Here’s a bit of information about yourself you may not have known. It can support your professional development, up your Emotional Intelligence – and boost your self-esteem.
You can read minds! Did you know that? And, in all fairness, you need to know that others can read your mind, too – your thoughts, feelings and intentions. According to Giacomo Rizzolatti, we’re born with the ability.
In a New York Times article, “Cells That Read Minds,” Rizzolatti and other neuroscientists describe a special class of brain cells responsible for this ability. They’re called mirror neurons. Their discovery provides insight into how you learn to walk, talk, smile; why you can understand how others feel and empathize with them; why you like sports and the arts; the intangible way culture gets passed on from generation to generation; and why the kind of media you watch and interact with really does matter.
Dr. Rizzolatti points out what most of us know at a gut level: understanding the actions, intentions and emotions of others is central to our survival and sense of safety. We have the ability to understand what others are thinking, feeling and what they may do based not on rational thought, but on feelings. This fascinates me because, intuitively, I’ve always known this to be true. In fact, LIES That Limit discusses the constructive and destructive aspects of being tuned in to what others are thinking and feeling, and the impact it can have on the choices we make. Now, science provides additional evidence to prove the point.
Pay close attention; your psychic ability may just be the by-product of active mirror neurons. Given your natural ability to anticipate what others are thinking, feeling and are about to do, you can work at better understanding where they’re coming from and why. Here’s an example: on a recent flight, squeezing into the seats next to me were two people who I assume to be a mother and her thirteen to fourteen year old son. From their conversation, it seemed they were coming home from a trip abroad…so lots of time together, in close quarters – airplanes, hotels, restaurants, etc.
As they fell into the seats, the mother began speaking to her son in a way that felt like yelling, to me.
“You always do that. I told you to stop. You’re rude and embarrassing. I told you not to behave that way. It’s not nice. I don’t want to have to tell you again. Don’t push people or push your way through crowds. Wait your turn. Have I not told you this before?! I’m tired of telling you about your behavior.”
On and on, she went. I felt badly for the young man. Having been the child of a mother who, out of a sense of responsibility for raising a well-behaved child, had no qualms about public chastisement, I felt for him. I looked deeply into the pages of my book to avoid his eyes. I imagined, or sensed, he was feeling humiliated at the public dress-down he was receiving. Sitting next to me, I was aware of his breathing and, peripherally, his icy, frozen stare, eyes locked straight ahead. He was doing so to control himself – to not yell back or strike out.
After she quieted down, I thought about the mother and wondered why she felt the need to speak to her son so harshly, and with many strangers bearing witness. I went into my “Why is she doing this!?!” The more I pondered the question/judgment, the more I could sense her thoughts and feelings, too. The awareness that came floored me. This woman was TERRIFIED that her beautiful son, whom she loved and saw great promise in, would not grow up to be a fine, respectful, courteous man. She was afraid that he would become another pushy, ill-mannered person who doesn’t know how to live well in the world with others.
Suddenly, I felt empathy for her. I could clearly relate to the way she was feeling. It was an anxiety many Moms carry; myself included. While you and I may not have spoken to our child in that way, and in front of others, the terror would be quite the same.
I believe my mirror neurons helped me empathize with both parties in this situation. At a feeling level, I understood what was going on in each of them. With that, judgmental thoughts about the mother subsided. They were replaced by empathy and respect for her genuine concern for the son she loved, and her intentions to raise him well.
Could mirror neurons help you to be more empathic – more emotional intelligence? Try it and then decide. Instead of judging them, tune in to the people around you and, even if you don’t agree with them, notice how much of their thoughts, feelings and intentions you can discern. You’re bound to surprise yourself with how much information you’ll receive. You really can read minds, thanks to the mirror neurons in your brain!