"Mind Reading" is where, for example, you make an assumption that other people are looking down on you, and where you become so convinced about this that you don't even bother to check it out.

Imagine you're giving a presentation, which is going very well, but you notice that a man in the front row is nodding off.

It so happens that he was out 'on the town' the previous night and is rather suffering for it now, but you don't know this. You might have the thought, "I'm so boring that I'm sending the audience to sleep".

Suppose a friend passes you on the street and fails to say hello, because he doesn't notice you. You might erroneously conclude, "He is ignoring me so he must not like me anymore".

Or perhaps your spouse is unresponsive one evening because he or she was criticised at work and is still too upset to want to talk about it. Your heart sinks because of the way you interpret the silence. "He (or she) is angry with me. What did I do wrong?"

You may then respond to these imagined negative reactions by withdrawal, or counterattack. This self-defeating behaviour pattern may act as a self-fulfilling prophecy and set up a negative interaction in a relationship when none exists in the first place.

Techniques for 'un-distortion'

Robert Leahy has suggested the following techniques for challenging the Mind Reading distortion:

  1. Rate the degree of your belief and identity and rate your emotions.
  2. Identify exactly what your prediction is — for example, "He doesn't like me, so he won't talk to me"
  3. Conduct a cost-benefit analysis
    a. Do you think that mind reading gives you valuable information?
    b. Will mind reading help you prevent being taken by surprise or will it prevent something bad from happening?
    c. How would your thoughts, feelings and behaviour change if you did less mind reading?
  4. Examine evidence for and against your mind reading.
  5. What is the quality of the evidence that supports your mind reading?
  6. What cognitive distortions are you using to support your belief? Are you personalising, fortune telling, labelling, discounting positives, using a negative filter?
  7. How could you prove that your thought is wrong? Is it testable?
  8. What if your thought were true — why would it bother you? If people are thinking what you think they are thinking, does this mean somehting about you (e.g., "I'm undesirable" or "I'm foolish") or something about them (e.g., "They're mean")?
  9. What if someone doesn't like you? Exactly what will happen? What things will remain the same?
    a. What does it make you think if someone doesn't agree with you or approve of you? Does this disagreement or disapproval mean that you are less worthwhile? Is the other person less worthwhile? Why or why not?
    b. List all of the things you can still do even if the person doesn't like you.
    c. No one gets approval from everyone. Why should disapproval bother you?
    d. What would happen if you accepted the fact that someone might not approve of you? What would be the costs and benefits to you?
  10. Practice repeating the following statement 20 minutes each day: "No matter what I do, some people won't like me." What happens to the thought? Does it become boring?
  11. Act against your thought. Do something positive toward the person you think doesn't like you.