Learning Lab

Use neuroscience to manage expectations and cope with the unknown.

By Amy Brann

Live in the moment.

This is good advice because “now” is the moment where every person has the most influence. Nevertheless, many people find their concentration and energetic attention pulled to other points in time. Whether they are taking constant inventory of the past to draw it into the present moment, or constantly wishing or worrying about the future and the unknown that lies in wait there. When coaching using neuroscience, coaches demonstrate methods to clients that bring mindfulness to the present moment that supports the client in the ability to make better decisions and to feel comfortable with whatever the future may bring.

That was then and this is now.

Often, clients with high aversion to risk will do everything possible to avoid risk and therefore they may find themselves constantly assessing the past in order to learn from prior mistakes so that they do not repeat those mistakes. This can be a valuable exercise to a point. However, it is no longer of value when clients find themselves too invested in past experience and unable to separate the reality of the past with the possibilities of the present and future. Biochemically, this worry and fretting can causing anxious biochemistry to increase such as adrenaline and cortisol.

For example, if a client is healing from a difficult divorce. It is easy to believe that all men or all women are the same and will be hurtful as well. The person may unconsciously look for people who will make this story true and the expectation becomes the new reality. Because a person who is stressed puts out stress signals biochemically it becomes more difficult to be relaxed and approachable to someone who might be a good match as a relationship partner. However, when this client is coached to master the ability to separate the learning from the past, with current and future expectations. That client would be able to feel lighter and more optimistic and therefore, approach future relationships with the attitude that new possibilities are available to happen. When expectations and attitudes change, so do the results experienced from a different outlook on life.

Furthermore, when a person is constantly dreaming of the future, and their energy and attention is constantly in the future, whether for purposes of worry or escapism about how much better it will all be then. It is similar to being stuck in the past. Learning about the past is, to a point a beneficial exercise so too is imagining the future, however not if the client sets up proverbial camp in the future where he or she is no longer engaged in the reality of the present. The only way to get to the positive future that a person wants is to manage the present moment in order to get there effectively.

To arrive at this positive version of the future a client is coached to use his/her imagination in the same way that a person may select a destination for a trip on a map. The client must then plan their journey to that destination and do the work in the present moment, create accessible goals to accomplish in order to move toward that ultimate futuristic goal and make it come true. In addition to this learning, strategies are put in place to be able to manage any anxiety that is caused by the unknown of the future and that which may feel overwhelming or out of control.

How does neuroscience fit into this strategy?

Neuroscience helps to support the strategy of understanding why it is important to manage expectations and how to cope with the unknown future. When thinking about biochemistry and a feeling of well-being, Oxytocin comes to mind. As I wrote in my book Neuroscience for Coaches, “Oxytocin has the effect of suppressing the activity of the amygdala…that is the brain region that detects threats and processes fear.” In order to coach clients into a state of mind that will bring a better sense of expectation and less fear of the future, exposure to Oxytocin increases the results of a feeling of well-being and a positive outlook. Oxytocin is released when people hug and as an empathetic coach it is likely that you will release oxytocin and dopamine causing feelings of reward and connectedness with the client. This builds a bond of trust and as a client is able to trust one, it is quite likely that that feeling of trust is able to spread throughout your client’s sphere of influence.

In order to coach a client to create an Oxytocin increasing strategy in their lives, ask them to journal about times when they feel at ease, close, and connected to others. Is it around a table sharing a good meal? Is it at a sporting event or a spiritual worship session? Wherever it is that the client feels most loved and at ease, is the place where they should schedule more time to be in order to increase the oxytocin levels in their lives.

Neuroscience demonstrates that when coaches demonstrate strategies that increase Oxytocin and a greater feeling of well-being clients are able to better manage expectations and experience less fear about the unknown aspects that the future holds in store.

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