might not happen or if another result is more likely.
(3) What are the chances that an unfortunate event is going to happen?
(4) How many times have you thought of this before, and how many times has your outcome come true?

This WILL be a work in progress, and you won’t be able to switch your brain to this thinking immediately. I still find myself in certain situations where I don’t notice my immediate negativity. Often my jumping to conclusions feels justified and real, which is why it could take a while for me to step back and assess the situation. Remember to prioritize asking questions over finding answers!

CBT Technique: How to Change Automatic Thoughts

Do you ever find yourself reacting negatively?

I hate to admit that I’m my own worst enemy, and will always put myself down even if there’s no reason to.

“I’m not good enough.”

“I’m a disappointment.”

“Everyone thinks that I’m annoying.”

“I’ll be fired over this little thing.”

I am also guilty of overgeneralization, emotional reasoning and jumping to conclusions. I could go back to my years of trauma for blame, but even though I’m in a much better place (and quite happy), I am conditioned to thinking negatively. It interferes with my self-esteem, confidence and performance.

It’s been hard to change my way of thinking since it affects almost every aspect of my life,

An example: I’m always nervous and scared when it comes to my work evaluations. When my boss compliments me, I am still utterly anxious because I feel that he is noticing my work. Why am I anxious? Because there’s a possibility that he may find a mistake, fire me and I won’t be able to get another job.

I jump to the worst conclusions and don’t even take the genuine compliment to heart.

My automatic thought was a quick and strong reaction that comes through words, images or memories. To help identify my automatic thought, I need to take a step back and figure out why I am currently feeling this way.

What are some questions to help identify automatic thoughts?

  • What was going through my mind just before I started to feel this way? Was I anxious previous to this?
  • What images or memories do I have in this situation? Have I been fired before?
  • What does this mean about me? My life?
  • What am I afraid might happen?
  • What is the worst that COULD happen?
  • What does this mean about how the other person(s) feel(s)/think(s) about me?
  • What does this mean about the other people in general?
  • Did I break the rules, hurt others, or not do something I should have done? What do I think about myself that I did this or believe I did this?

Some of these questions won’t apply to you, and that’s ok. This is a general guideline on identifying your thoughts associated with your distress. These are here to help you understand your emotional reaction/moods. Different moods can be related to your situation: Depression, Anxiety, Anger, Guilt or Shame.
In my example above, I’m anxious.

My therapist would ask me to associate a percentage towards my mood; I would say that I’m 80% nervous and 90% anxious.

It took me years to figure out how to re-wire my brain, but I am pleased to confirm that I can now stop mid anxious thought to bring down those percentages to at least 40% (Any number lower than 90% is a win in my book!)
Automatic Thought

Sometimes though, I will still focus on one negative detail of an interaction instead of seeing the whole picture. I feel like most people are guilty of thinking this way – and I’m just here to say that it’s ok! The point is as long as you recognize what you’re doing, you’re one step closer to changing your automatic thoughts. This isn’t something that you can fix overnight. This requires a committed effort to change.

Now when I go into a performance review, I am still a little nervous, but I do accept a compliment even though I am red in the face. I’ve tried to change my perspective as well as trying to visualize the situation beforehand. Preparation has usually helped; when I feel in control of my words, I feel as if I’m being heard not only from others but from my inner voice.

I can do it

If you’d like to learn more or gain worksheets to outline your thoughts (these have helped me!), I highly suggest the book “Mind Over Mood.”