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POWER SKILL: Decide Who to Mirror

Twenty plus years ago, I remember feeling stunned by a wisdom bomb dropped in a yoga class: we become those we’re around. It rang as true, and has led to identifying a valuable Power Skill: Decide Who to Mirror. Design my life and work so I'm around people I wouldn’t mind becoming.

Over the years, I’ve learned about science and interdisciplinary theories that back it up. Developmental theories, modern psychology, intergenerational trauma, epigenetics, and other psychological frameworks all support the wisdom bomb in one way or another.

One of the most concrete proofs comes from the accidental discovery of mirror neurons in 1992, thanks to Italian neuroscientist Giacomo Rizzolatti, MD, his team, and their monkeys: our brain is activated in the same ways when we witness someone doing something—almost as though we were doing it ourselves.

The discovery of mirror neurons excited social scientists because it was a big clue to explaining empathy and compassion: if our brains light up in similar ways when we witness a behavior or emotion, we can literally feel another person’s experience.

Take it a step further and with repetition, over time, patterns of neurocircuitry develop so we adopt the behaviors of those around us.

The question becomes: how do we leverage this, to improve humanity? So that we can avoid the negative phenomena caused by mirror neurons—such as mass hysteria (think Salem Witch Trials or Holocaust)—and magnify the positive?

On a smaller scale, how do develop the power skill deciding who to mirror, intentionally, and landing in work environments that change us for the better?

When we work with people we don’t admire or respect, we are literally putting our neurodevelopment at risk. This is because our brains are plastic; they continue to shift and sculpt based on our experiences. While a bulk of neurodevelopment completes at age 25 for women and 28 for men, development doesn’t stop.

So take a look around. Do you like who you’re surrounding yourself with? Are their actions ones you wouldn’t mind directly or indirectly, subconsciously mirroring? Bigger picture: is their way of being making the world a better place, and one you want the next generation to inherit?

If not, intentionally work on the Power Skill of designing your life so you are around great people. Either change your environment so it’s full of people you admire (reshuffle away! now’s the time!)—and/or become incredibly curious. Sharpen awareness by doing inquiry, reflection, and journaling about what influences you’re absorbing.

Some questions and sentence stems to use:

“How can I be around people I admire?”

“How do I create boundaries around this person so I don’t become like them?”

“What environments contain people I admire?”

“Where can I serve as a model?”

“How will I make sure I don’t start [insert undesirable colleague behavior here]?”

Let me know how this lands for you, and what you discover.



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