Coaches play a crucial role in helping clients achieve breakthrough results. Most change takes place inside the brain and subsequently results in changed behavior. In the last few years, the area of neuroscience has shed light on the way our brain functions and the ways in which we can leverage it for our growth and development. In this article, I share the top five neuroscience concepts all coaches should know in order to have a greater impact and achieve more tangible results for their clients.
1. Brain Plasticity
Scientists believed for a longtime that the brain was hard-wired like a machine after a person reached a certain age. It’s only because of the research done in the last four decades that this understanding has changed. Today, scientists believe that the brain is plastic, which means it can be changed. One of the top researchers, Dr. Micheal Merzenich, has proved through his research that the brain changes chemically, physically and functionally based on sensory inputs.
Action step: As a coach, help your client to understand the concept of brain plasticity. In this ever-changing and dynamic world, the ability to upgrade our brain gives us a lot of advantages. A more flexible brain helps us to learn faster, pick up new skills, adapt to changes quickly and build a competitive advantage at the workplace. An understanding of this concept can, in turn, make the client more receptive to change as knowledge is the precursor to an experience. Books like Soft-Wired by Merzenich or Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself by Dr. Joe Disepenza offer further insights.
2. Hebb’s Rule
This principle is named after the Canadian psychologist Donald Hebb. The rule states that “neurons that fire together, wire together”. This means that any behavior that is repeated gets wired into the brain. This is useful when, as a coach, you are working with a client to create a new behavioral pattern.
A deeper look also helps us understand that any repetitive occurrence of an event related to the environment, situations, emotions or other stimuli plays a critical role in the formation of experience. For instance, if a person encounters a few negative people in the office every day, over time, the person may start to associate negativity with the office.
Action step: The role of mental rehearsal plays a critical role here. Ask a client to visualize a task or behavior in advance for a certain period of time. The process can trigger the real-time firing of neurons, which affects their behavior in the long run.
3. Real Vs. Imaginary Experience
The brain can’t differentiate between a real and imaginary experience. The neo-cortex is one of the most recent additions to our knowledge about parts of the human brain. The frontal lobe is the front part of neo-cortex and it gives us the ability to think, plan, evaluate, judge and perform all important cognitive functions.
Our brain is wired to look for danger for survival reasons. When encountering danger, the fight-or-flight response comes into play. This helped us to survive during the early stages of human development, but the problem is that our brain can still trigger the stress response, even when there is no real threat and we are merely thinking about a threat. A stress response causes the release of around 1,400 biochemicals in the human body. Hence, clients may suffer due to their imagination.
Action step: Help clients to develop the ability to direct their awareness and attention toward the thoughts they wish to entertain. The practice of mindful meditation can help clients differentiate between real and imaginary thoughts and avoid unnecessary stress.
4. The Role Of Emotions
Emotions have been an area of study for a long time. In his book, The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor highlights the tremendous impact of emotions in each area of our life. Happiness, in particular, has a major role to play. In a meta-analysis of 225 academic studies, researchers Sonja Lyubomirsky, Laura King and Ed Diener found strong evidence that there is a direct link between happiness and improvement in each area of one’s life, be it our health, performance, relationships or career. When a person experiences happiness, the brain releases serotonin and dopamine, which enhances their ability to learn and act.
Action step: As a coach, it’s important to help clients develop the skill of regulating emotions and the ability to experience positive emotions at will. During a coaching session, if you can make the client experience small bursts of happiness, the session will have an even greater impact.
Professor Carol Dweck from Stanford University has done tremendous research on the concept of mindsets. Her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, highlights the difference between growth and fixed mindset. People with a fixed mindset believe talent is everything, whereas individuals with a growth mindset believe they can learn, improve and develop any skill required to succeed. It’s important to note that one’s mindset is nothing but a series of beliefs that were put together and wired into the brain. But, as we learned above, the brain is plastic, which means we can create a new neuro-circuit and alter our mindset.
Action step: As a coach, one of the most powerful things you can do is to help your client develop a growth mindset. By putting all the above concepts together, it should be easy to do this.
Based on personal experience, I believe that practicing these five concepts will help coaches get results. I have seen amazing changes happen within my own clients. One needs to ensure consistency in their practice. We’ve heard, “Practice makes perfect.” The better version is “Right practice done consistently makes perfect.” I hope these concepts will help you to become a more impactful coach.