Balance Coaching, also known as Reframing, Reappraisal and Perspectives

“Balance coaching is designed to restore the flow, to get clients into action on today’s issues in a way that brings them back into alignment and back in control of their lives…. Being more fully alive means having the power to choose; balance coaching helps clients make life-giving choices.”

~Co-Active Coaching

“(W)hen people are allowed to make their own choices, they feel empowered and alive. When we have no choice…our energy ebbs.”

~Coaching with the Brain in Mind

The second principle of co-active coaching is called Balance, which is a process by which the coach assists the client in shifting their perspective, or in neuroscience terms, reappraising a circumstance for emotional regulation (emotional regulation is a neuroscience term for calming the heck down). The client actively chooses and actions are then developed from a new, more empowering perspective. Often used when a client is feeling stuck or constrained, the process as taught by CTI is fundamentally about choice and includes aspects of mindfulness and accessing somatic information in addition to reappraisal. It looks like this:

  1. The coach helps the client identify their current perspective and “embody” it. That is, explore how they stand, sit or move in this perspective, what they think or say, and how the issue looks and feels to them.
  2. With the coach’s assistance and prompting, the client “tries on” a series of different perspectives, again, embodying each one as explained above. The somatic aspect is important, with the client generally moving their body physically with each new perspective.
  3. The coach asks the client to choose the perspective that feels empowering, one they can honestly stand in going forward.
  4. The coach helps the client create an action plan from this new perspective.
  5. The client moves into action and reports back to the coach.

Each step of this process helps our clients to become calmer and more centered. In steps one and two, the client is allowed to notice that both their the initial perspective as well as subsequent “optional” perspectives are, as Kevin Oschner says, “interpretation(s) of the world that need not define (them).” In his paper on emotional regulation, he categorizes this as being one form of the strategy of reappraisal, and goes on to say “amygdala activity drops during reappraisal, suggesting that reappraisal is successful in changing what the amygdala “sees” – that is, it no longer detects an arousing and aversive event.” Our amygdala — a small almond shaped part of the brain in the limbic system — plays a key role in scanning for threats and pushing us into “fight or flight” mode, thus, keeping it calm is an important aspect of emotional regulation.

Additionally, in steps one and two the client is asked to notice their body’s responses as well as their thoughts and attitudes in each perspective. This brings in an aspect of mindfulness as (ideally) the client simply focuses attention on what is there, describing it without judgment. While I am not suggesting that balance coaching is equivalent to mindfulness meditation (which has been shown in numerous studies to be effective in stress reduction), studies do seem to suggest that even something as simple as paying “mindful attention” can be highly beneficial in many ways.

Another interesting thing to note is that many studies have shown that we have a marked preference for the status quo when making decisions. In step two, the client is asked to “try on,” that is, somatically, emotionally and intellectually inhabit, a number of new perspectives. Could it be that by having the client fully embody a range of options this creates the possibility of many more “status quos?” If, as has been proven time and time again, our brains don’t know the difference between what is real and what is imagined (for example, releasing stress hormones when watching a scary movie even though we ourselves are not being threatened in any way), it makes sense that imagining with powerful resonance a new way of looking at something feels to the brain as if it is real.[1] Thus, in step three when the client is asked to make a choice, it could be that the status quo bias has been removed and they are actually truly able to choose freely.

Step three also brings in reappraisal, but this time even more powerfully. Now the client actively chooses to, in the words of one neuroscientist, “reinterpret… the meaning of a stimulus or event in a way that changes its emotional impact.” Again, this drops activity in the amygdala, thus enabling the client to see more clearly their options and create a plan for achieving them (steps four and five). In addition, the deep and thoughtful process for identifying, embodying, and choosing outlined above inevitably brings the client to a new state of calmness, creativity and insight.

Anecdotal evidence (and my own experience in working with reappraisal for over ten years) also shows that the essential neuroplasticity of the brain enables us to build what seem to be neural pathways for reappraisal. In other words, coaches report that their more experienced clients have learned to automatically reappraise a situation, showing up on a coaching call saying things like,  “I got hooked, but then I told myself to look at it another way.” I myself have seen my ability to reappraise go from a conscious, often laborious process to become almost instantaneous when I encounter a stressor. For example, I used to fume when cut off in traffic. Now I find myself thinking “That’s ok, two seconds won’t make any difference to me and I am glad there was no accident.”

Happy reappraising, everyone!

[1] The power of visualization is well-known in the world of sports, where it common for athletes to imagine a golf swing or ski run prior to competition. It is likely we have not even begun to tap the potential of this aspect of our brains. In The Brain that Changes Itself,  Norman Doidge cites numerous studies proving the power of visualization, from enhancing piano expertise to actually developing stronger muscles. (Doidge, 2007)


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