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Science-Based Secrets for Reading Other People’s Minds

Science-Based Secrets for Reading Other People’s Minds

Imagine you’re really excited about a new idea for a collaborative project. You send an e-mail about it to a friend who you just know is going to be as excited as you. You’re waiting on pins and needles for a response, checking your inbox every hour. A couple of hours pass, then a couple more. You’re getting stressed and anxious, waiting on the edge of your seat for a reply. The next day goes by, and another day. You’re very confused about why you haven’t received a response. Why isn’t your friend writing you back? Doesn’t she like you? Is she upset with you? What’s wrong?

Has this ever happened to you? It’s happened to me many times. My Autopilot System goes into overdrive, imagining various negative scenarios and sending out stress-inducing hormones. Such catastrophizing is a common type of thinking error, one that research shows undermines mental and physical wellbeing.

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Another thinking error in this scenario is that one’s friend will share the same opinion that you do about your new idea. Studies on a cognitive bias called the “false consensus effect” indicate that our Autopilot System significantly overestimates the extent to which others agree with our opinions. This is especially true for those close to us, such as our friends and family. As a result, we make mistakes when we use our intuitions to predict the behavior of others around us, including our immediate social circle.

However, the false consensus effect applies more broadly as well. Our gut reactions tend to perceive “the public” as a whole as sharing our perspective. This problem is especially problematic when it causes us to overrate substantially the extent to which others will agree with our political opinions. Such overestimation undermines our ability to engage in healthy political discussions and contributes to political polarization. No wonder we don’t do well as intuitive psychologists!

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So how can we work against the false consensus effect? First, remember a previously-discussed strategy, namely that our mental maps never match the territory of reality. And our mental maps certainly do not match the mental maps of others!

To keep the latter fact in mind, here is a very useful mental habit to adopt: avoiding “failing at other minds.” What does that mean in practice? Essentially, when trying to imagine how other people think about the world, take a moment to stop and remember that their perspective is inherently different from your own. This is a specific case of a broader de-biasing strategy of imagining the opposite, in this case taking the perspective of the other person. And why is this helpful? Well, our intuitive theory of mind, the way we understand the minds of others, tends to model others as ourselves. Our Autopilot System perceives others as understanding the world and having the same idea of what is true as we do. Avoiding falling for this trap helps remind us of this problematic tendency, and work against it. Through developing this mental habit, we can be elephant whisperers and retrain our Autopilot System to have a more intentional approach to predicting the thoughts, emotions, and behaviors of others. Thus, we can evaluate reality more clearly and gain greater agency by making more effective decisions that help us reach our goals.

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Now, what are the strategies for most effectively learning this information, and internalizing the behaviors and mental patterns that can help you succeed? Well, educational psychology research illustrates that engaging with this information actively, personalizing it to your life, linking it to your goals, and deciding on a plan and specific next steps you will take are the best practices for this purpose. So take the time to answer the questions below to gain long-lasting benefit from reading this article:

  • Are there any instances where catastrophizing has negatively influenced your wellbeing?
  • Has the false consensus effect ever steered you wrong in personal interactions? What about in your predictions of public opinions and political engagement?
  • In what ways, if any, do you think the mental habit of avoiding assuming others understand the world in the same way you do can help you have a better life and gain greater agency?
  • If you think it can be beneficial for you, what kind of plan can you make and what specific steps can you take to internalize this mental habit?

Featured photo credit: Smart Brain via lifehack.org

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Dr. Gleb Tsipursky

President and Co-Founder at Intentional Insights; Disaster Avoidance Consultant

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Last Updated on February 19, 2019

How to Break Bad Habits: I Broke 3 Bad Habits in Less Than 2 Months

How to Break Bad Habits: I Broke 3 Bad Habits in Less Than 2 Months

The cycle of bad habits is what keeps us living small and stops us from reaching our true potential. Breaking a bad habit isn’t as hard as it seems; despite being a CEO of a company and raising two children, I still managed to break 3 bad habits I had within 2 months. Yes, that’s quitting one habit in less than 21 days.

I took steps to eliminate them one at a time. Habits such as drinking Coke every day, slouching when sitting and not having a consistent exercise routine.

So how did I break these habits? I used the Control Alternate Delete Method (Ctrl Alt Del).

What is this method and why is it so effective? Read on to find out how to break bad habits with this unique method.

How to break bad habits with the Control Alternate Delete Method

    We all notice on some level what our bad habits are. A lot of the time we choose to ignore the negative ways these impact us.

    For me, I was sitting most of the day in front of my computer at work in a slouching position. I drank Coke every single day in an attempt to stay awake. I put off any kind of exercise regime because I felt that it was better to just relax and have fun after a whole day of work. As a result, I was leading a really unhealthy lifestyle suffering from weight gain and back pain.

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    I needed to make a change.

    I started to read books about building habits such as The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, The One Thing by Gary W. Keller and Jay Papasan, and The Now Habit by Neil Fiore. After reading all these books, I’ve come up with my own method to quit bad habits — The Ctrl Alt Del Method.

    I started by focusing on just one bad habit, the first one being the sheer amount of Coke I was consuming each day.

    Every day I applied the Ctrl Alt Del Method and after two weeks, not only did I stop drinking Coke every day (I only drank one can in 2 weeks), but I started the better habit of drinking 8 glasses of water every day instead.

    After eliminating one bad habit, I moved on to the other two with this same method and a month later I was:

    • Hitting the gym twice a week.
    • Improving my sitting posture, not only at the office but also at home and everywhere else, improving my back pain.
    • Gaining core muscle which improved my back pain as well.
    • Losing fat around my waist which went from 36″ (considered obese level) to 32″ (normal level).

    If I can improve my life using this method, then so can you. Using this structure to eliminate your bad habits will increase your success and replace your bad habits with more positive ones.

    Control: Master your desire

      Identify your triggers

      Bad habits such as drinking alcohol, smoking and snacking too much trigger the release of dopamine, a feel-good chemical in the brain.[1] Although you might not like the end result, they give you a positive outcome in the moment. This is pure psychology.

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      It’s important to identify what is triggering you to continually act out your bad habit. This isn’t always an easy step because our habits have been built up over a long period of time.

      If you need help in identifying your triggers, here’s a list of common bad habits and their triggers: 13 Bad Habits You Need to Quit Right Away

      Self-reflect

      To help you work out your triggers, do a bit of self-reflection. Ask yourself questions such as:

      • What comfort are you getting from this habit?
      • Why do you need comfort?

      For example, I chose to drink coke because it tasted good and it made me feel good when I was stressed. I slouched only when I sat for too long working on my desk and started to feel tired. I skipped exercises because every day after work I felt I already did enough works and didn’t want to work out.

      If you choose to eat fast food every night, you’re probably telling yourself you’re too busy to cook. But ask yourself why? What are your priorities?

      Maybe you have a lack of self-worth that means you don’t have the self-love to want to look after your health. Perhaps it’s a sign you’re not making enough time for important routines like shopping and creating a healthy meal yourself. Maybe you’ve always had a belief that you’re a bad cook.

      Write a diary

      Write down your thoughts and feelings around this bad habit. Writing things down forces the brain to think harder.[2] This helps you to find the source to your stress or limiting negative beliefs.

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      Alternate: Find a replacement

        Find a positive alternative habit

        Once you think you’ve discovered your trigger, try to find a similar but healthy option. This is where I replaced Coke with lemon water; slouching with simply taking a walk and stretching my back every hour; and chilling at home after work with workout exercises that I actually found fun.

        You could decide to walk to the office instead of driving or getting off the bus earlier to walk. You could switch to a healthier breakfast cereal instead of grabbing a sugary snack when you head out of the door.

        By doing this, you aren’t getting rid of the act altogether like you would if you completely gave something up with nothing to fill that void. This helps your brain accept the improved habit more.

        Create a defence plan

        Everyone has moments of weakness and that want to revert back to the bad habit will rear its ugly head. This is where a plan can help counteract these moments.

        Think of things you can do when the temptations come. For example, if you want to check your phone less, ask your friend or partner to keep it for you or switch it off and read a book. If you’re a starter for an exercise routine, like me, get someone to do it with you to keep you accountable.

        Decide on something you will do once you feel triggered to go back to your old habit. Repeating these positive alternative habits consistently will help wire your brain to see them as your normal new habit over time.

        Delete: Remove temptations

          Remove stuff that reminds you of the bad habit

          Getting rid of anything that reminds you of your bad habit is essential. For example, I got rid of coke in my office and at home and replaced my usual office chair with an exercise ball. It makes it much easier to stop slipping back in a weak moment.

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          Avoid all kinds of temptations

          In the same vein, avoid places or people that you know will tempt you back into that bad habit. Don’t go to the supermarket on an empty stomach to avoid the temptation to buy trashy snacks, don’t drive past that fast food joint but find an alternative route instead, say no more often to the friend you know will get you drunk again this weekend.

          It’s all about not putting yourself in the situation where you’re in danger of relapsing.

          Conclusion

          The Control Alternate Delete Method uses the right steps you need to overcome your need to indulge in your bad habits. Working with your core psychology, emotions and feelings behind your actions is what makes this method effective and easy to apply to all bad habits you have.

          Bad habits are easy to form and making changes can seem difficult but remember that it’s all about consistency and repetition.

          Start using the Control Alternate Delete Method today and you can stop a bad habit permanently.

          What bad habit do you want to put a stop to once and for all? You must set aside time and pick one bad habit to focus on. Start using the steps to increase and maintain more positivity in your life moving forward.

          More Resources About Changing Habits

          Featured photo credit: Picjumbo via picjumbo.com

          Reference

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