Are You a Mind Reader or a Mind Knower_

Sometimes Kathleen gets too excited and forgets that there are other children in the class.

My first grade teacher left this biting review on one of my report cards. It was a criticism repeated by many people to my parents and myself: my zeal for knowledge eclipsed my awareness of social norms. Aka, I talked too much.

I heard this message enough that I had the opposite problem by middle school. I don’t blame anyone, but I do think that this type of feedback made me more aware of how I was being perceived by others. Don’t be the girl who talks too much or raises her hand for every question. Everyone hates that girl. 

I still spend a great deal of time and energy guessing whether others perceive me as annoying. Should I send another email? Am I texting them too often? Do they really want to hear about this television show? It’s human nature to guess another person’s thoughts and emotions, and then act as if they were true. It’s an evolutionary gift, but it often bites us in the butt.

A while back I wrote about trying to act from the inside out—to be guided by my best thinking and values rather than the perceived reactions of others. Being an inside-out person requires a willingness to acknowledge that other people’s thoughts are off limits. My only domain is myself. But when I’m anxious, I quickly turn into an octopus. My emotional tentacles twist into the minds of others, searching for clues to win them over.

So often we reach for other people’s thinking because we haven’t the faintest idea what our own thinking is. I must ask myself, what would it look like to know my own mind instead of trying to guess the minds of others? To be a mind knower instead of a mind reader? Let me give you some examples.

Mind Reader: You try to talk about subjects that your friend finds interesting.
Mind Knower: You share what’s important to you and make space for them to do the same.

Mind Reader: You assume your boss is upset with your late project, so you send an apology email.
Mind Knower: You decide how often you will update your boss on a project status.

Mind Reader: You stop bringing up politics because you think it makes your parents anxious.
Mind Knower: You clearly define your own beliefs and share them when relevant.

Mind Reader: You don’t talk about a subject because you assume everyone in the room knows more than you.
Mind Knower: You share your thinking but make space for questions and new information that can alter it.

Mind Reader: You worry your partner is annoyed because you forgot a chore.
Mind Knower: You define how you want to complete chores, and then follow through.

The Mind Knower is self-motivated. She is considerate, articulate, and productive, not to win over the hearts of others, but because this is the kind of person she wants to be in the world. Her definition of self exists outside of the praise and approval of others. And she can enjoy relationships more because she lets others be in charge of their own minds.

As I think about those report card comments, I wonder how my six-year-old self could have been taught to be a mind knower. Perhaps someone could have asked me, “Kathleen, what kind of person would you like to be in the classroom?” instead of warning me about the reactions of others. I hope that I can ask my own daughter questions that engage her own thinking, instead of simply planting my own in her brain.

This week, I’d like you to pay attention to those mind reading habits. You can ask yourself these questions:

  1. When am I trying to manage the thoughts and emotions of others instead of my own?
  2. When am I borrowing people’s definitions of being a good person, or a productive employee, or an interesting friend, because I haven’t created my own definition?
  3. What would it look like for me to engage in knowing my own mind?
  4. How can I interrupt mind reading and direct myself back to my own thoughts and beliefs?

News from Kathleen

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