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Maybe it's not all about Will Power


Recently, I attended a conference in Los Angeles on Metabolic Health. Surrounded by my fellow attendees for four days, I had some amazing conversations discussing metabolic strategies, physiology, insulin resistance, glucose, and effects of sugar on our health. We debated the benefits of nutrition, stress management and lifestyle on cancer, diabetes reversal, cognition and so much more. It felt so WONDERFUL to be understood. I didn’t have to explain myself or why I had the beliefs I did. I didn’t have to convince or debate anyone on the basic tenants of the gathering. My Mirror Neurons were being positively stimulated, and it felt fantastic.

“What are mirror neurons?” you might be asking yourself. Well, turns out they are very important brain cells that were only were recently discovered, and are fairly significant in the way humans have evolved and survived as a species.

“Mirror Neurons are a small circuit of cells in the premotor cortex and inferior parietal cortex. What makes these cells so interesting is that they are activated both when we perform a certain action—such as smiling or reaching for a cup—and when we observe someone else performing that same action. In other words, they collapse the distinction between seeing and doing.”

“Mirror neurons are the only brain cells we know of that seem specialized to code the actions of other people and also our own actions. They are obviously essential brain cells for social interactions. The way mirror neurons likely let us understand others is by providing some kind of inner imitation of the actions of other people, which in turn leads us to “simulate” the intentions and emotions associated with those actions. When I see you smiling, my mirror neurons for smiling fire up, too, initiating a cascade of neural activity that evokes the feeling we typically associate with a smile. I don’t need to make any inference on what you are feeling, I experience immediately and effortlessly (in a milder form, of course) what you are experiencing.

This is according to Marco Iacoboni, a neuroscientist at the University of California at Los Angeles, who has a book entitled “Mirroring People: The Science of How We Connect to Others."

"It is understood that these Mirror Neurons are very important in our survival as a species. We are social beings and we emulate others. This is important that we emulate what we see and continues to stimulate similar activities mostly those that are important for relationships and communication but also for doing tasks and performing other functions.”

“We learn from watching each other and we naturally want to copy the actions of others. In other words, we do what we see. This is vital to our survival and well being.”

Now think about this in terms of our current lifestyle. We live in a society where we see other’s behaviors and actions in many different ways. Social media, marketing, advertising and so many other forces influence us. But - its not about your will power; instead, it's your mirror neurons firing.

When we are making lifestyle changes that are not consistent with what we see going on in our modern culture, it is very hard to not conform! This is because of all the mirror neurons showing us the other behaviors we know are not healthy, and are the exact behaviors that we are trying to change. Our brain is telling us to do what we see around us and yet we are trying to work against our neurobiology - a very difficult thing to do.

So what’s the answer? Well in part, we need to deliberately work on being mindful of how powerful mirror neurons are, and how we can choose the people and actions to stimulate mirror neurons that will support the behaviors we want. That means surrounding ourselves with people doing the behaviors that you yourself want to do. Maybe these mirror neurons are just as important as the types of food and nutrition we are consuming to be able to make changes for the long-term?

Not sure how long my mirror neurons will be “ overactive” from the conference last week, but I am still basking in the glow of that event.

In our new weekly support group, we are actively working on changing our mirror neurons and stimulating the messages and behaviors that we want to mimic. The group meets on Wednesdays from 7-8pm, and there is still room to Join us - we meet by phone or on Zoom videoconference. If you are interested, send me an email.

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Polly Halpern