Magic Mirror Neurons! Using brain science to create a positive work environment

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We sometimes spend more of our waking hours at work than we do at home. Spending that time working in a negative environment means that most of your waking hours are spent under an umbrella of negativity. Ugh! Nobody likes to work in a negative environment, right? But generally people feel powerless to change it.  The mistake most people make is that they expect someone else to fix it – their boss, administration, or even their co-workers.

If you really want to create a positive work environment, then tap into what nature has already given us – our brains!

Brain Science

There are mirror neurons in our brains that mimic what they “see”. For example, if you are with a group of people and one person starts to yawn over and over again, within a matter of minutes, others in the group will do the same. Before you know it and without control, the entire group will be yawning!

Understanding this science can also help you create a positive work environment even in the crustiest place. All it takes is for one person (you) to start a positive behavior, consistently, over and over again for that behavior to spread to others.

Here are few examples of positive behaviors you can start today:


When you walk into your place of work, make it a point to say good morning (if it’s morning) with a big smile. Heck, you can sing it like I used to do when my kids were little. I’d wake them up in the morning by singing, “Good morning, morning stars!!!” I’d keep singing this until they smiled.

Never underestimate the power of a simple smile. When your brain “sees” a smile, it can’t help but to smile in return. Smiling sends happy chemical messages throughout your brain. Over time, the more you smile, the more others smile, and the happier you and they are!


Tell a “joke of the day”. You don’t have to be a comedian to tell a joke. There are a lot of websites and “apps” that send you jokes. Even if the joke makes one person laugh, others will laugh too!

Fake it till you make it

Act “as if” you are the happiest person in the world! Do this even if you’re not. Why? Because brain science tells us that if we pretend to be happy, our brain starts to think we are and can become happy. Over time, you will BE happier and so will the rest of your co-workers!


Celebrate everything! Birthdays, accomplishments, Fridays, Mondays, etc. Find a reason to celebrate even the mundane activities. My friend worked on a unit that had the worst VRE swab scores. So, the staff got together and instituted, “Butt swab Mondays” with chips and salsa. Each Sunday night, they took turns bringing in chips and salsa. But, they couldn’t partake in the festivities until all of the VRE swabs were done. The staff actually looked forward to Sunday nights, was happier and had the highest VRE compliance scores in the hospital!

Compliment a co-worker

Find one reason to compliment someone at work. Be specific and be positive. Example: “Joanne. You are so good at patient education. I love listening to you talk to patients about their cardiac meds.” Not only does this make Joanne feel good, but complimenting someone makes YOU feel good too!

Remember, you deserve to work in a nurturing and supportive environment. Creating a positive work environment begins with you! Try these examples as your own science experiment. You never know what positive trends you can start.

I hope these tips help!

ReneeThompson_013_HRThanks so much for reading. Take care and stay connected!


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Dr. Renee Thompson works with healthcare organizations who want to overcome the leadership and clinical challenges their people face every day. If you’d like to find out more about her programs, please visit her website

Contact Renee today at [email protected] to bring her to your organization to talk about ending the cycle of nurse bullying.

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7 thoughts on “Magic Mirror Neurons! Using brain science to create a positive work environment”

  1. Dear Renee,
    we are a group of students who is working for a master's project work for ISTUD business school (Italy) about neurosciences. We've found your article "Magic mirror neurons: using brain science to create positive work environments" on web, but we are unable to purchase it. We'd like to know if the text of the blog is the same of the article, or not, if it is the same, may you provide to send it (or sell it) to us?
    King Regards
    Andrea Bortolotti

  2. Hi Andrea
    Thanks so much for commenting. This blog post about mirror neurons is a free public blog post. You are free to share as long as you reference the source (me). I talk about mirror neurons to create positive work environments in my keynote presentations. I'm always looking for keynote opportunities and would be grateful if you could recommend me!

    Thanks so much

  3. Pingback: Workplace Incivility: The Slow Death of the Nursing Profession - RTConnections

    1. Yes!! Mirror neurons will always influence you based on your environment and the people you spend the most time with . So, spend time with good humans!

  4. Pingback: Workplace Incivility: The Slow Death of the Nursing Profession

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