Monday, February 4, 2013

Thinking about others, thinking about self...

Posted on Monday, February 04, 2013 by International Coach Federation

Here is an interesting neuroscience tidbit: we use the same area of the brain to think about others as we do to think about ourselves. We feel their joys and pains in the way we feel our own. We understand their motivations, frustrations and triumphs as we understand our own.
What does this mean for coaching? Well, if we think about others using the same part of the brain as we use to think about ourselves, our ability to understand others is directly correlated to our ability to understand ourselves. Thus, to be effective parents, leaders, teachers, friends and partners, we need to truly understand ourselves. Research on parenting has found, for example, that adults who had troubling childhoods and experienced “bad” parenting, of course tend to be poor parents themselves.
But if these adults develop the capacity for self-reflection, they can transcend their own negative experiences and be warm, nurturing and effective parents. By developing the ability to reflect on themselves, they are more likely to respect their child’s emerging developmental needs and reduce the times the child has to use more primitive defense mechanisms.

We simply can’t put ourselves in another’s shoes if we don’t understand ourselves, because we can’t think about them effectively. If the part of my brain that I use to think about myself is weak, disorganized and undeveloped, if I don’t know how I feel and why, then I actually can’t think about you with any coherence either. And if I can’t do that, how can be a good friend, an effective co-worker, a loving partner or parent?

At its most basic level, coaching powerfully increases our self awareness and self-reflective capacity. As coaches, more than anything, we help our clients look at their lives. I often joke about that feeling of hitting the jackpot when our client says to us “Oh, now that’s a good question!” (YES! Dopamine rush, I did it!! I can do this coaching thing. Whew.) This is because it makes them stop, and think, and reflect, and begin to understand themselves better.

My neuroscience studies have shown me that this understanding isn’t just beneficial to to the client, but is crucial to the world they engage with, and thus, benefits us all. In Nepal (and most yoga classes) they greet and leave with the word “Namaste,” which roughly translates to “The God in me sees the God in you.” To really do this, to see this in another, we need to see it in ourselves first.


Ann Betz, CPCC, is a faculty member of the Coaches Training Institute (CTI), where she serves as an advisor to the president and official neuroscience consultant. She is an expert in the neuroscience of leadership, coaching, and human consciousness and is actively engaged in making connections between coaching and current research on the brain. Ann is a founding partner of BEabove Leadership, which offers a cutting-edge advanced coaching program for experienced coaches: “Neuroscience, Consciousness and Transformational Coaching,” available in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. You can also visit Ann’s blog at

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