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The Mirror Effect

Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who will succeed and who will fall?  If you’re looking for the answer in a mirror…you will probably come closer to the truth than you realize.

Mirror neurons discovered in the brains of monkeys helped scientists prove behavior is mirrored.  Studies focused on the same systems in humans are hoping to demonstrate that the reactions we perceive in others may influence the way we feel ourselves.  

Theory of the Mind suggests that our conscious intentions shape our experiences.  That’s a good reason to clarify your vision, mission, and values sooner than later!

It’s also a good reason to surround yourself with people who have already succeeded in the environment you want for yourself, and who demonstrate the attitudes and habits you aspire to.  People naturally act as mirrors that reflect back images of you.  So, in a sense, you can choose what you see by managing what you send out.  But you are also a mirror, and there is room for interpretation on both sides.  This is the Mirror Effect in a nutshell.

Implementation of this requires an open mind and open ears because mirrors are everywhere.  By rejecting or judging scenarios you don’t immediately appreciate, you are losing an opportunity.  The business community devised the Merlin Principle to address this phenomenon as it relates to corporate leadership:

The basic concept as it relates to this blog, is that possibility crosses your path every day. It is up to you to steer it in the direction you want.  Inside every moment is an opportunity and you have a choice to meet it with fear or love.  You have the power to transform.  And when each moment is serving your overarching vision (and purpose), you are in essence living that vision in every moment. 

Opportunities, like reflections, go both ways.  Others must be elevated so that they can elevate you.  And because not every shot is a bullseye, thousands of people must be engaged, and tomorrow, a thousand more.  It’s a push and pull, give and take; a journey of discovery that if played with vigilance leads to sustainability.  

It's also an exercise of living in the present and trusting your larger vision will be realized.  The only catch is that your vision might not turn out how you originally imagined.  It will evolve and the challenge is letting yourself evolve with it.

The Lean Startup model promotes learning from your target market (or mirrors in this case) and adapting as you evolve your business, art, and/or self.  That involves asking questions and remaining open to the answers, even if they are uncomfortable.  

Whether you’re ready to turn your art into a business or not, these basic principles apply.  Of course, the challenge for artists is to not compromise themselves with exploitation hidden within the system.  (See my last blog for a discussion around: Does Art have to come from adversity?)  

Addiction, something artists are particularly vulnerable to, distorts the Mirror Effect (like funhouse mirrors).  Addicts are lured by the promise of an escape from harsh realities.  Drawn in by a hopeful agreement, the substance itself soon becomes a mirror that reflects a life without consequence, serenity at any expense.  

But the addiction mirror only shows an that dissolves with every “come down.”  And solitude, destitution, and misery are the enemies of sustainability.  

However, for every moment you think you’ve made the right choice...there is always another moment to choose again.  I find Russell Brand’s work around recovery particularly thoughtful, but he sums it up nicely in this 1:27 min sound bite. (I recommend watching whether the subject of addiction is close to you or not.) 

Life is full of moments, choices, and opportunities.  Waiting just beside every mirror you’ve brought into your life is the chance to choose #AnotherWay.  It is important to counter reflected images with your authentic self.  You are 50% of that mirror and it must remain equal at all times.  

I was designing a logo with a close friend and although we both understood exactly what we wanted to convey, we came to a standstill.  She was trying to give me what I was asking for and I wanted her perspective - we were deeply engaged in the Mirror Effect, but stuck.  

Almost as soon as we decided to take a break she returned with the perfect logo - exactly what we both wanted.  She said she had been trying so hard to deliver on my opinions that she stopped trusting her own voice.  Once she allowed herself back into the work, she produced a masterpiece.

Using others as mirrors is not a cop-out for reality.  And although you are indeed a work of art, the Mirror Effect is not a way to create yourself.  It is a way to find yourself.  When you are reflecting your most authentic self, your art will naturally become sustainable.  

It's a Hero's Journey, but the good news is that you don’t have to do it in a vacuum.  The people around you, wherever, whenever, are all guiding you on your journey.  It’s up to you how you receive their reflections.  

To quote perhaps the most famous source of parables, allegories, and myths:

When human beings recognize their fullest potential, such empowerment is a reflection of, and therefore equal to, whatever higher power there is.  Imago Dei

Emileena is writing a book on artist development called ANOTHER WAY. If you are an artist looking for development, consider Emileena's E-Velop program.

Original Artwork by Dave Law, freelance visual artist and illustrator. For more, please visit


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