Rather listen? Do that by clicking the link below:Coaching the Bright Spots Audio Lesson
Here’s a fact you didn’t know about yourself: you’re a neurochemist. During your daily coaching interactions with other folks you’re constantly inciting experiments on how to best influence their neurochemistry. Your words combine with neurology in folks’ cerebral cortex and produce a hormonal result. Every time you coach, you’re experimenting with cortisol and oxytocin.
Comments and conversations that evoke negative emotions raise cortisol levels. When our words make people feel criticized, judged or afraid, it does some nasty things to the brain and body. Well, at least in our context. If you were trying to survive on a desert island with limited food and no one to bump uglies with, it’s a good thing. But given that we’re helping folks improve their bodies and lives, we should help them keep that cortisol down. (Especially if they’re trying to look good so they can bump uglies with increased frequency.)
So what happens when cortisol increases due to feeling negatively about a conversation? Less resources are allocated to the parts of our brain that think, and more are given to those choose between fight and flight. Rather than being calm, calculated thinkers, we devolve into increasingly sensitive and reactionary beings—we perceive more judgment than is really happening. But wait, there’s more! This negative hormonal environment can last for more than a day—affecting people long after they leave our coaching sessions.
Positive conversations, or at the least the perception of positive conversations, increase oxytocin levels—the “feel good” hormone that helps us empathize, act generously, and bids us to cooperate with others. It also can help us remember things, especially patterns and social cues. Which are both kind of important in a community-based learning environment like a gym. Unfortunately, its effects don’t last as long as cortisol. The oxytocin button must be pressed more often for lasting effects.
Remember, whether you like it or not, you’re a conversational neurochemist. You can use your words to release the kraken of cortisol, or to press the oxytocin hug button in the name of cooperation.
And now you’ve read a long, science-based introduction giving you the background on why leading with the bright spots is important during coaching. Now, let’s talk a little more about the act of using them.
Start with Effort
In her book, Mindset, Carol Dweck describes the importance of reinforcing effort in building resiliency and defeating learned helplessness in the folks that we teach and coach. Appreciating effort makes it seem important and increases the likelihood that the behavior will continue. Acknowledging folks with things like, ‘you’re great at that, or you’re a good so-and-so’. While still positive, doesn’t have as big of an impact on helping people build consistency. It offers finality. This task is done. You’ve done all the work you needed to do. So, we need a balance between reinforcing effort and reinforcing what seem to be ingrained traits, like ‘you’re a good X’.
Beyond this, we have to consider the practicality of keeping things positive when it looks as though we have an exercise catastrophe on our hands. Even if a movement looks like a train wreck, and you’re having a hard time finding a bright spot, reinforcing effort keeps the door of positivity open so that we can make a productive coaching intervention—press the hug button, don’t release the kraken.
We all want to be seen and appreciated—especially when we are already thinking that we might be fucking something up or aren’t super-efficient at navigating a certain environment. Appreciating, and noting, effort as an initial bright spot is a great way to affect our clients on many levels when it seems as though an entire movement went to hell in a handcart and we’re having a hard time finding something to reinforce.
Ok, let’s say that you found an exercise bright spot and you want to announce that sucker to your client. What’s a good strategy for leading with the bright spot and then following that up with some coaching? Asking a question.
Here’s an example:
“Barbara! I loved how you set up for that rack pull. Your hips were in a great position. What if we tried something along with that next set? How about trying to dial our feet harder and set a harder grip on the bar? It seemed like you lost a little tension as you lifted, doing those things will help you keep it.”
Asking a question rather saying, ‘that was good, but’ keeps the conversation more positive. It also facilitates autonomy by involving the client in the coaching process. Barbara is deciding to dial her feet harder and set a better grip, she’s not being told to do it.
What Did You Like?
Here’s another example using questions that works well with folks that have a few sessions under their belt with you—simply asking them what they liked about the set after stating your bright spot.
“Barb! I loved the tension that time. That was killer. What did you like about that set? Yea? I totally agree. Is there anything you’d like to improve during the next set?”
Again, Barb is involved in the process of solving her problems rather than being dictated to and the overall feel of the interaction is more positive. She’s allowed to evaluate the set and determine what she’d like to do. Here’s the deal, we have to create context and lay the foundation with good cueing before this is possible. People need to understand the difference between good and bad before they’re able to answer these questions and coach themselves. Building context early on in the coaching process is pivotal to transition folks to this type of coaching. That’s not to say all of your coaching efforts need to be entirely declarative in the early going, but they do need to be devoutly educational.
It starts with letting the first rep suck, and then reinforcing the effort of that first rep while back ending it with some information about how to improve—problem, and solution, slathered in oxytocin.
It’s All Context
Using bright spots is context-based and perception is the most important factor. People react differently to the same conversations. That’s why it’s so important to get to know your people, their lives, their motivations, and their backgrounds. What some folks perceive as positive and life affirming, others perceive as being babied or patted on the ass. We have to pay attention and determine what a bright spot is for each client. There will be a lot of cross over, most people like to hear nice things about themselves. But understanding how to use positives so they fit the person is super-important. It’s a simple matter of observation followed by experimentation and then another observation without an attachment to the outcome. Just learn how people need to be interacted with.
It’s Not Just for Clients; It’s for Us, Too
We’re inherent fixers with hammer and nail syndrome. We want to find the problems and hammer those bitches. But that often puts us in the wrong mindset of being on a constant seek and destroy mission rather than maintaining the positivity that helps us create a growth-oriented environment. Finding the bright spots first helps us develop a “good-first” mindset that influences everything about how we coach our people, run our businesses, and live our lives. It’s much easier to be a calculated conversational neurochemist when positivity pervades our thought process.
In 2010, two dudes Chris and Todd, started the business that would eventually become Strength Faction.
You know how they say the rest is history? Well, it’s not.