How to Prime Yourself for Contagious Emotion that Writes Itself

two women looking directly at each other, smiling and shaking hands

Tell me if this has ever happened to you …

You’re sitting across from someone, having a nice conversation, and they scratch their nose.

Without thinking, you reach up and scratch your nose, too.

Then you lean back in your chair and cross your arms over your chest.

In a matter of minutes, your companion’s arms are crossed as well.

Have you ever wondered what’s really going on in those situations? Why we so often seem to copy each other’s actions without thinking about it?

The secret to these unwitting acts of copycatting lies in something called mirror neurons. It’s the brain-to-brain imitation of facial expressions, mannerisms, and positions.

Really, it’s a form of automatic “matching” that prompts human connection — even if you’re not really intending to connect.

And when approached with care, these same mirror neurons can make your own writing a hundred times more empathetic, and therefore effective.

But first, let’s dig a little deeper into what’s really happening with these mirror neurons …

The Root of Contagious Emotion

In a sense, mirror neurons are some of the smartest cells working throughout your brain. They’re what allow you to understand someone else’s feelings, actions, and intentions.

You don’t have to actually think about something to get mirror neurons to fire. They do it without your conscious effort, creating or simulating an experience inside your brain based on whatever you’re observing on the outside.

So if you see someone get attacked by a wild dog in a movie, you feel their fear.

If a baby smiles at you, you return that joy by smiling back.

And when someone cries in front of you about their own personal agony, your heart aches for them.

At the neurological level, what’s really happening in these situations is that certain groups of neurons are firing in your brain — regardless of whether you’re the one performing the action or watching someone else perform the action.

It’s this duplicative effect of feeling and doing things that make emotions contagious. It’s also a key part of your training to be a human. These mirror neurons are what help us learn to eat, speak, and dress ourselves.

They’re also key in planning our own actions, along with understanding the intentions behind our actions.

Most importantly, mirror neurons appear to be an important link in feeling empathy toward other humans and the things they’re going through.

Which is important to you and me, because writing with empathy is one of the most crucial skills you can have as a persuasive copywriter …

Get Down in the Hole

When it comes to effective writing, mirror neurons play a crucial role in helping you appeal to the emotions your prospect is feeling.

Remember, one of the first things you need to do for any paid writing project is to figure out where your reader is coming from.

What keeps her up at night?
What does he secretly yearn for?
What’s the real reason they want to buy what you’re promoting?

So if you’re writing about a joint supplement touted to take the pain out of simple walking, that’s not the problem you’re writing to.

You need to go beyond the pain, to the sadness that comes from having to miss the family hike. Or the fear your reader has that old age and death are right around the corner.

Yet it’s not as simple as writing a stilted, “Picture this: you no longer have to be stuck at home when your family goes hiking.”

There’s no empathy there. No connection to an existing feeling. And you certainly don’t want to force a feeling on your reader that wasn’t there to begin with.

Instead, you tap into your mirror neurons. You want to go past sympathy, and toward empathy.

Psychologist and author Brené Brown once explained the difference between the two this way: “Sympathy is staring down at someone in a hole and saying, ‘I’m sorry you’re in that hole.’ Empathy is being down there in the hole with them.”

So with the help of your mirror neurons, paired with good copywriting research, you can figure out what type of “hole” your readers are in, and put yourself right there with them. Picture that person in front of you. Think about her facial expression. Her thoughts. The way she might hold herself as she talks about what bothers her.

And then mirror it. Mirror the feeling … the words … the tone … the desire. Put it into your words and make that connection. Your copy will reflect the difference … and your effectiveness as a writer will grow.

Directly Absorb Skills from Your Heroes

Amazingly, the benefits of mirror neurons don’t stop there. Along with using them to strengthen your writing, you can also use them to improve your professionalism and business skills.

Because there’s also a link between the neuroscience of mirror neurons and role modeling. Meaning if you consciously (or even unconsciously) observe someone over time, you can learn a great deal from them.

It’s as easy as intentionally paying attention to someone who is skilled in a particular area, and studying through observing.

That’s why writing out successful sales promotions by hand is such a valuable way to learn good copywriting. You’re mirroring (and learning from) the success of that promo through the tangible writing you put on the page.

It’s why visualization works well, particularly if you picture yourself doing what another successful writer does, whose life track you’d like to follow. You lay the groundwork through observing and mirroring.

And it’s especially why having a mentor is one of the most powerful ways to accelerate your writing career. By “hanging out” with and absorbing guidance from someone who’s strong in the skills you want to build, you’re more likely to achieve that desired result.

If this type of mentoring sounds good to you, I recommend you check out the new opportunity to be mentored by Sandy Franks, AWAI’s Senior Copy Chief.

She has trained some of the top-earning copywriters in the direct-response industry. And she has set aside time to train a group of writers on everything they need to know to become certified direct-response copywriters – the highest level possible!

Check out this brand-new opportunity here.

Do you have any questions about empathy and direct-response writing? Please share in the comments so we can help.

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

At last, a professional organization that caters to the needs of direct-response industry writers. Find out how membership can change the course of your career. Learn More »


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Published: December 13, 2021

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