The neuroscience behind why mindset coaching is not enough.

  Photo by    Zoltan Tasi    on    Unsplash

Photo by Zoltan Tasi on Unsplash

I attended an event last night in Copenhagen where Anil Seth, professor of cognitive neuroscience at the University of Sussex was speaking.

During his presentation, he spoke to the different forms of "self" that the brain has:

Bodily Self

Perspectival Self

Volitional Self

Narrative Self

Social Self

Given the massive influx of mindset coaches out there quick to give you a bunch of affirmations to repeat out loud until you get rich (claiming to address the narrative self), I've been inserting a healthy amount of skepticism into the notion of "change your language change your life" which seems to be the golden standard for coaching and transformational work lately.

While I have of course experienced a dramatic change in my own language and way of communicating over the past few years (everything from the way I speak to the timbre of my voice to the speed and amount of words I use), my experience is that this change was a byproduct of much deeper work, and that attempts to work only with mindset is like focusing on the symptom of a disease, and not the cause.

Here's my perspective: your capacity to change your attitude and the way you speak is a purely intellectual process. You can indeed decide to be happy when you wake up in the morning, and you can indeed learn how to speak in such a way that you no longer sound like a victim of your reality.

These are powerful tools and will result in huge changes as well as many new opportunities to find more evidence of the positive things you're putting your attention on.

However, what I've experienced with myself, and with my clients, is that until fundamental real-time feedback and profound somatic awareness-oriented change takes place, the core driver for the autonomic response (which defines character and behavior) - which is effectively the aftermath of the brain's attempt to predict and categorize the interpretation of reality based on known factors - remains unchanged. What that means is that once you stop the affirmations or stop consciously trying to remember to be happy when you wake up, your life swings back to status quo like a rubber band.

While I am clear that that there is never a point of arrival where our inner work is complete, to me, this does not equal fundamental change.

I know many people who understand all the mindset stuff and have all the right language who, when shit hits the fan, crumble and get knocked out for weeks.

Because resiliency is the measure for whether fundamental change has actually happened, not words. And simply learning a new narrative does not build resiliency. For this same reason, theoretical and conceptual training in transformation, through reading books or taking systemized courses alone, is significantly less effective until actual experience with it takes place. It’s extraordinarily difficult to train the nervous system with your mind alone.

Considering I am not a scientist and recognize that running my own theories based on my and my clients' experiences and reading books and studies alone is not enough to really make these sorts of assertions broadly, I took it to test with Anil directly after his talk. No leading questions, pure curiosity. Did he think it was possible to change our interpretation of reality by changing the narrative we have about ourselves?

I was of course delighted when he began to tell me exactly what I ascertain above. Addressing language and mindset is simply not enough, and those who claim to do so are truncating the bigger picture.

In short, what we need is to have a present and attentive feedback loop that has attention on and includes the body, and that serves as a mirror for us while we integrate the new known elements of our experience of reality, AND THROUGH THAT, fundamental change occurs, particularly in narrative, but also in all other versions of self.

This is why people who are doing deep transformational work find themselves able to take bigger leaps, make bigger accomplishments, find themselves surrounded by relationships that are much more fulfilling, and are capable of considering other perspectives before getting knocked out by incoming stimuli, much more effectively.

Some of the most profound experiences my clients have had working with me are moments when I INTERRUPT their narrative and ask them about their body or what they are feeling. As a feeler myself, what I'm always listening for is what the body is communicating, and helping my clients give that voice so that it can evolve and eventually rise to meet the brilliance of the intellectual mind. It's incredibly basic, but the narrative automatically changes when you allow yourself to feel.