Do you constantly try to understand why people act the way they act? While having empathy for fellow humans is amazing, this curiosity can turn into a relentless need to read other people’s minds and intentions, which becomes exhausting.
In episode 30 of the podcast, I introduce a concept called “conditional mind reading” and why it’s important to notice where in your personal life and work life you’re engaging in these types of activities, so you can better understand what gives you anxiety and how to stop it.
Click play to listen now in your browser. The Career Confidence For Immigrants podcast is also available on Spotify and Apple Podcasts.
You will also learn:
- How to coach yourself when you change teams or projects at work
- Why finding out what others are thinking feels productive even if it isn’t
- How to stop curiosity about others people’s thoughts from turning into rumination
- How to make peace with other people’s inconsistencies
- Instagram @iamsoniaortiz
- Work with me
- Related episode: How To Think About Thinking
Full Transcript (I only post these when available):
Hello friends and welcome to another episode of the podcast. Today marks episode 30 of the podcast and I’m sooo glad that I have kept my publishing schedule even though my brain tells me on so many weeks that we need to bail. The magic of not believing every single one of my thoughts and stories is that I can still take actions that lead to the kind of results I want to have in my life.
And having a podcast and body of work is something I want to create. I do this podcast because I believe it has ideas that can help people understand themselves, their preferences and their experiences better…
I also do so to connect with other fellow humans, like whenever I do an interview with a fellow immigrant or an on-air coaching sessions and I also do it for the selfish reason that I want to become a better communicator, and the only way to do that is through practice and showing up week after week.
So if you’ve been wanting to get started with writing your own podcast or blog or book or whatever, understand that your mind will NEVER think you’re ready and will always tell you it’s a bad idea to put your thoughts and ideas out there and that no one wants to hear them.
This is not a sign that you’re broken. This is just the sign of a functioning mind that’s trying to protect you from discomfort and uncertainty. Once you expect the self-doubt, then you can plan for it in advance about what you’re gonna think and do when it appears.
And truly, the magic doesn’t happen when all the stars align and suddenly you feel motivated to sit and write. The magic happens when you expect your brain to be your brain, it telling you it does not feel like working on it, and still choosing not to believe it. This is key to life and productivity!
Ok, today I’m gonna share a new concept that I just decided to call Conditional Mind Reading. Intriguing and totally made up, but hopefully it will help you navigate anxiety around uncertainty and relationships a lot better.
This Conditional Mind Reading happens when people get really stuck with trying to figure out what the other person is thinking.
For example, say that you are in a work situation where your boss tells you that you will no longer work on project A, because you’re being moved to project B.
Sounds simple. On paper. Because if you have an unmanaged mind – like most of us do by default, unless we take daily actions to manage it – you will most likely have a story as to what this means.
Your mind will try to figure out, and in other words: MIND READ – whether your boss is asking you to work on project B because it’s a real need, or because they don’t think you have what it takes to work on project A, or because they’re about to fire you and replace you, or because they think you’re a bad fit for project A, or because they personally dislike you, or whatever. We could seriously run thousands of scenarios here.
Most people like to do this kind of mind reading exercise which often turns into rumination, because we want certainty.
The problem with doing that kind of mind reading exercise is that it often takes a lot of time, energy, yields very inaccurate results and if you have a propensity for anxiety, this just shoots your anxiety through the roof.
And you know how this kind of mind reading shenanigans go: you start laying out different hypotheses on the table – inside your mind, unless you’re very organized and like to write things down- and then you go out to do some research on your own. A little expedition or field trip.
Maybe you ask some colleagues around: hey, were you asked to change projects too? Did you hear anything in that other meeting? You may go on the company’s website to see if they’re hiring someone else in your team. You may re-read your latest performance review to look for any potential evidence as to the WHY they may have asked you to work on project A instead of B.
You get on full on detective mode trying to figure out the WHY someone acts or says the things they say. And in a weird way it feels thrilling and exciting and almost addictive? Can you relate?
Now here’s the thing: doing this kind of mind reading detective type of activities and rumination is like CANDY for your brain.
It feels very useful and important. It feels like you are doing something KEY trying to figure out THE BIG why you were told to do something, so you can PLAN and “mentally prepare’ for something to come in the future. I love that expression: mentally prepare.
The downside with this mind reading and detective type activities is that they’re often time consuming, energy consuming and most importantly: highly inaccurate. Why? Because most of the time people saying or acting in certain ways comes from a variety of reasons, not just one.
And think about it for yourself: when was the last time you made a decision based on one single perfectly cohesive and coherent thought that could be easily explained?
I read somewhere, I think it was Mark Manson, the author of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck – which btw, I haven’t read yet – that being an adult was all about having mixed feelings or something like that.
And I thought it was so accurate. Like, most likely you don’t have ONLY positive thoughts about your partner, or your children all the time. You probably don’t do your job ONLY for the money or ONLY for this other thing. Most decisions are a mix of reasons, an imperfect weighted balance of thoughts. Trying to solve this inconsistency, and trying to be too rigid or unidirectional with our thinking makes anyone feel really anxious, because complexity, nuanced and mixed reasons is part of our humanness.
Yet, when we try to do this mind reading antics with other people’s brains, we totally forget the part where their brains are also complex and full of contradictions – which I find fascinating.
Now let’s talk about the conditional part of the concept here. The reason why this mind reading activities feel so enticing and important and necessary is because we have a belief that we can only think certain thoughts if another person’s thoughts – or the thoughts of the majority – are in a certain direction.
To revisit the example I mentioned earlier, the one in which you’re told by your boss you’re no longer gonna be working on project A because you’re now working on Project B.
Let’s say you find out via a coworker that your boss said you were a bad influence on the team working on project A… what would your thoughts be now?
Let’s say your boss tells you the reason why you’re changing projects is because you’d be a great mentor and coach for people on project B… what would your thoughts be?
Most likely, in scenario A, you will think negative thoughts about yourself: like maybe they’re right, maybe I’m gonna get fired… or even if you don’t agree, you might still make them wrong “they shouldn’t be bad mouthing me”, “how dare they speak of me in such way”, “they are hurting my reputation”, etc.
Most likely, in scenario B, you will think positive thoughts such as: “I’m an expert, they need me, I’m a great mentor, I’m a great asset to the team, I’m good!
Now you may say, “well, in scenario A they are bad mouthing them, it makes sense to be mad”. Right?
But hear me out: the only reason we get mad at other people having thoughts is because we believe that we have no choice but to agree with them. You could have a boss who thinks you’re a bad influence and you could be like, “well, I disagree and here’s why”. You could do this without you having to be a victim or them having to be a villain. Just want to share that is a possibility.
And here’s the final thing about why I don’t think conditional mind reading activities are that useful (I already mentioned it earlier) but you know how I say that people’s reasons are a multiplicity of thoughts that often contradict themselves?
Well, do you ever tell yourself “I secretly believe that…something something”… That is the proof of your own contradicting thoughts.
NOTHING wrong with this, I’m just sharing this to show you how to have more compassion for human brains if you wish to do so, because it’s more productive than trying to fight everyone.
Now, let’s say in the scenario, we were to find out that the truth is that your boss did think you were a bad influence – and that’s why they’re changing you from project A to B – but maybe to your face, they are telling you is because of “how great of a mentor you would be”.
What about those cases where it’s one and then the other? Or when it’s 50 – 50?Could your boss have those two thoughts, simultaneously? If so, what then? Right? Just offering different scenarios here.
Now, what can you do instead of engaging in conditional mind reading? Here are some ideas:
Number 1, you can practice remembering that you get to decide what you want to think and how you want to feel about things and changes and other people’s thoughts and actions, because you’re an adult.
Number 2, I want you to consider that you don’t need to know the other person’s opinion and complete a chain of logic for you to form your OWN opinion.
Number 3: I want to remind you that mind reading is only enticing when you believe you can’t handle uncertainty. But you can learn to tolerate uncertainty little by little. You can not know the reason why someone says or does something to you, and still survive and have your own thoughts.
So remember: if you’re believing that someone is doing something to you and your brain is going like “Why me? Why are they like this? What do they mean? Why, why?” Stop your brain in the tracks and tell it: “we don’t need to know, brain, not right now”.
Instead, ask yourself: how do we want to think and feel about this, on purpose?” “If all thoughts and opinions are available to us right now, which one would I want to choose, consciously”?
Ok my friends, this is it for this week. Don’t mind read! Focus on your own mind and your own internal space and what you want to think and feel and watch your anxiety levels decrease! Bye