Whether you are a man or woman, empathy is a dying art. Life is so loud and distracting it becomes harder to sense what is going on around us. The less we are aware in the moment, the harder it is to tune into other people's feelings and intentions.
In fact, according to Sara Konrath at the University of Michigan, college students today show 40% less empathy vs. students in the 1980s and 1990s.
Yet empathy is critical to establishing healthy relationships and developing social and leadership skills.
The good news is that even though we may be losing our ability to show empathy, we still have the capacity to empathize anytime we want to.
In other words, you may forget how to have empathy. You can remember if you choose to.
The brain is naturally empathetic. You have "mirror neurons" which connect your brain like Wi-Fi with people you observe. As a protective mechanism, you automatically tune into their emotions, their movements and intentions.
When you walk down the street and someone comes your way, it's likely you will both move in the same direction even though you are trying to get out of each other's way. This is because your mirror neurons sensed the person's intentions and you "mirrored" their actions until your cognitive brain could engineer an opposing move that cleared the path.
Mirror neurons give you the capacity to "step into another's shoes." According to Dr. Keysers at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, when you see a spider crawling up someone's leg, you feel a creepy sensation. Similarly, when you observe someone reach out to a friend and they are pushed away, your brain registers the sensation of rejection. When you watch your team win or a couple embrace on television, you feel their emotions as if you are there. Social emotions like guilt, shame, pride, embarrassment, disgust and lust can all be experienced by watching others.
However, if you are using your cognitive brain to think about the past, the future, or your email, you are not connecting to your emotional brain. You suppress your empathy--how your mind is reading the emotions and intentions of others. The empathy is there. You are just not paying attention.
To increase your empathy, you have to both control your wandering mind and strengthen your capacity to empathize through practice. Here's how:
In truth, you are an excellent mind reader. You just need to pay attention and be willing to believe what you read. Boost your empathy to strengthen your relationships and improve your social skills.