Changing Your Mind: The Impact of Coaching on the Brain & the Body
“I don’t see how coaching is going to help me at all” whined my lovely, yet analytical friend. “It’s not like it changes my brain or anything”, she continued. I posed two of those famously open-ended questions we are so known for as coaches; “What might happen if it did? And how do you know that it doesn’t?” She surrendered with a laugh and said, “OK. Who should I go see?”
We all know that our personality and the behaviors we produce are linked, but to what degree? It’s the age old argument of nature vs. nurture with a dose of the chicken and the egg quandary thrown in. Some of our personality traits we are born with, and others are shaped by our environment and our experiences. We adopt, abandon or transform our behavior as a result of learning and growing.
The physiology of the brain and our growing understanding of the fields of neurobiology, psycho neurobiology, and brain plasticity are essential components of understanding our humanity. Neurobiology can help predict types of personalities and certain physiological disorders, and might even be able to tell us which types of coaching we will be most effective with.
As one of the American Board of Neuro Linguistic Programming (ABNLP) Master Trainers, part of my job is to continue to stay plugged in to new research and contribute to an alive field better known as NLP/Results Based Coaching. For years people have been debating over the grey area between the mind, the purview of NLP and coaching, and the brain, the physiological organ and the organic structures that support it. What brain plasticity and growing research teaches us is that the two components of mind and brain are linked.
Wikkepedia’s definition of brain plasticity states that “…brain activity associated with a given function can be transferred to a different location, the proportion of grey matter can change, and synapses may strengthen or weaken over time.” This is more than ‘use it or lose it’. The way our behavior and brain are inter-related is best known through the NLP and psychology axiom that “neurons that fire together, wire together.” New functionality occurs at any stage of our lives, as long as we are actioning new behavior. One of the ground breaking books in the field of brain plasticity was written by Dr. Norman Doidge in 2007; The Brain that Changes Itself. I would highly recommend it to all coaches.
Brain plasticity has found that our brain changes throughout our lives, forming new connections between brain cells. Brain plasticity is supported when a client takes action, especially new and sustained action. This is where coaches come into play.
Coaching is a key tool for anyone who is seeking to engage with new behaviors. As a trainer of coaches, the challenge that I am approached with by both new and established coaches, is how to get a client to deep change, rather than surface change. While it is possible to create deep change via cognitive processes and cognitive coaching, science tells us that it is harder, requires more effort and just takes longer than working with a combination of both cognitive and unconscious mind tools. This is because deep change requires engaging with the aspect of the mind that controls behavior, change and learning; the unconscious mind.
Over the years I have trained thousands of coaches and consistently we find that the most effective coaches have the best of both worlds; some form of cognitive coaching combined with the unconscious coaching tools, templates and processes. Historically NLP Coaching was the first field to use the coaching processes and unconscious processes in an integrative fashion. Having the ability to engage the unconscious mind as a ‘co-coach’, without resistance, allows the client to engage with new behaviors up to ten times faster than cognitive processes alone allow. The unconscious mind can address resistances and blocks (symptoms) from the position of patterning and root cause. Clients get to their results up to ten times faster, and coaches avoid dealing with resistance. It’s a win-win.
There are additional benefits to adding the unconscious coaching tools into the mix; bonus behaviors! Since our challenges often present themselves as patterns in our lives, successful coaching leads to many other behaviors that seem to ‘spontaneously’ occur that support the client’s goals and outcomes.
Transforming the nconscious patterns in our lives, can assist us not only in the initial transformation of a behavior, but also, over time, impact the physiological structures that run those same behaviors. It seems that the more we take action and do, the more the physiological structures of the brain change to support that doing.
Another great book for coaches is The Four Ways to Click by Dr. Amy Banks, published in 2015. I had the privilege of meeting Dr. Amy Banks, head of research at Harvard Psychiatry during a conference a couple of years ago. Dr. Banks had found the four main physiological structures, or “ways to click” of the brain and how they impact behavior and relationships. Dr. Banks was looking for the coaching mechanisms and the supporting behaviors that would assist people in changing their brains. As an NLP Master Trainer, we had the behaviors and patterns, but couldn’t prove the physiological structures. Voila! A match made in heaven.
Let’s take a look of how we can approach the ‘wire together-fire together’ phenomenon as coaches. The first awareness that we can bring to a client is a thematic filter. Let’s use an example of not being heard, which impacts both relationship and business coaching. We can ask questions that explore when the first time they remember that phenomena happening, and how else this theme has proved challenging for them. Addressing behavior from a patterning perspective is helpful for coaches as it creates great awareness for the client and gives the coach more data to work with as we move forward together with our clients..
Awareness of the root of the behavior and re-patterning that behavior from the root, outwards to a new behavior, creates success. Tasking reinforces the new behavior and the new brain pathways for the client. Depth of results seems to be related to the degree that the unconscious patterns can be made conscious, providing new options and new choices for the clients. Master NLP Coaches are taught an additional toolkit for focus in this area and can even guarantee their success, in writing, often producing changes in behavior in 30 days or less. Other front edge leading tools that can assist coaches are hypnosis, meditation, and mindfulness training.
For coaches who want to make a deeper impact, have more success, and perhaps even guarantee their results in writing, I would suggest an exploration of brain plasticity and NLP Coaching tools. It’s a win-win-win for the coach, the client and our industry.
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