This article on performance and the Prefrontal Cortex just appeared in Choice, the Magazine of Professional Coaching:
We’ve been told there is no try, only do or not do (thanks, Yoda), and there is truth to this. Saying we are “trying” has a different energy than saying we are “doing.” Trying implies tentativeness and brings with it the possibility of failure. Doing, on the other hand, brings with it a fullness of commitment, a level of engagement and YES that says it WILL happen.
And yet, there is a paradox here. How many of us (or our clients) make it all the way to any sort of lasting change on the first try? We try, we fail, we try again. And sometimes we give up, saying, “I’ll never get it, there is no point in trying.” And that, my friends, can be simply wrong. Because the brain actually loves the try. Each time we focus our attention on what we want, we engage in positive neuroplasticity (simply put, neuroplasticity refers to the brain’s ability to rewire and change. See My Best Neuroscience Argument for Coaching for more on neuroplasticity). With focused attention over time, we can create and reinforce new neural pathways, locking in patterns and behaviors that are more effective than some of our old habits.
In our advanced coaching course, we explore what is needed to create new patterns for our clients (and ourselves, of course!) Recently, one of our students had the insight that the process of trying is a key part of changing the brain, and should be honored as such. We tend to focus on the fact that we failed, rather than that we did, perhaps, do something towards being able to change at some point.
When a new neural connection is made — for example, we commit to a new habit (in this student’s case, it was healthier eating), there then exists the potential for a new neural pathway (actually many neural connections would be involved in something like a change in diet, but for simplicity’s sake we’ll pretend there is one “healthy eating” pathway). Think of this like a channel in a river. Our dominant pathways are where the energy naturally wants to flow. The more well-used the neural pathway, the more habitual the behavior. When we create a new potential pathway, that’s all there is–potential. Then, each time we use this pathway, a process called “myelination” occurs. Myelin is a fatty coating around the axon of a neuron. The more myelinated the pathway, the stronger it is.
Our student realized that trying is part of how we myelinate the new neural pathway. “If I resist having a cookie on Monday, but then give in and have one Tuesday, I have still helped create the change I want,” she shared. “The trick is, over time, to NOT have the cookie more than I have it!” She went on to say that she used to feel like such a failure every time she gave in and went off her diet, which would simply cause her to give up completely. But this knowledge helped her change her perspective dramatically. “Now I just say, ok, I put a little more myelin on an old habit pathway, let’s see what I can do with my new ‘healthy eating’ pathway. I don’t have to give up, or beat myself up. It’s all part of the process of change. I used to think trying was a cop-out. Now I see that sometimes, try is how you do.”
So next time you “fail,” whether it be on a diet, a commitment to turning off your cell phone, or keeping your cool in a difficult meeting, don’t be too hard on yourself. Old habits are well-entrenched neural pathways, and they don’t usually change overnight. Instead, remember what our student so wisely said “try is how you do,” and get up, dust yourself off and send more attention down the pathway you want to empower. Sooner or later, it will take over and become dominant.
Henry David Thoreau knew this over 200 years ago. He said:
As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathways in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.
And don’t worry if you end up on the wrong path — it’s normal. The other path is waiting for you, and you can walk it at any time.
I have cats. Even though they are short-haired, they shed. I like to wear black pants (so slimming, you know). My small cat is pure white and my big cat has a white belly. Thus, renegade white hairs ALL OVER EVERYTHING, especially my black pants. So I have one of those sticky rolls of tape with a handle that you can use to de-lint yourself, and it works great. It picks up everything, even stuff I sometimes didn’t know was there. To use a simile, a metaphor is like that for your brain. Allow me to explain.
Our visual cortex is more well-developed than our auditory cortex. In other words, we more quickly and easily understand things in images than we do by parsing linear sentences. If you ask me how I am, and I tell you all day I have felt like I have my shoes on the wrong feet, you can connect immediately and much more powerfully (and empathically) than if I simply say I am a bit out of sorts. And, like that sticky tape which picks up everything, you get much more information than the simple statement “out of sorts” allows. Shoes on the wrong feet brings up a wealth of interesting images and sensations. It might include awkward, stumbling, uncomfortable, tight, irritating. In a coaching conversation, a myriad of directions to explore!
Because the right hemisphere of the brain thinks in pictures (as well as sounds, colors, smells and touch), I believe metaphors are one of the most amazing tools we have as coaches to integrate the two hemispheres of the brain. The right hemisphere is the side that brings to the brain what is new, as well as sensations from the body through the vagus nerve. But because it doesn’t have immediate access to symbolic language (words and sentences are the provence of the left hemisphere), this information is spread out all over, nebulous and unfocused and sometimes difficult to pick up, like cat hair on my pants. But when we grab an image that swims to the surface and name it (shoes on the wrong feet), we have accessed the left hemisphere’s power of focus and language without losing the right hemisphere’s subtlety and ability to know the hidden or nebulous aspects of the situation.
As coaches, we know that when a client can’t focus in on what is really going on, we can’t work with the issue. However, if we only focus in and reduce things to simple statements (out of sorts), we often miss the heart of the matter. Metaphors allow us to do both, by engaging both hemispheres of the brain in a powerful partnership. Through the image, we keep bringing pieces over from the right hemisphere, which knows everything but can’t articulate it or do much with it, to the left, which says “Ok, let’s really look at this.”
A good metaphor is a door into consciousness, and when my clients tell me “Oh, I am no good at metaphors,” or “I just don’t think that way,” I don’t accept it. I tell them we’re going to build the muscle, because it is key to understanding themselves. Everyone has the ability, we just need to activate it.
Happy Valentine’s Day 2013 from yourcoachingbrain. And it’s perfect timing, because today I want to talk about LOVE!! Love and science and coaching, of course.
When I think back on my twelve years as a professional coach, one of the things that stands out is the astonishing moments of intimacy I’ve experienced. The times clients have told me things they’ve never told anyone else before. The times they’ve cried, or faced their biggest demons, or finally stepped into their own greatness. What a privilege to hold all of that.
There is a poignancy to these memories as well. I know that for many of my clients our coaching relationship is more deeply honest and emotionally intimate than any other. In the container of coaching, they are able to be fully themselves like nowhere else in their lives. And interestingly, intimacy doesn’t seem to be something we’re getting much better at (at least here in the U.S.). According to the General Social Survey, in 1985 most Americans had three confidents in their lives. In 2004, the most common response was zero. I guess this might be good news for coaching, but not so great in terms of our development as humanity
While ideally we are helping our clients increase their overall capacity for emotional connection, there is often an particularly special and noteworthy energy in the relationship between coach and client. Like many of you, I’ve know for years that this is simply the energy of love, no two ways about it. So I was thrilled when I saw Barbara Frederickson’s new book Love 2.0, How Our Supreme Emotion Affects Everything We Feel, Think, Do and Become, and her definition of love as “micro-moments of positivity response.” By this she means that love is something that occurs in connection with another person when a flood of positive emotions and biochemical responses are activated.
This response can happen with any other person at any point as long as there is connection. According to Frederickson, biologically, there are three key aspects to the “love system.” First, our mirror neurons for empathy, which enable us to “mirror” what another person is feeling as if we were feeling it ourselves. Secondly, the hormone oxytocin, which is released during moments of intimacy and enables us to trust and connect. And third, the vagus nerve, which connects our heart and gut to our brain (see The Embodied Brain for more on the amazing vagus nerve) and allows us to experience love in some subtle and interesting ways. For example, the vagus nerve controls micro-movements of the face and eyes as well as the muscles of the throat which produce varied vocal tone (we’ll come back this last one). The vagus nerve is also a key player in emotional regulation, calming us down in the face of stress or perceived threat. While Frederickson has been criticized for reducing love to just this trifecta and not taking into full account ALL of the other biochemical responses, these micro-moments generated by her big three certainly are one powerful form of love, and well worth considering.
So much of the brain can be understood when we remember that we are programmed to be acutely aware of threats (see Shifting the Brain’s Negativity Bias for more on this). I find vocal tone particularly interesting as a coach, perhaps because many of us do our work over the phone. Vocal tone is one way animals (including humans) cue other animals that things are safe. We listen for something called “prosidy” or a sort of rich tonal variance. At its most extreme, think of a parent crooning to a baby — we naturally go into a sort of sing-song tone when around babies or very small children. This tone is an evolutionarily programmed cue to the baby that it is safe. And although we generally don’t talk to each other in quite such a sing-song way, emotionally intelligent, connected people with good self-regulation tend to speak more melodically. This is one way we subconsciously know whether or not a person is trustworthy. A flat affect and droning tone may indicate a less-developed vagus nerve, which means that they cannot control their emotions as easily and thus literally are not as “safe” to be around. (This will generally not be in our conscious awareness, but we may find that we are simply not drawn to that person or for some reason don’t trust them.)
And so, what does this have to do with love, and loving our clients? As coaches, we learn to make people feel safe. Many of us even become masters of doing this over the phone, without any verbal cues (something many people would believe is almost impossible). Without even knowing we are doing so, through using our mirror neurons to feel their experience, through activating oxytocin by listening deeply and holding them in our hearts, and through our melodic vocal tone, we weave a net of security around our clients that they relax into, knowing all is well — at least in this moment with their coach. And this “micro-moment of positivity response” is one form of love that is as real as any other, and when it is activated in the client, it also often gets activated in the coach. And there you are, glowing with the privilege of coaching this amazing person, who is glowing with the extraordinary experience of feeling so very safe, and loved, and held.
The most wasted of all days is one without laughter.
Most of us are aware that laughter is relaxing, and that humor makes the learning process much more fun. There’s social science research that students whose professors bring humor into the classroom have greater retention of the material, and those professors also tend to have far greater student engagement overall. (It’s interesting to note that in order for this to be the case, the humor must be relevant to the topic at hand. Just generally “being funny” doesn’t have the same impact.)
During my speaking engagements on neuroscience and coaching, I love to bring in humorous examples, cartoons and an overall sense of lightness. I do this because it’s both my personality to have fun no matter what I am doing, and because I know at times people can get intimidated by a topic requiring so many six-syllable words. (On that note, here’s my tip of the day: If you do nothing else, tell your clients you are engaging their brains in positive neuroplasticity during the coaching process. This will make their left hemispheres quite impressed with how smart you are, and you’ll be able to get away with almost anything.)
I also typically use a dose of appropriate humor in my coaching sessions, because I have found over the years that Bill Cosby was right when he said:
“Through humor, you can soften some of the worst blows that life delivers. And once you find laughter, no matter how painful your situation might be, you can survive it.”
Recently, however, I got curious about the impact of humor on our brain and biochemistry. I wanted to know where laughter can be found in the brain, and also why humor helps us shift things, reduce stress and even heal (The late Dr. Norman Cousins, who, among other things, was a researcher into the biochemistry of human emotions, credited laughter to helping him fight cancer. His regimen? Hours and hours of old Three Stooges movies).
The question of where laughter is located in the brain does not have a clear-cut answer, but it does seem to have something to do with activation of a certain area of the pre-frontal cortex, (PFC) the most highly developed part of our brains. This may help explain why laughter can help shift things so effectively and easily. When we activate our PFC we can actually begin to think and not simply react. Laughter has also been shown to reduce biochemical markers of stress, specifically catecholamines and cortisol. It boosts the immune system and a good belly laugh will increase your heart rate and give you a bit of a work out!
Laughter is also a powerful social connector. According to a 2010 article by the Harvard Mahoney Neuroscience Institute, “Laughter is thought to have predated human speech, perhaps by millions of years, and may have helped our early ancestors clarify intentions during social interactions. But as language began to evolve, laughter may also have provided an emotional context for conversations—a signal of acceptance.” Laughing with our clients creates bonding and trust. When we laugh with someone, we are evolutionarily primed to feel safe.
In looking at laughter from the perspective of consciousness as well as neuroscience, I have seen that those coaches who appear to calibrate at higher levels of awareness have an interesting ability to hold lightness and humor concurrent with seriousness and depth. The humor they bring is in the context of deep respect for the challenges their client is facing, and not intended to bring the client out of their experience. This is an important point — while making a joke of things might lighten the mood, the coach also needs to know when the client needs to be brought more deeply in to their experience.
Thus, like everything in coaching, even laughter isn’t the “right” answer, but it is a wonderful tool. And on that note, I’ll leave you with one of my favorite scientists–someone who definitely knew not to take himself too seriously.
As they say in Tibet, if you can take care of the minutes, the years will take care of themselves. We can turn good moments into a great brain.
I recently had the delightful experience of listening to author and psychologist Rick Hanson (The Buddha’s Brain) on the NICABM brain science webinar. He spoke at length about the so-called “negativity bias” of the brain and what we can do to help our brains overcome it so we can be happier, less stressed, and more effective. His wisdom elegantly maps on to what we are trained to do as professional coaches. In fact, it is one area where it seems to me we are particularly well-equipped to help our clients make lasting, positive changes in their brains.
What is a “Negativity Bias?”
To put it quite simply, the brain is designed to remember negative things more easily than positive ones. Dr. Hanson puts it like this: for negative events, the brain is Velcro, for positive ones, Teflon. Our amygdala uses about two-thirds of its neurons scanning for threats (see The Whoosh for more on our friend the amygdala), and the memory of something hurtful or scary goes into our long-term memories with ease. This makes a lot of sense from an evolutionary biology perspective — that growling noise that preceded a saber-toothed tiger attack? Stuck into my cavewoman brain permanently. A bias towards negativity helps us stay alive and avoid threats.
In our ancestral days, this alertness wasn’t as much of a problem as it is today. We were designed for short bursts of “fight or flight” where we burn resources faster than we can refuel, and then long stretches relaxing and recovering from the stressful event. Unfortunately, in today’s world, we encounter far too many perceived threats (most of our fight or flight reactions in day to day life are unecessary) and have far too little recovery time. Thus, training our brain to be less attuned to the negative and more focused on the positive is a way to live a healthier, less stressful life.
Encoding Our Brains for Positivity
In order for a positive experience to make it into our long-term memory, we must hold it in our field of attention for at least 10-20 seconds. Otherwise, the experience simply slips away. Hanson says that when we do hold positive experiences in awareness for this period of time, we not only encode these experiences into long-term memory, we tune and sensitize our amygdala to focus less on the negative and more on the positive. And because the brain sees what it expects to see, what it is “primed for” (think of buying a new car — all of a sudden there are red Toyotas everywhere!), being more attuned to the positive means we actually see and experience more positive things in our lives.
The Impact of Coaching
According to Hanson, the process of encoding our brains for positivity, what he calls “taking in the good” (that 10-20 second focus on positive experiences), has three key steps or aspects:
1. NOTICE or CREATE a positive experience.
2. STAY WITH the experience, be with it.
3. ABSORB the positive experience.
In coaching, we routinely help our clients do some or all of this. First, we often call to attention the good things that are happening in their lives. We ask them questions like “What are you proud of?” “What are you celebrating today?” and “What was good about that?” We help them find something worth honoring even in a difficult situation or one they are deeming a failure. And we help them create positive experiences for themselves. We encourage them to do things in alignment with their values, to reconnect with their joy, and to stop doing those things that are unrewarding or unduly stressful.
We also know how to put on the pause button when our clients are inclined to brush past something positive on their way to talking about a problem or issue. We say “Hold on a minute! We need to spend some time on that accomplishment before we go to looking at what’s wrong.” We ask them how it feels, really, to get the promotion or finish the project. We slow them down so they can actually relish their lives and “absorb” the experience.
Hanson also mentioned one other step or aspect:
4. Pair positive and negative experiences
Pairing is when you have the client hold both positive and negative aspects of a situation in mind at the same time, or go back and forth quickly. This, he says, helps the positive infuse into the negative neural networks and thus create very powerful changes. I think as coaches we do this when we are helping our clients look at things from multiple perspectives (at CTI we call this Balance Coaching) or go deep into an experience (what we call Process Coaching). Process coaching often starts with some difficult situation the client is having trouble facing, and instead of trying to fix it or find a solution, the coach will take them “into” it by using body geography, metaphor, and other tools to keep the client present and aware of the emotions, sensations and wisdom therein. Usually, after some time spent being present to the negative aspects (being present is distinct from being overwhelmed or lost in the experience), the client will find and begin to explore positive aspects as well, in the process infusing them into the negative neural networks. At CTI, we have seen for many years that Process Coaching is extraordinarily effective at shifting places where the client is very stuck or challenged. (NOTE: Process coaching is also very useful for steps two and three above in terms of Staying With and Absorbing positive experiences.)
Coaching and Positivity
I think that in general coaches tend to have more of a positivity bias toward life — it’s what makes us so much fun to be around! It’s not that we are naive about risks or problems, it’s just that our whole profession is focused not on what’s wrong, but on what’s possible. Through the process of one to one coaching, we also gain so much evidence that people can and do create amazing things for themselves through effort and intention. And of course, as we help our clients focus on the positive for that crucial 10-20 seconds (or more), it means we are also focusing there, thus strengthening the positivity circuits in our own brains.
Isn’t coaching amazing?
Who Are You Becoming?
The brain has an astonishing capacity to adapt—it’s one of our key evolutionary advantages. A child can move from the plains of Africa to New York City and very quickly learn not only a new language, but also understand cultural cues and subtleties that are often unspoken. Adults, as we know, can have a tougher time because their brains are not as flexible (having already formed into the major neural patterns of adult life), but even so, research into neuroplasticity shows we have the capacity to change many aspects of ourselves at any age.
As we adapt, the new environment becomes what, when we moved to Costa Rica eight years ago, we dubbed “the new normal.” Case in point (on a small scale): we bought land in a remote area near the Pacific Ocean, surrounded by fruit trees, monkeys, and exotic birds. It was amazing, wondrous, magical, and very different from our previous home in Minnesota. And we adapted. Our bodies adapted to the warmer weather, staying cool more easily in the hot days of January, and feeling a chill at 72 degrees during the rainy season. Our wonder at the howler monkeys changed to “when will they SHUT UP?” and when guests oohed and ahhed over this bird or that one, we nodded politely and said “Oh, yes, pretty.” Even the ocean palled after a bit. Going to the beach (only ten minutes away) was normal. Riding my horse was normal. Eating as many mangoes as I wanted was normal. Still fun (usually), but instead of an amazing adventure to be lived only in dreams, just the way it was.
And what was amazing, fun and exciting was when I visited the U.S. and was able to shop at Target! Buy art supplies at Michael’s crafts! Drive on roads that weren’t full of potholes! Get in and out of the bank in under 10 minutes! Sleep in a house without bugs! No howler monkeys at 5 am! TV! Internet! Any kind of food I wanted! WOW!!! And of course, that WOW lasted about 2 months when I moved back to Minnesota in 2009. Once again, I adapted. Aren’t we amazing creatures?
It’s far too stressful to the brain to keep everything new. Interacting with the world as if we’d never seen or experienced before consumes a lot of energy. Think about vacationing in a new country where you are not sure how things are done—it can be exhausting as well as exhilarating, and generally feels more relaxing the longer you’ve been there, and much less stressful the next time you return. This is because, with familiarity, we move things into a part of our brain (the left hemisphere, by the way) that looks for patterns, makes assumptions and fills in the blanks. And when we really know how to do something, it will often become the responsibility of a part of the brain that consumes even less energy, called the basal ganglia. (Driving is a prime example of something that once required a lot of concentration and active thought but for most people does not once they have learned and practiced.)
But the reason I am bringing this up today is more important that mangoes versus shopping. As we grow and develop and expand our consciousness, different thoughts and behaviors become “the new normal” as well. And once something is the new normal, it may be difficult to understand how we could have ever been another way. (Which also can make it harder to understand how others can be where they are.) Think about how difficult it is to buy lightweight spring clothes when there is snow on the ground, or warm clothing when it is hot out. What is here feels – on some level – like it will last forever and like it has always been there. Of course we override this all the time, telling ourselves to be practical, so I don’t mean to imply that we are limited to our current experience. And still, our current “normal” has an impact.
In our work teaching coaching, consciousness and neuroscience, we often have people reflect on where they have been on their journey of development. To use the language of the Seven Levels of Effectiveness, where have they shifted—really shifted—something from “below the line” to “above the line?” We’ve had hundreds of people do this over the years, and in our particular demographic have yet to encounter anyone who didn’t have an example. At least in the world of coaching and human development, it seems we all have made this shift in one or more areas of our lives.
Why is this important? When we bring into awareness who we are becoming, where we have shifted our consciousness, we can own and integrate and stabilize the learning. Because of the “new normal” phenomenon, profound shifts to greater consciousness can simply seem like “so what?” unless we take the time to reflect and honor ourselves for the path we have walked.
One tool we have used for this is to look at each of the Seven Levels of Effectiveness (particularly the bottom three, although it is quite interesting to look at all seven) and ask yourself two questions:
- At this level, what used to be resonant (resonant = fun, rewarding, seductive, entertaining, interesting, compelling) to me?
- At this level, how do I feel now? What is now more resonant for me?
For example, when I did this myself recently, I saw that at the level of Frustration, it used to be resonant to me to be right no matter what, even if it meant feeling less connected to the person I was talking to. Winning an argument had real resonance. Although I am not perfect and still occasionally get hooked into that energy, it no longer feels good. I am so aware that when I strive to be right no matter what, there is a cost to the relationship and I am not interested in paying that cost. Now what is more typical is to find alignment, be open to the other person’s ideas, and honor every contribution. This feels great! And when I am with someone who is committed to debate and being right themselves, I most often peacefully and respectfully find a way to walk away. I know others do enjoy that game, but it’s not what I want to play (and making them wrong for it would just be another way of being right!)
Have fun exploring and let me know what you discover!
At BEabove Leadership, as we get ready for the first Module Three of our Neuroscience, Consciousness and Transformational Coaching program, I have been thinking a lot about energy, quantum mechanics, and the fact that our brains are so much bigger than the two hemispheres etc. in our skulls. So I thought I’d share some thoughts about the brain we are carrying in our entire bodies.
“Far more than a simple pump, as was once believed, the heart is now recognized by scientists as a highly complex system with its own functional ‘brain’…. “
~Roland McCraty, Institute of HeartMath
The heart has a nervous system and neurons of its own. Research in the field of Neurocardiology has shown that the heart can learn, remember, and make decisions separate from the brain in our heads. And research by the HeartMath Institute has shown that the signals from the heart, as conducted through the vagus nerve (see bleow), precede decision-making in the brain. In other words, the heart thinks first, and thinks faster, influencing the brain in the areas of perception, cognition and emotional processing.
The heart also generates a powerful electromagnetic field – much more powerful than that of the brain. To quote the experts at the HeartMath Institute, “Compared to the electromagnetic field produced by the brain, the heart’s field is about 60 times greater in amplitude, and permeates every cell in the body. The magnetic component is approximately 5000 times stronger than the brain’s magnetic field and can be detected several feet away from the body with sensitive magnetometers.”
2) Our Gut is a Sort of Brain, Too
The greatest concentration of serotonin (a key neurotransmitter), which is involved in mood control, depression and aggression, is found in your intestines, not your brain. Studies have found that high doses of probiotics (which serve to balance the gut flora in positive ways and unlike antidepressants, have no negative side effects) cause mice to face challenges with more perseverance and take more risks than mice not treated with probiotics.
3) The Vagus Nerve is Really Important
The name comes from the medieval Latin word vagus, which literally means “wandering” (vagrant, vagabond and vague all come from the same root). This nerve “wanders” through our body, connecting to our organs and conveying sensory information to and from the central nervous system (CNS). Most of the fibers in the vagus nerve (80-90%) are afferent, which means they take information back to the CNS.
In other words, the vagus nerve is the information superhighway connecting the body to brain, with 80-90% of the traffic flowing up to the brain from our organs and viscera (to the right hemisphere of the brain), and only 10-20% of the information going from the brain to the body.
Our bodies are remarkably literal in their interpretation of the world. (Perhaps this is because the vagus nerve is sending back so much information from the body to the brain.) There are numerous astonishing research studies showing this – a recent one published in the Association for Psychological Science last March proved that if you literally put people in boxes they think more restrictively and when literally “out of the box” are more creative. Another showed that people who hold a warm drink see a stranger’s personality as warmer than those not holding a drink. Mimicking the phrase “on the one hand, on the other hand” by moving your hands alternately in a lifting motion will generate more ideas than lifting a single hand. And so on. People who sat on hard chairs negotiated harder for a salary increase than those in soft chairs. Donation kettles at the top of an escalator garnered more donations than those at the bottom of the escalator (we associate going “up” with being better people).
We are constantly – and literally – interpreting our environment. At BEabove, we believe the task of coaches and teachers is to help people become more consciously aware of ourselves as embodied brains. Because the vagus nerve comes into the right hemisphere of the brain, which does not look at things individually, logically, or in a linear manner, we need to develop the ability to interact with this vague (interesting semantic connection there) information so that we can grasp it, understand it, and use it effectively. This is the job of coaching, counseling, and healing.
Do you want to learn how to bring more brain (and higher levels of consciousness) to your coaching? Consider joining us for an upcoming Module One of Neuroscience, Consciousness and Transformational Coaching.
As a coach, I got the biggest kick out of news reports this summer of a study conducted at Harvard — guess what? People will pay to talk about themselves! Well, thank goodness for that or we’d all be out of a job.
But in all seriousness, they found some interesting things, the main being that talking about oneself releases dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter and an integral part of a neural highway called the mesolimbic dopamine reward pathway. This pathway is one of the brain’s chief sources of pleasure and feelings of reward.
The Harvard study tested the idea that people value their own experiences more highly than those of others, and that talking about oneself triggers dopamine reward pathways. What is interesting for coaching is that dopamine is not just about feeling good. Dopamine reinforces learning and is important to memory, attention and problem-solving.
As humans, we engage in many types of dopamine-seeking behavior. Even eating and sleeping release bursts of dopamine and seratonin (as do drugs such as cocaine, gambling, and getting a text message or “like” on Facebook). Who knew that talking to a coach was one of them! And according to the study, people will give up money to talk about themselves. Here’s what the Wall Street Journal had to say:
“In several tests, [researchers] offered the volunteers money if they chose to answer questions about other people, such as President Obama, rather than about themselves, paying out on a sliding scale of up to four cents…. Despite the financial incentive, people often preferred to talk about themselves and willingly gave up between 17% and 25% of their potential earnings so they could reveal personal information.”
Now, I’m always a bit skeptical of studies of monetary reward when dealing with amounts that are meaningless to most people, but my take away from this research is that if simply talking about yourself is rewarding in and of itself, imagine the value we bring by being trained professionals, focusing our clients’ reflection and helping them discover new directions.
As a coach, you are probably a lot of people’s favorite addiction.