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What Does Your Mirror Reflect?

Psychologists have noticed for a long time that human beings tend to emulate one another. For instance, if someone smiles at you, you are likely to smile back. If you are at a public event and everyone claps, then you likely will feel some compulsion to clap along. If you are with a group of people who are eating together, you will likely stop eating when the group stops eating, or if the group continues to eat, you also will likely continue to eat. If your group is happy, you will tend to be happy. If your group has experienced a loss, you will tend to reflect(and even experience) their emotional pain. This is a social aspect of our biology. You have almost no control over it. When it happens, it happens at a level that you are usually not aware of. It wasn’t until the 1990s that psychologists discovered that we have whole circuits in our brains made up of mirror neurons that actuate these behaviors. These mirror neurons cause us to “mirror” the other humans around us. Their existence explains things like public clapping, laughter, and other group behaviors.

This physiological discovery has many social implications. But the biggest implication it might have has already been touched on in the bible. Consider Proverbs 13:20 where we read that whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but whoever walks with fools suffers harm. The reason for this is that we tend to emulate those that we are around. If you live among wise people, you are going to learn their ways. Of course, they will teach you things. And of course, you will consciously observe and learn from their modeling. But amazingly, you will also unconsciously begin to mirror their wisdom. Almost as if by some magical psychological osmosis, you will begin to absorb their wise qualities. Doing so is hardwired into your biology. On the other hand, if you hang out with people who live recklessly, without considering consequences or costs, your biology will cause you to mirror their bad traits. Because you will be following their lead, you will make their same bad decisions. And you will likely experience the same misery that stupid decisions usually bring. It’s true. Life is hard, but it’s harder if your stupid (or foolish).

So if you want to build habits that compel you up the hill, rather than habits that cause you to fall down the hill, then consider the company you keep, and the kind of reflection that you shine. Surround yourself with people who are better than you, and shape your habits accordingly.

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