Have you ever heard of mirror neurons? Well, these little cells in our brain are responsible for why we react to people around us being stressed; this is why we like being around positive people because we feel more positive as well; this it why depressed people make us feel worse, too. 


What do mirror neurons do? If we watch someone else doing something – an action, a movement or showing a certain behaviour or emotion – these neurons become active and "mirror" this behaviour as if they were doing it themselves. I'll give you an example to make it more comprehensible: have you ever had to yawn when someone next to you yawns? Have you ever started smiling without thinking when someone smiles at you? Have you ever started crying in a sad movie scene or a friend of you who visited you started crying? The emotional "contagion" onto ourselves – such as empathy, compassion, sadness or happiness etc. – is directly linked to the work of these brilliantly functioning, little neurons in our brains, the mirror neurons. 

However, as you all know not every resonance is "good". If someone around us is smiling or very positive, well that is positively contagious. A negative example (except for maybe sad films) is e.g. empathic stress. If we are for example coaching an athlete in a competition and we want the best for the athlete, we want them to do well and achieve a good result, we very possibly show "empathic stress".


Stress can simply be caused by watching someone else in a stressful situation. Researchers could show that in a study with over 300 participants (151 "stressed people" and 211 "observers) that 26% of the observers had increased cortisol levels. If the "observers" were directly watching someone by being physically close to the other person or when they had a good relation to the other person, the stress level increased even more. What is really interesting though: the stress level of the observers even increased when they were either watching the other person via video or when they didn't know the person.

What does this mean for competitions?

1. When athletes are already stressed, the situations becomes a devil circle. We become infected by the stress and mirror it back to the athletes.

2. The other way around: If we are stressed, we infect our athletes because their mirror neurons become active, start firing and mirroring our own behaviour. Halleluja!

3. Do you also have this one person in your circle of friends and acquaintances who is always pessimistic or negative? Well, have you ever heard the saying: "You are the average of the 5 people you spend most of your time with"? Now we all know why. In competitions, there might be the one or other competitor on/outside the team who has a really negative & pessimistic mindset towards a competition (or in general). Make sure you don't make other emotions influence your own performance! Make sure you spend most of your time with those people who have a positive influence on yourself.

If we are coaches or parents, what can we do to trigger positive resonance in our athletes/ children?

  • Be aware of your own resonance and the resonance you perceive by your athletes. Be aware of their stress, be aware of what moves them.
  • Trigger positive resonance in your athletes by your own appearance. Do you play an instrument? If you put two tuning forks next to each other and you bring one to sound, you will realise the other one starts chiming, too. Be the first tuning fork and make the other one chime, too!
  • Focus on something else, something that you have in common: e.g. the love for climbing, "solving problems", having fun at a competition. You might have some other ideas! (Let me know in the comments!)
  • Be aware of your language and body language – both of them trigger resonance.

Let me know how you deal with positive/ negative resonance? What do you do to be more aware? How do you deal with stressful situations?

Last but not least, how we behave and react in certain situations is not carved in stone. It can be changed, you just have to start working on it!