Once a state-of-the-art tool used exclusively by industry high-rollers and organizational leaders, coaching has since become accessible to anyone seeking more effective strategies for innovation, communication, productivity, health and happiness. Specialized coaching models have emerged to address a myriad of different contexts in every conceivable industry. In this way, its impact affects employees from the break room to the boardroom. What’s more, coaching communication styles are now influencing everyday conversations in families, schools, churches and communities.
But not every method works the same. The most reliable precision systems capable of producing sustainable results are those that connect to the whole mind (brain) and the whole person inside a safe, powerful conversation. Based on the decades of groundbreaking scientific research conducted by innovators in the fields of neuroscience, cognitive theory, systems thinking, behavioral modeling, and neurolinguistic programming, Whole Person Coaching engages the left, right, upper and lower thinking modes of the brain (head), as well as the heart and gut intelligences of the individual.
As a result of this process, the client exchanges we’re currently taking part in are getting shorter, awakening and activating people to think more effectively and in new, more empowering ways. These game-changing coaching conversations – often lasting only minutes! – can have a resounding impact on clients, the organizations in which they operate, and their lives as a whole.
But to reach this goal successfully, the coach must first create an environment conducive to optimal success – something we’ve termed a “Courageous Space.” With that in mind, I’d like to introduce you to Alex.
Within the Courageous Space, change happens quickly. And it lasts a lifetime.
Meet “Alex.” He’s at the top of his game. Recognized as both an expert and a leader within his industry, he possesses a brilliant intellect and tireless work ethic – traits that have catapulted him along the fast track to success. He loves his business, especially the exhilaration he receives by climbing to the top. And the gratification of financial rewards and respect he garners have made his success that much sweeter. But after 20 years of experience and successfully operating as a Senior Account Executive, Alex finds himself facing one of the biggest decisions of his career.
Having achieved what he thought was his dream, Alex begins to feel something weigh on his mind. This voice that initially caused only minor personal discomforts like boredom and listlessness, eventually starts to influence his outward attitude. He spaces out during conversations, both on the phone and in person. It becomes harder and harder for him to focus. And he frequently catches himself daydreaming or surfing the web to avoid the tasks that no longer capture his attention.
Alex begins to notice frustration with others and a shorter fuse when things don’t work out as he’d hoped – typical signs that change is calling. And this change gets noticed by (and affects) his direct reports, colleagues and other senior level management.
Something had awakened in Alex, and the call – wherever it was coming from – was being ignored, lost in a jumble of self-combative, disempowered thinking. Alex was tethered by his loyalty to the company and coworkers. But at the same time, he wanted out.
Alex had invested so much time and energy to get to the top, yet he found his great pursuit had now become the everyday doldrums. Despite a commendable salary – one on which his family greatly relied – Alex had to admit: he’d lost interest in his work. His heart was no longer in it.
So when he got called upstairs for a meeting with senior management, Alex felt sick to his stomach at the thought of what was about to happen. At the same time, he secretly wished to be laid off, even though the rational side of him knew this wasn’t a good strategy for implementing change.
Are there tools that enable us to discover, explore and develop the areas that are not our “strong suits?” Yes, there are.
After reading some of the testimonials and other content about our Whole Person Coach Method, posted to the Coach Training World website, Alex came to us for help. In addition to seeking insight into the ambivalence he felt about the upcoming meeting, he was also looking for direction related to his life as a whole. He wanted to think in new and improved fashions, build upon what he had, and leverage himself to greater and more meaningful heights. Well adept in the creative process, he had lost his creative spark, caught in a rut of habitual thinking. And herein resides one of the greatest benefits attained only through Whole Person Coaching.
Unlike conventional coaching modalities, Whole Person Coaching relies on modern tools for processing and retaining information, creating meaning, and communicating authentically.
It’s grounded in neuroscience, behavioral science, narrative psychology, energy psychology and archetypal pattern analysis. This foundation allows the client to work at a much deeper, more meaningful and far more sustainable level of change. They learn multidimensional techniques for holistically evaluating and understanding their current story and spawn creative new ways to view themselves and their situation as a whole. As a result, Whole Person clients, like Alex, move quickly beyond story filled with historical, ineffective thinking habits and into the process of authentic change.
Research during the past few decades continues to redefine our view of human intelligence as well as our capacity to learn and communicate. Thanks to the work of innovators such as Ned Herrmann , we now recognize a four-quadrant thinking model, which includes:
- Quadrant 1: The “upper left” functions based on logic, analysis, facts and quantities
- Quadrant 2: The “lower left” functions of organization, sequencing, planning and detailing
- Quadrant 3: The “upper right” functions of integration, intuition, and synthesis
- Quadrant 4: The “lower right” functions dealing with the interpersonal, feeling-based, kinesthetic and emotional modes of thinking
Herrmann’s Whole Brain Thinking Model allows us to assess the way we understand and transfer knowledge, retain information, reframe situations, and acquire and sustain new habits. In short, Herrmann asserts that by engaging the whole mind, we can leverage it to its fullest potential.
However in WPC, we’ve come to recognize that it’s not quite that simple. Engaging the mind without connecting to and integrating the whole person – intellectually, physically, emotionally and spiritually – can easily lead the brain to get stuck inside its own frame of reference.
Take Alex for example. He had been residing mostly in his head, stuck inside a left-brain perspective. Because he focused on the development of his exceptional gifts related to logic, analysis, and strategy, he had become renowned in those areas. But by discovering his latent abilities through a creative right-brain process in our coaching session, he was able to tap into his “heart” and “gut” as well (more on that in the next section). From there, he was able to gain a clearer understanding of his situation while connecting to what mattered most.
Here’s a shortened transcript of our conversation.
“Alex, you’ve just shared that you have a meeting tomorrow you’re concerned about. I can hear part of you is worried about what the meeting is really about and the other part is hoping it will set you in a new direction with your life. Where do you want to land?”
“Land indeed! I feel like I’m out to sea right now, lost in confusion. I should be happy. I should be thankful,” he says with self-disgust. “I make more money and receive more accolades than most of my peers. I feel so guilty for feeling this way.”
“What way?” I ask.
“That ‘I don’t want to be here’. I’m not excited about this gig anymore, and I just don’t know what else to do.”
“And if you did know what else you might do? How would you feel then?”
“I’d feel peaceful and I assume I’d be doing whatever ‘it’ is. I want to find my passion again!”
“Okay. So for you, where does passion come from?”
“I’m speaking right now about my heart’s passion,” he says as he touches his chest. “There’s no juice left in me. For the first time in years I have to pull myself out of bed every morning. I even count down the days to Friday. I find myself literally wishing my life away!”
“So tapping into your heart wisdom, what might you find?”
”I hope I get fired,” he replies with a deadpan look on his face.
“Fired? Really? Your heart wishes for you to get fired?” I ask puzzled.
“No, not really. That’s just my head negotiating the idea. You know, I think I’m just looking for the permission slip that lets me do something else with my life. So if someone else says, ‘Move on,’ it’s just easier. I can feel the stress at the company. I’ll be in the boardroom and they just look at me. I feel so much guilt, not wanting to let anyone down, but there’s nothing that holds my interest in this particular type of work any more.”
“You said something interesting – “permission slip.” Who needs to write that permission slip?” I ask.
“I do.” Alex goes silent for a long minute. He sits back and lets out a big sigh before continuing. “I just can’t. With all that’s in place with my career, status, and lifestyle expenses, it could be a costly mistake.”
“Would you be willing to play around with that idea a bit?”
How does the Courageous Space enable a client to harness the combined knowing of their intellect, emotions and gut? One word: trust.
Listening to our heads, we often rationalize our situation (and the choices that got us there) until our heart caves in. We validate our thinking through long-held beliefs, many of which are good reasons to consider, but not valid for living our best lives. Alex, for instance, was stuck in traditional standards instilled by his father and societies “expectations” for the role of a man.
But by balancing these rational thoughts with the other insights readily available within us, we can make a far more informed, far more appropriate decision – which brings us to the work of researchers Grant Soosalu and Marvin Oka.
Soosalu and Oka are pioneers in the new field of multiple Brain Integration Techniques (mBIT). They’ve compiled convincing evidence of three distinct complex neural networks. Their theories rely on such far-flung sources as embryology, neuroscience, neurolinguistics, behavioral modeling, cognitive theory, anthropology, clinical medicine, and ancient wisdom traditions such as Yoga, Taoism and Buddhism.
By developing and nurturing the holistic connection between coach and client, something I call “creating a Courageous Space,” the relationship invites deep self-exploration and trust. This framework enables much greater self-awareness, increases developmental capacity, and fosters growth that sustains itself long after the coaching relationship ends.
Once trust is developed, the client learns to engage their own natural learning process through intellectual, emotional, and gut knowing. Recognizing their own communication styles (as well as the styles of others), the client begins to relate to and integrate the various neural networks detailed above. Working with the coach, the client is then able to communicate holistically, accessing the deeper story wanting to be expressed. Soon they are relating their innate wisdom – the intelligence of the head, heart and gut working together – to manifest what matters most.
With that in mind, let’s take another look at Alex. When we left off, he had a lot of good points (albeit roadblocks, but points nonetheless): he might have to start over; he might not make the same amount of money; he might let his colleagues and family down. The list went on and on, but nothing was absolutely the truth. He was hooked into the logic of his rational mind.
But as Alex began using his whole mind and pulled the wisdom available through the other two sources of knowing – his heart and gut – greater wisdom began to arise. Then by tapping into his heart – the place of his passion – he was empowered to make clearer decisions and take more proactive actions with his gut finally at peace.
Here’s how the rest of our session played out, and how he realized his “a-ha!” moment.
“Alex, I’m going to invite you into a creative approach. Ready? Imagine you are about to write that permission slip from three different perspectives – first your head, then your heart, and then your gut. But before you go there, I’d like you to pause and imagine this response literally coming out of your forehead, then up from the depth of your heart, and finally straight from the middle of your gut. Really go there for me, okay?”
“Hmm. That’s a unique set of questions. You’re gonna make me think,” he says and chuckles. “I don’t normally think this way, but here it goes!” He taps his forehead. “My head says, ‘Man, are you crazy? All that time you’ve spent getting to the top! What are you thinking?’ That’s the noisiest part of me. Day and night I’m tortured by conflicting thoughts, not knowing what to listen too. I feel a bit crazy.”
“Okay. Now drop down into your heart. And your heart says…”
“My heart says, ‘You’ve lost that loving feeling.” And he starts mockingly singing the popular song of the same name while gesturing romantically. Then he slumps back into place before going on. “My gut says, ‘No! No! No!’ My gut just feels all tied up in knots – FEAR, FEAR, FEAR – that old fear feeling.”
“I can sense your confusion and I definitely feel the fear coming from you,” I say. “Your head appears to be speaking to the logic of your decision.”
“Yep. Mind over matter. Mind over everything in fact. ‘Think Smart’ equals right.”
“Your heart sounds almost like it’s heckling you, helping you recognize the loss of that ‘loving feeling.’ Where’s that coming from?”
“It’s the part of me that says, ‘What if you’re wrong? What if work should be fun, like it was? I need to feel okay with this decision.’”
“And your gut is pounding out in fear. You just shared that you are hoping this meeting will set you into a new direction. You need to feel okay with this decision.”
“That would be nice.”
“What if you enlisted the support of these three perspectives to consider what being sent into a new direction might feel like?”
He takes a minute to ponder the potential of this idea. “You mean my head, and heart and gut?”
“Yes,” I say.
“Okay. I think you’re asking me to brainstorm about my heart’s desire.”
“You can start there if you’d like, or anywhere really.”
He takes a beat. “It’s embarrassing… down inside… my dream… I’d like to start a new business, something more meaningful. Something that helps children gain the confidence they need to succeed in life. In my imagination, I see it as a new kind of marketing and advertising agency for kids. They are so creative, and fearless!”
“Fearless? Why do you think so?”
“They don’t have a million stories in their head, like I do. They are just there in the moment, being themselves. Exploring. Learning. Living!”
“And you being you? On a gut level, what would that experience feel like?”
“Like being a little kid. Free. Curious. Happy. Creative again!”
“Hmm. Creative again. And how could you be creative again?”
“By getting out of my head. I’m starting to sound like a robot. Repeating thoughts, telling everyone that I hate my job, but I can’t leave. I know it must make me sound ridiculous. And I know that by giving people that perception, I’m going to quickly undermine the esteem and position I’ve spent my life working towards.”
“As you say this, what wisdom are you hearing?”
“The wisdom of my heart: ‘Do what you love. Time is short. You’ll survive.’ I know I’ll survive.”
“And your gut?”
After a big sigh, “It’s what I want to do. And that feels good.”
“Peaceful, with a little bit of an edge. The good kind of edge, like I can’t wait to try this on.”
“I’m going home to talk with my wife. She should be the first to know.”
“My decision. I’m leaving the agency and starting a new business on my own.”
“And how do you feel?”
“Like a million dollars – like I did when I first started!”
The secret that led to Alex’s revelation…
As we learned from the insights of our researchers, Grant Soosalu and Marvin Oka, it turns out we actually have three brains! Illustrated clearly by Alex’s predicament, the cephalic brain (head), cardiac brain (heart), and the enteric brain (gut) all work together to comprise wisdom, the innate intelligence of the whole person.
And the final outcome?
In his follow-up session Alex reported that, to his surprise, the all-important meeting was about a co-worker who was planning to leave the company. The senior executives thought Alex should be the first to know since the weight of the increased workload would fall directly on him.
Alex shared with me that, after a conversation with his wife, he had finally felt at peace with his decision to leave his job and start his own company. The revelation at the meeting and the prospect of an even greater workload to which he was not committed only amplified his clarity, reinforcing that he was on the right path – both for himself and his family.
A few months later Alex found a position at a new agency, one to which he had pitched his marketing program for kids, Agency Boot Camp. In his new role as Chief Creative Officer (a step up from his last job!) he would lead a team of young designers and marketing professionals, ages 15 to 21, nurturing the group inside a creative lab where they would be taught that anything is possible and also given the support necessary to learn, grow and innovate fresh ideas for their clients. Their first pro-bono project as a team was for at-risk youth.
When I spoke to him recently and asked how things were going with the new venture, the first thing he said to me was, “I’m thrilled to be doing something that makes me feel so alive!”
Alex found his dream job by rediscovering his passion. Even though he had referenced a business, he found that inside his perceived safety of the company, he got to play entrepreneur – for him, the best of both worlds!
In the same way, you can leverage the perfect insight within and break free of the beliefs that are keeping you from achieving the best in life – personally, professionally, or a combination of the two. Because as Alex will tell you: self-doubt and uncertainty can only affect you if you let them!
Here’s an exercise for you to start playing around with the concepts. Pair up with a friend and listen to what you are learning.
- On a blank sheet of paper draw a circle in the middle of the page. Inside of it, write down something you are wishing for in any aspect of your life. For example: new job, new relationship, improved communications, better health… something that would be of great value to you if realized.
- Now divide the page. On one half, write down the first thought that comes to mind when you think of yourself in relation to the goal or desire that you’ve listed inside the circle. Notice the quality of that thought. Is it positive (supportive) or is it negative (sabotaging)?
- On the other side of the page, write down the feelings you get when you imagine yourself having accomplished the goal. Hint: to “future” yourself, act as if you’ve already achieved the Imagine telling others about your success and what you are feeling inside. Write down your feelings. Feelings may be bodily sensations or emotions. Now take note: are these feelings in your heart and body positive or negative?
Answer the following questions with a buddy:
- Do my present thoughts align with my future feelings?
- If not, what does that tell you?