Here’s a secret about coaching: it is both an art and a science and the science side of it is based in large part on NLP or Neuro-Linguistic Programming. As you are probably aware, coaching is about growth and development, and that generally means change. If it feels challenging to break an ingrained habit, that’s because you’re not only trying to change behaviour – you’re actually changing the way your brain reacts to certain situations. When we react (take action without thought) or sometimes even when we respond (take action with thought) we are doing so based on stimulus from one or more sections of our brain. There are actually three distinct sections as follows:
The reticular or reptilian brain: this is the oldest part of our brain, dating back to the age of the dinosaurs and is responsible for keeping us safe. Our fight/flight/freeze response comes from this part of the brain. The downside of this brain is that it tends to react without thinking, based on prior information, and can cause us to act inappropriately or behave with over-reaction. The reptilian brain is extremely small, and sits on the brain stem at the top of our spinal column. Yet extraordinary powerful in that it can be a strong influencer of our decisions.
The Limbic system or emotional brain: This smallish brain area dates back to the end of the dinosaurs, making it about 50 million years’ olds. It sits at the top of the brain stem, wrapped around it like a glove. Its function is to provide emotions that move us into actions. The Limbic System stores memories and trust, and it likes things to stay the same. It thinks right/wrong, yes/no, black/white. This system gives us systems of communication. Like the reptilian brain, the Limbic System has been designed to deal with immediate issues. It remembers the past and bases its safety-based decisions on experience, but it thinks and operates on the here and now, not the future. It’s top priority is the immediate survival and safety of the family, group, community.
The Cerebral Cortex is the youngest part of our brain and is often referred to as the visual brain because it’s responsible for our visioning capacity. It’s only about 2.5 million years old but it is massive in comparison to the other brain sections, and encompasses the vast majority of our brain cavity. It contains 16 trillion neuron connectors and is 1,000 times more flexible than the emotional brain. This brain enables us to see the big picture, envision the future, plan, be creative. It allows us to dissociate so we can solve issues without being in the middle of them. The ideal growth situation is when we develop the ability to integrate all of the sections of our brain. When we imagine different solutions to different scenarios and then tap into our emotional brain, it let’s us feel like we’re in each scenario – experiencing the solution and understanding the consequences. The reticular brain searches for faults or problems in order to identify potential issues which can then be solved by the Cerebral Cortex, and tested out by the Limbic System.
Pure coaching is based on the principle that you already know the solutions to your issues, and the answer to your questions. However you may be hindering your own progression due to a traditional way of processing the issue through certain parts of your brain. Coaching can lead to transformative conversations where you are guided through exploration of an issue through a non-traditional use of your processing options, ultimately taking you to a new understanding of how best to proceed.
This perspective on coaching makes it all sounds very clinical and in practice, I assure you it’s anything but. Nor is it magic, although many times my clients have suggested that it must be. And despite the science behind it, successful coaching absolutely relies on knowing the right way to ask the right question at the right time. That’s probably where the “art” comes into it.
Coaching is therefore based on the premise that you have the answers to your own questions; you may simply need someone with a map to find the right part or combination of parts within your brain to unlock those answers.