The new biology of the brain also has shattered the old dualistic distinction between mind and body. We now know that our entire body is in some very important ways one large brain. We are making adjustments to our changing environment in all parts of our body and simultaneously engage and interweave our cortical (digital) system and our hormonal (analogic) system. Our mood and perspective each minute of our life is strongly influenced by our physical state – as defined by such bodily factors as nutrition, physical exercise, amounts and quality of sleep, and levels of such chemicals as estrogen, progesterone, testosterone and oxytocin.
We now know that a critical role is played by the amygdala and other areas of the mid-brain in the assessment of new experiences (as to whether or not they pose a threat or an opportunity), as well as in the collection and organization of memories. Our emotions are tightly interwoven with our retention of information, with our structuring and framing of retained information, and with the retrieval (recognition or recall) of this information, and with our decision making based on this information. These components of our brain are even very effective in making many kinds of decisions – even more effective in some instances than the rational (but easily over-whelmed) prefrontal areas of the brain. (Lehrer, 2009) As coaches, we must come to appreciate this close partnership between cognition and affect, as well as the bigger partnership between mind and body. As Michael Polanyi (1969) noted many years ago, we are always attending from our body to something else in our world, and this attentional base has a major impact on what we eventually see, feel and think.
A closely related epistemological revolution which “viii (or at least should) influence future coaching engagements comes from the field of cognitive psychology. We now know quite a bit more than we did twenty years ago about how humans think. We have come to appreciate the remarkable way in which adults process the complex information of our postmodern era. Cognitive researchers such as Robert Kegan (1994) and Carol Gilligan (198 2) speak of multiple levels of cognitive competency–noting that adults tend to move from a rather simplistic, dualistic (black and white) frame of reference to frames of reference that embrace relativistic perspectives, interpersonal empathy, nested inferences and the capacity of critical and reflective thinking (metacognition: thinking-about-thinking). We are becoming more fully aware of the cognitive challenge associated with postmodern complexity, unpredictability and turbulence. We are often “in over our heads” (Kegan, 1994) when facing these cognitive challenge s and can use the assistance of a coach—especially if the coach is fully appreciative of these challenges and has adopted coaching strategies that not only help a client address these challenges, but also become more skillful themselves in making full use (without a co ach being present) of these meta-cognitive functions.
As in the case of the neurobiological revolution, the cognitive revolution has not left the heart behind. The head and heart are constantly being “saturated” (Gergen, 1991) with different images of self (often manufactured to increase consumption). We have even learned how to “manage” our own feelings (Hochsheild, 1983). Cognitive psychologists point to the remarkable ways in which we convince ourselves that we are happy (or unhappy) and to the equally remarkable ways in which we distort reality in order to come to these conclusions about happiness (as well as competence, empowerment, and meaningfulness; see Gilbert, 2007). Leaders are faced with the task of determining what their ” real” and “authentic” self really is, how they are really feeling about what is happening to them and around them, and whether or not they chose to be happy, powerful or competent. We are likely to find that coaches are being asked, with increasing frequency, to assist leaders wi.th these tasks. What will be the coaching tools that are most appropriate to the identification of an authentic sense of self, a non-distorted appraisal of personal happiness, or an accurate assessment of one’s emotional state?Download Article 1K Club