Image courtesy of Idea go at
Image courtesy of Idea go at

Last month I shared a story of how my 4-year old reminded me of an important lesson ( and this month I’d like to share an experience of my own 14 years ago.

It’s all about the human tendency to make assumptions about what other people’s behaviour means. Especially when their behaviour is unclear or doesn’t make sense to us.

In making these assumptions, we in effect, try to mind read. And when doing so we’re typically pretty certain about ourselves and that our guess is correct. That’s right, guess! Because we can’t mind read so it is in fact pure guesswork!

Do you recognise the scenario of when someone behaves a bit odd or off towards you unexpectedly, you soon start to think of likely reasons why they are. A friend doesn’t return your call so you assume you’ve upset him/her. An email to your boss with a report isn’t acknowledged so you believe the content wasn’t good enough. You smile at someone in the neighbourhood and s/he doesn’t smile back, so you think they for some reason dislike you….

The good news is that this is perfectly natural and a common human tendency.

The bad news is that it’s all very overdramatic and self critical, yet strangely self centred! The friend, boss and neighbour most likely have other things going on in their worlds than little old us. Right?

Well, this is exactly the kind of thing that happened to me back in 2001.

We had recently moved into a new house and bought our first car.

I drove home from work one Friday afternoon, in a splendid mood ahead of the weekend! I parked outside the house next door and at the same time the woman who lived there parked across the street. I spotted her as I got out of my car and happily said hello. She mumbled a very unfriendly hello with a tight and grumpy facial expression and she didn’t look at me.

My mood very quickly plummeted from elation of the weekend’s arrival to concern and worry that I’d upset my new neighbour. I was wrecking my brain for possible scenarios of how, and soon deducted that it must be because I parked outside her house, in a space she may have perceived as hers.

It put a damper on my previously jolly mood for a good couple of hours as I hated the idea of upsetting someone, anyone really, and for it to be our new neighbour was mortifying!

The sort of self talk that ensued was along the lines of ‘oh my goodness, she hates me!’. Which upon reflection, sounds pretty ridiculous right? Yet in the moment, felt perfectly reasonable!

On the Sunday I was in the garden when my neighbour spotted me over the hedge and started to chat about the weather. I, slightly surprised, chatted back and over the course of the conversation she mentioned she was dreading returning to work as she’d left a pretty bad situation on Friday. I said, ‘I noticed you seemed distracted when we parked up on Friday night’ and she laughed and said, ‘yeah, I bet I looked like a thunder cloud!’.

Quietly to myself, I felt like such a fool! And just a little relieved too!

As I mentioned this was back in 2001, before I saw the situation for what it was. That I was, in fact, trying to read her mind. Which I’m totally incapable of!

So the chances that I would have got it right were pretty slim.

As I mentioned earlier, this is perfectly normal and very common. The reason being that we can’t handle ambiguity, so automatically start to fill in the gap when we’re unsure of what’s behind a certain behaviour.

I frequently hear examples of this tendency in my work, and just how much angst and worry it can bring.

So let’s save ourselves a lot of anxiety and accept that when doing this we are making up fictional stories and then believe our own fiction, usually with ourselves unwittingly having ended up in the villain part. Not good for our mood or self esteem!

Next time you find yourself feeling the ill effect of such thought patterns, try interrupting it by telling yourself ‘don’t be so sure’. If you’re still feeling convinced your fiction is the only possible scenario going on, write it down and read it back to yourself. You’ll soon notice when you’re being overly dramatic and just a little self-centred to your own detriment.

And remember, just like you on autopilot tend to interpret things with you on centre stage, so does everyone else. So whoever is ignoring you, appearing off or somehow strange towards you, it’s most likely nothing about you and all about them and what’s going on in their reality!

Be kind and generous to yourself and each other.


If you enjoyed this, check out an earlier blog and see how even the rich and famous can fall mercy to this human tendency.

Lesson Learnt from My Younger Self

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