A Walk in Others’ Shoes May Give us Tired Feet

It’s commonly prescribed that when we fail to understand someone, we ought to try “walking a mile in their shoes.” In many situations, we tend to mentally mimic the thought processes, choices, and actions of others, either in a positive or a negative light. We might think ourselves through the determination needed to start an exercise program, or we might fixate on the thoughts that must have been present when someone did something that we didn’t especially appreciate. But while the practice of putting on another’s shoes may help us gain insight, it can also put our minds through the same stress and wear endured by the person who actually engaged in the activity. At Yale University, a psychologist Joshua Ackerman suggests that our willpower is directly influenced by the observation of other acts of willpower, an idea that may be important for mental health professionals who are exposed to such events on a constant basis.

Ackerman and his peers have discussed the idea in an attempt to learn more about the ways in which our relationships to others affect our own mental operation. The idea is readily present behind a common event: observing a friend abstain from eating just one more junk food item or playing just one more round of a video game can inspire us to act in the same way. But it may also be the case that even if we don’t attempt the goal, simply observing it and going through the mental motions behind the event may have similar effects on our consciousness as if we had actually engaged in the activity.

The solution for those drained by imagining the successes of others may not be in ceding the source of such thoughts, that is, actual clients and other contacts, but in training the mind to remain individual when performing observations. Through encouraging progress in willpower yet straying from putting oneself through the same process mentally, a greater degree of freshness and strength might possibly be obtained.

© Copyright 2009 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • ralph p.

    ralph p.

    July 24th, 2009 at 11:57 AM

    Maybe this is where the proverbial criticism comes from: Would you jump off a bridge just becasue so-so jumped off a bridge?!

  • Diane


    July 24th, 2009 at 11:52 PM

    Wonder why sororities exist. If being yourself is so important why does one feel like a fish out of water when you dont blend in. Especially with fashion and within a peer group say in school or college.

  • Yolanda


    July 25th, 2009 at 6:28 PM

    Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Unless they do it constantly and become like Calvin in the incredibly annoying human echo LOL.


  • J.J.


    July 27th, 2009 at 2:45 AM

    If mimicking others that you look up to help with willpower, I’m all for it. I need more positive people like this in my life.

  • Chase


    July 27th, 2009 at 11:00 AM

    So maybe if I were friends with Heidi Klum my waistline would reflect that as well. I know what I have to do now- I have to go out and get some skinny friends.

  • Carrie


    July 28th, 2009 at 6:04 AM

    maybe a better way to think about all of this is that when we are around others we are all going to be subject to peer pressure, whether it is about pressure to do the right thing or that to do the wrong. we allow way too many other people to influence us in life. might be better to start developing some strength of our own instead of always taking our cues from how others are behaving.

  • Sarah


    August 4th, 2009 at 2:17 AM

    I think we all need to trust ourselves and be able to think objectively. People close to us can prove to be a mixed influence on our lives. The more positive influences we let in the better for us. I think that’s why they say show me who your friends are and i’ll tell you who you are.

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    louboutin chaussures

    March 1st, 2011 at 1:09 AM

    So maybe if I were friends with Heidi Klum my waistline would reflect that as well. I know what I have to do now- I have to go out and get some skinny friends.

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