Home Research Neurosciences: Brain & Behavior When Coaching and Applied Neuroscience Intersect

When Coaching and Applied Neuroscience Intersect

4 min read

Much has been made in the last several years about the brain and neuroscience. It seems as if it’s popping up everywhere. I think that’s a good thing. I was introduced to the field of neuroscience over 10 years ago through my coach training and certification, and I often say, “The brain is the one neutralizer—everybody has one,” and “If you’re not working with the brain, you’re working against it.”

So, what does neuroscience have to do with coaching?

Good question.

There are many ingredients that go into being an effective coach. The ICF Core Competencies are a good place to start. Additionally, I’d suggest a decent understanding of basic brain functioning, and foundational neuroscience research is a tremendous help, too.

Many people may think an applied neuroscience coaching approach is overly cold or rational. What they don’t realize (at first) is that to apply neuroscience is to understand that emotions play a critical role in how we feel, think and behave. Ignoring emotions is not anywhere close to an applied neuroscience approach—understanding the power of emotions and how to manage them so they inform rather than derail us is. It’s a big piece of this coaching puzzle.

Why else should coaches care about the brain?

As I mentioned a moment ago, everybody has one. And the human brain is predictable in many functional ways. At the same time, every single person is uniquely wired regarding how they experience, make sense of and interact with the world. So, we can leverage a few foundational ideas about the brain (to a point) and then adapt in the moment to the uniqueness of the person in front of us.

What are the foundational neuroscience ideas every coach should know?:

  • Our human brain has one primary organizing principle: minimize danger, maximize reward
  • Like the body, our brain has its own (social/emotional) needs
  • The amount of threat/danger present can either increase or decrease performance (this is the Yerkes-Dodson law at work)

What are the implications of these foundational ideas?:

  • Everyone is susceptible to the power of the primary organizing principle (predictable)
  • The rank and weight of everyone’s social/emotional needs is different (unpredictable)
  • The client’s ability to manage “danger” impacts his performance

Let’s take the first idea/implication—everyone is susceptible to the power of the primary organizing principle.

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One Comment

  1. Margaret Cary, MD MBA MPH PCC

    March 24, 2018 at 12:43 pm

    Paul – you’ve written an excellent, concise piece on the importance of neuroscience knowledge in coaching. Mahalo.


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