When you yawn I want to yawn.
When you smile I want to smile.
When you complain I want to complain.
Neurologists have an explanation for this. We have what are called mirror neurons. They pick up cues from people around us and tell our brains to do the same stuff. (It’s not quite as severe as, “if all your friends jumped off a bridge, would you do it too,” but it’s not far off.)
That means we don’t just empathize. We actually physically feel the same emotions.
So how you act has a real tangible effect on others. And who you choose to spend time with will affect your emotions, whether you want it to or not.
If you ever have to stand in front of an audience and teach them something new, how do you do it? How do you get your subject matter to come alive? To bring your audience to the edges of their seats?
Most speakers diminish their impact by getting bogged down in information. That may sound anti-fact, but I don’t mean it to be. Human beings learn through our emotions. We need facts to back that up, but we will remember stories and emotion well after we have forgotten bullet points. We will remember pictures far longer than we will remember data.
Speakers present facts because they get caught up in what they want their audience to think and know after they are gone.
But we are forgetful. We won’t remember the information you give us.
Great speakers present stories based on how they want their audience to feel and what they want them to do. The facts can be offered or gathered after the fact. The stories will carry the lessons forward in our emotional minds.
In December I posted a quote from Pancho Ramos Stierle and discussed the power of the label he used. Today I’ll offer the full quote.
Pancho is an extraordinary individual who seeks to express his political views through peaceful demonstrations during which he sits in silent meditation. At one such meditation demonstration which followed a nine-day fast he was made an example of by policemen who, under orders from their captain, slammed Pancho into the ground, put a knee on his neck, twisted his arms behind his back, and handcuffed him.
Amid shouts of outrage from fellow protesters Pancho said to the officer in front of him,
Brother, I forgive you. I am not doing this for me. I am not doing this for you. I am doing it for your children and the children of your children.
Pancho then asked the officer what his first name was and if he liked Mexican food and then offered this,
I know this place in San Francisco that has the best carnitas and fajitas and quesadillas, and I tell you what, when I get done with this and you get done with this, I’d like to break my fast with you. What do you say?
This officer, so filled with anger and aggression moments earlier, proceeded to, without another spoken word, loosen Pancho’s handcuffs and those of all the other protesters who had also been handcuffed at that point.
It is easy to love people in lovable moments. One of the greatest challenges of humanity is loving people when the automatic response is anger and outrage.
Mindsight, by Daniel Siegel, was my second reading choice from my 2012 reading list. This is the first of three posts on the book.
Siegel describes how we most often operate in a reactive mode with little awareness of how our senses, our bodies, and our minds influence our actions. Awareness of these influences on our actions is key to behavior change. And awareness is like a muscle – exercise it and it strengthens.
Try these three breathing exercises. In each one try breathing for two minutes. Each will have a different focus. If/when your brain moves away from the intended focus, be forgiving and gently return your mind to the intended focus.
- Focus on your senses. Feel the sensory input from outside of you – sounds, touch, smell, sights, and taste. Let your mind wander among these five senses to cultivate your awareness of their variety of input.
- Focus on your internal self. Feel your mood, emotions, and energy, the feel of your chest, breathing, shoulders, heart, lungs, stomach, etc.
- Focus on your mind. Watch the ideas that come to you. Let them go and see where your mind wanders next. Continually notice what thought arises; then put that idea away to make way for the next.
Cultivating these types of awareness in a state of calm reflection strengthens our ability to recognize sensory, internal, and mental shifts throughout our lives and choose our responses rather than be swept up in a reactive state.
Next book I’m reading if you want to read along: The Emotional Life of Your Brain, by Richard Davidson and Sharon Begley.
Of all the times in my life I’ve had to choose between compassion, punishment, anger, or indifference I’ve never afterwards regretted choosing compassion.
Most people (myself included) have a lot invested in being right. When we get into disagreements our emotions can flare, or even without the emotion, we can just stubbornly focus on the reasons we are right and the other person is wrong.
For a totally different experience, try this. Next time you are getting into a disagreement start your sentences with, “I might be wrong . . .”
For a real challenge try this. “Here are three ways I could be wrong . . .”
Often times we have to hold people accountable. The buck needs to stop somewhere. But where does the buck really stop?
If you come down hard on someone for failing in some way, you are doing much more than establishing where the buck stops. You are taking that individual on an emotional ride – defensiveness, anger, shame, frustration, disappointment.
Unfortunately, those emotions don’t end there. They persist. That individual carries those emotions with her. So the next conversation is filled with that anger and shame. These emotions get passed along to the next person again and again.
The buck doesn’t really stop until someone shows the strength, the leadership, to take that emotion away.
If you need to hold someone accountable, even to punish, you can do that with caring and compassion. You can minimize the distance that buck travels. Or you can come down hard. But know, if you do, that the buck doesn’t really stop there.