I’ve been a Co-Active coach for sixteen years now, and one of the things I love most about this profession is how it grows and changes its practitioners—generally for the better. Some of this change comes from being coached ourselves as part of the process, some of it comes from the other personal development efforts we engage in (Co-Active coaches are often the most dedicated of lifelong learners), but some of it, I believe, can be attributed directly to being trained and working as a Co-Active coach.
Take me, for example. When I started out as a coach years ago, I had so many more ideas about what I might be able to do and be than I had results. In other words, I had dreams and vision without knowing how to put them into action. I also had actions and plans that were unrelated to my purpose and without deep resonance. I wanted so badly to make a difference in the world, and found myself again and again taking consulting projects just to pay the bills. I dreamed of starting my own non-profit and how cool that would be but didn’t know how to take the first step.
Fast forward to today. I am much more integrated between what I am doing and who I am being. It’s not an effort or something I need help with. Grounding myself in meaning before I act, and checking my actions against purpose and resonance is automatic. It’s who I am, who I have become. I say no to projects that aren’t connected to my purpose and I even figured out how to create the non-profit of my dream (which I then closed when it was no longer in alignment with who I was becoming).
There is a famous saying in neuroscience: “neurons that fire together, wire together,” first coined in 1949 by Donald Hebb, a Canadian neuropsychologist known for his work in the field of associative learning. What Hebb’s saying means is that experiences, thoughts, feelings, physical sensations, actions and even observations activate particular neural networks. And when we repeat an experience over and over, the brain learns to trigger the same neurons each time. In other words, they are wired. This process is often referred to as neuroplasticity.
One of the most powerful things we are beginning to understand about coaching is that we help our clients wire their brains so that positive change occurs and is lasting and sustainable. In other words, we help them create positive neuroplasticity. What we as of yet may not fully realize is that through our work with our clients we are rewiring our own brains as well. And as Co-Active coaches, we are particularly primed to create brain integration. So what is that and why does it matter?
Dr. Dan Siegel defines integration as “The linkage of differentiated elements.” This means that first we must differentiate what it is we want to bring together then link what has been differentiated. In the Co-Active process, we are taught from day one of coach training that both Being and Doing are critical to human success and fulfillment. In terms of the brain, this would loosely correlate to a few different things, most notably the Right Hemisphere and Default Mode Networks (more being-focused brain aspects) and the Left Hemisphere and Task Positive Networks (more doing-focused brain aspects). This isn’t everything that is important in the brain, but being more integrated in these areas has an undeniably positive impact on success and fulfillment.
In our work with clients, Co-Active coaches help them distinguish who they are being from what they are doing, thus creating more understanding and efficacy in both areas. We then always link the two by focusing on questions like “Now that you know who you want to be/what your vision is/what is resonant and meaningful/etc. what is it that you see to do?” Or, conversely, “As you think of what you want to do next, how does this fit with your values/purpose/etc.?”
As mentioned above, this we believe helps the client integrate their own brain, creating a stronger and more automatic relationship between being and doing. But it also in the process most likely helps integrate the Co-Active coach’s own brain as well. Our neurons are tracking with our client as they think about these questions. The research shows that even observing something while not doing it oneself can cause neural firing and thus strengthening of a network (depending on one’s own expertise in the area).
And as Co-Active coaches we are actually doing much more than just observing. We are thinking about questions that hit both sides, we are feeling along with our client, and we are personally holding focus on both areas as the container for the coaching. And we certainly become more and more expert in many areas of human development, growth and change.
There is research to suggest that being more integrated between even just our right and left hemispheres is correlated with more effective leadership, and it is my own strong opinion that it can help us in every area of life. It has certainly helped me. I started out my own personal development journey being talented on the being end. I could speak endlessly about purpose and meaning and dreamed of how nice it would be to just, well BE. But I had few tangible results, so my great ponderings mostly stayed within my own head. And to be honest, I think I was somewhat afraid that if I focused more on being I would lose my colorful being side.
Becoming a Co-Active coach and learning how to move dreams into action has helped me to naturally step into a positive cycle of doing sourced by being, with nothing lost in the process. If anything, I’ve learned that when we have both, we actually end up with more of each. This is the synergy and magic of integration.