“Why can’t I just do this stuff at home” is what I thought after an obscene amount of jumping jacks and skipping rope. Last week, I was in a high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workout class at 6:30 am. Now, to get there, I had to shovel my car out of seemingly endless snow, which, to be fair, could have been my “workout” for the day. Nevertheless, beyond the motivation to be healthy, I felt pressure to be there because people were expecting me. 

You know the kind, right? They are the “arrive early, super committed; we never hit snooze” cult in our society. And everyone, but me, is pumped and excited to skip sleeping in, coffee in bed, and all of the comforts associated with ignoring an alarm clock. 

Anyway, I really enjoyed the workout; the 60-second planks, the in-place squatting, the sweating, all of it! And again, I thought, “why can’t I do this at home…..why do I need to leave my house, go to this gym, and be here with these other people to stay committed to these workouts?” 

And then the answer hit (HIIT) me. Do you know why? It’s the people. 

So, it got me thinking… in neurolinguistics, one of the things you learn about is how people subconsciously mirror one another – it’s science.

“Mirroring is a social phenomenon where people mimic another person’s posture, gestures, and words. It’s often an unconscious behavior – we are rarely aware of it when we do it – but it’s a sign that people are attuned and in sync with one another. When two people are mirroring each other, it shows that there is comfort, trust, and rapport among them.” – The Unconscious Influence of Mirroring: The Power of Mimicking Other People’s Body Language by Steven Handel.

Science tells us there are possibly evolutionary reasons why we mirror one another. As I began to think more, it dawned on me, “I go to a group workout class because my brain starts mirroring everybody else.” So, if all these other people are sweating and pushing hard to finish those 50 push-ups, for some reason, I push as hard or harder to complete those 50 push-ups too. Some part of my brain drives me to do it without thinking about it. I’m not thinking, “I need to do it in front of these people.” Instead, my brain is subconsciously thinking, “do this because it’s what is right given the environment and/or situation I’m in.”

By contrast, if I was at home where I could sit down, skip some reps (maybe a set, haha), read a text, sip some coffee, and tune in to some news headline, I may not push as hard because no one is there and it is just me. For some reason, if no one else is sweating, I find it’s harder to push myself to my max.

We mirror each other. Think about social media. So, you see an Instagram post, and people are taking selfies, and then suddenly, you decide a selfie makes good sense because it’s mirroring. 

Think about mirroring at work. People mirror each other in leadership and or reflect parts of their leaders. There’s something about going to the office, people taking a meeting seriously, and how the leader behaves that makes others mirror them. Just the fact they are the leader, and the intrinsic respect for authority or position makes most of us mirror them to some extent. How they dress (generally), how they present themselves, being on time, some of their values, and the list could go on. 

Since the spring of 2020, many of us have been working virtually from home. Seemingly overnight, the mirroring effect in work ceased for millions of people globally. And while the debate over work from home vs. in the office rages on, a question to consider is, “how do we create and sustain effective virtual work cultures?”

Again, let’s recall my example: I don’t need to shovel my car at pre-coffee hours and drive to a gym to do jumping jacks. I can do 250 jumping jacks in my living room. But why don’t or won’t I? 

So, a few questions to consider: Do you benefit from being in the presence of disciplined and committed people? If so, how do you recreate this when you are working from home?

We know we mirror each other, especially in a high-performance culture. Science proves it. Consequently, how will leaders address this perplexing phenomenon and challenge to create and sustain it when many people are indefinitely working from home? Or, if you’ve noticed your high performers thriving as they work from home, what does that say about the culture you’re creating in the office? Food for thought…

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