When I’m going through new problems we’ve received for Dear Viv (The Pool’s agony-aunt podcast), I often realise a lot of them have one thing in common: we really wish that other people could read our minds. If everyone were Derren Brown, life would be so much simpler, wouldn’t it?
We wouldn’t have to tell stale partners that a relationship has run its course. We could get a pay rise without actually asking for it. And we wouldn’t have to tell our mother that her relentless criticism is making us want to run her through with a samurai sword.
It doesn’t matter what the subject of the problem is. It could be friendship, family or wedding troubles. (You wouldn’t believe the amount of correspondence we get about Bridezillas. And also from people who I suspect are Bridezillas themselves. No offence, but I can read the passive aggression from a mile off... It will be fine if you don’t have the exact venue you set your heart on, calm down!) The problem itself usually boils down to this: we wish someone already knew what we were thinking, so that we didn’t have to confront them about it.
Here’s the painful and obvious truth: other people can’t read minds. Your boss is not going to know that you really want better pay or more responsibility or a promotion or a four-day week unless you talk to them about it. Your mum is not going to stop making snarky comments unless you specifically ask her to. And your best friend will not magically change her wedding venue just because you’ve coincidentally picked the same place weeks apart. She might think that’s cute. She won’t know you think it’s re-scripting your two weddings as the sequel to Single White Female.
The problem itself usually boils down to this: we wish someone already knew what we were thinking, so that we didn’t have to confront them about it
This is the first part of what I call The Mind-reader Trap: believing that everyone else should anticipate your thoughts, feelings and needs. And I’m not criticising. Because we all do it. It’s only natural to think that other people must think the same way we do, even though we know in our heart of hearts that this is pretty unlikely. The solution? Grasping the nettle. Facing a confrontation. Speaking honestly and openly about what your wants and needs are. Trusting yourself to manage a disagreement. If that’s all too difficult? Well, knowing that you’re avoiding those things is the first step.
The second part of the Derren Brown fallacy happens when you assume that not only can the other person read your mind, but also you can read the other person’s mind! You haven’t asked for a pay rise because you “know” your boss hates you. You don’t want to talk to your mum about something that matters to you because you are “sure” she doesn’t really care about your feelings. You are “certain” that your friend is thinking that her wedding is going to be much better than yours and that’s why she picked the same venue, so that everyone will compare the two events.
See how persuasive these narratives are? And they’re all built on potentially false assumptions. If you find yourself doing this, stop and breathe for a moment. Think: am I assuming something without actually knowing that for definite? Are there any other possibilities? What would happen if I said exactly what I thought and waited to see what their response was? The results can be life-changing. How can I be sure? I have a telepathic channel to Derren Brown and I know he would agree.