Did you know that it’s possible to read minds? And without a lot of fancy equipment, either. Yup. It’s true and I’m going to tell you how to do it.
But first, a little science.
In the 1990s, researchers studying monkeys discovered that when the monkeys saw others picking up food and eating it, their brains would light up as if they were actually doing the eating.
It wasn’t long before scientists discovered human brains do the same thing. Today we know that these so-called “mirror neurons” activate not only when we see others doing things, but also when we notice them feeling a certain way.
It turns out mirror neurons are a way for humans to detect not just what others are doing, but also why they are doing those things and how they feel about them.
As one researcher said, these mirror neurons are like a virtual reality tool, allowing us to “try on” what it’s like in someone else’s head.
“We are exquisitely social creatures,” said Dr. Giacomo Rizzolatti, leader of the team that initially discovered these mirroring systems. “Our survival depends on understanding the actions, intentions and emotions of others… Mirror neurons allow us to grasp the minds of others not through conceptual reasoning but through direct simulation. By feeling, not by thinking.”
Beyond Body Language
Now, you’re probably already pretty good at reading others’ body language, so you can tell when they are upset or happy or resisting or open. You use your powers of observation and intellect to make some assumptions about people.
This is different. Mirror neurons give us a direct experience of what’s going on inside someone else’s head, not through reasoning, but through feeling. We actually feel what the other person is feeling: if they are feeling scared; we feel scared too; if they are feeling happy, we feel happy.
It’s a vital tool for empathy and human connection.
It’s also a tool we can use to better understand colleagues, spouses and others and to connect more deeply. Rather than just intellectually understand what someone is going through, we can directly experience the emotional texture of it.
How to Do It
So, how can you use your mirror neurons to sharpen your connection and noticing skills and perhaps even read minds?
Start with yourself — noticing what is going on inside yourself: the sensations and emotions that are coming up inside you as you tune into someone else.
To start, direct your attention to someone else and then scan your body for emotions and sensations.
Start by directing your attention inward, to the top of your head, and then slowly move your attention down through your neck, shoulders, back and chest, arms, belly, etc. all the way down to your toes. Notice what sensations you are feeling — a pain in your neck, tightness in your shoulders, butterflies in your stomach…
Next tune into any emotions you are feeling — frustration, sadness, joy, anger, excitement.
Chances are, what you are feeling is also what’s going on inside the other person. So you might want to check it out by saying something like: “I notice that while you were talking about your upcoming vacation, I felt some butterflies in my stomach and a feeling of nervousness.” Or: “I felt tingling in my chest and happiness when I heard you talk about your new assignment.”
You might ask if they were feeling similar things, or just wonder to yourself on why you felt that way. (After all, it might just be a clue to another dimension to something going on inside you.)
This is a great way to us to draw out the emotional under-currents of events and decisions, and to develop greater empathy and understanding of people across our lives.
This is an intuitive, non-rational way of sensing others’ experience. And it takes practice, so just keep scanning yourself as you tune into what those around you are saying and feeling. Keep moving your attention back and forth between yourself and others.
And remember that this is not the absolute truth of what is going on inside someone else, but it points to the truth and highlight some deeper emotional aspects of what they are saying. Plus, it’s a great way to raise your own emotional intelligence, which research shows is a key factor in leadership success.
PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons