Learning Lab

How Can You Begin Coaching with Neuroscience?

By Amy Brann

As a coach you are working with people’s minds and brains, so it follows that logically you ought to have a certain amount of knowledge about how these things actually work. You should already have a good awareness of the core coaching models – most coaches will have learnt these in their coach training programmes. And coaching with neuroscience builds on those tools, mindframes and skills.

Coaches do often ask us how they can begin coaching with neuroscience, and we always advise them to approach it with a great deal of curiosity. It’s a fascinating and ever-developing field – so cover the basics now, be curious about what you are learning and be receptive to all of the ongoing discoveries in the world of neuroscience.

Use online resources – but with care

You’ve already made a great start – by being curious enough to read this article! And there are many other excellent articles on the subject available online and plenty of great content out there too that can develop your knowledge. The downside is that you will have to curate your learning. There’s an awful lot of information available, and making choices about where you should focus your attention isn’t necessarily straightforward.

And of course, while the internet can be an excellent source of information it can be a vast pool of misinformation too. You need to proceed with caution to make sure the information you’re looking at comes from reputable sources and has been created by genuine experts in the field (our LinkedIn Learning series is a good place to start!).

Watch out for the soundbites

When you’re exploring coaching with neuroscience, you also need to approach it carefully because you’ll often hear nice soundbites – “this brain region does this, that brain chemical does that” but given how complex the brain is, it obviously isn’t that simple and could be misleading.

Researchers usually think more in terms of brain networks working together and neurochemical systems causing activity.  Some brain regions will have a tendency to be more involved in some mental processes than others, but you can’t assign a single function or emotion to a particular region or brain chemical; it’s the result of a specific pattern of activity and connectivity in a particular network of brain regions involving many different neurochemicals. Neuromodulator systems (such as dopamine, noradrenaline and serotonin) send their chemical-containing neurons in a very diffuse way throughout the brain so their effects can be widespread and interact.

So when you’re trying to learn more about what an individual brain region or chemical “does”, keep in mind that it does many things. There could be several regions and chemicals contributing to a particular function like memory, working together to affect our thoughts, behaviours and emotions. This is another reason why there’s a very strong case for developing your knowledge by other means too including investing in high-quality, informative books, such as Neuroscience for Coaches, and then using that knowledge to influence the questions you ask your clients.

Should you invest in a coaching with neuroscience programme?

Organisations and individuals are discerning in how they choose their coaches; if they’re investing in a coach, they understandably want confidence that they will be working with someone who is at the top of their game. They’ll want someone who is investing in their own development, keeping their knowledge up to date and familiarising themselves with cutting-edge insights. So a way to dig even deeper is to go onto a programme that specialises in neuroscience for coaches. Increasing numbers of coaches are taking these types of courses to equip themselves with a really in-depth understanding of neuroscience. A reputable programme will provide you with a range of resources that bring your knowledge up to date and help you find out how best to maintain it too.

Brain-based coaching in action

So what does coaching with neuroscience look like in action? In what practical ways can you start helping your clients to dig into different areas to help unlock their potential?

Let’s take an issue that is becoming increasingly prevalent across companies and society as a whole: loneliness. It’s subjective: a person may have family, friends, and colleagues around them and physically be with others, yet still feel an absence of social connectedness. When those feelings are prolonged, it creates chronic loneliness and from what we know of the brain, it can have a big impact on individuals.

Studies from UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience indicate there’s a neurobiological basis for loneliness. Brain scans revealed lonely people had less grey matter in the left posterior superior temporal sulcus, an area implicated in basic social perception, providing some insight into the correlation between what is happening in our lives and the plastic nature of our brain. Through training, people may be able to improve their social perception and become less lonely.

A classic experiment highlighted the effect of social pain on the brain; individuals were scanned while they played a virtual ball-throwing game with others (or so they thought). After a while, they were excluded, while the other people they were playing with kept throwing it between themselves. The dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) was activated more when they were excluded – a similar brain response to when someone’s in physical pain. The right ventral prefrontal cortex (PFC) was also active during exclusion however and the more it was activated, the less distress people reported. Taken together, this suggests the cognitive PFC is involved in regulating distress by disrupting ACC activity.

These studies are just the tip of the iceberg, but the insights they provide us with can guide us in the types of activities we engage in with clients: alongside using practical tools like the UCLA Loneliness Scale test, you can explore specific ways your clients are thinking, and identify interventions that could help to protect against loneliness such as supporting them in improving their social perceptiveness. You can work with clients to identify any undesirable behaviours and explore whether increasing social connectedness would help for example, and draw up a plan accordingly.

Are you interested in finding out more about coaching with neuroscience?

Then why not visit our dedicated website to learn more. If you would like details of our Synaptic Potential Coach Certification, please do contact us. If you’re thinking about developing these skills within your own organisation you might find that the Coach Savvy Manager programme is of interest – this is the programme we use for teaching our own managers too!

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