“Coaching is a way of facilitating self-directed neuroplasticity.”
— Jeffrey Schwartz, Neuroscientist —
As cited in Coaching with the Brain in Mind by David Rock and Linda J Page (2009)
Brain-based coaching, whether for an individual or a team, is all about helping coachees to achieve their goals by improving their quality of thinking through a brain-friendly, structured process that facilitates quality and quantity attention. Our definition of coaching is “facilitating positive change by improving thinking”.
A typical individual coaching engagement is done over 12 weekly sessions of between 1 – 1½ hours face-to-face or telephonically. This can be stretched to 12 sessions over a maximum of 6-months. Team based coaching can take various formats, depending on what the team is trying to solve for.
The Results Coaching System was developed by David Rock, founder of the NeuroLeadership Institute. This unique Brain-Based Coaching methodology is neuroscience-based, process-focused, and outcome driven.
The approach draws from contemporary neuroscience, along with research from positive psychology, adult learning, systems and change theory. It is designed for high functioning people who want help structuring and challenging their thinking and is ideal for coaching busy people, executives and professionals as well as intact teams.
The approach works with the whole person, bringing about change through awareness, reflection, insight and action, across all domains of life.
There are five core principles that underpin the Results Coaching model that support our definition of coaching (“facilitating positive change by improving thinking”):
Self-directed learning: Coachees need to be in the driver’s seat of the learning process. This does not mean the coachee always has all the answers; sometimes the coach provides other useful perspectives or triggers new thinking. The coach’s role is to support good process in coaching; the coachee’s role is to do the hard thinking.
Solutions focus: Research indicates that focusing intensely on problems can be counterproductive. Negative hard wiring in the brain is reactivated and strengthened, reducing the ability to see new ways of thinking. The brain creates new circuits based on where attention is focused, so we focus closely on solutions rather than problems.
Positive feedback: Acknowledgement of progress is the lifeblood of effective coaching. This positive reinforcement helps the coachee to develop the ability to build confidence through self acknowledgement.
Stretch: Results Coaching is focused on helping the coachee to reach challenging and motivating goals. The coach’s role is to stretch the individual to move rapidly and effectively to the achievement of the defined goal, identifying and finding ways around blocks along the way.
Structure: Coaching is much easier to do if there is a clearly defined structure behind it. It supports the coach and coachee throughout the process, so that both know exactly what is expected of them at each step of the way.
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Principles of Results Coaching
Six insights into the brain help explain how and why brain-based coaching is so effective and are incorporated into the principles of results coaching (on the right):
The brain is a connection machine
The brain creates millions of new connections every second and it loves to do so. Neurotransmitters such as adrenaline and dopamine are released during this process which makes us want to take action. When we can't make a connection, we feel stuck — we can't think our way out of a problem. Brain-based coaching helps people resolve these impasses for themselves by helping to improve the quality of thinking. When people make quality new connections for themselves, it generates energy and excitement to take committed action.
Up close, no two brains are alike
To use neuroscientist David Eagleman's (The Brain, The Story of You) expression, "brains are like snowflakes":
"Each of us is on our own trajectory — steered by our genes and our experiences — and as a result every brain has a different internal life. Brains are as unique as snowflakes. As your trillions of new connections continually form and re-form, the distinctive pattern means that no one like you has ever existed, or will ever exist again."
This is why brain-based coaching helps individuals enter into a solutions-focused positive brain state to solve their own problems and come up with their own answers — what's right for me, may not be right for you.
The brain hardwires everything it can
New ideas or behaviours use the brain's "working memory" which is a very limited resource. Because of this, the brain prefers to hardwire as much as it can — that is, move it from conscious to unconscious structures. This is a very energy efficient process but unfortunately means that much of the time we tend to operate on autopilot. Brain-based coaching involves getting us out of autopilot and into a more conscious thought process which takes significant effort. The structured approach enables coachees to focus on their thinking and not on the coaching process.
Hardwiring drives automatic perception
Moving to more conscious thought is important if we are to overcome old habits that are no longer useful to us or that do not serve us. To quote Eagleman again: "You don't perceive objects as they are. You perceive them as you are". If we want to change our perception, we need to rewire our brains.
It's practically impossible to deconstruct our wiring
Attention itself creates change in the brain. It's useful to remember Hebb's Law (1949): "Cells that fire together wire together". This means that trying to get rid of circuits by focusing on them is often ineffective — we end up further hardwiring them instead. This is why brain-based coaching is solutions focused.
It's easy to create new wiring
Because the world around us is constantly changing, so are we. Neuroplasticity once thought to only apply to children has been proven to apply across our lives, from birth to death. Because attention changes the brain, we can create new connections through what we pay attention to, what we focus on and what we practice — no matter how old we are. The quality and quantity of our attention is therefore key.