But that's not all. When we don't have the relevant information, do we fill in the blanks with happy thoughts? That would seem the logical thing to do. Yet this seldom happens. Actually, our tendency is to do exactly the opposite. We think the most catastrophic thoughts, we assign people the worst of intentions, and we imagine the worst possible outcomes. Since we never have all the facts and perspectives, even when we witness or experience things ourselves (there are still a great many things you don't know, such as the mindsets of others involved) this cognitive quark gets us into a lot of trouble on a regular basis.
There are several variations to this madness:
1. Mind reading: We assume someone is reacting in a certain way when we don't have all the information. For example, we leave a message for a friend or for a date, and when they don't call back right away, we assume it's because that person is ignoring us. In actuality, there could be a thousand other reasons for the delay, including the possibility that the person never got the message.
2. Fortune telling: We pretend to see into the future and know the outcome of a situation before it plays out. We anticipate that things will turn out negatively, and convince ourselves that this is already an established fact. For example, should our child endure a trauma, we envision all sorts of future problems and convince ourselves this event has surely caused permanent and irreparable damage.
3. Assigning intent: Another version of mind-reading, when someone does something that causes pain or injury to us or those we love, we presume to know what they were thinking at the time, and tend to fill these blanks with malicious motives: "He did this because he hates me; They just wanted to hurt our family," etc.
To avoid fill in the blank thinking, get in the habit of always asking yourself some of the following questions: