No matter how smart you are and how much training and practice you have completed, your brain will not point you in the right direction, logically help you make a decision, or help you understand what truly is causing your confusion or fears if you have any emotions attached to the issue.
Even if the dilemma you are facing feels different from anything you have encountered before, your brain will use your past experiences to define your options in the present. Most of the time, you aren’t consciously aware of the decisions your brain is making for you. You walk through your days depending on your brain to take care of you. You don’t realize you have options to choose from as you repeat your routines and engage others as you have always done before. You live by the constructs and rules you developed over time so you feel as safe and as certain as you can, doing what feels comfortable or something similar.
You avoid the feeling of “not knowing.” Your brain likes to quickly make meaning of every moment you encounter. To feel in control of your life so you don’t feel unstable, your brain tries to keep you from feeling uncertain or befuddled. When you can’t define situations you encounter, and worse, if you don’t know how to fit yourself comfortably into the picture, you feel off balance. Your stress increases the more out of control you feel. Your brain will then work hard at easing your emotions and giving meaning to your situation to return you to your normal state as soon as you find even an inch of steady ground.
So you live your life by the stories and “facts” you hold in your head based on your past experiences. The stories provide the meaning you attach to each moment (reality) and how you define yourself (identity). This is your operating system, running continuously in the background throughout the day.
In order to expand your mind and grow, you have to clearly see the stories you are living by. Only then might you discover the thinking patterns that direct your decisions. Then you can consciously decide what is best for you now instead of allowing your automatic pilot to choose for you.
How to objectively observe what your brain is doing to you
You need to extract and look at the stories you are living by, but you can’t do this on your own if you are emotionally-attached to the stories. The emotions could be positive (you feel good living with the story), or limiting (you fear what you might see, discover, or experience when you pull the story apart.) You aren’t sure what you are holding onto or afraid of; your brain stops you from objectively evaluating your stories because you might feel uncomfortable facing the reality that emerges.
Living by the script your stories compose keeps you safe, and stuck. Neuroscientist Michael Gazzaniga says we get stuck in our automatic thought-processing and fool ourselves into thinking we are acting consciously and willfully.
Gazzaniga also says that if you have an external thought disruptor, someone who reflects your words, expressed emotions, contradictions, and what seems to be the source of your hesitations, your story appears in front of you as if they it were a movie script to be observed and analyzed.
How using a coaching approach bypasses the protective brain
You don’t have to be a trained coach to use a coaching approach that positively disrupts someone else’s automatic rationalizing, their reasoning for avoiding risks, and their imagining outcomes when the evidence is not complete. If you feel compassionately curious with a sincere desire to understand how a person thinks about a situation, your presence soothes their fear of judgement; they feel safe enough to respond to the reflections you share and the questions you ask. They sense you are there for their higher good.
Using a coaching approach means you embody compassionate curiosity, which elicits the psychological safety needed for an open dialogue.
Simply summarize their spoken thoughts and share the emotional shifts they express, followed by questions using their words to help them define what they mean or clarify what they want. This prompts them to wonder why they think way they do. They begin to see the stories and thinking patterns directing their decisions.
Once they can see the stories, their inherited beliefs, unsupported assumptions, limiting fears, and conflicts of values rise to the surface. Educational reformer John Dewey said, “Provoking people to think about their thinking is the single most powerful antidote to erroneous beliefs and autopilot.”
The practice of reflective inquiry opens people’s minds to become objective observers of their stories in a way their brains will not allow them to do in self-reflection.
Using reflective inquiry initiates a shift in how people see themselves and the world, or at least how they are framing a dilemma. People often say, “Wow, look at what I’m doing to myself.” Then they perceive new ways forward with a stronger commitment to taking action than if they were told what to do by an expert.
Dewey also said the most intelligent people need the most help thinking about their thinking. Smart people are the best rationalizers. They believe their reasoning wholeheartedly and will protect their opinions as solid facts. Using strong reflections and questions is the only way to get smart people to question their thoughts.
This awareness-based coaching insures long-term change both in perception and action. Once the views of a situation and the personal connection to the dilemma change, so does behavior. With active support over time, the new ways of thinking and behaving become the typical way of doing things – the new stories.
When people stay stuck in their old stories, they live more in fear than fulfillment. This creates conflicts and separation. If we are to create a more connected world, we must constantly be upgrading our personal operating systems by coaching each other. Widespread use of a coaching approach in our conversations can uplift consciousness in the world.
A Passion for Coaching
My mission is for people to know and feel their highest and most powerful self in a way that inspires them to help others to feel the same. I believe coaching can move humanity forward. Will you join me in this movement?