How to Boost Your Brain’s Empathy Circuitry

You’ve heard of the golden rule, right?

Chances are, you have. It’s the most common thing parents and educators in the U.S. teach their children about how to treat one another. But I’d like to challenge that for a minute…

…While the golden rule is perfectly nice, it’s not the optimal rule for someone trying to boost their brain’s empathy circuitry. The golden rule, which tells us to treat others as we’d like to be treated, is great at helping us sympathize, but not so good at helping us empathize.

Enter: the platinum rule.

What Is the Platinum Rule?

The platinum rule doesn’t tell you to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Rather, the platinum rule tells you to do unto others as they would have done unto them.

In other words, the platinum rule asks you to treat someone the way they’d like to be treated – not the way you’d like to be treated.

Doesn’t that sound a lot nicer than having other people’s desires and expectations placed on to you?

Think about it this way. Let’s say you’ve just endured a challenge in your career. Your closest friend may want to support you, and they’ll naturally do so in the way they’d like to be supported. Do they like to sob over ice cream? There’s a gallon coming your way. Do they prefer to vent over drinks? You’re about to get an invite to happy hour. These are sympathetic actions.

But let’s say the way you prefer to deal is to be left alone so you can ruminate on what you want to do about the challenge. In that case, your friend showing up to your house with ice cream or inviting you to happy hour is the exact opposite of what you want in that moment. So, in their efforts to support you, they actually made the problem worse.

Instead, what if your friends were to first ask you, “What can I do for you?” This is not a sympathetic mindset, but rather an empathetic mindset. They’re not just feeling for you, they’re actively placing themselves in your shoes to feel with you.

When your friends ask, “What can I do for you,” they’re practicing the platinum rule. They’re trying to find out how you’d like to be treated, rather than assuming they already know. This is empathy at work. And this can make all the difference in your relationships.

Using the Platinum Rule to Turbo Boost Your Empathy Circuitry

When you’re aiming to build stronger connections in your life – whether it be with your loved ones, professional contacts, or anyone else – super-charging the empathy circuitry in your brain is going to be the key to doing so.

The stronger your empathy circuitry, the stronger your connections can be.

We all want to be heard, to be understood. We all want to feel that our opinions and feelings have been validated when we communicate with one another. But when we’re too stuck in our own mental framework, then we can accidentally make our counterparts feel as though they’re not being heard or understood at all.

(Raise your hand if someone has ever done something to offend you and then, when you explain to them how you feel, they respond with, “But I don’t mind when people do that…”)

Unfortunately, when it comes to communication, intentions won’t get you very far. If someone is constantly interrupting you, no matter how innocent it may be, you’re not going to want to keep talking to them. If someone always disagrees with you without ever taking your point of view into account, you’re not going to want to keep sharing with them. If someone is trying to help you solve your problems with their preferred methods and not yours, you’re not going to keep asking them for advice.

Communicating with good intentions will get you nowhere if your communication is off-putting to other people. Their instincts will push them away from continuing to communicate with you – and your connection will suffer as a result.

If you want stronger connections, you need to strengthen your empathy circuitry.

You can build the empathy circuitry in your brain through the platinum rule. By mindfully thinking about what someone else might want or need rather than what you would want or need in the same situation, then you’re immediately becoming more empathetic. And they’ll notice.

If you’re not sure how to do this, you could start by asking. A simple, “What can I do for you,” or “How can I help you,” goes a long way. As you and that person continue to build your connection over time, you’ll start to know the answer to this without having to ask.

It’s a simple matter of asking when you don’t know, paying attention as the connection grows, and mindfully keeping the platinum rule at the forefront of your communications.

It’s really that simple. Ask. Learn. Practice.

The Power of Empathy

Empathy is a powerful thing. It can help foster connections in your life better than anything else. By practicing empathy, you can do so much:

  • Empathy helps you show the other person you care about them
  • Empathy helps you learn what the people in your life want and need
  • Empathy can help you deter potential conflict

What’s more, empathy is something that far too few people employ in their communication with others, which means doing so sets you far above the rest.

If you want to boost the empathy circuitry in your brain, all you have to do is practice, practice, practice. Empathy is about thoughtful reflection, deep understanding, and careful listening: skills we all have the ability to develop. And the best tool to do so? The platinum rule.



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