How Coaching Changes the Brain Part II

Thinking about others, thinking about self…..

Interesting neuroscience tidbit: we use the same area of the brain to think about others as we do to think about ourselves. We feel their joys and pains in the way we feel our own. We understand their motivations, frustrations and triumphs as we understand our own.

What does this mean for coaching? Well, if we think about others using the same part of the brain as we use to think about ourselves, our ability to understand others is directly correlated to our ability to understand ourselves. Thus, to be effective parents, leaders, teachers, friends and partners, we need to truly understand ourselves. Research on parenting has found, for example, that adults who had troubling childhoods and experienced “bad” parenting, of course tend to be poor parents themselves. But if these adults develop the capacity for self-reflection, they can transcend their own negative experiences and be warm, nurturing and effective parents. By developing the ability to reflect on themselves, they are more likely to respect their child’s emerging developmental needs and reduce the times the child has to use more primitive defense mechanisms.

We simply can’t put ourselves in another’s shoes if we don’t understand ourselves, because we can’t think about them effectively. If the part of my brain that I use to think about myself is weak, disorganized and undeveloped, if I don’t know how I feel and why, then I actually can’t think about you with any coherence either. And if I can’t do that, how can be a good friend, an effective co-worker, a loving partner or parent?

At its most basic level, coaching powerfully increases our self awareness and self-reflective capacity. As coaches, more than anything, we help our clients look at their lives. I often joke about that feeling of hitting the jackpot when our client says to us “Oh, now that’s a good question!” (YES! Dopamine rush, I did it!! I can do this coaching thing. Whew.) This is because it makes them stop, and think, and reflect, and begin to understand themselves better.

My neuroscience studies have shown me that this understanding isn’t just beneficial to to the client, but is crucial to the world they engage with, and thus, benefits us all. In Nepal (and most yoga classes) they greet and leave with the word “Namaste,” which roughly translates to “The God in me sees the God in you.” To really do this, to see this in another, we need to see it in ourselves first.



2 responses

  1. Thanks for your insights Ann. This makes a whole lot of sense to me and makes me understand much better why some people don’t seem to feel empathy or relating to others – and I have more empathy with them 😉

  2. This is a great blog. Thank you! It has made me understand more about why my ex-husband struggled with showing compassion or empathy for others. I think there was a part of his brain that was under-developed and hence was not able to put himself in others shoes. I might just need to print this and post it on my office wall. It makes a lot of sense to me.

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