Imitation may or may not be the sincerest form of flattery, but it is definitely one of the best ways to make rapid improvements in your life. Modeling the success of others allows you to adopt successful patterns of thinking and behavior, drastically reducing the time you spend making confused guesses about what to do next.
This is a four part series on the subject of modeling, starting with an introduction about how you can imitate success to get maximum results. The next three articles I’ll outline what I feel are the three primary mechanisms you can use to model others, instruction, observation and osmosis.
Imitate Your Way to Success
Modeling in the Brain
Human beings were hardwired to learn through imitation. Although fancy textbooks and dry lectures seem to be popular forms of education these days, the biology is clear: humans learn best by imitating others. You learned to stand, walk, run and talk through modeling others. Many people take these complex skills for granted, but it’s through the amazing powers of modeling that we all possess them.
Recent science shows that the brain actually has special neurons designed to aid in learning through imitation. If you see someone else pick up a ball, special devices known as mirror neurons will fire even though you didn’t do anything yourself. This feature, also found in other primates, is one of the reasons we are so good at learning new skills just by watching someone else.
Although you may be able to learn much through modeling by virtue of your natural hardwiring, there is more you can do to help accelerate this process. By consciously focusing while attempting to replicate a result, there are three specific areas you need to model: thinking patterns, emotional state and visible actions.
The first area to focus on when trying to model a result is to figure out how that person thinks. Every person has equipped themselves with different thinking strategies for solving problems. Eliciting these strategies in other people can give you an idea of how you can adopt these strategies to solve similar problems with yourself.
Because you can’t actually visualize thought patterns, you need to play a little detective work to figure out how this person thinks. The best way to start is simply to ask the person how he or she solves problems. Usually this will provide clues that can give you insights into the range of mental tools this person uses to solve problems.
If you don’t have direct contact with the person, or if your model is a literary or historical figure, you may need to determine how he or she thinks by looking carefully at what was has been written about him or her.
Going over all the possible mental tools you can use to solve problems is beyond the scope of this article, but here is just a quick list of a few to keep you on the look out:
- Auditory/Kinesthetic Tools (hearing/feeling an answer to the problem)
- Non Sequiturs (utilizing elements that don’t go together)
When looking at the mental tools this person uses to solve problems, keep in my the background belief system that allows them to use these tools. Just like you’ll have difficulty using nails without a hammer, without the proper belief system, certain mental tools are worthless. Belief systems are the easiest aspect to notice from a model, but in my experience are the most difficult to perfectly replicate. Your belief system itself goes beyond thinking patterns and is quite often influenced by the second factor…
Your state temporarily influences your belief system. If you are enthusiastic and excited, you will likely have fairly optimistic beliefs about your upcoming presentation. If you are somber or nervous, you probably won’t.
Once you identify the emotional state of the person you are modeling you need to replicate that state within yourself. For those of you interested in how you can effectively adopt an emotional state, check out my Emotional Mastery  series.
Your emotional state also effects how others perceive you, so for any interpersonal discipline, getting the right state is crucial. Charisma, persuasiveness and just being likable are all strongly related to your emotional state while interacting with others. Adopting the right emotional state begins to influence the final factor…
The final step to successful imitation is simply looking at what the other person does and replicate it. Although modeling success in every area of life has a different degree of tangibility, generally to produce a result you need to actually do something visible. To write a book you need to start typing, to dance you need to move your body, to speak you need to step in front of the podium.
Breaking down a successful persons action into smaller components can better allow you to replicate it. Breaking a speech down into components of body language, tonality, humor, verbal crutches and content allows you to better identify what makes that person successful.
No matter how you decide to model, you need to look at the thinking patterns, emotional states and visible actions of the other person. In the next article I’ll discuss how you can use an instructor or mentor as a guide while observing with these three areas.