Research Paper By Sylvie Carriere
(Life Coach, FRANCE)
Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. A. Einstein.
What does practicing mean?
The Collins dictionary has several meanings depending on context. Two of them directly apply to the contents of this paper:
- to do something repeatedly to learn or acquire proficiency
- to do or engage in frequently or usually; make a habit or custom of
Anyone who wants to learn a new skill needs to practice that skill to become good at it.
Anyone who wants to improve an already acquired skill needs to practice becoming the best they can be.
This is a universal rule in all areas of life; people who excel at what they do get to their level of expertise by practicing. This applies to technical skills like sports, playing a musical instrument, dancing, speaking foreign languages, writing, etc…, and softer skills such as communicating, negotiating or being a leader.
Closer to home training to become a coach is a perfect example of the saying “practice makes perfect”. Coaching is not an easy skill to master and I’m sure all our ICA master coaches will agree on this, the only way to become a proficient coach is through practicing and practicing more.
There is also it directly links another aspect to practicing that to personal development. Rather than relating to acquiring or mastering skills, it is developing or changing habits and thought patterns to live in harmony with whom we truly are.
The latter is the aspect of practicing that I have focused on, in relation to coaching.
In this paper, I will first attempt to understand the effects of practicing on our body and on our brain.
Then I will look at several ways to help to practice new habits, and how it benefits us.
Finally, I will discuss the role coaching can play in this process.
How does practicing affect us physically?
In terms of hard skills, there are some visibly noticeable effects on practicing some skills, such as an athlete’s stronger muscles or a dancer’s vocabulary of movement.
There are other less obvious effects such as ease to speak in public, and the ability to switch between two or more languages in conversation or the ability to memorize information.
Have you ever heard of The Knowledge in London, United Kingdom? To uphold long-lasting notoriety and get their license, London’s Black Cab drivers are required to memorize 320 routes through 25,000 streets, including around 20,000 landmarks and places of interest. According to https://www.theknowledgetaxi.co.uk/, ”it takes the average person between 2 and 4 years to learn The Knowledge” and “it has been described as having an atlas of London implanted into your brain“.
So how does it work? What’s the science behind it?
The answer lies in neuroscience–the science of the brain and its impact on behavior and cognitive functions–and neuroplasticity.
The purpose of this paper is not to dive deep into the complexities of neuroscience but to understand what our brain is capable of.
According to positive psychology.com:
Neuroplasticity refers to the brain’s ability to adapt. Or, as Dr. Campbell puts it:
It refers to the physiological changes in the brain that happen as the result of our interactions with our environment. From the time the brain begins to develop in utero until the day we die, the connections among the cells in our brains reorganize in response to our changing needs. This dynamic process allows us to learn from and adapt to different experiences”–Celeste Campbell (n. d.).
Our brains are truly extraordinary; unlike computers, which are built to certain specifications and receive software updates periodically; our brains can actually receive hardware updates in addition to software updates. Different pathways form and fall dormant, are created and are discarded, according to our experiences.
When we learn something new, we create new connections between our neurons. We rewire our brains to adapt to new circumstances. This happens on a daily basis, but it’s also something that we can encourage and stimulate.”
Early research in neuroscience discovered that children have higher brain plasticity until their brain goes through the Myelination process, which happens around puberty. Myelin is a substance that serves as a nerve coating that speeds up the connection between neurons but lowers the capacity to change and adapt. As a result, it was assumed that once the myelination process had taken place, the brain was no longer capable of creating new pathways.
However, after the many years of research into this field, scientists discovered that our brain constantly responds to the way we interact with the world. The more diverse and complicated our interactions, the more neural connections our brain will make (the opposite is true too), at any age. It is therefore still possible to re-wire our brain in adulthood, not only to acquire new skills but also to develop new long-lasting and life-changing habits.
For several years and more so during my research, I noticed that many books and articles revolve around the idea that it takes 21 days to form a new habit and rewire our brain. The scientific explanation behind this is that it actually takes between 21-30 days for the brain to create a dominant neural connection.
However, the older we get, the harder it becomes to adapt and learn new things and the more work and training it requires through a regular practice of techniques and exercises. Also, if we stop practicing those acquired skills, the brain changes will slowly reverse over time.
An overview of ways and techniques to re-wire the brain
There are many ways available to help re-train the brain and develop new habits, many of which have now been scientifically proven to work. Below is by no means, a nonexhaustive list.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is “a type of psychotherapy which has become a crucial part of psychology”. An article in https://positivepsychology.com/what-is-cbt-definition-meaning/ gives definitions from 5 different sources and goes on to saying: “These definitions have a lot of overlap, and it seems in general that we can define CBT as a structured type of psychotherapy that involves dealing with a patient’s beliefs in order to change the way they think and react to the things happening around them. Several of these definitions also stress the fact that CBT is focused on current thoughts and events rather than those in the past.”
CBT requires being practiced with the help of a psychotherapist and was originally as a treatment for depression. Over the years it has been successfully used to help patients suffering from anxiety, insomnia, and many other conditions. Some CBT techniques are also used in coaching, this is referred to as CBC (Cognitive behavioral coaching).
- Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) works with the interactions between the mind and language (neuro-linguistic). NLP looks at how these interactions affect our bodies and the patterns of behavior that have been learned through experience (programming). It proposes that the effective behavior patterns of exceptional people can be modeled and then acquired through reprogramming.
- Mindfulness: According to the American Psychological Association (APA.org, 2012), mindfulness is “…a moment-to-moment awareness of one’s experience without judgment. In this sense, mindfulness is a state and not a trait. While it might be promoted by certain practices or activities, such as meditation, it is not equivalent to or synonymous with them.”
- Visualisation is a technique that consists in imagining ourselves having reached our desired outcome. Practicing this exercise daily over a period of time is believed to lead us to act upon the images we create and achieve what we dream of.
- Meditation: although there are many types of meditation in existence (including mindfulness and visualization meditation), they all rely on the concept of training our mind to focus. The headspace website defines meditation in a simple way: “Meditation isn’t about becoming a different person, a new person, or even a better person. It’s about training in awareness and getting a healthy sense of perspective. You’re not trying to turn off your thoughts or feelings. You’re learning to observe them without judgment. And eventually, you may start to better understand them as well.”
- The practice of a daily gratitude exercise is increasingly spoken about in today’s media and has been proven to have many benefits (emotional, social, personal, health, career, etc).
- Positive affirmations are positive phrases or statements used to challenge negative or unhelpful thoughts. They too have similar benefits to practicing gratitude.
All of these techniques (along with many more), if practiced regularly, can lead our brain to wire itself differently. They all contribute to many changes: an increase in self-esteem and self-confidence, our objectives become clearer and we develop a willingness to try and even an ability to move from thought to action. In the long run, they lead to creating new thought patterns and transforming limiting habits into empowering ones.
The role of coaching in the practice to change or create new habits and thought patterns
As seen previously there are many ways to help create new habits and break old ones. It is up to each of us to work out which one will fit our needs.
As stated in the ICA coach foundation course titled “What is coaching?”, “The underlying philosophy behind coaching is that we are resourceful and creative with energy, wisdom, ability, and genius waiting to be set in motion. We can create the life we want faster and more easily by partnering with a coach who helps us utilize these resources to facilitate change and realize our potential.”
A coach that demonstrates full confidence in their clients’ ability to reach their full potential offers the perfect support framework to create a positive change.
This framework includes:
- Helping clients focus on what they really want.
Exploring the clients’ values and visions, offering insight into current circumstances and the desired outcome, making powerful assessments and asking thought-provoking questions aimed at increasing attention density will allow clients to gain clarity and set clear goals.
- Helping clients identify and accept internal limiting patterns that get in the way and encourage them to change their conscious and also subconscious thoughts and beliefs. A coach must be able to reframe situations to help them see new perspectives and therefore explore new possibilities. Tools and techniques such as CBC and NLP can facilitate this process of gaining awareness and changing thought patterns.
- Motivating and inspiring clients to make changes in their behavior. By understanding the reasons and enthusiasm one has for doing something, a coach can enthuse their clients. Visualization can be a powerful tool to keep the momentum going for some coaches, others would prefer positive affirmations or journaling
- Encouraging clients to get out of their comfort zone to increase their self-confidence. Changing or developing new habits or aiming for a goal that is difficult to achieve requires a steady amount of self-confidence. Self-confidence can be increased by practicing getting out of our comfort zone which means putting ourselves in situations that make us feel ill at ease because we have never been in them before. By setting small challenges for themselves, with the support of a coach, clients can gain in self-confidence.
- Supporting clients to make a plan. Although plans can be flexible, altered or totally rethought if necessary, having a plan will help create and keep a strong sense of direction.
- Holding clients accountable by helping them put in place the kind of support they require to remain committed and accountable. This can be people, places or tools such as an app on a mobile phone.
A successful coaching session or partnership is measured by whether there is evidence of behavior change or learning. In terms of neuroplasticity, this evidence results from physical changes in a client’s brain.
In order for those changes to be effective and long-lasting, they require having a goal, providing an effort to change and a substantial amount of repetition and practice.
A coaching partnership provides guidance and support through this process, thus increasing the chances of achieving life-changing and long-lasting changes.
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