How Brain-Based Coaching Drives Lasting Change

Laurie Cozart, PCC, coaching instructorAs a Leadership and Performance Coach, I’m known for two things: helping people embrace pivotal career moments and using a coaching approach rooted in contemporary neuroscience.

For me, coaching is a results-oriented process. Most of the clients I work with are highly strategic individuals, who are well versed in planning for and achieving their goals. Brain-based approaches allow my clients to accelerate and create lasting change, have clarity of execution and maximize their potential by getting to the “who” faster.

Typically, human nature drives a client (and a coach) to quickly solve issues by focusing on what can be done and how it will get done. But in order to create lasting change, coaches must help their clients explore the “who.” Before clients can move to action, they must first understand what drives them, including their thinking, needs, fears, values and the self- imposed rules they live by. A brain-based coaching conversation can be used, not only to raise a client’s awareness of the need for change, but also to help them shift away from old patterns, behaviors and thinking and replace them with new, more empowering ones. 

What is Brain-based Coaching?

Brain-based coaching can best be defined as facilitating positive change by first improving thinking.

Brain-based coaching is a new approach rooted in contemporary neuroscience, or the scientific study of the brain and nervous system. It uses the latest insights into how the brain works to complement and amplify the principles and practices of coaching. This helps clients break out of their deeply hardwired “autopilot mode” and move into conscious thought and deliberate action. This helps them embed new and positive habits in their brains to create long-lasting, transformational changes.

Insights from Brain-based Coaching

In my class, Coaching Conversations, which is part of the Coaching for Life and Work Certificate Program at UC Davis Extension, my students and I discuss six fascinating insights about the brain that have helped shape brain-based coaching as a new approach to thinking, learning, developing and creating lasting change.

  • Insight #1: The brain is a connection machine.
  • Insight #2: No two brains are wired the same.
  • Insight #3: The brain sees the world according to its own wiring.
  • Insight #4: The brain hardwires everything it can.
  • Insight #5: It’s practically impossible to deconstruct our hardwiring.
  • Insight #6: It’s really easy to create new wiring.

ref. David Rock, Quiet Leadership (New York: HarperCollins, 2006).

Applying these insights to the practice of coaching produces impressive and long-lasting benefits for clients, including:

  • Greater clarity for an improved sense of direction and focus.
  • Increased self-awareness and responsibility.
  • Improved ability to relate to and influence others.
  • Increased confidence, motivation and conviction.
  • Improved personal productivity and effectiveness.
  • Increased resourcefulness and resilience.

Achieving a “Toward” State

Another important insight from neuroscientific research involves putting the brain in a “toward state,” which means the brain is ready to explore new ideas and does not feel threatened.  Being in a toward state while coaching allows the clients to fully explore, discover and define their vision, identify their barriers and limiting beliefs and set challenging -- but achievable -- goals that keep the them motivated to move forward. Acknowledging the fear center of the brain and understanding how our limiting beliefs are formed ensures that clients are not settling for limited aspirations. Additionally, it allows them to ensure their long and short-term goals mesh with their core values. 

Brain-based Coaching in Action

In one particular engagement, I was able to coach a team through a difficult transition. The entire team’s existence depended on achieving new client-participation goals that the team felt were impossible to reach. Using neuro-coaching techniques, I was able to help them identify and overcome the limiting beliefs they had formed about themselves and others. With their new knowledge, the team was able to manage their negative beliefs and co-create new ways of thinking that allowed them to exceeded their goal by 10%. They also transformed the way they worked together and with clients. This allowed them to stay intact and create additional value for their clients, as well as set an example of extraordinary teamwork for the organization.

Another example involved a team of probation officers who were given the choice becoming social workers or losing their jobs. Everything about how they thought, who they believed they were and their approach to their work would need to change in order to do this successfully. Brain-based coaching and applied neuroscience allowed the officers to process through this transformational shift in identity, beliefs and thinking.

Using the SCARF Model, the officers were able to understand the emotional component and the neurobiology of their internal response to the required change. Understanding their own fight-or-flight response and the brain’s natural tendency to resist change allowed them to fully explore their current values, emotions and limiting beliefs at a more conscious level. This allowed them to make conscious decisions about the best possible outcomes for themselves and their families.   

When working within the brain-based coaching framework, much or all of the neuroscience will be invisible to the client: After all, it’s a coaching session, not a science lesson. But as a coach, I use my deep knowledge of neuroscience at every step, developing a brain-friendly coaching environment that will focus on clients’ thinking; help clients break out of autopilot; encourage new thinking and insight; leverage the brain’s preference for hardwiring; and embed new learning and behaviors.

-- Laurie Cozart is a Professional Certified Coach (PCC) with the International Coach Federation, and an instructor with the UC Davis Extension Professional Coaching for Life and Work Certificate Program. She teaches the Coaching Conversations course and uses brain-based coaching to help her clients attain the success they desire .