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Mirror Neurons, Monkeys & Modeling in Coaching

monkey see monkey doIn the past 20 years, scientists have uncovered that there is a neurological reason behind the old saying “monkey see, monkey do.” Mirror neurons were discovered in the early 1990s in a primate lab in Italy. A scientist returning from lunch one day entered the lab eating an ice cream cone prior to resuming his experiments. One particular monkey in the lab had sensors attached to regions of its brain that were involved in planning and carrying out movement.

Any time neurons fired in those regions, the attachments sent a signal to a machine measuring the activity. When the monkey saw the researcher move his hand to his mouth to eat his ice cream cone, neurons fired, the machine signaled activity, and yet the monkey had not carried out any movement.

The scientists later discovered that the simple act of watching a movement stimulated the same neurons that had previously fired when the monkey itself had moved his hand to his mouth to eat a peanut or banana.

Scientists now understand that mirror neurons are essential to learning. UCLA psychologist Patricia Greenfield notes, “we see that mirror neurons absorb culture directly, with each generation teaching the next by social sharing, imitation and observation.”

mirror neuronsSo how do mirror neurons relate to coaching? Clients observe and imitate. If we act with optimism, clients will be more likely to act with optimism. If we approach challenges as an overcomer, they will be more likely to do so. If we are tense, clients will be tense. If we are calm, clients will be calm. Clients can observe, imitate, and learn how to approach their challenges by watching us!

With this in view, what if we believed, felt, and acted in the following way:

“My role as a coach is to facilitate hope, options, choice, and meaningful action. My default mode, which is pervasive and contagious, reflects possibility and potential, optimism and overcoming, broadening and building, confidence and certainty, finding a way and moving forward, trusting that there will be solutions even if they are not readily apparent.”

What are the far-reaching ramifications as you hold out and act on these beliefs today?!

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