We all know that change is difficult. In fact, change is so difficult that our brain is actually wired in a way that provokes sensations of physiological discomfort as soon as we face the slightest threat of change. As such, many of us do whatever it takes to avoid it.
Neuroscience (the study of the anatomy and physiology of the brain) has, in conjunction with magnetic resonance imaging, provided insights into why change is so difficult. When we want to make a conscious change, we use an area of the brain called the prefrontal cortex, which is where our working memory is placed. This area of the brain uses up a lot of energy and its use quickly generates a sense of discomfort, or even anger, because is linked to the amygdale, which controls our fight-or-flight response.
In order to avoid this discomfort and stress, our brains favor the use of the basal ganglia, which is the part of the brain that controls habit-based behavior. Have you ever locked your front door and then completely forgotten that you have done so? Such events are the result of your use of the basal ganglia, which can complete any familiar activity without conscious thought, all the while using much less energy than the prefrontal cortex.
On top of this, many people seriously resist being told what to do because this fires the prefrontal cortex’s connection to the amygdale. This provokes a defensive reaction and an inclination to find as many reasons as possible not to obey the instruction. This is especially true when the emotional aspects of new plans for change have not been explicitly addressed.
Finally, because the brain is programmed by experiences that are unique to each individual, everybody thinks in a different way. As a result of this, solutions provided by others are not as meaningful to us as the solutions that we reached by ourselves, using our own experiences and opinions.
Coaching your way through change
Coaching involves helping clients to think about possibilities, encourages them to arrive at their own answers and solutions, energizes them and motivates them to take action. Coaching is an ideal tool for bypassing the prefrontal cortex’s defenses and driving people to implement changes.
Research has shown that when we find our own answers to problems, our brains undergo high levels of activity as they build new connections. Studies into neuroplasticity (the ability of the brain to change structurally and functionally) show that if we focus our attention on positive things that is where we are going to be making and reinforcing connections. As an example, a study of brain patterns in Buddhist monks revealed that the part of their brain associated with happiness (left prefrontal cortex) was highly developed. This indicates that, they do possess the capacity to educate themselves to be happy!
The coaching process reinforces the motivation to implement changes by making the client design their own solutions and actively plan the steps that need to be taken. This entails that they devise their own action plan and retain accountability for its implementation. David Rock and Jeffery Schwazrt in their article “The Neuroscience of Leadership,” point out that those reinforcing moments of insight can make changes in the brain that can lead to new behaviors.
Coaching is a process that releases people’s potential and both accelerates change and keeps it sustainable, long after the coaching engagement is complete.
By Carmen Lence Coach and Consultant at NextGen Consulting & Coaching LLC
If you want to learn more about coaching and coaching for Family Business, I’ll be presenting “Coaching, Next Generation and Sustainable Change in Family Business” together with Christin McClave and Dennis Jaffe at the FFI international congress in Brussels on October 19th. I’m looking forward to seeing you there!