Coaching and neuroscience

Neuroscience is one of the richest fields of science – although it falls under the field of medicine, it is based on physiology and biology and consists of many specific disciplines of neuroscience. By studying the nervous system, it applies the acquired knowledge to explain the role of its individual parts in the control of the organism. It is actually based on the way our body, that is, our nervous system, processes information, transmits it, uses it and creates a reaction – either in the form of emotion or behaviour. The link with coaching is precisely the processing of information and the development of some kind of behaviour. What enables the effectiveness of coaching is the phenomenon of neuroplasticity of the brain, which describes how in adulthood our brain changes and regular repetition and learning of certain patterns of behaviour we make us accept these new processes as a habit and change what has bothered us and therefore we can develop as a person.

Therefore, neuroplasticity is  the brain’s ability to change depending on experience and long repetition of certain patterns. Neuroplasticity is what enables learning and behavioural changes – if it did not have this feature, our brain could not change in adulthood, which would mean the inability to learn, change, but also recover from damage caused directly physically or as a result of trauma. Neurons (building blocks and functional units of the nervous system) create new connections with each other depending on the learning process and memory development. Coaching uses neuroplasticity to fix things that bother us – it can solve certain phobias of the past, develop new ways of thinking and change the patterns of behaviour that an individual wants to get rid of.

Understanding the link between neuroscience and coaching helps explain the way the brain supports change and transformation.

Neuroscience and the phenomenon of neuroplasticity confirm what is already known to everyone – real change is harder than we think, but it is not impossible. In case the person you are trying to achieve some results with is not familiar with the basics of neuroscience, they will not be able to take advantage of neuroplasticity and the results will rarely be satisfactory.  Information in the form of advice and motivation alone is not enough to change – it is important to remember that every transformation requires a regular and constant focus on what we want to achieve, therefore, new opportunities and new patterns of behaviour. Change requires positive and active actions.

Why is it so hard to change?

Our brain is evolutionarily structured to distract us from change – when it receives signals from other parts of the body about a change in the environment, it resists it and tries to keep us where we are. The part of the brain that is responsible for this is the orbitofrontal cortex, and the fire is further fuelled by the amygdala. Amygdala is, simply put, in charge of fear – it sends a negative reaction to the stimulus. That is why we need to be aware of the chemistry in our brain and recognize that reflex action is not always the best – the coach therefore emphasizes this step and teaches people to focus on what they really want and develop the willpower needed to pass the reflex signals our nervous system sends.

The prefrontal cortex, that is, the cortex of the front part of the brain, also plays an important role in our behaviour. It works by aligning thoughts and actions with goals that come from within. It has a major role in decision-making, planning, distinguishing conflicting thoughts, determining good and bad, and linking consequences to current activity. The prefrontal cortex is where change begins – it directs work toward a specific goal and predicts the outcome of an action. From all the above, it is clear that the prefrontal cortex allows us to learn new rules and patterns – therefore, it is subject to neuroplasticity. 

Although it sounds simple, it is actually very complex because you are physically creating new connections between cells of the nervous system. Parts of the nervous system such as the basal ganglia and the sympathetic nervous system act reflexively – they are the ones that determine all our interactions with people, reactions to new situations and many more. Coaching is a great way to learn to use brain characteristics like neuroplasticity to break down some patterns of behaviour that we have not consciously managed but have become part of our routine and the brain manages them itself. Although the journey is long and requires effort, in the end it pays off and the changes are physical – they do not float in the air like a beautiful thought, but are at the level of our nervous system, and the nervous system controls our whole organism.