How Coaching Can Rewire the Brain

Coaching is about helping people achieve their goals and create change. And success is measured by whether there is evidence of behaviour change or learning. Neuroplasticity - the ability of the brain to change through experience - underpins all behaviour change and learning.

Key Takeaway

A successful coaching outcome depends entirely on the physical changes within our client's brain. This is called neuroplasticity and requires persistent action repeated over time.

There are simple lifestyle changes that we can make to reduce our risk of dementia and disability in later life. These include managing blood pressure controlling cholesterol, keeping blood sugar normal, getting physically active, eating a healthy diet, losing extra weight, quitting smoking, maintaining social relationships, and managing depression and hearing loss.

Neuroplasticity refers to the ability of the brain to change through learning and experience. The brain may change structurally by creating new connections between neurons, or it may learn to function differently. In fact, our brains reflect our age, genetics, nutrition, health, environments and experience. It continually changes in response to these variables and has done so starting in the womb. This means that our brains are the sum of our experiences and continue to change throughout our lifetime with new experiences. 

The effectiveness of any coaching intervention to change thinking or behaviour depends entirely on the physical changes within the brains of clients, because without change to the brain, there is no change at all. But whether the brain changes last over the long term depend on following certain rules:

  • There needs to be a salient goal.
  • There needs to be substantial effort.
  • There needs to be repetition over time.
  • If we stop using our newly acquired skill, the brain changes will reverse.

This has important consequences for successful coaching outcomes - it requires consistent action through practice to promote change. This could be through performance enhancing techniques, belief change, and other cognitive change strategies. Change needs to be reinforced through committed, determined, and deliberate practice. Having an "Aha" moment without deliberate practice will not lead to long term change. And doing nothing is doing something. By doing nothing, old brain connections are being reinforced, creating inertia.

I'm not aware of any research studies looking at coaching outcomes and brain change, but a recent meta-analysis of research studies looking at how the brains of depressed patients change following psychological therapy is informative. Their findings showed a reduction in amygdala activity (an emotion processing region), reduced prefrontal activity consistent with a decrease in rumination, and greater anterior cingulate activity which has a suppressing effect on the amygdala.

Of course, we can't see neuroplasticity in action. But we can see evidence that the brain has changed through changes in behaviour, thinking, and emotional processing.

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  • Hello! Mam,Good wishes for your efforts.The concept of neuroplasticity is scientifically evidenced.I think,it is the right way to understand the stimuli of the brain towards goal,achievement and finally optimum HAPPINESS.

    • Yes, the fact that the brain is plastic is now without question. However, to effect brain change, the rules are really important. And something that I will be covering in my course is that most “brain training” apps and games don’t transfer over into other domains. In the vast majority of games and apps, you just get better at the game!

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