If you don’t know what mirror neurons are then here’s your chance to learn. In short, they’re a major part of why you or I ever decided to stand up and walk–and do all sorts of other things. These neurons in our brain fire up whenever we watch someone else engage in action. Our brain and nervous system actually behaves as if we are doing what we’re observing. Our brain is mirroring the action we’re watching. That may be a big part of why so many of us enjoy watching sports, ballet, Cirque du Soleil, etc. Here’s a video from PBS’s Nova on mirror neurons:
In the case of an infant, no one gives the child a book or a lecture on the benefits of walking or how to do it. The child simply observes the world and sees his or her fellow humans moving about on two feet. He or she then gives it a shot and promptly fails. (Walking probably starts simply with moving the limbs, rolling around, crawling, and attempting to stand.) Another try and another fail follows. Along the way, we discard the ineffective movement patterns and we keep the ones that work. Eventually we are walking. This whole process is based on imitation of others. It’s pretty effective, no?
Guess what. There’s no age limit on using mirror neurons to obtain and improve skills. We can use our eyes to learn movement in a couple of ways. Coaches commonly use video technology to record the movement of their athletes. The athlete can then watch themselves and make correction to their form. I frequently use this process with my clients. It often works far better than a verbal explanation of how to correct a technique.
The other way we can use our mirror neurons to get better at something is to simply watch excellent technique. Youtube is chock full of videos that can help with this. The following are a few videos that have helped me with weightlifting, running, mountain biking and skiing. I watch this stuff and visualize doing what the athletes are doing. I think it helps and the research supports the idea.