The second step to brain mastery and powerful communication follows directly on from the first.  Now that you’ve taken inventory of your gestures, it’s time to learn to control and shape them.

Here’s the surprise:  once you take charge of your own gestures with the right techniques, you’ll be well on the way to controlling the emotions and reactions of the people around you.  That’s because of mirror neurons.

Mirror neurons were discovered by accident, when an Italian researcher noticed that monkey’s brains lit up in the same regions as the ones that fire during eating when they simply watched someone else eat.  What the research team eventually determined was that these mirror neurons – as they have come to be called – are essential for the human ability to have empathy for other people and indeed other creatures.

But even more importantly, mirror neurons make it possible for us to understand and entertain another point of view, or another person’s pain.  Without mirror neurons, communicating successfully with other people would be difficult, if not impossible, because no one would be able to engage in sympathetically understanding another person’s emotions – the source of human connection, agreement, disagreement, conflict, and all the rest.

In short, mirror neurons make communication possible – and then up the ante on communication by making emotions contagious when we witness them in others or radiate them outward to others.

The discovery of mirror neurons means that we can understand precisely how humans empathize and share emotions with one another for the first time.  That understanding means, in turn, that we can learn to create trust quickly with a group by creating specific emotional responses in its members, without them being consciously aware of the manipulation.

You do this by focusing on a series of single strong emotions yourself, consciously chosen and invoked, and then sharing them with the group by connecting with single members of the group.  That discipline is relatively simple to describe but very difficult to practice, because we’re used to experiencing emotions rather than channeling them.

But with practice you can get quite fluent in emotional control, and you’ll find it easier and easier to evoke the emotions you want in others.

For example, do you want to fire up a team to strive to reach an apparently impossible goal?  You first create, then signal, and then evoke, passion in that group of people — passion that leads to sustained action.

Most of us go through the day with a cacophony of emotions roiling through our heads and hearts.  We’re panicked getting ready to go to work.  We’re furious at the guy who just cut in front of us on the freeway.  We’re overwhelmed by the emails waiting for us when we get to the office.  We’re intimidated by the meeting with the boss, where we have to explain how far behind that project is.

These emotions are reactive and (usually) counterproductive.  Instead, you can gain mastery over them through the power of your unconscious mind, by focusing on one emotion at a time, so that both you and the people around you find your presence calming, or inspiring, or motivational, on a daily basis.

That mastery begins with gestures, because gestures are the most reliable indicator of your unconscious emotional state, and your intent.  More on how to do this in a subsequent post.

More in this series:
Step 1 »   |   Step 2 »   |   Step 3 »   |   Step 4 »   |   Step 5


  1. Hi again, Nick.

    Following up on my comment on your previous post in this series, Kelly Mcgonigal, in her book, The Willpower Instinct, spends a lot of time in one of her chapters on mirror neurons and how they can both help and hinder our efforts to control our willpower. Example: Spending time with people who exercise regularly can spur us to exercise more ourselves; watch your flatmates eat a creamy cheesecake every week and the odds are good that you’ll be picking up a fork sooner or later.

    I appreciate your linking the concept to communication. On to Part 3!


  2. This is a great blog series that reminds us that our body mirrors our minds and how now mirror neurons can be sources of our influence on others. Will share this with very many of my colleagues thanks.

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