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.
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