You know that yawning is contagious. And have you ever noticed that when someone nods their head, you'll nod, too?

It's because your brain is wired to watch someone move, then mimic that movement as if you were making it. You have special neurons in your brain dedicated to monkey see, monkey do. They're aptly called mirror neurons.

So you mirror behaviors, and you'll also mirror emotions. Mirror neurons are part of the neural network that enables you to have empathy for others.

When you see someone who's upset, you'll feel upset, too. An actor crying in a movie will evoke tears from you. You can't help smiling when you hear someone laughing. You're more likely to feel blue when you're around someone who's depressed.

Studies at Harvard and UC San Diego found that when a person becomes happy, the effect can be measured up to three degrees of their social network.
In other words, your happiness triggers a chain reaction that benefits not only your friends, but your friends’ friends, and your friends’ friends’ friends. To me, the most startling discovery of this study was that the effect lasts for up to one year.
Oh yeah, behavior is contagious.

Numerous studies have revealed the link between your actions and the behaviors of those you care about. And vice versa. Drinking behavior is contagious; so are marriage, fashion and investment choices.

The same goes for attitudes. If you notice someone is nervous, you'll want to move away from them to avoid feeling nervous yourself. Conversely, you're drawn to upbeat people; they inspire your passions.

So we imitate the behavior of others. Sometimes consciously, sometimes not.

For instance, though you probably wouldn't choose to gain weight, obesity can be contagious. You're 30% more likely to become obese if your friends are.

Your internal picture of the acceptable body type is strongly influenced—though not dictated—by the people you care about. And keep in mind that proximity doesn't matter. Obesity has spread across the country.

I'm not talking about peer pressure. This is more like perceived norms. You rely on your peers for the subtle and obvious social signals about what's normal behavior, especially when you find yourself in a new situation.

This mirroring can be extrapolated. On a larger scale, we mirror societal models based on the values of Western culture: higher education, human rights, stress, overbooked schedules, consumption-based lifestyles, individualism, etc.

No value is inherently positive or negative. The impact of the value on your life is what counts.

If individualism is motivating to you, great. But if you're uncomfortable with the idea that individualism unnecessarily spawns a group of vulnerable people, then you'll mirror those who value social safety nets.

Why are our brains wired to mirror? It must help our species somehow.

It's easy to guess a couple of evolutionary sources of mirroring. First, the chances of our ancestors' survival increased in proportion to how quickly they copied the behaviors of those who were thriving.

Second, their ability to bond emotionally with others enhanced the strength of their clan. A strong clan was more likely to survive because its members would go to greater lengths to protect and nurture each other. And people who felt understood would be more likely to reproduce.

You can use this built-in programming to your advantage the next time you want to develop a new behavior or start a new activity. From starting your own business to simply being more adept with identifying and expressing emotions, let your mirror neurons do some of the heavy lifting. Here's how.

Look for people who have already attained one or more aspects you're attracted to. Here are some examples.

• From voluntary simplicity to billions of bucks and everything in between, there are people creating their own version of financial freedom.

• Physically fit people are creating their unique version of optimal well-being.

• Upbeat people are finding fulfillment and inner peace.

Find several people who have already mastered whatever you have a passion for. Just hang around them. You'll receive two benefits.

First, you'll have a variety of models of what successful action looks like. Observe their behavioral styles. Since our lives are the result of all of our choices, observing how they handle the minutiae of life can be as helpful to you as how they handle the big decisions.

But keep in mind that they are only modeling behavioral options; you're not trying to clone them. Based on your personality and circumstances, you'll put your own spin on the types of behaviors you think could produce the outcome you want.

Second, as your mirror neurons naturally mimic their actions, behaviors that initially feel awkward or impossible will become normal.

This is why financial gurus say: If you want to be rich, hang around with millionaires. This is also the source of the adage: You can tell a lot about a person by their friends. Their attitudes will rub off onto you.

The concept of support groups have expanded way beyond Alcoholics Anonymous. From quilting to entrepreneurship, you can find a group for just about any passion you want to learn or master.

Beyond education, support and mastermind groups naturally leverage your passion by providing built-in accountability and motivation. You're much more likely to stay on-track when you meet regularly with like-minded people. Again, mirroring their actions and feelings.

When you're engaged in this process, your commitment to attaining your desire also naturally deepens. You really want it, and you won't settle for less. This mindset is critical to achieving the clarity that simplifies life.

The social signals you witness on a regular basis will either reinforce or undermine your chances of sticking with a new behavior long enough to make it permanent. So choose your models carefully!

Go after the things you want, let go of the things you don't want and use your wisdom to know the difference. And now you can leverage the power of your mirror neurons to create a more fulfilling life faster, with less effort.

Today's Coaching Question: How could you use your mirror neurons to master a skill or emotion you've been struggling with?

Author's Bio: 

Judy Widener is a Certified Life Coach and author of Power For A Lifetime: Tools You Customize to Build Your Personal Power Every Day Of Your Life. You can sign up for Discovering Your Values, a 5-day e-course at no cost at Her passion is assisting her clients to discover what is most important to them, then to create more balance and satisfaction in their lives. She offers a comprehensive program that teaches clients simple ways to build their personal power and overcome obstacles to achieving their dreams. Judy has coached more than 600 people over the past 13 years. Her website is