How Will You Show Up Today?

How was your day yesterday? Think about your interactions with others.  Do you remember how others made you feel? More importantly, do you remember how you made them feel?

We spend so much time on “autopilot” racing through the day checking boxes, that we often fail to recognize how we show up has a direct impact on others. Every interaction has an impact on each of us. But most of us never stop to think of what we leave behind.

Last year, I took a marathon trip crisscrossing the country from SW Florida to Southern California to Boston. Four days in and I was halfway there. By the time I arrived at the hotel, all I wanted was to change into my comfy clothes, get room service, and regroup for the next speaking engagement. Room service, I was told, was not available that evening, but the “marketplace” (a.k.a. snack bar) was open for another 25 minutes. By this time, I was hangry so I headed downstairs.

The young 20-something man behind the counter had already greeted me with a wide smile and neon green earbuds which I assume were providing the background for the song he was singing aloud.   As I approached, he removed his earbuds and continued singing… serenading me. It was impossible not to smile back. In that moment, my irritation started to dissipate. I ordered a chicken panini.  He told me it would be a few minutes because he had already started breaking down the kitchen.

“I promise it will be worth the wait! I make a 5-star chicken panini!” he said as he popped his earbuds back in and danced his way into the kitchen.”

Here was a kid who was probably making a few bucks above minimum wage happy to be a work and taking pride in making a sandwich. Still singing, he bounced back from the kitchen. “Sorry for the wait,” he said.  “I hope this sandwich changes your day for the better.” Mission accomplished.  This kid was a changemaker.

On day six, I got up at 3:30 AM to make the last leg of the travel triangle back to SW Florida. I was whipped and all I wanted to be was home.  I got to the airport and navigated to the gate. Among the sea of early morning travelers, the gate agent stood out. She looked like she wanted to be anywhere but there. Her expression and overall demeanor were a mix of contempt, anger, and gloom. In fact, she looked like she hated not just her job, but her life.

There was clearly an issue with the flight as boarding time came and went leaving us all standing there waiting for an indication as to what the problem was. As people approached with questions, she abrasively answered without making contact or even looking up from the computer. We were intruders clearly interrupting her “work.” Beyond being a terrible representative for that particular airline, the attitude that she got in return only thickened the negativity cloak she wore so smugly.

After waiting for nearly 2 hours, I saw her sigh, roll her eyes, and frown a lot, but I never saw her smile once.  She had a choice that day: she could choose to change people positively with something as simple as a smile or a kind word.  Or she could choose to change people negatively as just another irritation on a long work trip.

“Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Those words are often attributed to Gandhi, but it turns out the actual quote has been truncated over the years. In 1913, he wrote this:

We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. This is the divine mystery supreme. A wonderful thing it is and the source of our happiness. We need not wait to see what others do.

That kid at the marketplace had clearly discovered the “divine mystery supreme.” He may not know the neuroscience of a smile or laughter. He may not know the concept of emotional contagion – that because we are wired to connect with others, mirror neurons pick up the emotions of others and generate the same neurochemical response as if we were actually experiencing those emotions.  But, I bet he knows that, today, he has the power to create a positive experience for another person in his little corner of the world.

So, my challenge for you today… ask yourself:  How will I show up? Will I create a positive ripple among those who encounter me, or will I create a negative one? I will 

We are all change-makers.  Because we are wired to connect with others and emotions are contagious through mirror neurons, we change others with a powerful subconscious force.  What happens within us happens between us. We don’t just co-exist; we share the human connection from the inside out.

P.S. that was the best damn chicken panini ever!


Melissa Hughes, Ph.D.
Melissa Hughes, Ph.D.
Dr. Melissa Hughes is a neuroscience geek, keynote speaker, and author. Her latest book, Happier Hour with Einstein: Another Round explores fascinating research about how the brain works and how to make it work better for greater happiness, well-being, and success. Having worked with learners from the classroom to the boardroom, she incorporates brain-based research, humor, and practical strategies to illuminate the powerful forces that influence how we think, learn, communicate and collaborate. Through a practical application of neuroscience in our everyday lives, Melissa shares productive ways to harness the skills, innovation and creativity within each of us in order to contribute the intellectual capital that empowers organizations to succeed with social, financial and cultural health.

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  1. Kindness is born where courage lies: in the heart, and they are virtues that are intimately linked. Because in this world where indifference is rampant, where people prefer to film catastrophes with their cell phones instead of helping out, where there is a totally unbalanced ego cult, being kind is an authentic act of courage.
    It is easy to be aggressive, acidic, sarcastic: it is enough to give voice to the most primitive instincts without making them evolve, but this shows how closed we are in reality, unable to open ourselves to the world, unable to question ourselves; it shows us how bad we actually feel inside.
    This gratuitous aggression demonstrates the effort we make in finding our place in the world, that’s why we show our fangs: it is the pain that speaks, an inner pain that echoes an old wound and the compulsive need to protect ourselves from the world, or perhaps from ourselves.
    We are all good at complaining, but if we talk about being kind, without feeling an urgent need to demean other people’s day to delude ourselves that ours sucks less, then there is no one left.
    However, a simple act of kindness can change our day.
    Being kind means that we open ourselves to the other, to the world, that we recognize that their existence is as important as ours. Being kind means being and being present: being gifts here and now.

    • Oh my, Aldo… as always you add so much value to an important conversation! This sentence distills it down to the simplest construct:
      “Being kind means that we open ourselves to the other, to the world, that we recognize that their existence is as important as ours.”
      Your comment here reminds me that being kind isn’t what we we do to others; it’s what happens within ourselves.
      Thank you for sharing your inspiration with me today!

  2. Melissa — I know you have written about this before, but for some reason, it really struck a chord this morning: “The concept of emotional contagion – that because we are wired to connect with others, mirror neurons pick up the emotions of others and generate the same neurochemical response as if we were actually experiencing those emotion.” Understanding this concept of E.C. makes me think that it is both an awesome responsibility and a potential devastating tool – we can so easily influence others by how we present ourselves. To me, it goes a long way explaining why I feel the way I do about our political divide.

    Thank you, as always, for a wonderful wake-up call. Glad the panini worked out.

    • Thank you, Jeff! I’m glad this one resonated with you. I love how you put it here: “…it is both an awesome responsibility and a potential devastating tool – we can so easily influence others by how we present ourselves.” Until we realize how powerful emotional contagion is, we won’t recognize the impact of our words and actions.
      As always, I’m grateful for your insights!

  3. I love how you teach us in ways so clearly Melissa!
    I always value the education you provide here and appreciate the great skill you have in the entire presentation. Thank you for this spectacular lesson

    We do project a reaction merely from our disposition. We all are influencers.. this proves it.

    Today my daughter sent me a picture of her tears eyes.. good tears.. it was here first time seeing the mountains in Banff .. upon seeing this image…I felt the same kind of tears come to mine. It was incredibly moving. I was so inspired I sent her a few lines that came to me with this… and she was was so touched.. I was touched. What a happy and precious encounter.

    • Wow… what a great story, Paula! Thank you for sharing it with me and with your daughter. It’s so true that we are ALL influencers. We have the choice to be positive influences or negative influences on the people around us. I’m certain that no one wakes up in the morning with the intention of making other people miserable. But, when we go out in the world with a miserable disposition, we do just that … at the neuronal level! Pretty amazing when you think about it.

      Thank you for taking the time to read and share your thoughts. I appreciate you!

  4. Loved your stories, Melissa.

    Thy reminded me of a time my husband was flying. It was also an early morning flight so being pulled out of bed for sitting in the airport was not very welcome. When the pilot apologized he said that he understood that they were upset of being late for wherever they were going. He, on the other hand, was late for seeing his mother in law so he was OK with hanging back for another hour or two, waiting for the weather to change. Immediately the whole cabin changed attitude.