Stop Guessing Who’s Mad at You
A therapist explains how to stop trying to be a mind reader and focus on being a ‘mind knower’
One thing I’ve observed with my therapy clients over the course of the pandemic is that many of us have become anxious mind readers, constantly certain that our friends think we’re terrible or our co-workers think we’re lazy. A tiff between siblings suddenly feels irreparable. A Zoom session with a grumpy boss feels like a guarantee that a firing is on the horizon. In isolation, we read every sign as pointing to the same conclusion: Someone is probably upset with us.
Being able to predict how other people are feeling is a useful skill to have. But when we’re cut off from our normal social interaction, this skill becomes divorced from reality. Every unreturned text or terse email can seem like a sign of impending doom. So how do you stop all the mind reading and stay focused on yourself?
The answer is deceptively simple: You let people be in charge of themselves. Instead of trying to manage everyone’s emotions, try stepping back and reminding yourself what’s your responsibility and what isn’t. You are responsible for managing your own anxiety, listening to the thinking of others, and being the kind of person you want to be; other people are responsible for managing their anxiety, communicating their thinking, and letting you know if they’re upset.
When you can draw these lines and stay focused on yourself, you can become what I call a “mind knower” instead of a mind reader. You think about what kind of friend you want to be instead of guessing whether a friend is annoyed with you. You create your own definition of good work instead of constantly guessing what your boss’s is.
You Don’t Control What Happens, You Control How You Respond
The most important practice in Stoic philosophy can guide us through the age of coronavirus
Here’s what it looks like to shift from mind reading to mind knowing:
Mind reader: You guess someone might be bored and quickly end a phone call.
Mind knower: You talk about what’s important to you, let your friend do the same, and know they can speak up if…