A friend of mine asked me to write about why women expect men to read their minds. “We are not mind readers!” he added. “Yeah, I’m not getting into the middle of that,” I responded. But, this morning, I decided to explore what mind reading really means. I have to say that I learned a lot from this little exploration, and my friend is not going to be too happy with what I found because we actually all have the capability to mind-read if we focus. We are not all that good at it, so we have to work at it, though. If you don’t know someone, you have about a 20% accuracy rating on knowing what they are thinking or feeling. Married couples and close friends rank at about 35% accuracy. So, if you think you know what someone means, you’d better check it out. You have a good chance of being wrong.
Psychology Today magazine had several articles about mind-reading. I chose three that interested me as blog fodder. The links are included at the end of this blog. They are worth reading because they are chock full of good tips. I always thought mind-reading meant being able to hear people’s thoughts. Mind-reading actually refers to the capability to decipher what is in a person’s mind by observing their actions, facial expressions and tone of voice. Our brain is wired to do that. When you consider that the brain is wired to use this input to read another person’s mind, I saw right off why we are so crippled when it comes to conducting conversations over the phone, internet and email. We don’t have the critical input. In other words, we don’t know crap about what they are trying to say.
Apparently, we have mirror neurons in our brains that automatically start to mirror the emotions of the other person in an encounter. An example of this mirroring capability happens when I am walking down the sidewalk and someone is coming toward me. I’ve noticed that initially we walk on the same side with a head-on collision as a result. I actually have to work at it cognitively to move to the opposite side. Our brain wants to “mirror” the other person naturally. It’s no wonder when I get around someone who is angry, sad or joyful that I start to feel the same thing. Our brain automatically does that for us. It is apparently a protective mechanism built into us to determine if we need to initiate the fight or flight response to get away from someone who is angry or fearful. Our cognitive abilities can override that, but we have to engage those first. However…and this is a big however….if we are distracted by the past or future, these neurons will not work. Because we are thinking about how they are always stuck in anger, act like a Pollyanna or we can’t stand them, we don’t pay attention to what’s really happening in front of us. Our brain is distracted by our preconceptions.
I know I’ve had to limit my interaction with people who are chronically angry because it is uncomfortable to me. Because of my history with angry people, I’ve become overly sensitive to anger and can “catch” it much more easily. And, I have a more visceral reaction to anger because of the abuse I’ve experienced. So, my own triggers kick in, and I can go to a very bad place. It’s not worth the risk. According to these articles, there is a neurological reason for this. I am not “weak or flawed” as I’ve often feared. I’m actually perfectly normal given my life circumstances. What a relief!!
The key to successful mind-reading is to be present. That means I must put aside all preconceptions about the other person and what they might feel. I have to ask questions and wait for their response. I need to look them in the eye. I need to really pay attention with a desire to understand them. It’s not magic. It’s the natural capability of my brain to read their feelings. And, then, the real difficult one for me is to trust my instincts. Even if the other person doesn’t know what they feel, I might feel it because I’ve “caught” it. Then, I can gently help them discover what they are feeling. I remember having lunch with a new friend in Michigan, and she was telling me how she was going to rent an apartment in the local area to cut down on her commute. Immediately, I thought – she’s leaving her husband. She never said that, and, when I asked her later, she hadn’t even decided consciously at that point. But, she admitted that subconsciously she really had made the decision but it was too scary to admit. I knew that she had decided because I felt it. One of the problems I’ve found in today’s society is that people don’t know how to talk about feelings. I’ve found it helpful to have a list of feeling words and check in several times a day with myself and others about how they are feeling. If unsure, pick a word from this list. It really helps to be able to name feelings and to even recognize that we have them. Feelings change all day long. It’s really kind of cool once you start becoming conscious of it.
And, I’m sorry, my friend. Men are not at a disadvantage for mind-reading. Both genders have the same capabilities. Women tend to be more motivated because we are more driven by relationships than men. But, we are both in the same game when it comes to skills. Read these articles on mind-reading for tips on how to improve. Meditation is a common theme because it teaches you to slow down and be present. Apparently, mind-reading is a normal capability of all humans, even babies – even men - if we don’t bring in a bunch of other distracting thoughts and preconceptions. Turn off the ballgame. Put down your beer. Quit worrying about your 401k and how much money she’s spending. It’s a matter of motivation. How happy and connected do you really want to be?