The advantage of going first

Have you ever had the experience of walking down the street and found yourself smiling at a stranger who smiled at you first? You were practicing mirrored reciprocity, a universal social norm. For the last 20,000 years of recorded human history, mirrored reciprocity has been foundational in human relationships, culture, and economic exchange. By choosing to go first, you can employ this ancient and powerful principle to build stronger relationships and gain an unfair advantage in business and in life.

Long-lasting, healthy relationships in your professional and personal life make a huge impact on your happiness and success. However, we often hesitate to cultivate those relationships. We don’t reach out and share our true thoughts and feelings with people around us because we fear rejection or judgment. Learning how mirrored reciprocity works and choosing to go first can radically change your life and relationships.

Mirrored reciprocity is imbedded in the blueprint of life. The evidence is overwhelming and all around us. In physics, Sir Isaac Newton’s third law of motion states that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. This has been true for over 13.5 billion years — since the beginning of our universe. The pattern of mirrored reciprocity has also been evident in almost all biological life on earth for the last 3.5 billion years.

You don’t have to be a scientist to observe mirrored reciprocity. Aggression is usually met with aggression, whereas playfulness or affection is met in kind. You can witness reciprocity even in the simplest of human interactions. If you walk into an elevator and smile and say good morning, the people in the elevator will almost always return your positive greeting.

However, mirrored reciprocity works for both positive and negative behaviors, so think carefully about your attitude and actions. If you display aggressiveness or treat other people badly, expect that other people will treat you poorly. I’ve watched calm, normal people escalate into full-on road rage in less than a second after a rude or aggressive driver cut them off in traffic. I bet you have seen that happen, too. Or maybe you’ve been that driver!

If you strive to be trustworthy, courageous, competent, and kind, you will attract people into your life with similar aspirations.

Choosing to go first, bringing authenticity, and engaging people will yield a positive result the vast majority of the time. Of course, there is always a small chance you will be rejected or judged. But the rewards and benefits far outweigh the risks.

Don’t wait for other people to reach out or take the first step. Default to action and go first. Apply this principle to important relationships in your life. Don’t worry if people do not initially invest an equivalent amount of time or energy in the relationship. Hold a long-term mindset. Over time, you will benefit from your investment in these relationships.

Bring your “go-first” mindset to your work. Express your ideas. Start a blog or podcast to connect with people who share your interests. Initiate conversations with people you don’t know. Everyone you meet has something to teach you. You never know what opportunities are around the corner. Go first and you will build stronger relationships and gain an unfair advantage in business and in life.


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