Can We Use the Mirror Effect to Become Beacons?


It’s become a common understanding that if someone, or their behaviour, is unreasonably irritating to you, you’re experiencing what’s known as the Mirror Effect. This is the idea that we are disproportionately irritated by the behaviours in others that we most dislike in ourselves.

The key here is “unreasonably” – I’m definitely not talking about someone targeting you or upsetting you directly. But if you observe someone going about their daily life and their personality or behaviours are driving you crazy for no good reason, you could be experiencing the Mirror Effect.

It’s as though these people are holding up mirrors and letting us see what we really look like when we’re worrying too much or procrastinating too long. It’s uncomfortable to see a real-life example of what we consider our worst qualities! I feel it myself when I see people underestimating themselves or not reaching their potential, because I have sometimes had to work to overcome these tendencies in myself. Others may be annoyed by people who are too critical, too meek, or too scattered – simply because they dislike those qualities in themselves.

And there’s another aspect to the Mirror Effect that I’ve also experienced. Certainly we see ourselves in the people around us; once we’ve made that identification, we’re also deeply influenced by their choices, whether we intend it to be or not. When we see someone very much like us shying away from things, stepping back from the edge and refusing to take risks, stretch or work on themselves, I suspect we might be more likely to internalize the message that change, risk, and growth are beyond us, as well.

I’ve been wondering lately whether there’s a way to turn this powerful and uncomfortable phenomenon into a positive movement.

What if we move through the world with the understanding that our actions affect the people around us – what if we keep it in mind that the things we do act as a mirror to those around us?

What if we take that opportunity to live more boldly, in order to lift each other up? What if we can use it to our collective advantage? What if instead of saying “Oh, I wish she would just try for a half-marathon already,” or even “Her behavior reminds me I need to do this difficult thing I’ve been avoiding, we said, “Maybe if I do this difficult thing I’ve been avoiding, she’ll be inspired to challenge herself too”?

If you know that through one act of bravery, or by taking risks, or by being more patient, or by investing in your creativity, you’ll spark inspiration in those around you, does it make you more likely to do these things, invest in living a better life? Rather than being irritated by those around us, can we take the opportunity to create a positive ripple effect, so that we can all be greater as a result?

I’d love to hear which traits irrationally irritate you—and how you’ve worked on becoming not just a mirror, but also a beacon.



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