Research Paper By Stefan Scheepers
(Life Coach, UNITED STATES)
We begin with an introduction to emotions in order to provide a framework within which we can explore trust. We then look at 3 functional categories of emotion: survival, potentiator, and attachment emotions, and their effect on human relationships. We’ll focus in on the role of trust and the implications of fear in the coaching process.
Why is trust essential to effective coaching relationships and how do we create trust?
A Neuropsychological Introduction to Emotions
In order to understand trust from a neuropsychological perspective it is necessary to make distinctions between basic emotions. Our brains emotional system uses 8 basic emotions: fear, anger, disgust, shame, sadness, surprise/startle, excitement/joy, and love/trust. The 8 basic emotions combine to create any number of complex feelings in the same way the 3 primary colors combine to create all other colors. The 8 basic emotions are described below.
Fear, anger, disgust, shame, and sadness (FADSS) are the 5 survival emotions. Also known as escape and avoidance emotions. When these emotions are triggered they take precedence over all other emotions. Survival emotions have the power to hi-jack your brain in an instant interrupting activity in your brains frontal cortex, the thinking, reflective part of your brain, and are the most powerful of all emotions, especially fear.
Surprise/startle is a potentiator emotion which creates a lot of emotional energy suddenly before releasing that energy into one of the other basic emotions. Finally, excitement/joy and love/trust which are the attachment emotions. There is a part of your brain that picks up every single stimulus in your external environment, your 5 senses, and every single internal stimulus as well, your thoughts. It’s called the amygdala and it is responsible for attaching emotion to all stimuli. The source of emotions lie in the part of the brain called the limbic system and emotions determine the meaning we attach to stimuli in our internal and external environment.
The amygdala is what makes effective human relationship possible because it both transmits and receives emotional signals.
The limbic system combines emotions to create feelings and then distributes the feelings, which have been attached a stimulus by the amygdala, into the cortex and so creates neural pathways. If the stimulus is familiar the neuro-pathway is reinforced and if the stimulus is new a new pathway is created.
So events and emotions mix to create meaning and the brain can then recreate meaning from memory without reliving the event. Memories can be modified as memories are events attached to feelings which create our experience. Our experience can be modified by past and related experiences. In coaching this can be done through creating awareness. New awareness creates new connections between past and related experiences.
An event’s significance is determined by intensity of feelings they have attached to them. Feelings from one event can get attached to or trigger another. The stronger the feelings the more meaning they have attached to them and therefore the potential for action, unless there are strong contradictory feelings which jam motivation for taking action. (Brown and Brown, 2012)
Origins of Motivation
Motivation is a neuro-electrical-chemical circuit in your brain. It is responsible for creating the drive to take action; emotions are the energy source behind all motivation for taking action. Your brain, specifically the amygdala, responds to stimuli by assigning emotion to the stimuli and it is emotion that is responsible for driving all action.
The Emotion of Love/Trust
Trust is an essential ingredient to a coach client relationship. In fact, trust is necessary for any interaction to run smoothly and to be effective whether the relationship is social or something as simple as trusting that a chair will hold you before sitting on it. Imagine needing to establish trust with every chair you ever sit on. Trust is essential for walking down the street, to driving, and countless other activities.
As human beings we have a need for certainty, a need for trust. We have a need to feel safe and to feel that we are in control of our lives which starts with learning to trust our interactions with certain things and people. You trust your chair will hold you up, the sky will be blue tomorrow, and that you can trust certain people.
It is possible to create computer programs to provide therapy and coaching to people. Why then do we prefer to pay someone for these services? The answer lies in effective human relationship as a means for one person to “regulate” another person’s emotional system with attachment, potentiator, or survival emotions. Survival emotions produce motivation to inaction. Attachment emotions create directed action that moves you forward and creates change. Trust is a key ingredient in this process.
Studies have been done on affectionate contact between orphans and their caregivers showing that children who were given only as much human contact as was necessary for their survival had weakened immune systems resulting in much higher mortality rates.
Psychologist Harry Harlow created an experiment to explore attachment in the 1950’s using baby macaque monkeys. He gave them a choice between two wire-frame surrogate “mothers”. The two wire-frame mothers were the same except for one having a terry-toweling robe. The baby monkeys favored the softer, warmer, terry-toweling mother infinitely more than the plain wire-frame “mother” no matter how hungry they were.
Love/trust allows you to thrive not just survive. Think of the role models you’ve had in your life. Your role model’s trust your ability to succeed regardless of outcomes has a huge impact on your emotional circuitry and so your level of motivation, or lack thereof, to be successful in life. As an effective coach you create a safe environment for your client by trusting in yourself, your client’s potential as well as in the coaching process.
How effective would you be if you had grown up never learning to trust yourself? Believing you’re unworthy and a failure and that you don’t matter or that nothing matters. Would you have the motivation to even bother to think about your situation? What kind of thinking would this version of you produce? Would you still take action despite believing that your actions will lead to failure?
The ability of your brain to develop new pathways is based on effective human relationship. Relationship is how our brains develop as infants, through the mother-infant relationship, and how we develop as social beings. To be effective as a coach you must be able to connect with the love/trust emotion within yourself in order to then regulate your clients’ emotional system through relationship. A coach supports their clients to discover, connect, nurture, and consolidate their inner sense of self-worth by truly believing in their clients’ ability to succeed, by supporting them with unconditional positive regard, and by trusting in their ability to come up with the right solutions to overcome obstacles and achieve their goals.
When you trust someone the levels of oxytocin circulating in your body increases. The more you trust someone the more your oxytocin levels increase. Oxytocin is often spoken about when referring to love and has become known to many as the “love hormone”; also, the “bonding hormone”. Oxytocin is associated with intimacy. A lack of oxytocin is associated with aggression. The more oxytocin increases the more trustworthy someone appears to you.
In the same way that we are physically dependent on water and oxygen for our survival, we are dependent on the emotion of love/trust for our emotional well-being.
Mirror neurons may help explain how a coach may “align” the client’s brain to their own. Mirror neurons are brain cells that respond equally when performing an action or when witnessing an action. Mirror neurons are responsible for our ability to instinctively empathize. For example, feeling disgust when you see your friend’s nose wrinkle when eating something exotic like crickets, that immediate shock of seeing someone fall, the excitement you feel when your favorite football team is about to score, and the fearful suspense of watching a horror movie.
The Pygmalion Effect – Creating Self-fulfilling Prophesies
In 1968 Rosenthal and Jacobsen conducted a study showing how a teacher’s expectations of their students dramatically impacts their performance.
When we expect certain behaviors of others, we are likely to act in ways that make the expected behavior more likely to occur. (Rosenthal and Babad, 1985)
What kind of climate are you creating as a coach through your expectations?
In one experiment at an elementary school students completed intelligence tests. Rosenthal and Jacobsen told the schools’ teachers the names of a group of students with unusually high scores and who were expected to excel academically. The teachers did not know that these students were, in fact, selected randomly.
After eight months Rosenthal and Jacobsen retested the students, who the teachers were told would excel academically, and found that their scores were significantly higher than before.
This experiment has been repeated many times since with under-graduates and graduates. The results convincingly prove the existence of the Pygmalion effect on students at the higher education level. Over and over again, researchers show the powerful impact that others’ beliefs can have on us.
Young children are especially susceptible to the Pygmalion effect as they have not yet fully developed their identities. We develop many of our coping strategies at a young age and these patterns of behavior are rooted in the beliefs we have of ourselves and the world which has massive implications for our adult selves. We all carry patterns of behavior from our formative years with us into adulthood. The question is whether or not they are helpful to us now.
The beliefs we develop about ourselves powerfully impact our ability to succeed and overcome obstacles. As a coach, you have the opportunity to create and hold the belief and expectation of success for the client which is communicated consciously and subconsciously to their amygdala which calms survival emotions and activates attachment emotions for greater awareness of their available options and therefore success.
If you think your students can’t achieve very much, are not too bright, you may be inclined to teach simple stuff, do lots of drills, read from your notes, give simple assignments calling for simplistic answers (Rhem, 1999).
By believing in the potential of a client to find the best solutions to their own challenges and by saying: “I believe in you, I know you can do this”, and just generally being a cheerleader in the coaching process, can have a dramatic positive impact, especially where the client has received a lot of negative reinforcement from himself and others. Celebrating small victories is a great way to reinforce an identity of success and confidence in yourself.
Belief in your client’s abilities along with unconditional positive regard activates the client’s attachment emotion pathways, which direct energy outward toward goals, rather than escape/avoidance emotions, which directs energy toward defensiveness and closing off from the world in an attempt to save and be safe. In the grip of survival emotions we would rather keep what we have even at the cost of not advancing or moving forward. This is what drives long, costly organizational politics that can cause companies to stagnate.
The Observer-Expectancy Effect
The observer-expectancy effect, also called the experimenter-expectancy effect, is a form of reactivity in which a researcher’s cognitive bias causes them to unconsciously influence the participants of an experiment. Confirmation bias can lead to the experimenter interpreting results incorrectly because of the tendency to look for information that conforms to their hypothesis, and overlook information that argues against it. Wikipedia
The experimenter effect involves subtle signals of which the researcher is unaware and which affects a subject’s response in an experiment. Unconscious signals from the researcher involves subtle body language, tone of voice, and behavioral differences which are picked up by the experiment’s subject and can affect the results of the experiment to a considerable degree. (Rosenthal, 1998).
Robert Rosenthal has found that even slight differences in instructions given to control and experimental groups can affect the outcome of an experiment. Different vocal intonations, subtle gestures, even slight changes in posture, might influence the subjects. Robert T. Carroll
Why Change is Hard
When it comes to unfamiliar stimuli the brain has not attached any meaning to the stimuli. Think of an unfamiliar language. When the brain has no relevant experience with a stimuli then there is no emotion to drive action, no motivational power source toward taking action.
While attending a seminar, I heard Greg Secker talk about his system on how to generate income by trading on the stock market. His $3000 trading system was leaked onto the internet where people could download it for free. He mentioned how he wasn’t worried about this because people won’t actually end up using his system because they don’t believe that it will work. He said that a person’s motivation to use the system comes from believing that it’ll make a difference and that this only happens when you’re standing on the trading floor where you can see the system work with your own eyes. When this happens you start to believe which is where the motivation to use the system comes from.
Change involves having the brain assimilate unfamiliar stimuli by attaching emotions to them. Until stimuli have emotional loading change cannot occur. A coach’s job is to facilitate the client in finding existing emotionally charged neuro-pathways and in connecting those pathways with the unfamiliar, the unknown, and so create the drive to take action toward change. Emotionally charged neuro-pathways, which are present in everyone, create the motivation to change, to take action.
Change is hard because intellectually knowing that a particular change will be good for you is different from being emotionally connected to an outcome that is new and unknown to your brain. What really makes change difficult are our escape and avoidance emotions. The amygdala’s primary function is to search for anything that might be dangerous such as the unknown. This is the difference between wanting a great body and consistently putting in the effort to get a great body, pushing through all obstacles, until you reach your goal. The problem is that you may not know what it’ll feel like or if the feeling of having a great body will be worth all the sacrifice. We all want great bodies, at the very least nobody would mind having one, the question for a coach when the coaching session’s outcome is to create a great body is how can we connect the client’s goal with the clients’ past and related experiences which already have emotionally charged neuropathways thereby connecting the goal to the necessary motivation to take consistent, massive action.
According to Brown and Brown (2012), fear is the most powerful of all the 8 basic emotions. Fear overpowers and overwhelms all other emotions because of the survival value it has. All survival emotions overwhelm clear thinking; survival emotions distort clarity and diminishes our capacity to see the options we have available to us. Strong escape/avoidance emotions puts us into a state where we fixate our attention on limited options.
Survival emotions divert emotional energy into self-preservation, whereas the attachment emotions of excitement/joy and love/trust direct energy outward into whatever direction, whatever venture or purpose your client chooses to send it.
Trust is at the center of any change process. It is the coach who must create an environment of trust, a quiet space that allows clear thinking, new awareness’s, and new perspectives for the client.
The brain works like a prediction machine and so always chooses a habituated response to a stimulus where the stimulus is familiar. The brain is a collection our habits, not just habits in the ‘outward behaviors’ sense of the word, but also habits of thinking about our world which influence our feelings and therefore the meaning we attach to our environmental stimuli. Our habits of thinking create tendencies toward depression, anxiety, shame, anger, arrogance, etc., as well as the habits of thinking that are responsible for creating optimism, compassion, trust, etc.
The process we use to torment ourselves into habits that create unhelpful states of feeling like depression is the same process we use to create habitual positive and helpful emotional states.
Fear is the most powerful and overwhelming of the 8 basic emotions. In the presence of fear our options narrow and our ability to recognize the possibilities that are available to us diminishes. In the absence of fear we are able to see clearly the possibilities that lie before us. Franklin D. Roosevelt once said: “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Fear is debilitating to both the coach and the client. Coaching from a place of trust in yourself and your client’s potential creates a space where your client’s amygdala can calm down and so open up pathways to the thinking part of the brain.
According to research by Paul Ekman and Wallace Friesen, the 8 basic emotions are expressed in the same way everywhere in the world from remote rural areas with no contact with the rest of the world to civilized countries across the globe.
Ekman, also, discovered micro-expressions which are very brief, involuntary facial expressions. Micro-expressions show on your face before your brain has had time to think about the appropriate emotion to display. While your client may not consciously pick up micro-expressions their subconscious minds do.
The amygdala picks up on all cues conscious and unconscious which means a coach’s fear is unconsciously detected by their client’s amygdala which then has to decide what it means. The client’s brain unconsciously picks up on the coach’s fear which then triggers (regulates) fear pathways in the client’s brain; it sets an undertone to the coaching session that inhibits the clear, creative thinking created by trust.
Emotional signals are transmitted and received by people through their amygdalae which is the basis for human relationships and change within our brains. When a coach transmits and holds the emotion of trust it is picked up by the client’s brain, even if only somewhere in the back of their head. This affects a trust response from the client.
As an example, Anthony Robbins is well known for doing a fire walk over 500 degrees C ( 900-1000 degrees F) coals at his ‘Unleash the Power Within’ seminar. Before he asks participants to walk over the fear inspiring, raging hot coals he explains the technique and demonstrates by being the first one to do the fire walk.
There is a massive difference between being 95% confident and 100% confident when the stakes are so high, when you’re about to do the impossible.
The coach does not need to be totally confident, have a perfect life, or be an expert in the client’s field of work. A coach only needs to be confident as an expert in the coaching process. By shutting out your fears and opinions, being totally present, and understanding that all a coach needs to be is an expert in the coaching process, nothing else, a coach creates trust within themselves and so within the client.
In conclusion, I’ll leave you with a question. What actions can you take today that will inspire you to trust yourself as an expert in the coaching process?
The quality of your life is determined by the quality of your questions. Dr John De Martini
Successful people ask better questions, and as a result, they get better answers. Anthony Robbins
Brown, P. and Brown, V. (2012). Neuropsychology for Coaches: Understanding the basics. Open University Press. Berkshire: England.
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Rhem, J. “Pygmalion in the classroom” NTLF 8 (2): 1-4.
Rosenthal, R., and E. Y. Babad. 1985. Pygmalion in the gymnasium. Educational Leadership 43 (1): 36–39.
Rosenthal, R., and L. Jacobsen. Pygmalion in the classroom: teacher expectation and pupils’ intellectual development. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1968.
Rosenthal, Robert. 1998. "Covert Communication in Classrooms, Clinics, and Courtrooms," Eye on Psi Chi. Vol. 3, No. 1, pp. 18-22.
Observer-Expectancy Effect. (2015, March 29). Retrieved from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Observer-expectancy_effect
Experimenter Effect. (2015, March 29). Retrieved from: http://skepdic.com/experimentereffect.html