Posts Tagged With: David Burns

Day 2: Other people’s thoughts.

Hey!  I started a blog and wrote an entry yesterday.  Tres cool.  And, look at me, I’m writing another post, the very next day!

But I have to confess: some judgmental thoughts have crept in about this already.  Big surprise. And a lot of those have to do with what other people might be thinking. For example:

Did people like what I wrote?  Did they understand what I was trying to say? Did I come across as (smug, unhappy, too whatever)? And what will people think of this post? And how will I keep them interested in future posts?

Geesh. It’s exhausting.

I don’t know about you, but when I mind-read — that is, when I guess or assume what somebody else is thinking — I tend to go to the negative.  I recognize why that is — why not be prepared for the worst?  If you assume that people are going to judge what you do, maybe that will make you do a better job.


In the individual and group therapy I do, we talk a lot about judgment. And sometimes people will make a case for how expecting the worst can be useful — as a way to protect ourselves and to Be Prepared.

I don’t think so, though. I constantly see how assuming the negative gets in the way. It’s draining and it screws up your ability to experience what’s actually happening.  If you assume that other people are thinking judgmental thoughts about you, that’s likely to make you more self-conscious and invite your own self doubts.

Caring What Other People Think, and the pain that often accompanies that — it’s rampant.   But what power do thoughts  — just thoughts rattling around in people’s minds — really have? ? I’m not talking about the fear about the thoughts — which can have a huge effect — but the thoughts themselves.

There’s an exercise I love doing in groups. This exercise, among other things, shows how other people’s thoughts and opinions are not as powerful as we might fear.  (This exercise is adapted from something that David Burns, a Cognitive Behavioral therapist, describes in his book, “Feeling Good.”)  Here’s what I do: I tell everybody in the group to think the best possible thoughts they might have about ME.  I wait while they’re doing that and try to look modest.  Then, I tell them to have the unkindest, most critical thoughts they can have about me.  After I let that go for a little while (people often avert my eyes as they’re getting into that), I then say, “Okay. You had the positive thoughts and the negative thoughts about me. You know what? Here’s the deal.  NONE OF THAT TOUCHED ME.”

Man, I love doing.  Not only does that BLOW AWAY any worries I might have had about what other people might be thinking, I have seen some people look transformed as they realize this: those thoughts they feared in others (and maybe also in themselves) are powerless. Powerless!  Just air!

So that’s always great.

One more thing before I post this sucker:  when we assume what other people are thinking, no matter what it is, that gets in the way of our seeing those people clearly, in all their complexity.  And that’s a loss, isn’t it?

For example,  I started out writing this blog entry imagining you, dear reader, as a potential judger and dismisser. And when I had insecure moments about what I was creating, I could even imagine you having negative facial expressions — impatience, boredom, skepticism, etc.   THAT didn’t help me write this. What helped me was to let go of those limiting assumptions about you. As a result, I could enjoy the amazing opportunity of welcoming you — a complex human being,  having lots of different and shifting thoughts, opinions,  reactions, feelings, expressions–  to spend a little time with me here.

Much better!  Thanks for reading.

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