Improve Your Life Personal Growth By Mary Jaksch By Mary Jaksch Do you try to work out what others think of you? Most people do. In fact, many painful emotions, such as shame or shyness are tied to imagining what others think about us. Two questions we need to look at are: How can we improve our mind-reading? Is is a helpful skill to learn? The truth is that wondering what others think about us is mostly a complete waste of time. Because research shows that we are lousy at reading other people’s minds – especially when it comes to how they see us. According to research by Professor Nicholas Epley and Dr. Tal Eyal, our success rate at knowing what others think about us is hardly better than chance. A key reason people have trouble intuiting how they are viewed by others is that they can’t get out of their own heads when they try to take another person’s perspective. As Epley explains: “Getting beyond yourself turns out to be very difficult,” says Epley. “You can’t look at yourself through a lens that’s not colored by your own beliefs about yourself. The problem that people have intuiting other people’s impressions of them is that we just know too much about ourselves, rather than that we know too little about others… While we live our own lives under a microscope and we are present all the time when we do things, other people are not there with us,” notes Epley. “That’s a problem for intuiting other people’s thoughts because we tend to evaluate ourselves in much finer detail. We look at ourselves from the street view, whereas other people are looking at us from space.” You can watch a video with Professor Nicholas Epley where he explains the results of his research here. Contrary to Professor Epley, I do think that we can train ourselves to be more empathetic, that is, more in tune with what’s going on inside of others. But this kind of training is not so much in the arena of psychology, it’s in the field of spirituality. Let’s first look at why it’s important to develop your empathy: Empathy is necessary in order to resolve conflicts In a conflict, we need to understand how the other person is experiencing us. It’s a common experience for all of us to find ourselves in heated arguments where the other person says something like, “You are so […obstinate, cold, fiery, bossy, weak, etc, etc]!” And – like me- you’ll respond with something like, “No, I’m not!”What our response shows, is that we lack insight in how the other person sees us. Tip: Sometimes it helps to replay scenes like this in private. Take the other role and put a pillow in a chair to represent yourself. Now play out the dialogue, skipping from role to role. You may catch a glimpse of how the other person sees you. Empathy is the first step of compassion Compassion is what allows you to understand the suffering of others and to be part of their world – instead of standing apart. Zero empathy is what psychopaths suffer from You definitely don’t want to go down that track! The reason why it’s difficult to ‘get out of our heads’ is that our thoughts, beliefs, judgments act as a barrier between our mind and the reality of the moment. Mindfulness training helps to develop empathy. Mindfulness training, i.e. the practice of being present, helps us to develop empathy. There is something very simple that you can do in order to become more empathetic: When someone talks to you, include ambient sounds in your awareness as you listen Is it important to know what others think about us? The only reason it’s important to understand how others view us, is when we are in conflict. In every other way wondering what other people think of us is a total waste of time! Here’s why: Let’s say you’re going for a job interview. And let’s assume for the moment that you can figure out what others are going to think of you. Will that help you? No – I think it will wreck your interview. Because instead of being spontaneous, you’ll feel awkward and try to be something you’re not – which makes you come across as a fake. My suggestion is to let go of self-reflective thoughts, such as ‘I wonder how I come across?’ It’s only when we stop wondering what others think about us that we can become spontaneous and authentic.