By:  M. Lisa Shasteen, Contributor to CEO Effectiveness

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Call me slow, but all of a sudden, I actually “heard” Bill Anton’s comments about mirror neurons and how we tend to mirror people we seek approval from early in life.  We then base our lives on how those people showed us to “be”.  If you couple that with our natural tendency to take in only the information that confirms our existing world view, it’s easy to see how we become stuck.  The influence can be powerful and used for good or evil.

Let’s start with something that is tragically on everyone’s mind right now.  Terrorists.  I don’t know about you, but the film Wolf Blitzer showed on CNN of the toddler in Raqqa who was trying to behead his teddy bear with a knife turned my stomach.  How can that happen?  How can any of this happen – the global metastasis of an ever-increasing group of killers filled with hate?  One answer is mirror neurons.  That baby (and by the way, what was he doing with a large knife anyway) was clearly seeking approval from his parents.  Most members of these groups we hear about are young.  The recruitment process focuses on the young and disenfranchised and weak who desperately seek approval and need to belong to something.  Enter ISIS.  ISIS members befriends these seekers, gives them a clear ideology (mental model starter kit) to latch onto which confirms their belief that they are underdogs and that someone else is to blame.  Then they give them a gun and the authority to destroy those who do not share their world view. What an elixir!  Now, they are powerful, and they are praised for mirroring their mentors.  Not to mirror means death.  When they come to town, people mirror, leave, or die.  That’s the extreme.

On the other hand, mirroring can result in a great deal of good.  We have to be aware of it.  There are legacies of good in the world, and I always wondered how that happened.  Think of the founders of organizations or artists doing great work whose children succeed their parents in their work.  An example might be Julian Lennon who succeeded in his father, John Lennon’s, legacy.  We have come to expect that these successors will be just like their parents, and we treat them as if that were true on Day 1.  That is the expectation, but it is not always accurate based on the mental models the child brings to the table.  Some of them are nothing like their parents and do not do well.  Much of that likely has to do with whether the parent spent time with the child sharing the best aspects of themselves for which they are known.  It’s less about the business techniques they are taught than the way they view themselves and those within their organizations.  They’re working with a mental model forged in the crucible of their youth and based on a mirroring effect in the parent-child relationship.
To escape the grasp of ineffective mental models requires a deep understanding of who we are and the ability to go inward to question and even experiment with what we know about ourselves and the world around us.  To do so will remind you that your choices are not set in stone.  They are still fluid and infinite. For those who would like the power that this journey can unlock in their lives, Bill Anton’s book, Ascend is excellent.  Because it is written like a novel, it’s an easy read, and, graciously, Bill ends each section with a summary of the points he was making in that section. In other words, you can’t miss his point or the transformative lessons he offers.  Ascend, Forging a Path to Your Truer Self by William D. Anton, Ph.D., is the perfect holiday gift for yourself and maybe that young successor in your midst. The holidays might offer just the right space to realize that, no matter who you are, your opportunities are and have always been limitless.

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