Blog Short #1: Be careful of the company you keep!

Welcome to Monday Blog Shorts – ideas to make even Monday a good day! Every Monday I share a short article with you about a strategy you can use, or new facts or info that informs you, or a new idea that inspires you . My wish is to give you something to think about in the week ahead. Let’s dig in!

This week’s blog short is about how others influence you, and why it’s important to be discriminating when choosing who you hang with on a regular basis.

Let’s approach this from the point of view of your brain, because knowing how this works neurologically helps you understand the scientific process of behavior influence. It has to do with something called mirror neurons.

Before I get into that, think about this:

You know that when you repeat an activity many times, you can eventually do it on autopilot. At first you have to exert a lot of effort, but over time you do it without thinking. Like driving.

This happens because the repetition creates neural paths in your brain that allow the activity to be remembered so that your motor responses happen without needing to focus or think too much about them.

What’s going on is that the neurons associated with the activity are firing together and a creating a mental pattern that your brain tucks away and keeps for you when need it. Like files on a hard drive.

Now for mirror neurons:

A mirror neuron is special in that it fires not only when you do something, but when you observe someone else doing something.

So if I see you pick up a comb to comb your hair, neurons fire in my brain in the same pattern as the ones firing in your brain to complete that action. You actually pick up the comb and run it through your hair, but my brain imitates the entire sequence in exactly the same pattern even though I didn’t touch the comb or comb my hair. Pretty amazing, huh?!

The caveat is that this only works if the action is intentional.

That means that if you just wave your hands around in the air for no particular reason, my mirror neurons won’t be activated. The action has to have an intention that I can perceive. When you pick up the comb, I can anticipate what you’re going to do with it and that perception activates my mirror neurons. As you comb your hair, I can feel that action.

Mirror neurons are the basis of imitation, as well as empathy.

You can perceive the other person’s intention, feelings and behavior, and you can imitate the neurological activity behind them in your brain. This is how babies learn to imitate the movements that Mommy makes when she plays with them, or smile when she smiles at them.

The Implications

There are many implications to the discovery of mirror neurons, but for today, let’s focus on what it means in terms of the company you keep.

Have you had the experience of picking up some of the mannerisms of your best friends, or a family member, or your partner? I’m sure you have. We all do it.

When you spend a lot of time with someone or a friend group, you adopt similar mannerisms, sayings, and more importantly, thought patterns and habits. We’re wired to connect, and imitation is a product of our brains connecting through mirror neurons.

When the company is good, meaning the habits, activities, thought patterns, and feelings states we imitate and pick up are in our best interest, then the connections are healthy and influence us for the better.

But, when the opposite is true – when the habits, activities, thought patterns, and feelings states are chronically negative – our mirror neurons work the same way to instill neural paths in our brains that increase the influence of those negative behaviors.

If you work in an office where gossip is heavy, and the group you work with often engages in criticism and behind the back judgments, you may find yourself automatically engaging in the same behavior even when it’s not really what you aspire to. The daily exposure of intentional gossip is picked up by your mirror neurons and installed if you’re not aware and careful about extricating yourself from engaging in that behavior. You might find yourself participating even when you’d rather not.

This is just one example. The point is that we all know that other people influence our behavior, but understanding that the influence is actually felt in our brains in such a way that our own neural pathways are infiltrated and installed is something else altogether! It’s powerful. This is why you need to choose your relationships and company carefully.

See you next week!

All my best,

Barbara

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