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Spontaneous Overflow Reflecting in Tranquility

The Official Blog of Michael Schoenhofer, Executive Director

What Color Are Your Eyes?

What Color Are Your Eyes? Some months before my wife and I were engaged we were out to dinner and found ourselves staring into one another's eyes. I remember how relaxed I felt and how comfortably we stayed in that moment of wordless intimacy. Today if I catch my wife looking at me like that I’ll say – “What are you looking at?” She always smiles and says the same thing, “I’m looking at you!” We both smile catching a feeling without explanation. It's all thanks to mirror neurons. We all have something called mirror neurons located in the frontal cortex of our brains. Their sole purpose is to connect us with other people; to help us share thoughts, feelings, and intentions. It always astounds me when someone picks up on my anxiety. “What are you so worried about?” They will ask. “How did you know I was worried?” Mirror Neurons at work.

We are all built to connect with one another – those close to us, colleagues, an even strangers we pass on the street. It’s part of who we are and the more we practice connecting, which is another word for empathy, the better we feel, the closer we are to those important to us, and some even say the better we perform at work. Alan Alda in his new book, “If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look On My Face,” says that mirror neurons enable us to have a "closer connection, a more personal connection, to the person with whom you're trying to communicate. And what happens is that the other person becomes your communicating partner, not the target of your communication. . .. It's ping pong instead of archery. . .." Our communication is headed for success when we pay more attention to what the other person understands rather than focusing solely on what we want to say. The practice of empathy; that is, becoming aware of the feelings and emotions of another, has real benefits.

  • Annoying people are easier to tolerate

  • Discussions become more productive

  • You feel more relaxed

  • You better understand the people around you and those most important to you

Here are three ways that you can make empathy and mirror neurons work for you to improve your connection and communication with the people you love and colleagues at work.

  • What color are your eyes?

When you are talking to anyone – your wife, significant other, your teenage daughter, a colleague, your boss, a customer, the checkout person, try to notice what color their eyes are. Seriously. Try this. According to research merely the act of seeing someone's eye color activates mirror neurons which can create a connection that might change the course of a conversation.

  • Name that mood?

See if while you are talking to an individual or a group, you can mentally step back and name the mood, feeling, or attitude they have at this moment. Name it – bored, excited, confused, interested. Just the act of naming activates mirror neurons which creates a connection that can change the whole course of a conversation.

  • The Rule of Three!

  1. When talking to someone try to make no more than three points.

  2. Try to explain a problematic idea in three different ways.

  3. Try to make a significant point three times.

In this way, you are focusing on communicating and engaging your listener rather than just trying to prove a point. The Role of Mindfulness Your sitting practice of meditation for 20 minutes each morning and those brief moments of mindfulness you practice during the day help you to become more accustomed to stepping back, becoming more curious, and asking yourself: “I wonder. . .

  • What’s happening here?

  • What am I trying to communicate?

  • What’s the feeling?”

Those moments when you are trying to identify the color of another’s eyes or naming their mood are moments of mindfulness where you are actively extending yourself out of your head games of judgment, blame, and worry into identifying what is happening in the present moment. Mindfulness in its purest form is staying tuned in to this moment as it is. We are born with the materials to connect with one another. But it takes practice. And isn’t it worth the moment it takes to look into the eyes of someone you love, someone you respect, or someone you’d like to get to know and ask yourself – “What color are your eyes?” It will change your world.

Sources: If I Understood You, Would I have This Look on My Face, Alan Alda; The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion, Christopher Germer, Ph.D.

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