Friday 21 November 2014

Brain Powered Goal Setting

Today's meeting of the Cumbria Coaching Network included a workshop on brain powered goal setting by Diana Shead. Diana's background is in health, in both clinical and managerial roles, and an integral part of her work as a physiotherapist is helping people with pain management.

She draws on her considerable understanding of the brain in order to help people to set and work towards their goals in ways that work.

So today she took us briefly through that process. She started with a quick overview of the brain's various functions, including the important role of the amygdala with regard to survival; and then she explained how that understanding informs her approach to goal setting.

So she always starts by getting people to consider the context within which they are setting goals: she has learned from experience that context is critical. If someone is already overloaded or stressed, then even a modest goal may be too much at that moment, and trigger amygdala highjack: that is the rush of adrenalin and cortisol that put the body in fight or flight mode. That fast and visceral reaction over-rides the frontal lobes, where our rational processing is centred, so it is important to be aware of that risk.

As she was talking, I was making my own links, too: both with The Chimp Paradox, which deals with similar issues, and Goleman's work on Emotional Intelligence, which highlights the need for emotional self-awareness and emotional self-management.

I was pleased to note that she also used her understanding of the brain to suggest alternative ways of doing the exercises: a left-brain and a right-brain option were offered, which was refreshing.

She then moved on to consider context in another way: the values which sit behind the goals we set. Her thesis here was that any worthwhile goal is derived from some good or goods we are seeking to honour or bring about in our life, and that articulating and connecting with that is important to provide both the motive power and the evaluative standards to help us deliver it.

She also looked at the value of allowing our brain some lee-way in deciding how to accomplish goals; to focus on what we want to achieve, and recognise that there may be different ways to do that; but keep focused on the values and the overall intention, including using visual reminders placed strategically around the home or office. 

Only then did she come on to action planning: and again she has designed a process based on her understanding of how the brain works. Key issues are to make the early steps manageable, so as not to provoke an amygdala highjack, to frame actions in a positive (not a negative) way, to foresee and plan to overcome blockages, and to act as if you are already succeeding.

And then she made two important additional points. One was the importance of celebration of each step along the way, to keep the dopamine reward system active.  The other was the value of an attitude of gratitude: for progress made, for help from others, and for learning when things don't go according to plan.  Again, my brain was busy making connections, this time with Margaret Chesney's work on stress. 

So all in all, a very useful and thought provoking day, which I will certainly be drawing on in my coaching work in the future.

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