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Why Coaching is Effective - a Look at Neuroscience

We have talked about what professional coaching looks like and how it differs from other professions like therapy, consulting or training. Now, we want to address the question:

Does it even work?

One big part of the whole coaching experience is that you will think out loud, that you will verbalize your thoughts. Some people question why that would make a difference. Fair enough. So today I will take you on a little journey into the field of neuroscience and what we can learn from psychologists about how our brains function. Specifically, we will look at two parts of our brains: the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex:

We start with your amygdala. Imagine you have two sticks (please, only imagine!) and you put one through your left ear and the other into the inner corner of your left eye. Where those two sticks would meet, would be your left amygdala. You have another one on your right side and both have the shape of an almond, hence the name. The roles of the amygdala include: decision making and emotional responses like anxiety, fear and aggression. The moment you will see a snake or another threat, your amygdala will respond. However, there are only two options:

Fight or flight.

There is no middle ground when you think with your amygdala. It will tell you to fight the snake or run away. We can see why it is vital to react quickly, but it is also obvious that not every decision we make with this part of our brain, is thought through.

This will lead to regret. And we have all been there.

Now let's look at your prefrontal cortex. If you touch your forehead as if you were having a headache, this would be the place where your prefrontal cortex is located. This part is responsible for reasoning, problem solving, impulse control, creativity and perseverance. This sounds good, doesn't it? Here, we can think problems through. We can take ourselves out of a problem, look at it from another perspective, analyze it and come up with a thought through decision.

Those decisions we usually don't regret.

You may now think that this is all very interesting and fascinating, but where is the link to coaching?

Psychology Professor M.D. Lieberman wrote a research article: "Putting Feelings into Words". He did a brain study during which he showed people photos of faces who were expressing strong emotions like fear and anger. As you might have guessed, he measured a great activity in the amygdala. Then he asked them to label those emotions, in other words to say out loud what they were seeing and he could prove that after labeling those emotions, the activity moved from the amygdala to the prefrontal cortex where now rational thinking took place.

This is huge. It proves that saying out loud what we are feeling, leads to being able to think rational about our problems. Suddenly, it is no longer about fight or flight in a situation. It is about seeing our problems from a different angle, being able to let go of emotions and to come up with constructive solutions to our problems.

This will contribute to a better mental health and living a life with less regrets, because you were brave enough to say out loud what you are feeling.

COACHING because we make better decisions with our prefrontal cortex.



- Hermann Hesse -


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