Note: The first half of this blog might seem repetitive and annoying, but I encourage you to read it all.
“Hi there, how are you today?” I ask as I reach for the first item to scan.
“I’m pretty good. How about you?” she asks as she piles her items onto the belt.
“I’m pretty good, too,” I reply as I continue scanning and bagging her groceries. I look at the size of the order and the lack of line behind her, and decide I have a moment to really connect with her. “Did you get to enjoy the sunshine today?” I probe.
“Oh yes, we just finished a walk and now we are rewarding ourselves with this.” She smiles widely as she puts the ice cream and brownie on the belt.
“OMGoodness. Good things are happening in your home today!” I smile back and then finish the order.
“I’d say, ‘Have a nice evening, but it looks like that’s a given,’” I tease as she grabs her last bag off the counter.
“Thanks, Amanda,” she replies and walks out.
Next customer. Eggs. Bacon. Coffee. Ice cream.
“Only the important stuff tonight, eh?” I tease the young man in front of me.
“Oh yeah. I don’t like to live without my ice cream or my coffee.”
“Yeah, me neither. It’s important to start and end the day well, don’t you think?”
“Absolutely. Thanks, Amanda,” he says as he pays, grabs his items, and walks out.
Man, I love this job when I get to really connect with people — even if it is over weather and dessert. The good vibes flow back and forth, and I feel like we all leave this experience a little better and brighter because of it.
Suddenly, a line of five people have formed, and I have to move a little more quickly because I know it’s dinner time and the rush is coming.
“Hi, how are you tonight?” I ask as he plops his few items on the belt.
“I’m well. You?” He smiles as he scans his code and pays.
“I’m well, too,” I reply. “Have a great night,” I say as he grabs his food and leaves.
“You, too,” he replies over his shoulder.
Next customer. Just a few items.
“Hi, how’s it going?” I ask.
“Oh, it’s been a good day. How’s it going with you?” he asks as he pays.
“Yeah, it’s been a good day,” I say as I put his items in a small bag and hand it to him. “Have a good night.”
“You, too,” he says as he leaves.
It’s so odd how we humans mirror each other so automatically. We all respond with the same words so often, especially when we are all in a hurry. Automatic is too easy.
Next customer. Just a few items.
“Hi, how’s it going?” I ask.
She smiles, “It’s going alright. How about with you?”
“Oh yeah, it’s alright.” I finish bagging and she finishes paying. “Have a great night!”
“How are you?” the customer asks me, breaking my natural flow of conversation where I initiate and they respond.
“How…” I start and stutter. “Uh… I’m good. How are you?” I reply.
“Oh, I’m glad this day is over,” she says as she puts a bottle of wine and a tub of ice cream on the belt.
“Oh yeah, this should help you have a better night for sure,” I joke.
“That’s what I’m thinking. Thanks, Amanda,” she says as she walks out.
“Have a great night,” I say.
Next customer. A few items.
“How’s it going?” he asks.
“It’s good. How about with you?” I ask as I scan his dinner.
“Yeah, I’m good, too,” he says as he pays, grabs his meal, and leaves quickly.
“Have a great…” Wait. What? Shit. “How are you today?” I ask, feeling embarrassed that my script has glitched — that I even got stuck in a script to begin with!
She smiles, aware of what’s just happened. “I’m living the dream. You?”
“Oh yeah, living the dream for sure!” I respond as I finish her small order and then say, “Have a great night!”
Welcome to my life every Wednesday evening.
This cashier job has been one of the most incredible opportunities to observe what the mindfulness community calls “automaticity” and I call “being asleep in the matrix.”
While some people rail against the matrix and “the people who have created, or at least perpetuated, the disempowering rules,” I’ve learned a few things about how the body and mind work that make me wonder if we really need a villain (or a group of them) to be disempowered or fall asleep in a matrix. (p.s. I’m definitely not saying that the villains don’t exist or take advantage of our biology.)
Have you ever heard of “mirror neurons”?
What are Mirror Neurons?
“In humans and primate species there are neurons called Mirror Neurons. These brain cells activate when we see someone doing something. For example, when a chimpanzee sees its mother opening a nut with a rock and then tries to imitate her with another nut. Mirror neurons are related with empathic, social and imitations behavior. They are a fundamental tool for learning.
‘We are social beings. Our survival depends on our understanding the actions, intentions, and emotions of others. Mirror neurons allow us to understand other people’s mind, not only through conceptual reasoning but through imitation. Feeling, not thinking.’ ~ G. Rizzolatti”
pulled from: https://blog.cognifit.com/mirror-neurons/
I learned about mirror neurons while I was studying child development to acquire my teaching credential and really began to understand how much of our learning comes through mimicking (and how much of our teaching comes through modeling).
It wasn’t until I began working with Dr. Niki Elliott, Founder of Mindful Leaders Project, that I learned that our autonomic nervous system is constantly scanning our environment for the answers to questions about whether we are safe and belong and making those decisions without my conscious involvement.
These two bits of information changed the way I see human behavior because they indicate that:
- We are literally biologically wired to mirror and mimic the people around us in order to meet our most primal needs for safety and belonging and to create rapport with those around us.
- We do this automatically and unconsciously, slipping into scripts and behaviors that keep our sense of safety and belonging alive.
Which brings me back to the purpose of this blog…
It’s sooooooo easy to fall (or stay) asleep in the matrix — to just keep following the same scripts and behaviors that have kept us feeling some semblance of safety and connection — because we have an amazing biological mechanism that helps us to learn and grow… until it does the opposite.
If this mechanism stays unconscious, then we can find ourselves in dangerous territory if one or more of the following happens:
- If we are surrounded by people who are speaking or behaving in disempowered ways, and we are biologically built to mimic and match them, then we will either pick up their scripts and behaviors or become absolutely exhausted from trying to create and sustain our own script.
- This knowledge has also forever changed how I partner, parent, and coach. I realize that even if they don’t know it, people are watching every move I make and feeling ever feeling I feel, and that affects the quality of our interaction, the depth of connection and learning, and the results we can co-create.
- If we are inundated by “facts, stories, opinions, and personalities,” and not awake enough to consciously consider or vet their intent or virtue (truth), then the chances of us “taking on” beliefs, opinions, perspectives, attitudes, and behaviors of those we give our attention to is very high. In this automatic state, we are highly-programmable and susceptible to propaganda and subversive attempts to disempower.
- This knowledge has forever changed the way I determine from whom I’m going to learn and with whom I’m going to play or partner. If I am always, unconsciously, observing and mimicking, I better surround myself with people who are living, loving, and leading in the same way I want to.
We cannot stop being human.
We cannot change this essential biological wiring, and I’m not sure I’d want to if I could.
But it definitely helps to be aware that this is how we are built and what is at stake if we move through life in the default of automaticity.
p.s. As usual, Story taught me about mirror neurons before any teacher ever did. Click HERE to watch one of my favorite scenes from one of my favorite movies.