Thursday, November 22, 2012

When might coaching be useful?

At various times in your career (perhaps a new role, new working relationships or new and future challenges to which the ‘usual’ responses are unlikely to be effective, ...)can be useful to think about making use of the support (and challenge) offered by an external coach. Coaching provides an effective way to reflect on and develop personal insight and effectiveness within the context of a confidential ‘off-line’ relationship. 

The issues or concerns that you may consider for coaching do not have to be "major career-defining ones"; they can be but for example, it can also  be equally useful and legitimate to use coaching to identify and established need for change in patterns of behaviour which are no longer helpful or where there maybe a mismatch between role expectations and personal confidence. There is a huge  diversity of  issues on your personal and organizational leadership effectiveness that maybe enhanced by appropriate coaching interventions.

Ultimately one can say that the purpose of coaching is to enable people to behave more effectively in achieving their goals, using their potencial in the best way.  Coaching is then usually seen as a process that focus goals with  emphasising the client's ability to think, feel and behave differently.  This is way coaching is different from a mentoring relationship that allows for mutual exploration of issues for  both parties. And coaching also differs from counselling since it does not attempt to solve personal problems.  

Altough many cases, discussions and doubts still arise from the potential  between theses three processes, facts show that coaching is most usefully to use to make a positive difference in the work setting, which is linking to leadership development.

What is the mind?

Some people compare the brain to a computer, making some separation when talking about mind and brain; if the brain is the hardware, then the mind is the software.

For several neuroscientists the mind is considered as the “personalization”
of the brain, a concept that defends that brain’s functions such as feelings, thoughts, problem-solving and communicating (amongst others) create the
mind itself. And for those scientists, this is considered as a "two-way path" as the mind itself also constructs the brain since feelings, thoughts, experiences and memories that are part of the "self" also change the brain structure and functions.

Let's focus on this precise moment; along the reading of this post, your brain is changing. Brain cells (neurons) are being reorganized  to take in the information, considering its relevance and deciding whether to keep it or not in terms of learning purposes. Along this process new brain networks and connections will be formed. Keeping this "two-way path" concept, you can notice that while reading this piece, your thoughts and actions may also provoke change the brain - for instance, if a certain word has grabbed the focus of your attention, your brain will answer to that.

It is true that we can not control everything in our mind or in our brain, but we should understand that the choices we make will affect our brain and that our brain can learn anything. 

Apart from discussing the bounderies for brain and mind, Michael Gazzaninga (Director of the SAGE Center for the Study of the Mind, UCBA) refered on his presentation at ISPA, Lisbon (Nov, 2 - 2012) 
" (...) we now understand neurons and neurotransmitters a bit more, but somehow the mental properties are indivisible and can’t be described in terms of neuronal firings. We need to  conceptualize human architecture as a layered brain/mind interaction that still needs plenty of studies." 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Managing and mitigating stress

Back in the 20's, Hans Selye back described stress as non-specific response of the body, presenting later the GAS model dividing stress into eustress (positive stress) and distress (negative stress), separating levels that enhance human functions from persistent stress that is not resolved through coping or adaptation.
Homeostasis is a central concept and is related to the equilibrium that the human body and mind requires for proper functioning and optimal living condition. Stress is then a normal response to events that change such balance but there are many factors (stressors) in our lives that provoke change and evertime that happens, a significant effort for restoring equilibrium conditions will be put in place, consuming energy and resources.

The brain holds a critical role in perception and response to stress. Stressors- either real or imagined – trigger defenses and these stress responses are ways of protection that will help you stay focused, energetic, and alert. But stress is ultimately perceived as a subjective experience; playing an important role in the everyday lives, beyond a certain point
stress will stop being helpful and will start causing major damage to your health, your mood, your productivity, your relationships and your overall quality of life.

Self-awareness on the sources of personal stress is an important step to managing and mitigating it. 
In neuroscience, "emotional regulation" refers the ability to deal and cope with stress and coaching does a lot of work in that area, supporting clients to be more resilient and capable in facing the daily life challenges.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Coaching for change

The fundamental of coaching is to provide a context for change. This is true whether the coach is an external coach, an internal coach, the manager acting
as coach, or even if is self-coaching.
Change, especially for adult people, is not easy due to the way that our brains are wired and, the older we get the more we tend to get more used to "our ways" of working and thinking. Science explains why old habits are hard to break and new habits are hard to form and so, a coach can work as a facilitator for change using the this knowlegde about the way our brains work.
Let take this example; to execute a task, our brain first breaks it down into diferent components that are stored (memorized); those parts are associated with each other by "highways" (neuron connections, neural pathways). When practicing or further learn something related to the same issue those neural pathways will grow larger the more neurons are "recruited" in order to provide more resources for learning and performing the task. The more we repeat and practice, more connections will be "fired up".
It is similar to when we physically perform some activity; the movements required can be challenging and hard at first, but they will become encoded in our brain motor cortex  - the more you practice, the stronger the neural pathway will become as your ability to perform.
Take learning how to drive as an example; for most people, we start to drive as we are told like when to change gears without much idea of the mechanical process involved. Even tough, we do learn; initially every movement of gear change needs to be thought before proceeding, but not before long, driving will be something ‘natural’ that you will do without conscious thought. This means that with practice brain will absorb all information needed to do
the task.
Coaching focus on helping people in creating "new neural pathways" for positive behaviours - this should be the base for facilitating change, since it can be far more effective to focus on creating new positive actions that stopping old negative ones.
And as a coach, I must point my clients towards this choice every time.
Which pathway will it be? What will be your choice?
Some clients really need a lot of help as they strive to create new patterns and behaviors, but this is the way for starting a positive path for change.