A model of ‘Themselves’

I’ve submitted my first module which is about how I became the coach I am today and my coaching ethos; the subtext being “are you able to take on a doctorate?” It was fascinating to draw a timeline from school to the present day, mapping out key events, work situations and learning that developed my coaching. It’s a really interesting exercise to do; very thought-provoking.
Now I am onto the second module and, boy oh boy, it is daunting. It’s the “what, why and how” part. Interestingly the questions “What makes you think this research is worth doing?” and “What impact do you want to have?” are the most challenging. I thought their answers were obvious but when I came to articulate them, they weren’t. Eventually, I realised my problem was around the phrase “The Self” or “a concept of the Self”. Each time I thought about this I went into a trance and, in practical, terms my coachees don’t talk about ‘The Self’. In reviewing my coachees over the last 12months (What did they want and what was hindering them?) I concluded that most often a coachee cites themselves as the main obstacle to change: A coachee talks about ‘themselves’. This was a big breakthrough in being able to write about my research topic.
My current thinking is that I’d like to use neuroscience knowledge to create a model of ‘Themselves’ (yep, I know this is grammatically awkward but ‘themselves’ is what my coachees talk about). I think it would be great to have a predictive model where we had knowledge to understand what would or wouldn’t work for a coachee and to be able to talk knowledgably with organisations about what was possible, or not, given the number of sessions paid for. Also how much coaching work is unnecessary when something else would work better – how can I know that? And finally, can I know what will create a sustainable change for the coachee?
I think about the differences between a doctor, a professional personal trainer and the client. A professional personal trainer is not a doctor but has knowledge about the body pertinent to the work they do (usually more than the client exercising). I can follow exercises in books or videos but I’m never sure if I’ve got it right and on one occasion I strained a muscle badly. Now I have a personal trainer I get the difference, and it’s a big difference. He understands muscles, ligaments and the skeleton far better than me so between us, we understand what my body can and can’t handle. Initially, we had a pragmatic discussion about what was actually possible given my condition, my commitment to exercising and what I wanted: No one has naive expectations. And that’s what we’re working on, in a predictable way, not hoping or following generic techniques. It’s tailored each time with his underpinning knowledge and my experience. Now I know what my previous exercises should have been achieving – it’s a big difference in many ways.
Dan Siegel seems to have gone a long way down this predictive path with his ‘Mindsight’ work. (His book is enlightening.) Someone said it is a modern view on Attachment Theory and the more I read about Attachment Theory the more relevant I feel it is to my coaching; “A general theory of love” (Lewis, Amini & Lannon, 2000) is a good place to start. Attachment Theory was quite a wakeup call around how important building a relationship with my coachee is as well as how they have been shaped by their early life. Also I reflected on how my Attachment affects my ability to build a relationship with coachees.
Dan Siegel uses a lot of mindfulness type practices to great effect along with his knowledge of Attachment. In many ways his techniques are around quietening the emotional response using, what many coaches may call, a detachment method. This allows his clients to be more reasoned before reacting which some people do quite ‘naturally’ as part of who they are.
These are some other interesting points from his book:
• We take in information all the time: Explicit Memories go through the Hippocampus thus we feel they are memories. In times of stress, anxiety, rage or fear the Hippocampus appears to shut down, so what’s happening goes straight in as Implicit Memories: This information isn’t recalled as memories, it just seems to be part of us (p.155). It could mean that when people are very angry they don’t recollect the event as they cannot recall it as a memory. Also anxious people may not recollect the event but get anxious without knowing why if a similar event is discussed.

• Dan Siegel talks about us being “anticipation machines” (p.148) where we are predominantly driven by our collection of experiences and memories. Mostly we are reacting from this anticipation rather than from what is actually happening. So the phrase “if you believe it will or won’t happen then you’ll be right”, could be truer and more far reaching than we thought. On page 203, he takes this further by discussing how previous experiences colour the way we view reality. One situation might be over-reacted to due to the person’s previous experiences. For example, someone raising their hand quickly can be for various reasons. If you were bullied, are a dancer or student your initial responses to it will differ greatly.

• On page 225 he talks about Ambivalent and Avoidant Attachment research: It found that Ambivalent attachment seems to create sensitivity to negative feedback, such as seeing an angry face, whereby their amygdala triggers quickly. Conversely, Avoidant attachment can reduce responses to smiling faces, dampening the social reward systems, so there is almost a resistance to connecting with people.

If you have any thoughts as to the benefits to coaches, coachees and the client organisation of having a knowledge-based neurobiological model of ‘themselves’ then I’d love to hear from you.