THE SCIENCE OF MENTAL WELLBEING
At Culture Nudge, part of our mission is to combine the rigours of applied science with a compassionate mindset to maximise the effectiveness of coaching and leadership.
Emerging research from fields such as Evolutionary Psychology and Neuroscience have yielded powerful tools to enhance the quality of people's lives, in part by providing deep insights into the real reasons that people think, feel and behave as they do.
Applying science to maximise the effectiveness of psychotherapy and coaching
Increasingly, scientific research is informing our understanding of the processes and phenomena that underpin effective coaching, for example in relation to:
Clients often seek coaching to create positive change in their lives. Research has shown that old problems and unhelpful behaviours are merely reinforced when we focus on them. Instead, our strategies need to focus on the present and look forward to the future, which involves novel learning.
This process involves the development of new neural pathways within the brain, so learning new ways of thinking literally can change the very architecture of the brain (albeit in subtle ways)!
There is often a gap between a client recognising a need for change versus understanding what needs to be done (let alone then figuring out how to achieve the desired change). Research has indicated that a positive mindset can open us to possibilities. This enables us to identify novel solutions to our problems.
In line with this, one study observed an improvement in people's problem solving abilities when positive experiences outweighed negative experiences (in a ratio of 3 to 1).
Furthermore, it appears that fixating on the negatives can limit people's social and self -awareness. In this way, having a negative mindset can lead individuals down a spiral which can impair their ability to help themselves. It is therefore imperative for us to identify instances when we are attending to the negative as (if left unchecked) this can potentially predispose to depression.
When a circumstance is perceived as sufficiently negative, it can trigger a threat response in the amygdala. Activation of this brain region can result in the experience of an intense emotional surge that inhibits frontal cortical areas whilst increasing self-protecting behaviours. The inhibition of frontal cortical areas restricts creativity and meta-thinking. Thus, individuals become more 'zoomed in' on the the task at hand (rather than adopting a broad, multi-dimensional perspective), which can significantly impair insightful decision making.
Such neural activation patterns provide a rationale for coaches to help their clients navigate and moderate emotional extremes.
Emotional self-regulation has been positively associated with achievement, productivity, and good mental health.
At Culture Nudge, we encourage our clients to change the way they think about uncertainty, failure, fear of ridicule etc., to help with regulation of the fear response. This helps to maintain the cognitive capacity required to facilitate progress in coaching.
Findings from social neuroscience have highlighted the significant impact that our social environment and interactions have on us.
Pro-social behaviours such as empathy and altruism rely on our capacity for theory of mind, which refers to an ability to surmise what other people are thinking.
In the workplace, displays of compassion from leaders have been shown to promote a healthy work environment.
In contrast, less pro-social behaviours can elicit a fear response, which might manifest as antagonistic behaviours (such as a 'me-against-them', or tribal, mentality).
In organisations, it is particularly important to manage negative responses toward others, as a lack of structure for resolving issues could easily contribute to an emotional contagion.