Just last week while driving I saw an opening ahead and took it—the first position in the go-straight-or-turn-right lane. While I pride myself on being a smart and ethical driver, never one to block another driver from the turning lane, this time I did just that. To my chagrin, a yellow Mini Cooper soon pulled up behind me. Looking back through the rearview mirror I couldn’t see the driver, but I began to pound myself with negative self-judgment and guilty feelings. I just knew they were livid with me for causing them to have to wait to turn right. After a few minutes the light turned green and we both went straight!
In psychological terms, what I did was called “projection.” I projected my interpretation of a situation and another person’s reactions and feelings toward me based on my beliefs, not on reality. Within my own head I believed my own mind and what it told me about the situation at hand. It was wrong, but I whipped away at myself with the “ego stick” I held firmly in my hand.
The facts were that I was sitting in my car at a red light, in the right-turn/go-straight lane, and that a yellow Mini Cooper stopped behind me. Beyond that, I fantasized, becoming a “mind reader” and an ego-based purveyor of truth. The result was that I unnecessarily ruined a few minutes of my day. How often do we do this to ourselves and to others at work or in our personal lives? How many times do we project inaccurate perceptions of our teammates, leaders and family members, never taking the time to check out the truth?