How to Think Better: jumping to conclusions

While it’s a little early for Halloween, I’d like to talk about mind readers and fortune tellers.

No, not those kind.

I’m talking about thinking distortions that come from jumping to conclusions.

Here’s what happens: Rather than rely on evidence to come to a logical conclusion, mind readers and fortune tellers focus on a negative conclusion and then look for evidence to support it.

What’s more, they generally ignore evidence to the contrary of their pre-determined negative conclusion!

Are you a mind reader?

If you’re a minder reader, you think you have the inside track on the intentions or thoughts of others. (Newsflash: You don’t.) You arbitrarily—and without specific proof—decide someone is reacting negatively to you.

Example: Jane asked her client for a referral a few days ago, and he hasn’t responded to the request. She says, I think he’s unhappy with my work. He did seem a bit brusque during that one meeting last month.

Are you a fortune teller?

If you’re a fortune teller, you anticipate things will turn out badly and act as if this is a foregone conclusion. You believe your own bad-outcome predictions and act accordingly.

Example: Adam is trying to get clients for his new business and has a few leads. When he sits down to send out proposals, he thinks, I’m never going to get their business. They’ll go with one of my larger, more established competitors.

Adam sends out the proposals, but doesn’t follow up because he assumes he won’t get the business. He doesn’t, in fact, get a response to his proposals, but it’s his fortune telling (and corresponding lack of follow through) that’s the cause—not because he wasn’t the right vendor.

Here’s the problem

These thinking distortions alter attitudes, beliefs, feelings, and actions—and not for the better.

For instance, a mind reader thinks, Mary barely spoke to me at the luncheon; she must be upset with me.

As a result, the mind reader feels badly and avoids Mary at the next function they attend. Guess what? Mary wasn’t upset with the mind reader. She was feeling unwell that day and wasn’t particularly communicative with anyone.

A fortune teller scenario I hear frequently is someone thinking about starting a business.

They paint a picture in their mind of their startup not thriving. From there they see themselves not able to make the mortgage payment, being disowned by friends and family, and losing everything they now have. Needless to say, these fortune tellers don’t tend to follow through on starting a business.

How can you combat these tendencies to jump to conclusions? Each profile calls for its own strategy.

Mind reader strategies

  • Often making assumptions about the thinking or intentions of others is rooted in people pleasing. Mind readers survey their environment looking for cues they’ve displeased someone or someone is unhappy with them. Letting go of the need for approval can diminish or even eliminate this thinking distortion.
  • When you think you have an inside track on what someone else is thinking or their intentions, ask yourself, How do I know? What facts am I basing these thoughts on? Unless someone explicitly tells you what they’re thinking, you don’t know. You really are not a mind reader.

Fortune teller strategies

  • If you’re a fortune teller, question yourself: How do I know it will turn out that way? Think through all the assumptions you’re making to get from point A to point B. Question what evidence you have to support your prediction. Ask yourself, Am I making leaps in my thinking? Is there any other conclusion I can draw?
  • Fortune tellers often experience significant anxiety, stress, and worry related to their bad-outcome predictions. If your belief isn’t serving you, how about exchanging your prediction of a bad outcome with something else? Just try it. Craft a scenario where instead of everything going wrong, everything goes right. What would it take to make that version a reality?

Both mind readers and fortune tellers can benefit from asking, How does this conclusion serve—or not serve—me? What is this way of thinking costing me?

Are you a mind reader or fortune teller? What types of conclusions do you tend to jump to? How much unnecessary energy do you expend because you jumped to a conclusion that ultimately proved untrue?