Brain Hobbyist

As a child, I was regaled with the accomplishments of Dr. Wilder Penfield[1], then started reading self-help books, moved on to popular works about the brain, became entranced by early brain fMRI work, developed a lay interested in psychology and am still an avid reader of next-gen brain science. Both my study of management and the brain have had a profound effect on my practice of coaching.

One of the things that I have come to realize about all the brain stuff, is that there are a lot of people like me who have done some reading about it. I am here to declare that neither they, nor I, are experts on brain science. I always remain wary of information sources that propound to be solidly rooted in neuroscience.

The field of brain science is fast moving. Developments, discoveries and new research are released every day in the field. What we know now about the brain and human mental health is so much more than what was known 50 or even 25 years ago. Some of what was believed to be true about the brain when I was younger has been not held up to scrutiny. Treasured beliefs from the 1970’s about “left-brained” and “right-brained” behaviour have been de-bunked for instance[2]. Or what about the “three layer theory” or “onion model” of the brain? We know now that the center of the brain is not an “ancient” or “reptile” brain. Neither is there a “limbic” or “human” layer. There are of course limbic and cortex regions in the brain, but there is no evolutionary, three layer map that gets imprinted onto all of our brains. We can thank Dr. Lisa Feldman Barrett[3] and colleagues like Karen Quigley and Joseph Fridman for their on-going brain research to help dispel that former canon of the brain.

While we know more about the brain than ever, we still know very little. The more we know about the “brain” in the humanist, collective sense, the better we may be able to understand ourselves. There are a few key take-aways from some of the developments that are impacting the field:

1) If you get engaged in brain science, you will be helping yourself. You will be developing greater knowledge and awareness while building your independent thought “muscle”[4]. Knowledge of brain science could help with your ability to discern relative differences between the plausible and the unlikely (or fake).
2) Rather than developing “critical thinking” try to expand your understanding of discovery thinking. Critical thinking as practiced by some cultures, can be used to limit choices and information. If you open your brain to new discoveries, you are actually in a learning mode. That will help you to become less jaded and less doctrinaire.
3) Knowing more about the brain will give you an insight to the type of coaching approach or therapy you may want to pursue. If your coach is a proponent of “thinking from the right or left side of the brain”, then consider that current brain research has moved beyond that concept. You may want to find a coach that is less driven by models or pattern based thinking. After all, you are the one who will be doing the work when it comes to a coaching session. Discover things in a new way.
4) Your thinking will develop flexibility and growth. Keeping up with new information about the brain will help you synthesize your own approach to thinking and behaviour. I was greatly impacted by Kahnemann’s “Thinking Fast and Slow” a few years ago, but it turns out that a lot of his research could not be replicated. There is no absolute source of truth in any system that models the brain; that’s part of the learning.

A great place to start reading about the brain is Lisa Feldman Barrett’s book, “Seven and a Half Lessons About the Brain”[3].