Hi there, Pam Coburn-Litvak here. Have you ever tried to predict the future? Or thought you knew what someone else was thinking without even having to ask? I know I have. And I often assume the worst. I’ve thought, “I just know this is going to fail.” In psychological terms, this is called fortune-telling. And I’ve thought, “I just know they’re talking about me!” This is called mind-reading. But there’s a funny thing about jumping to conclusions. We often land in the wrong spot, misreading situations or people entirely. That’s what Part 5 of my series on Cognitive Therapy is all about. Fortune-telling and mind-reading often go hand in hand. See if you can pick them out in these examples: Jack is worried about a project that went south at work. He’s thinking: “I just know my boss is fuming. He’ll probably fire me now. My career is ruined. My life is over!” Kayla is worried about her boyfriend. She’s thinking, “He’s upset about something. We’ll probably get into a huge fight about it. And then we’ll break up. My life is over!” These negative thoughts create three problems. First, mind-reading and fortune-telling often interweave their own story, creating a false fabric of reality. We think to ourselves, “It all fits, so it must be true.” But our false reality is actually masking the truth. Second, we create self-fulfilling prophecies this way. If we expect to fail, then we probably will fail. If we expect to fight with someone, then we usually end up doing exactly that. Anticipating the worst often leads to experiencing the worst. Third, our conclusions land us in a whole lot of emotional stress. They can escalate into anxiety or even panic. They can also destroy future hope, because our final conclusion is often, “My life is over.” We may laugh at the melodrama, but such hopelessness can bring on the darkest thought of all: suicide. Almost 800,000 people commit suicide worldwide every year, placing it in the top 20 causes of death globally. It’s been said that suicide is the ultimate fortune-teller error. We look into the future and can’t see ourselves as being happy there. But it’s important to understand that these thoughts distort our ideas of what’s happening now, as well as how we see the future. Cognitive therapy can help us get rid of these distortions. In this series, we’re applying four principles of cognitive therapy to specific distorted thoughts. First, we do our RESEARCH, examining the evidence for our conclusions. For fortune-telling, we can ask: How do we really know what’s going to happen? Are there other ways the situation can go? For mind-reading, we can ask, How do we really know what they’re thinking? What exactly did the person say or do that led us to our conclusion? Are there other ways to interpret their actions? Is our conclusion consistent with what we know about the person? Second, we can be more REALISTIC about our conclusions. Depressed or anxious thinking patterns are often inflexible, meaning we follow our negative thoughts down a narrow rabbit hole. We can get trapped in our own narrow conclusions, believing they are the only way to interpret what is happening. It can help to remember that there are always other ways to look at things. Jack is worried about his work project. But are there other realistic outcomes, beside his boss getting so mad that he gets fired? Yeah, sure. Jack could talk the project over with his boss, getting constructive feedback and offering ways to improve on the next one. Kayla is worried about tensions with her boyfriend. Are there other realistic outcomes, beside breaking up? Yeah, sure. She could ask him what, if anything, is wrong between them. And then they can work together to make things right. These are both better alternatives that crawling through a dark, narrow rabbit hole on our own. Third, we can find the best cost-benefit RATIO. Most of us have a pretty spotty track record at best at jumping to conclusions. And they’re hazardous to our emotional health, often landing in conflict, anxiety, and sometimes even despair. This is a heavy cost, compared to the bleak benefit of sometimes being right. Do we think that cost is worth it? Fourth, we can follow the Golden RULE. When we are tempted to mind-read, it may be worth asking, “Are we judging others in ways that we ourselves wouldn’t want to be judged?” “If I were on the other side of this, how would I want to be treated?” My personal answer is, I would not want someone else to jump to conclusions about what I am thinking, even if they think they understand me already. Ben Franklin once said, “To succeed, jump as quickly at opportunities as you do conclusions.” We all have an opportunity to believe the best of each other. We can choose not to assume, but to ask. Not to talk, but to listen. Not to put words or actions in others’ mouths or minds, but to respect their ability to do this themselves. For the best mental health, let’s learn to look before we leap to conclusions. Please like and share this content, and take a few seconds right now to subscribe. Thanks so much!