Have you ever thought about your thoughts? Do you have a tendency to take your thoughts as reality? Lately I have thought a lot about my thoughts. I have actually experienced (something that sounds obvious) that thoughts are mere thoughts and don’t need to be the reality.
We make a lot of assumptions in our mind why people do what they do, what intention they have behind their actions, what they are thinking or how their internal state is right now. Lately I have experienced that many of the assumptions I tend to make, or assumptions that other people make of what I am thinking or why I am doing a particular thing, may be wrong or completely opposite.
Let me give you an example. I am leading a group of students – teaching them how to write good essays for their coming-up exams. Sometimes I criticize myself and think that I am not leading the group well – the students are not going home with more insight or knowledge. However, whenever I have asked for feedback (anonymous feedback), most people in the group report that they are very satisified with the group. So in this example I had an assumption “The group doesn’t benefit the students. I am not doing a good job”, and the response I got was completely opposite of what I assumed they were feeling.
Why am I writing this? Well, my intention of writing this is to tell you that many assumptions we make, don’t need to be the reality. Sometimes I think it’s good for us to realize or say loud out to ourselves: “My thought is just a thought. It’s not reality”.
Let’s take an example the other way around. I am feeling that someone is not responding to me and thinking that the reason is that this person isn’t interested in responding. However, when I ask this person, I understand that he/she is going through an emotionally difficult phase. My assumption was “He/she is not interested”, but the reality was “He/she is in an emotionally difficult phase”.
Do you see the impact our thoughts have? Now if I assume that he/she is not interested, different feelings will arise in me than when I assume “he/she is in an emotionally difficult phase”. Again, those feelings will give rise to different actions. The first one can for example result in avoidance – that I decide to avoid him/her, while the second one can result in approach – that I decide to talk with this person and show concern.
One thing is to see what impacts our thoughts have, another lesson is to see how self-obsessed we can be with our thoughts – that we are unable to see the other person’s perspective. We assume that the other person is avoiding us, and that thought occupies our mind, so we interpret everything in favor of that assumption (confirmation bias in psychology). The result is not just a negative feeling and action, but also that we are unable to show the other person the emotional support he/she needs.
Okay, yes, I am good at talking. Our assumptions lead to misunderstandings. Right, okay. But how to avoid this? Like you saw in the examples above, we cannot read what’s in the other person mind. We cannot know what the other person is thinking. Yes, we can assume what they are thinking, but we don’t know if it’s the reality. I think the solution is communication. You should ask the other person – why did you do that? What was your intention of saying that? How are you right now? You should not ask by attacking the other person – but ask with an open, curious and not-knowing way.
Learn to test your negative assumptions of things happening around you. Don’t just accept your assumptions that lead to negative feelings to be the reality. Learn to be curious of what’s in the other person’s mind – not only in your thoughts, but in your communication.
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