The unknown is often synonymous with fear; especially for those of us that are anxious or fearful of change. However, I want to pose a different perspective; that by accepting we don’t know something for certain we can actually be better off.
I’ve recently learnt about Mind Reading. I don’t mean this in a literal sense, I haven’t developed telepathic ability, it’s actually just a term for a certain type of Worrying that we do. Mind Reading is when we worry about what someone else will think and where we lead ourselves to believe we know what someone else is thinking.
“I can’t ask to leave work early, my boss will think I’m useless.”
“She hasn’t text me back, she must hate me.”
“If I tell my parents, they’ll be disappointed in me.”
I think almost all of us do this to an extent, and I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad thing. In fact, I think it helps us to judge certain situations. The more we come to know someone, our friends, family, and those closest to us, then the better judges we become. This allows us to make more informed decisions about how they’ll react, the kind of news they’d be comfortable hearing, the kind of presents they’d prefer. It allows us to pick up on the subtleties when they’ve perhaps said one thing but meant another. However, if you’re anything like me, you probably do this more than is healthy, and you probably do it for situations that you don’t have this base of evidence for. This, is about that.
Have you ever thought you knew exactly what someone was thinking, only to have it backfire on you? I have. Not even always in a bad way; perhaps you think someone is about to breakup with you when really they’re about to ask to get closer. The thing with the human mind is that we are only able to view our own, we have no way of knowing, with 100% certainty, what someone is going to do before they do it. Likewise, we have no way of knowing, with 100% certainty, what someone else is thinking. We can predict, we can even estimate our likelihood at being correct (50%? 60%? 95%?), and we probably remember all the times we were right about it too (“I knew he’d say that!”, “I know them so well”) due to confirmation bias, but, for a moment, allow yourself to consider the uncertainty.
A lot of my anxiety boils down to what other people will think of me.
“I can’t attend a class, they’ll laugh at me.”
“I can’t go for a new job, they’ll think I’m rubbish.”
“I can’t go for a run, I’ll be laughed at as I go down the street.”
The thing is, I don’t know any of these for certain, and that, in itself, is liberating. They might well be true, and, without any evidence to the contrary, I can’t say they’re not. However, by accepting that I don’t know the answer, and by appreciating the uncertainty, I can calm my worries and fears. I literally do not know what you will think of this blog when I post it and, although I really do hope you find it useful, it doesn’t worry me anymore. Even with friends and family, if you think you know their reactions inside out, you think with 95% certainty you can guess their response, there’s still that 5% uncertainty. From there, it’s about using that to accept things; not for others, but for yourself. Whilst this works as an aid for gaining confidence to do what you might be afraid of (though, I’m admittedly not fully at that stage yet), it also works incredibly well for when you’re second guessing someone (I can attest that this part works). This is when someones already given you their answer, and you’re worrying they were just being polite or there was a hidden meaning to their words. You thinking about a “but”.
“My friend thanked me for the gift, but I’m not sure he meant it…”
“My manager said it’s ok for me to go home, but I bet he really thinks I’m just useless…”
“My customer liked their photos, but I bet they hated them and just don’t want to complain…”
Here, you’re not using your evidence correctly to make a judgement; in fact, you’re ignoring it entirely. If someone has thanked you, and you think they’re just being polite, accept the thanks and appreciate the uncertainty. Accept that you will never know 100%, and resolve to accept the evidence you have. When you start to worry and mither over the inner workings of someone else’s mind, as I am want to do all too much, just appreciate the uncertainty. No amount of worrying will make it any clearer; no amount of second guessing will aid you gaining clarity. By accepting that uncertainty you do so for yourself, regardless of whether your ‘guess‘ is right or wrong. If you’re never going to know the ‘true‘ answer, then accept the answer that helps you move forward. And if something is such a concern that this approach doesn’t work? That shows, perhaps, that this is something important and perhaps you need to speak to the other party about it. For the little things though? The ‘tone’ you picked up in someones voice? The judgements you think you’ll get for taking that run down the street? Just appreciate the uncertainty; accept you’ll never know for sure, pick your odds and be free.
I’m back to asking questions of you now! Has there ever been a time when you thought you knew exactly what someone was thinking… Only to find out it was wrong? I’d love to hear your experiences, from the humorous to the less so. Whatever you’d like to share. Let me know in the comments below!