"The great gift of human beings is that we have the power of empathy."

-- Meryl Streep, American actress

You have the capability to improve your relationships, ramp up your ability to learn and increase the quality of your overall experience of life.

Does this sound like the beginning of a typical positive thinking "self-help" book?

How about this: You have an ability that is so very close to mind-reading that when you understand and apply these strategies, you will absolutely open up new possibilities for your life.

Have you ever wondered why you, or other sports fans, get so emotionally involved when watching a sporting event? Isn't it kind of odd that the fans of baseball, football, soccer or tennis will yell, scream, boo, tense up, wince or leap up out of their seats when watching a sport event unfold, even when watching it on the television? The observers seem to be in sync or empathic with something or someone that is not only far removed from their social sphere but on an intimate, personal level, totally isolated from their daily lives.

Why is this reaction to sports any different from someone watching an engaging scene in a movie and laughing, crying or flinching in horror? Or, what about when a person who is watching a television or a feature film where a large, ugly spider is crawling up someone's bare leg and the observer of the event cringes in repulsion, fear or actually feels a creepy physical sensation?

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How about the visceral negative reaction of social pain or rejection by simple observation? Many experience this when watching one individual move his/her hand forward to caress his/her partner and then -- the partner angrily pushes the hand away.

All these scenarios and many others are triggered by what neurologists have labeled "mirror neurons." Mirror neurons were first described in 1992. Research based on studies using monkeys as subjects was published in 1996 and revealed something quite exceptional. Scientists were surprised to discover that these specific mirror neurons fired whether a monkey actually ate a peanut, banana or raisin -- or -- simply observed another monkey, or even a human, performing the same act. The neuron "mirrors" the behavior of the other, as though the observer were itself acting! In a very real sense, they analyze scenes and read minds.

Further scientific discoveries using humans have absolutely "flabbergasted" researchers. Humans not only have mirror neurons, they have mirror neurons that are much smarter, more flexible and more highly evolved than those found in monkeys.

Susan Blakeslee writes in her article, "Cells That Read Minds," "The human brain has multiple mirror neuron systems that specialize in carrying out and understanding not just the actions of others but their intentions, the social meaning of their behavior and their emotions."

Neuroscientist Giacorno Rizzolatti, one of the original "monkey" researchers, observed: "We are exquisitely social creatures. Our survival depends on understanding the actions, intentions and emotions of others ... Mirror neurons allow us to grasp the minds of others not through conceptual reasoning but through direct simulation."

That means we accomplish miraculous interpretation by feeling, not thinking. That is "empathy" in action. By extrapolating a few of major points from these studies, you will see why this may be very important to you and to those around you.

First, understand that there is something special about humans that allow us to connect very deeply when we watch other people play a sport, move, touch, be intimate or when we observe their expressions.

Second, the research derived from studying mirror neurons strongly suggests that your mind cannot tell the difference between seeing or doing. In other words - watching someone do something with which you identify is almost the same as doing it yourself.

Third, the discovery of mirror neurons indicates that we are not only linked to other people's actions but also to other people's feelings and, therefore, we are able to adopt another person's point-of-view. Empathy is one of the keys to successful relationships.

Last, and perhaps most important, all the research combined reveals how children learn, why watching violence on television or film may be harmful and why people respond with strong emotions to specific types of dance, music, art and sports. Children are hardwired for imitation.

Here are four strategies to help you live an exceptional life:

1. Choose the company you and your children keep -- carefully.

Those around you always influence and have an effect on your state-of-mind and feelings. The fact is: part of your brain models the behavior and possibly even the thoughts of those around you. Perhaps this is a good time for you to do a quick and honest inventory of your friends, acquaintances and business associates. Do they inspire and recharge you -- or deplete and frustrate you? The reality is that you may need to make some new and tough choices about the people you surround yourself with.

If you have young children, do a psychological check on their friends and the people surrounding them. You may not be able to control everybody who comes in contact with your child but you do have a great deal of control as to what activities they attend or whom they spend time with.

2. Model excellence.

Brain science studies leave no doubt that we, as humans, model and internalize the behavior of others. So doesn't it make sense to model and learn from the best and the brightest? Consider taking the time to review your goals and pinpoint your passion. What engages you and sparks your creativity? Once you have identified your passion, you can explore and seek out those who have already successfully achieved what you wish to achieve. You will be pleasantly surprised how much you can learn about their habits, their thinking and how they manage their time. Professional athletes and coaches have taken advantage of this built-in brain skill for years by using mental practice and imagery. You can too.

3. Become aware of how you see your future unfolding.

The same mirror neurons fire whether you perform an action or task, watch someone else perform an action or task, or simply "imagine" performing an action or task. This mind-bending discovery opens up endless possibilities for you to apply your imagination. What, specifically, do you imagine happening in your future? What are your goals and expectations? Is your imagined future positive or negative? Will you achieve success or succumb to failure?

4. Apply your imagination in a proactive, positive and constructive way.

Choose one specific goal you want to accomplish. Create a realistic, clear, emotionally-based "mental movie" or "visualization" of your goal "as if" it has already occurred -- successfully. It is your success movie of the future that will impact your subconscious to take the actions necessary to make it happen. Visualize your success movie for 1-3 minutes a day for 30 days.

Your brain is equipped for success. Reread this article, follow these four strategies and you will live an exceptional life.

Do you feel overwhelmed? Would you like to learn how to reduce your stress? Are you struggling in your attempts to change a negative habit, break through a fear or improve your relationships? Would you like to reinvent yourself? James Mapes can help. For a personal appointment call 203-762-1200, email Linda@jamesmapes.com or visit www.JamesMapes.com. Mapes is the creator of The Transformation Coach program and a motivational speaker. He is the author of "Quantum Leap Thinking: An Owner's Guide to the Mind."