“It was a million-dollar idea!” How many times have you heard that expression when describing a major success? Maybe it was an entrepreneur that took a company from zero to the moon, an executive that spearheaded a successful new product, or even the creation of a hit book or piece of music.
The problem with that phrase is that it only touches on one small part of the equation – the idea. The reality is that million-dollar ideas are a dime-a-dozen. Average people come up with them all the time, and, unfortunately, the vast majority get discarded just as quickly as they were imagined.
The problem is that coming up with a great idea is the easy part. The hard part is execution – actually turning a great idea into something real.
Without the right personal tools to drive execution, even the most brilliant idea is all but guaranteed to go to waste. Some of those tools include things like self-discipline, drive, unshakeable self-confidence, control over fear, the ability to accept failure, and a positive outlook on life as a whole.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of people don’t necessarily understand those tools of success or don’t have them close at hand in their mental and emotional toolbox. Instead, they’re armed with the complete opposite: doubts, negative thought patterns, bad habits, preconceived notions, and limiting beliefs – all of which conspire to ensure that the achievement of their goals and ideas never happen, or at the very least, never to their full potential.
That’s what I aim to change, and in a way you might find surprising.
As a coach with a PhD in cognitive neuroscience, I understand how to teach people to discard the attitudes and beliefs that hold them back by actually changing their brains. In place of those old bad habits, I teach them to embrace, develop, and grow the tools they need to succeed to their full potential. It’s a big shift, and the key to making that extreme and all-important change is an amazing concept called neuroplasticity.
What is neuroplasticity?
Neuroplasticity refers to the brain’s ability to change and adapt. And I’m not talking about psychological changes, I’m talking about physiological changes – the literal rewiring of pathways and repurposing of neurons, sometimes in response to trauma, but also in response to learning.
When the average person hears the word neuroplasticity, it’s generally in reference to some incredible example, like Captain Trevor Greene, the soldier whose brain rewired itself to allow him to walk again after having an axe driven into his head in Afghanistan1. Those kinds of stories clearly demonstrate just how powerful force neuroplasticity is, but they often fail to explain that neuroplasticity is actually an ability that every one of our brains constantly exercises throughout our lives.
From infancy, our brains are constantly rewiring themselves in response to our everyday experiences, thoughts, and feelings — albeit in much smaller ways than in Capt. Greene’s case. That constant adaptation is thanks to the mind-brain connection, the link between the physical tissue of our brains and our ethereal and difficult-to-define conscious and unconscious minds.
Because of the mind-brain connection, the brain responds physically to what the mind attends to. Essentially, our thoughts and feelings determine the physical changes in our brain. They direct our neuroplasticity, normally unconsciously, without us even realizing it’s happening.
That can result in positive change — like learning to walk again after a traumatic injury, breaking an addiction, or forming better habits — or it can result in negative change — like developing all of those nasty self-defeating qualities mentioned earlier that stop people from turning their dreams and ideas into reality. The key to tipping the scales towards the positive is understanding how neuroplasticity works, and, more specifically, what it responds to. From there, the directed effort can be taken to consciously make positive physiological changes in your own brain. If there’s something more amazing than that I’m not sure what it is — and it’s that amazing potential that makes neuroplasticity such a game-changer for coaching.
Neuroplasticity in executive and life coaching
In my 19-years in the business, I’ve seen how effective great coaching can be. I’ve also seen plenty of fly-by-night programs that were completely ineffective. It can be difficult for clients to know ahead of time exactly what they’re getting into, and sometimes that can result in a lack of commitment — a surefire way to undermine results.
The beauty of neuroplasticity is that it offers a pathway that coaches can employ to help clients make real, lasting positive changes and that clients can put their full trust in, knowing its effectiveness is grounded in hard science. That combination makes it, in my opinion, one of the most powerful tools a coach can employ.
In my own practice, I call this science-based neuroplastic coaching technique neuro-rewiring. Neuro-rewiring is all about the idea that, with the right guidance, anyone can rewire themselves to live happier, more productive, more resilient lives. It’s a powerful concept so allow me to go into some detail about how it works.
The first step is to identify faulty thought-patterns. At this point, it’s all about figuring out which of the tools of success and happiness a client is missing. Maybe they lack motivation. Maybe they lack self-confidence. Maybe they’re afraid of success. The list goes on and on. It could be any number of things, but most often it’s a combination.
Once a client’s problematic thought-patterns have been identified, it’s time to get to work on changing them. I teach my clients how to manipulate and positively change their emotional associations through a variety of methods, including decisive self-talk, directed focusing techniques, and more. These techniques are based on my education and training in cognitive neuroscience and neurocounseling and have been refined constantly over my decades as both a neuroscientist and a coach.
From there, it’s all about repetition. As a coach, my job shifts to working with the client to continuously reinforce and strengthen their new thought processes, associations, and behaviors. With that repetition, the brain can begin to rewire itself so that those new positives become the subconscious norm — the baseline state — rather than something that needs to be consciously engaged.
The most obvious benefit of this system is that it ushers real positive change, but there are numerous other upsides to this approach to coaching as well. One is that, unlike seeing a traditional therapist, my coaching clients don’t need to spend the bulk of their initial sessions digging through the past trying to find the roots of their problems. With neuro-rewiring, we can get to work on enacting positive behavioral change right away.
The successes achieved through this system have been overwhelming, and they’ll only continue to grow as more and more becomes known about the brain and its incredible abilities. That paints an exciting picture of the future of how the science behind our most important organ impacts our ability to live our best lives on a day-to-day basis.
What the future holds for neuroscience in coaching
The human mind is a complex and difficult to understand the concept, but the physical brain holds an equal amount of mystery and intrigue. Every year, neuroscience unlocks more and more of its secrets
Neuroplasticity is one area that we’ve been learning incredible new things about over the past ten to twenty years, and we now understand what an effective — and controllable — force it is in helping people rewire their brains and their lives to be happier and healthier.
As a result, I have to believe that neuroscientific concepts like neuroplasticity and the techniques that stimulate it will only become more and more influential in all areas of coaching — from business to life skills, to sports. It’s simply too powerful a tool to ignore, with far too much solid science backing it up.
That’s going to represent a major shift in coaching, as the field has traditionally been focused almost entirely on psychology, with almost zero attention paid to the physiology of what drives happiness and success. But we now understand that, because of the brain-mind connection, psychology and brain physiology are inextricably linked, and you can’t enact a change in one without also changing the other.
As a cognitive neuroscientist, I’m fascinated by every new step in our understanding of the way the physical brain impacts the ethereal mind. But as a coach, I’m filled with excitement at what those steps mean for the people I coach on a daily basis, and how our newfound understanding can be used to improve their lives and help them build the tools necessary to turn their dreams into reality.