By Danielle Wirick, MS, CSCS, FMSC
Have you ever been to an exercise class and had the instructor scratch her head and you instinctively scratch your head too? You see two women talking at lunch and you think that the events being discussed have happened to both of them because their facial expressions, emotions and gestures mimic each other. Have you ever been watching football and when there’s a tackle you instinctively flinch almost as if you feel it? These are all part of the behavior of mirroring that can help you make the healthy life you want.
Wikipedia defines mirroring as “The behavior in which one person copies another person usually while in social interaction with them. It may include miming gestures, movements, body language, muscle tensions, expressions, tones, eye movements, breathing, tempo, accent, attitude, choice of words or metaphors, and other aspects of communication.” At Intelligent Fitness, our personal trainers use mirroring all the time to monitor our client’s behaviors. If we want you to move faster during your workout, we move and talk faster. If we want you to slow down (because no one likes it when you throw up in the middle of the workout), we will slow down, lean on a piece of equipment, ask you a question. You might think we’re moving so fast because we had a bit too much caffeine, or slowing down because we must be tired. But in reality we are getting you to do what we need you to do to make your workout successful.
How can you use mirroring to improve your health? On an individual basis you can mirror certain body positions tied to an emotional state so you begin experiencing the feelings that are attributed to that state. It can be as simple as forcing yourself to smile and feelings of happiness will occur. On another level, you can use it to feel more confident. As an example, have you ever noticed how the healthy people at the gym just walk in and exude confidence? They walk tall and seem to know where they are going; they say hi, smile and look at everyone. Why can’t you do that? You might not have any idea where you are going and not know a soul in the place, but it doesn’t matter. Your confidence level will be higher and others will gravitate towards you if you mirror the confidence you have seen in others.
This next concept of mirroring is what I consider the “friends and family” position. Who do runners hang out with? Last time I checked it was with other runners. If you see an obese individual at the mall are you more surprised if the rest of the family is overweight or obese or if they are thin and fit? So if you want to be a runner, hang out with runners. If you are overweight, your friends and family are probably overweight as well. Jim Rohn, an author and motivational speaker, said, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” Think of your circle of friends and family. If you want to be different than them, then you have to stop being around them and choose another circle. This is where everyone panics and says, “I can’t give up my best friend” or “My husband and kids are overweight also, what do I do?” It doesn’t mean that you have to dump your friends and join a 7:00 am running club, or divorce your husband and leave your kids. But it does explain why all those contestants on the TV show the Biggest Loser are whisked away to the Ranch to lose all that weight but tend to gain the weight back when they return to their normal life.
With this knowledge, I want you to utilize Mirroring to the fullest. Be confident, smile, stand tall and act like you know what you’re doing. Confident people are happy and attract other confident people. And those are good people to have around you in times of intense change. Then, look hard look at your friends and family. If your husband is thin, but unhealthy, your kids are overweight and glued to their video games, or your friends are overweight, be their mirror. Get your husband on board – no one wants their wife to do more pushups than they do. For your kids, if you get away from the TV or computer and do some else – read, exercise, cook, play a game – they will surprisingly follow along. Look for friends that are active and ask to join them. What about those friends who don’t have the same health goals as you? Sometimes you need to leave them and sometimes you have to avoid certain situations with them. No one “needs” to go to dinner to catch up. Go for a walk at a local park, go shopping, have them over for coffee, or bring them to a workout. If they can’t be with you without food involved, then they don’t really want to be with you. Accept it and move on.
It can be a tough reality to change, but if you use mirroring to help you reach your health and fitness goals, it will happen.