Provision #765: What Have We Learned?

Laser Provision


When I started this Provisions series four months ago on Our Distributed Brains, little did I know what an educational and eventful four months it would be. I invited you then to help me co-construct this Provisions series by referring me to some of your favorite books and articles on learning and the brain. You did not disappoint. I am still making my way through the digital pile! In addition, as most of you know, my 87-year-old mother died rather suddenly and mercifully during this same period of time. Talk about learning from experience! My Limbic system, the seat of emotion, took over with deep feelings of sadness and grief. It’s time now to summarize what we have learned before we move on to other topics. People tell me they love these summaries; I hope this one is no exception.

LifeTrek Provision


My wife, Megan, and I will be spending the next two weeks in Asia, connecting with and speaking to coaches and educators in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. It is an exciting life that we are living these days, and that’s not just because of the travel. Even when we stay home, teaching people on the phone through the evocative coaching training program, we are engaging with and learning from people around the country and around the globe. That is the best part of all. To have a sense of being a global citizen, to be introduced to different cultures and perspectives, and to enrich our minds with the experiences and ideas of others: what could be better than that!

Unless, of course, it could be sleeping in one’s own bed, getting up for a run in the morning, and enjoying the sights, sounds, and smells of spring. What a time we have been having, here in North America. Whether it has to do with global warming or something more idiosyncratic, we have had virtually no winter and all the trees, bushes, and flowers are weeks ahead of their spring schedule. It is absolutely glorious to go for a run or a walk with all the forsythias, azaleas, redbuds, dogwoods, and cherry trees in bloom. We thought we were going to miss that with our upcoming trip to Asia, since things usually peak here in the first two weeks of April. Not this year! The universe took care of giving us a treat before we left.

Maybe the Great Spirit of the universe knew we needed to be reminded of the life-giving power of life. I have always appreciated the advent of spring for the ways in which it reminds of how things that look bleak and barren can suddenly wake up and spring to life. The solitude of winter does not have the last word. I expressed that sentiment in my 2003 poem, Awake, which I encourage you to read online. You can even listen to how our friends, Erika & Theo Jackson, set that poem to music. They performed that song live this past week with us, in Columbus, Ohio, as we presented a keynote speech titled, “Celebrating the Best to Bring Out the Best” in life and work. What a treat it was to work together with them again.

Especially since my almost 90-year-old father drove down from Cleveland to participate in the event. Originally, both my mother and father had planned to come down for the day. But my mother passed away on Valentine’s Day and it was sad to cross a threshold of something we had once planned to do together, without her. Having my father there was yet another reminder of how things come back to life. Even in death, there is reason to look up, give thanks, and sing.

At the start of this Provisions series on Our Distributed Brains I announced that I would soon be taking some time off from writing new Provisions, reprinting an earlier series on optimal wellness, while I wrote two books on leadership. It is time, now, to follow through on my intention. Starting next week, you will be receiving Provisions that I wrote almost six years ago. It will be fun for me to reread them before sending them out, and I will probably make minor edits along the way (can’t really help myself on that). But that will free up the time as well as the mental energy for other projects that have been sitting on the back burner.

Fortunately, this Provisions series has helped me to learn more about the neuroscience of learning and leadership. That will serve me well as I write my books. There’s no way, in this day and age, to responsibly overlook that literature and research. So what have we learned over the past four months? Here are the highlights, in chronological order:

  1. The Brain is Not All In Our Heads. A lot of the brain is in our heads, but much of it is distributed throughout our bodies. The nervous system is not just a passive receptor of what the brain-in-the-head tells it do. And the nervous system is not the only part that thinks. There is constant communication, and even decision making, up, down, and around. Thoughts. Feelings. Sensations. They all work together to help us make sense of life.
  2. Neurons are Only Part of the Story. There was a time when people thought that our folded grey matter, which represents about 20% of our brains, did all the thinking. The other 80%, or white matter, was thought of as little more than glue that held everything together. Au contraire! The greatest brains in the world, like Einstein’s, have had the most amount of white matter. Scientists now know that white matter plays a pivotal role in all brain functions and that synaptic firings between nerves are only a small part of the story. The ability to think deeply, slowly, creatively, and imaginatively, the very attributes that make us human, comes from the deep recesses of our minds.
  3. Repetition Rewires the Brain. Everyone has probably heard the mantra, “practice makes perfect.” But did you know there is a biological basis for that mantra? Practice makes perfect because it changes our distributed brains. We make new connections, change our physiology, and rework our chemicals with every go round. That is what neuroscientists refer to as neuroplasticity, the adaptive nature of the brain to change itself. So why not take advantage of that capacity. Go do something new, practice it repeatedly, and change your brain today.
  4. Give your Brain a Break! The overwhelm of life is real. Our brains are not equipped to function well in a wired, digital, 24-7 world. So give your brain a break today. Practice meditation. Sleep in complete darkness. Dampen or neutralize noise. Take breaks from the news. Limit electronic stimulation. Make face-to-face social interactions a priority. Visualize happiness. Be grateful.
  5. Everyone is Smart at Something. The old notion of intelligence as being just about our cognitive ability to handle abstract thinking has been replaced by a much broader understanding of intelligence. At least nine areas have been identified: musical, bodily-kinesthetic, logical-mathematical, linguistic, spatial, interpersonal, intrapersonal, naturalistic, and existential. So take heart: everyone is smart something. Find your smart and take it to heart.
  6. Our Organizing Minds. That’s what brains do: they organize stuff. But they do not always do so efficiently, fully, and optimally. To help people get a handle on things, my friend and colleague, Margaret Moore, wrote a book together with a Harvard professor of psychiatry, Paul Hammerness. From taming the frenzy to connecting the dots, Organize Your Mind, Organize Your Life will assist your brain to do what it wants to do naturally.
  7. Stop Mental Musterbating. People told me they read that Provision just because the title got their attention. I’m glad. Beating ourselves up about all the things we “must” and “must not” do is no way to live. That’s not to say there is no place for ethics. It is rather to say that we would do well to celebrate our victories, grieve our losses, and move on with grace. Blaming and berating ourselves and others for what is not done may be human nature but it takes a toll on our quality of life. Set that impulse aside and live!
  8. Your Brain on Goals. Guess how many New Year’s Resolutions are still around six months later? More than you think! More than 40% of the people surveyed were aware of and still working on their goals. That’s because goals represent another way to change and rewire the brain. Imagine your goals. Design a plan. Then pursue it with a passion. That’s what I call a formula for success.
  9. Your Brain on Dialogue. If you don’t know what your goals are, perhaps a conversation would help. Whether we dialogue with ourselves or others, doing so represents a critical faculty for learning, growth, and change. Explore your needs, your environments, your relationships, your behavior, your ideas, and your feelings. Do so with wisdom and grace. Then notice how good you feel. That’s what it’s like to brain on dialogue.
  10. Your Brain on Exercise and Rest. If our brains are distributed through our bodies, then guess what? Exercise will make you smarter! And so will sleep. They will also make you happier. You probably know that, especially if you have been reading Provisions for any length of time, but that doesn’t mean you always take the time to exercise or sleep right. These are often viewed as expendable when times get busy or stressful. If that sounds like you, then here’s a new frame. You are too busy not to exercise and sleep! The harder we push ourselves the more we need these vital rhythms in life and work.
  11. Your Brain on Grief and Support. And then my mother died. Just like that, in five days time, she was gone from a pulmonary embolism. My brain was filled with uncertainty, sadness, and grief. My Limbic system, the seat of emotion, was at time hijacked with weeping and tears. It was a tender and sorrowful time. But what made it bearable, far more than I could have ever imagined, were the many expression of support that Megan and I received from family, friends, and people like you: readers of LifeTrek Provisions. If there was ever such a thing as a virtual funeral, with all the emotion and healing of a real funeral, we shared that together. It will never be possible to thank you enough.
  12. Your Brain on Learning. Life marches on, and following the loss of my mother, Megan and I headed off to Las Vegas to help with some home repair projects on my daughter’s and son-in-law’s new-to-them house. We did a lot of stuff, much of which was learned 30 years earlier. How did that learning stick? It was a form of muscle memory. The body in the brain knew how to do stuff it hadn’t done in years. Remember how repetition rewires the brain? Learning works the same way. Whatever triggers the process, from watching a master to watching a DVD to conducting our own experiments, learning sets things in motion that may stay with use for life.
  13. Your Brain on Wonder. I couldn’t end this series without connecting the dots between wonder and wisdom, between emotions and enthusiasm. When we feel good we feel God (or whatever you like to call the Great Energy of life). Spirituality is not something separate from the body and the brain. It has a biochemical basis like every other process in the body and brain. When we feel awe we are vibrating in harmony with the music of life, and there’s no way to get too much of that. So look around, breathe deep, and feel good. That’s when, morning by morning, new mysteries we will see.

So now we’re off on another adventure. Our brains will be filled with goals, dialogue, learning, and wonder. Along the way, we’ll find time for exercise and sleep. We’ll no doubt make our share of mistakes, but that’s life! The key is to let our brains do what they do best: think, feel, and function for life.

Coaching Inquiries: What stimulates your brain for life? What would you like more of? What would you like less of? What goals might you be interested in taking up? Who would be a good conversation partner to talk with? What would you like to learn? How could notice more of the good stuff that makes life worth living?

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form to arrange a complimentary conversation. 

LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Form or Email Bob.


Thank you for another fascinating Provision: Your Brain on Wonder. Candice Pert is just a great read and her insights into vibrational healing (body, mind and spirit) are profound. My husband and I have been practicing daily meditation and breath work for many years and this practice of centering has helped us to stay energized and grounded. Family, friends, community, laughter, cheers and tears enrich our lives which is guided by a daily gratitude check for all there is to “ex-” and “in-” sperience.


I was out of town, in Asia, and I just read your remarks from your mother’s funeral. I surmise that your mom believed so strongly in you! My mom is gone 27 years and I feel as though she is my most ardent angel. My life, while it does have it’s share of pain, is very fascinating in that I manifest extraordinarily well. I truly believe that the spirit world, which is a whole world unto itself, has much more power to grant us “stuff” that we would not have easily attained with just mere mortals in our realm. I can sometimes see which relative is assisting me. It’s rather uncanny, but no longer, as it’s so consistent. You know those “synchronicities”? They’re clearly not accidental. 



May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching Internationalwww.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformationwww.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coachingwww.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

Address: 121 Will Scarlet Lane, Williamsburg, VA 23185-5043
Phone: (757) 345-3452 • Fax: (772) 382-3258
Skype: LifeTrek • Twitter: @LifeTrekBob
Subscribe/Unsubscribe: Subscriber Services

Provision #764: Your Brain On Wonder

Laser Provision


There is, of course, a play on words in Candace Pert’s 2006 book title, Everything you Need to Feel Go(o)d. Feeling good and feeling the presence of God are inextricably connected. The physiology, psychology, and spirituality of goodness and God are one and the same. There is a simple reason for that as everyone learned as a child: God is good. If you want to see how that works then join me for a Provision on wonder. It really is good to feel good.

LifeTrek Provision


My wife, Megan, and I spent Friday in Boston facilitating an evocative coaching training workshop along with Center for School Transformation faculty member Susan MacDonald. She was brilliant, as always, and we happily enrolled many new people in upcoming training cohorts, including one for early childhood educators through the Massachusetts Association for the Education of Young Children as well as several for our May Training Cohort and even one for our September Training Cohort. We were thrilled, to say the least, not only by the enrollments but also by the full engagement of the 65 people in attendance.

Susan started out the day by showing everyone a picture of a mother holding and looking intently at her infant daughter. “What words come to mind,” Susan asked, “when you look at this picture?” After a brief pause, the words started to pour forth. Love. Tenderness. Caring. Connection. Attentiveness. Happiness. Joy. Pleasure. Awe. Wonder. With words like that, it wasn’t hard for Susan to make the connection between the engagement and qualities of the picture and the attributes that make for great coaching and leadership. If we want to have a positive effect on people, then our presence should embody these life-giving energies. They certainly don’t stop being important after infancy.

But in young children, these energies lie close to the surface. And those who work with young children are particularly sensitive to how they play out, not only in their relationships with the children but also in their relationships with each other. That was part of what made people so receptive to and interested in the evocative coaching training program. We emphasize the importance of getting the relationship right before we start focusing on results. People before projects is a clear message that we take to heart and seek to embody.

That piece of the puzzle is so important to our coaching leadership model that we have been conducting research into the effect of the evocative coaching training program on emotional intelligence or EQ. Although the results are still preliminary, we see statistically significant evidence that the training program strengthens several key EQ factors, including empathy, social intelligence, and motivation. That’s great news because EQ has a lot to do with all those words that people were coming up with in response to the picture. Those words are important to coaching success as much as they are to parenting. Without wonder we have no willingness to work.

We saw that for ourselves, after we got home from Boston, while bike riding around the neighborhood. The day was beautiful and sunny, with trees and bushes budding out several weeks ahead of schedule due to our unusually warm winter. The colors of the forsythias and redbuds were in full glory while the azaleas and even the dogwoods were starting to come on. After our ride, while walking more slowly around our property, we saw all kinds of other bushes and trees starting to green up and show signs of life. It would be hard for anyone to not be inspired by the world coming back to life!

That is the same feeling we seek while coaching. Coaching is not a matter of troubleshooting problems with analysis and expert advice; coaching is a matter of discovering strengths with story and evocative conversation. When that happens, the whole of a person begins to vibrate with a sense of possibility and wonder. Could it be that we might truly be able to turn our dreams into destiny? The sense of resonance with our best self is exactly what we seek because of the ways in which it shifts both our consciousness and our reality.

If that sounds a little farfetched, then you have not been keeping up on the new science of consciousness. Our brain on wonder is indeed able to move mountains. I would defer to the psychoneuroimmunologist, Candace Pert, to describe how this works. Although the passage from her book, Everything you Need to Feel Go(o)d, is a bit complex, I think you will appreciate the new understanding it gives us as to what is happening on a cellular level when we feel inspired and full of wonder:

“The nuts and bolts of how body and mind are one involves some simple biochemistry. To begin with, virtually every cell in the body is studded with thousands of tiny structures called receptors. Like the sense organs — the eyes, nose, and ears — the job of the receptors is to pick up signals coming at them from the surrounding space. They’re so important that a full 40 percent of our DNA is devoted to making sure that they’re perfectly reproduced from generation to generation.”

“Once the receptors receive a signal, the information is transferred to deep within the cell’s interior, where tiny engines roar into action and initiate key processes. Data coming in this way directs cell division and growth, cell migration for attacking enemies and making repairs, and cell metabolism to conserve or spend energy — to name just a few of the receptor-activated activities.”

“The signal comes from other cells and is carried by a juice that we call an informational substance. These juices from the brain, sexual organs, gut, and heart — literally everywhere — communicate cell to cell, providing an infrastructure for the ‘conversation’ going on throughout the bodymind. You know these juices as hormones, neurotransmitters, and peptides, and we scientists refer to all three with one word:ligand. This term is from ligare, a Latin word meaning ‘to bind,’ and is used because of the way that the substances latch on so tightly to the cell’s surface receptors.”

“Information-carrying ligands are responsible for 98 percent of all data transfer in body and brain. The remaining 2 percent of communication takes place at the synapse, between brain cells firing and releasing neurotransmitters across a gap to hit receptors on the other side. In the movie What the Bleep Do We Know!?, audiences saw an animated electrical storm taking place in the brain to show what this synaptic activity looks like. But what they didn’t see is that there are neurons with this same electrical-sparking activity firing throughout the body, not just in the brain.”

“My personal favorites among the ligands are the peptides, which consist of a string of amino acids, joined together like beads in a necklace; larger strings of amino acids are called proteins. There are over 200 peptides mapped in the brain and body, each one sounding a complex emotional chord — such as bliss, hunger, anger, relaxation, or satiety — when their signal is received by the cell. I’ve devoted my 30-plus year career to studying peptides such as endorphins and other substances.”

“Receptors and ligands are what I have called the ‘molecules of emotion.’ But how do the two find each other across the vast reaches of intercellular space, hook up — or bind — and then transfer vital information to affect cellular, body-wide activity? Scientists used to explain the attraction by a quality called receptor specificity, which is that each receptor is specifically shaped to fit one and only one ligand. A lock-and-key model helped with visualizing this method of connecting, or binding. The ‘key’ (a peptide) floats by until it finds its perfect ‘keyhole’ (the receptor). The key inserts into the keyhole, opening the ‘lock’ of the cell, and cellular activities begin.”

“While this is partially accurate, we now understand a more dynamic relationship between ligand and receptor, involving something called ‘vibratory attraction.’ Sitting on the surface of the cell, the receptor wiggles and shimmies, changing from one configuration to another in a constant state of flux. This dance creates a vibration that resonates with a ligand vibrating at the same frequency, and they begin to resonate together.”

“Cellular resonance — it’s like when you pluck one string on two different guitars in the same room — one will resonate with the other, both striking the same note. This creates a force of attraction, the way that peptides resonate with their receptors and come together to strike that emotional chord as they bind. And that’s when the music begins!”

“Emotions are the link between the physical body and nonphysical states of consciousness, and the receptors on every cell are where this happens. The attracting vibration is the emotion, and the actual connection — peptide to receptor — is the manifestation of the feeling in the physical world. That’s why I call peptides and their receptors the ‘molecules of emotion.'”

“What’s the result of all this activity? On a body-wide scale, the receptors are dynamic molecular targets, modulating our physiology in response to our experience. Emotions influence the molecules, which in turn affect how we feel. One example is that receptors wax and wane in number and sensitivity, depending on how often they’re occupied by peptides or other informational substances. In other words, our physical body can be changed by the emotions we experience.”

“And one last thing: We used to think that the peptides latched onto a single receptor, but we now know that receptors are often clumped together in tight, multiple complexes. Together, they form the walls of deep channels leading into the interior of the cell; and they open and close with a rhythmic, pumping action. As they move, these channels let substances in and out of the cell, setting up an ionic flux, or electrical current, which can course throughout the bodymind.”

“One of the things that this current does is influence the firing ‘set point’ of neurons in the brain, determining the path of brain-cell activation. So you can see that the molecules of emotion are directly affecting how you think! If we were to show a cartoon version of this whole process — peptides binding, receptors pumping, electric current moving out — we’d see bright, colorful clouds of vibrating, singing energy surrounding each cell; and we’d hear a chorus of resonating voices soaring in the background.”

“It’s not that peptides and receptors, the ‘molecules of emotion,’ produce emotions. It’s not a cause-and-effect relationship. Rather, it’s happening simultaneously, all at once. These molecules are the emotions, not their cause. What we experience as a ‘feeling’ is the actual vibrational dance that goes on when peptides bind to their receptors, whether it happens in our conscious awareness or not. Below what we notice happening, a huge amount of emotionally mediated information is being exchanged throughout the body and brain, much of which never rises up into our consciousness. From this vantage point then, our bodies are our subconscious minds.”

So that’s what was happening in Boston, during our workshop, and in Williamsburg, on our bike ride! Our receptors and ligands were doing the Snoopy dance of wonder. They were vibrating and resonating as feelings in our conscious and unconscious minds. Those feelings generated awareness and shifted reality in ways both subtle and dramatic. There were slowly-dawning glimmers and sudden surprises of recognition. It works the same way in all animals. One bird gets spooked and the whole flock flies away. No words. No explanations. Pure emotion driving motion at the speed of light.

Once we understand the power of emotion to move the world it behooves us to cultivate positive emotions as often and as deeply as possible. Perth makes this point by reflecting on an interaction she had with the Dalai Lama:

‘I was traveling in India,” the Dalai Lama said in response to a question Perth posed to him about illness and disease, “when I got very sick and was taken to a hospital. As I looked out from the window of the speeding ambulance, I saw the suffering, the poverty, and the starvation of so many people in the streets of the city. Eventually, my mind was no longer on my own discomfort, which was soon abated. By the time I got to the hospital, I no longer had the symptoms I’d started out with, and I no longer needed any treatment.”

Pert thanked the Dalai Lama for his answer and later realized that he was saying that health and wellness demand relationship, some kind of human interaction. As people, we’re no more individuals, no more autonomous agents, than the immune cells are on their own in the bodymind. To be healthy, well, and feel good, our biology insists that we be in relationship to others, and through our connections, we’re able to bring health to our bodymind.”

“I believe that this is what the Dalai Lama meant,” Perth concluded, “when he told us the story of how his compassion for people suffering had healed him. He was pointing to a path for us all, as individuals and collectively in our culture, the road to health and well-being. It’s as simple as it sounds: Love, compassion, and relationship — these are the human emotions that can heal us and lead to recovery from disease.”

Emotions matter. And the most profound emotions of all, emotions like love, tenderness, caring, connection, attentiveness, happiness, joy, pleasure, awe, and wonder matter the most of all. They not only heal the bodymind they also heal body politic as one human gets inspired and the whole of humanity begins to dance along.

Coaching Inquiries: What kind of emotions do you inspire in life and work? What kind of emotions are you filled with right now? How could you become more aware of them? How could you become more emotionally intelligent? What practices might assist you to listen more deeply and align yourself more fully with positive emotions? What is one thing you could do right now?

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form to arrange a complimentary conversation. 

LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Form or Email Bob.


As always, I thoroughly enjoyed this Provision, Your Brain on Learning. Thank you. My ex-husband and I rehabbed an old house when we were in our 30s. I still have all the tools and books … and often wonder if I could do it all again. Your Provision says the skills are there. Now it’s just a question of desire … do I want to put this ole’ body thru that again 😉 …

On another note, you say in the opening paragraph, “I sometimes wonder if human beings were to disappear, how long would it take before the forces of nature would bring things back to a natural state?” If you’ve not seen it, check out the TV documentary series “Life After People” by James Lurie. According to Wikipedia, the 2-hr special was the most watched program ever on the History Channel.


This Provision hits home for me. Best of luck to your daughter and son-in law. The things you and your wife did last week remind me of my wife and I. My wife will often ask me how I know how to do something or state that I can do almost anything. It comes from learning and my self-driven challenge to always want to learn new things or how to do new things. This is, has always and will continue to be a goal in my life.

Even at 60 years old you can learn and grow. I have learned by asking questions, watching, trial and error (learn and improve from your mistakes), reading, and with the thought that there is no such work as can’t. My wife is the same way. She has been going to college since we have been married and I will soon be calling her “Dr.” She is moving upward in her career and she is also learning with me from remolding to putting a new roof on the house. We have fun learning together. 


I continue to enjoy reading your writings on the brain. I don’t have as much time as I would like to enjoy the rest of your website, but I look forward to the ding of my email each time a LifeTrek Provision lands in my inbox. Thanks!

May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching Internationalwww.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformationwww.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coachingwww.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

Address: 121 Will Scarlet Lane, Williamsburg, VA 23185-5043
Phone: (757) 345-3452 • Fax: (772) 382-3258
Skype: LifeTrek • Twitter: @LifeTrekBob
Subscribe/Unsubscribe: Subscriber Services

Provision #763: Your Brain On Learning

Laser Provision


My wife, Megan, and I spent the past week in Las Vegas. It’s not what you think. No gambling and glitzy shows for us. We spent the week laboring on the new home of our daughter and son-in-law. They purchased a foreclosure property which meant two things: they got a great deal and a great opportunity to learn about the joys of home ownership. No more calling the landlord when something doesn’t work! Instead, you learn how to take care of things yourself. Where does learning come from and how does it work? With a nod to mirror neurons, I invite you to learn about learning in today’s Provision.

LifeTrek Provision


One thing is clear about distressed properties: at a certain point, people stop investing in their maintenance and upkeep. That’s true even for responsible homeowners. When your property is under water, meaning the property is worth less than the mortgage, it doesn’t make much sense to do anything other than the bare minimum to make sure it is still inhabitable.

And when it comes to real estate, things go downhill fast if you stop attending to routine maintenance and improvements. The best way to make sure that a property declines is to do nothing. Life will take care of the rest. I sometimes wonder if human beings were to disappear, how long would it take before the forces of nature would bring things back to a natural state? Something tells me it wouldn’t be very long. That’s what makes the pyramids in Egypt so remarkable; after so many millennia they are still intact.

So now, as the housing bubble works its way through the system, new homeowners are purchasing foreclosed properties from banks at significantly reduced prices. That’s a good thing, since inflated prices have to come down before there can be any sense of a new normal. Instead of just focusing on short-term gains, people are now taking the long view with an eye to utility, value, and aesthetics.

I certainly see that in my daughter and son-in-law, who recently purchased a foreclosure property in Las Vegas, Nevada. In the city that made gambling famous, these two are primarily interested in a safe harbor where they can settle down and live, affordably and happily, for a period of time.

For that to work, however, they have to learn how to do a lot of things for themselves that other people used to do for them. As renters, one phone call to the landlord would generate a repair ticket at no extra cost. It doesn’t work that way as a homeowner. When something goes wrong, or when you want to upgrade your property, you can either pay contractors to do it for you or you can learn how to do it yourself.

Usually it’s a combination of both, since contractors have the tools, time, and expertise to get things done more quickly and capably than most of us can do for ourselves. Unless, of course, you have parents who can bridge the gap. And that’s exactly what Megan and I have been doing for the past week. Around the edges of our normal work, made possible thanks to the miracle of modern technology, we have been taking care of business on their home in Las Vegas.

Painting. Electrical. Plumbing. Appliances. Cabinetry. Landscaping. Cleaning. The week afforded us no end of opportunities to be good parents! Best of all, we were able to finish the work and leave the house in a most enjoyable condition. As hard as the work was, it brings tremendous satisfaction to be able to see the fruits of your labors in such tangible and immediate ways. We came away tired and happy.

As the week progressed, as you can imagine, we had many conversations with our daughter and son-in-law as to how we learned all this stuff. It’s not every parent who can show up and do what we did, especially when these trades are not our primary line of work. You don’t just show up and start messing with electrical wires and gas lines. Where did that learning come and how does it work?

In my case, it comes from the desire to be able to do things myself and the opportunity to work alongside capable contractors. If there is no desire to learn something, then the opportunities to learn may pass us by. So where does desire come from? It comes from the felt sense of a need. When we need to learn, we want to learn. At one point during the week my son-in-law said to me, “Perhaps you could show me what you are doing with the electrical. I’ve never really been interested before, but now that we own this house, I can see it would come in pretty handy.”

The felt sense of a need generated the desire to learn something new. Learning, at least for adults, works that way. Until and unless we see the relevance and salience of learning of something new, we will not bother. Learning happens in the moment when desire looms large, which is why the first work of coaching is to understand the needs and desires of the people we are coaching. Until those are clear, there will be no coaching agenda or coaching success.

Once that agenda is clear, however, it’s time to learn. And that’s where mirror neurons come into play. The brain includes structures that are specifically designed to facilitate learning through association, imitation, and rehearsal. Scattered throughout key parts of our distributed brains, these mirror neurons explain not only the mechanism of action for human learning but also for empathy and for certain social and psychological conditions such as autism.

Simply put, mirror neurons stimulate the brain as if we were actually going through an experience ourselves. That’s what makes movies so engaging and, potentially, so dangerous. When we watch the characters in a movie going through a situation, our brains fire as if we were going through that situation ourselves. That’s as true for life-affirming as for life-denying images, so it behooves us to be careful in our selections. Getting lost in that world is not just a metaphor; it actually changes our brains.

Which is why I could do all that stuff at my daughter’s and son-in-law’s house. I learned those trades once, and, like riding a bicycle, I never forgot how.

Long ago and far away, when we were doing community development work in a low-income, Chicago neighborhood, not to mention summer service projects during my college years, I got things done on a limited budget by recruiting contractors and other capable adults to volunteer their time to help us do the work. As they worked, out of the felt need to appreciate and understand my world, I would work alongside them, watching and helping out as best I could.

What I didn’t know at the time was how my brain was changing through all that watching and helping. My mirror neurons were firing, over and over again, until I had learned how to do for myself what these volunteers were doing for me. It was great fun and of real value. At one point, an electrician even presented me with a certificate proclaiming my abilities. No one else would recognize the license, of course, but we knew the skills had been transferred such that I could now take care of that task on my own.

That happened again this week when we purchased a refinishing kit for the bathroom cabinets in Las Vegas. The kit came with a DVD to illustrate the four-step process of doing a cabinet makeover. Megan watched that DVD as the instructor masterfully handled each step. Seeing someone do the work was so much better than reading the manual. It gave her a clear mental picture of what to do and the cabinets, as a result, turned out beautifully.

Watching and imitating others is not the only way to get those mirror neurons firing. They also kick into gear when we visualize ourselves or other people doing something. The more specific the visualization, the more powerful the effect. Athletes know all about this. Before competitions, athletes rehearse every aspect of our events. Such mental training is just as important and may even be more important than the physical training when it comes to mastering our sport.

The effects of such mental training have reached surprisingly remarkable proportions in extreme circumstances such as prison camps and solitary confinement. In an effort to stay sane, people have reportedly taught themselves how to play the piano and guitar, for example, just through vivid, mental rehearsals. Upon release, their bodies were more than ready to catch up with their minds. The mirror neurons had done their work.

One thing that makes mental training more effective is to combine it with meditation and relaxation. Unless we have a sense of calm alert our emotions will get in the way of our visualizations. The “fight, flight, and freeze” responses, although important to survival, are not conducive to learning. Breathing deeply, slowly, and rhythmically prior to a visualization exercise is one way to warm up our mirror neurons for the learning that is sure to follow.

So if you want to learn something new, make sure you have not only the desire but also the time to pay attention. Whether it’s from life experience. a video, or a book, the more deeply we engage our brains in whatever it is we are trying to learn, the more quickly we will be on our way to a new skill set or competency thanks to the magic of those mirror neurons.

Coaching Inquiries: What are some of your learning goals? What has been your approach to those goals? How have you been stimulating your mirror neurons? What successful examples have you been able to watch and what mental rehearsals have you been able to muster? How could you become even more engaged in learning what you want to learn?

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form to arrange a complimentary conversation. 

LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Form or Email Bob.
 


Thanks very much for your Provision on sleep. It really is under valued in today’s culture where we sleep with a blackberry next to the bed and an iPad under the pillow!


I wanted to share that I have recently within the last couple of months disciplined myself to include exercise, a steady number of hours for sleep each night, and most recently, the addition of melatonin to my nightly regimen. It is about balance and consistency, both of which are easy to neglect and avoid during daily routines. Thank you for your weekly provisions and reminders of much needed essentials for brain functioning. They do make a difference!! 



May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching Internationalwww.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformationwww.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coachingwww.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

Address: 121 Will Scarlet Lane, Williamsburg, VA 23185-5043
Phone: (757) 345-3452 • Fax: (772) 382-3258
Skype: LifeTrek • Twitter: @LifeTrekBob
Subscribe/Unsubscribe: Subscriber Services

Provision #762: Your Brain On Sleep

Laser Provision


Right before my mother went into the hospital for the medical crisis that led to her death, I wrote a Provision titled Your Brain on Exercise. Then began the 3-week odyssey of waiting, grief, and support that I have written about and shared with you through Provisions. During that 3-week period, many of my normal patterns have been greatly disrupted. Not only productivity, but exercise and sleep have suffered as well. Does that make a difference in brain functioning? You bet! Read on to find out more.

LifeTrek Provision


As anyone who has gone through the experience themselves can verify, the hospitalization of a loved one is a traumatic and disruptive experience. There is, first of all, the emotional impact of processing what is happening. We know that our brains evolved over time and that it is no small task to integrate our physiological, emotional, and rational functions. When emotions loom large, they can hijack the physiological and rational parts of our distributed brains.

To some extent, time has a way of healing that because emotions are passing phenomena. They rise and fall in response to how situations seemingly impact our needs. When needs are being ignored or compromised, we feel bad. When needs are being recognized and fulfilled, we feel good. The ebb and flow of emotions is a lifelong journey and we just have to ride those waves as they come.

But we are not helpless victims on the trek of life. As emotions surface we can choose to empathize with the underlying needs so as to appreciate and enjoy their beauty, even when our needs are not being met. I certainly saw that with my mother. At a time of great loss there was also a sense of deep connection, gratitude, and understanding. That sense was part of what helped my extended family to calm our emotions and to get through the event with a measure of dignity and grace. I am thankful for the healing powers of empathy.

Yet empathy is not sufficient to meet all our needs. Two of the things that immediately began to suffer once my mother went in the hospital were my exercise and sleep patterns. Although it was a sacrifice I was happy to make, I also saw the toll that took on my sense of well-being. No amount of empathy could resolve that toll. At certain points, I just had to say “It’s time for a run,” and “I’m going to bed.”

Working with such standards and boundaries are part and parcel of what the coaching profession is all about. We talk with our clients about these matters all the time. It is so easy to sacrifice both exercise and sleep to whatever is going on in the moment. We get too busy, too upset, too distracted, too tired, or too whatever to attend to these critical physiological functions.

That’s when we end up in a vicious, downward spiral. We’re too tired to exercise so we don’t bother to exercise which leaves us even more tired than before. We’re too upset to sleep so we don’t bother to sleep which leaves us even more than upset than before. These are not healthy ways to live.

I saw that immediately with the vigils we were keeping at the hospital while my mother was dying. Instead of getting a good night’s sleep, we were in hallways and on couches, in lighted, noisy, and disrupting environments, doing the best we could to sleep around the edges. It wasn’t long before our brains were fuzzy and spent from the experience. Today, more than three weeks later, I can still feel the effects.

One reason for that is the role of sleep itself in health and well-being. Sleep is not just the absence of wakefulness. Sleep is an active part of how our minds and bodies renew and restore themselves. Anyone who thinks they can live and live well with little to no sleep is fooling themselves. Unlike computers, human beings are not designed to function on a 24-7 schedule. We are designed to sleep about a third of the time in order to process the day’s events.

And such processing happens on many, many levels. Athletes know that exercise without sleep is a formula for disaster. Not only do we fail to improve, because sleep is when the muscles repair the micro-tears of the day’s exertions, we also risk injury and even death. The longer we go with inadequate sleep the greater the risk to our performance and health.

It works the same way with emotions. The role of sleep is to help us process and recover from the emotions of the day. My entire extended family has reported increased dreaming through this time of loss and grief. Indeed, we have all had dreams involving my mother both before and after her death. It was as though our brains were working overtime to make sense of the experience we were going through.

So what happens when we fail to sleep? We fail to process those experiences and emotions, which means they build up in our minds and bodies until they reach life-threatening levels of toxicity. That is not a metaphor. It is a literal description of what happens to the hormones, peptides, transmitters, factors, and protein ligands that mediate emotionally-charged information in our continuously-circulating extracellular fluids. When those get too far out of whack, in part due to neglected exercise and sleep patterns, we are at great risk of a serious health event of our own.

I am persuaded that that is what happened to me in 2007, when I suffered a panic attack that sent me to a hospital emergency room. It wasn’t that I was worrying about something in particular. It was that my night-time sleep functions were not keeping up with my daytime stress functions. I was not producing enough rest-and-recover hormones, such as melatonin, to mop up from all the adrenalin and cortisol that my mind and body were naturally producing in response to the never-ending stream of daytime deadlines and demands.

It’s understandable and appropriate to sacrifice sleep, on occasion, for events such as the illness and death of a loved one. Indeed, losing sleep is inevitable if they are actually a “loved one.” But when this becomes a chronic condition, we are setting ourselves up for trouble. We are on a collision course if not for a panic attack then for other health and emotional problems. Ever bump into someone who is consistently irritable, impatient, or irrational? Chances are they are not getting enough sleep.

So don’t let that happen to you! Draw that line in the sand and make sure you get at least six hours of sleep (at least 7.5 is better) on a regular basis. To do that, it pays to adopt the following sleep tips:

  • Make sleep a priority; it’s at least as important as everything else we do.
  • Exercise regularly. Physical exercise by day promotes restful sleep by night.
  • Develop and stay with a regular retiring and waking schedule, even on the weekends.
  • Wind down at the end of the day in ways that promote relaxation and calm. Warm baths and gentle stretching can help.
  • Make sure your bedroom is as dark as possible, with little-to-no flashing indicator or night lights, let alone television.
  • Make sure your bedroom is as quiet as possible. If necessary, mask street noises with wave machines.
  • Make sure your bedroom is comfortable but cool. It’s better to use more blankets than to make the room hot.
  • Take supplemental melatonin, before falling asleep, to enhance the restorative value of sleep.
  • Set your alarm clock, if you use one, for no less than six hours after retiring.
  • Plan your sleep in 90-minute increments. This is the natural sleep rhythm.

I encourage you to try out these tips and to find the approach that works best for you. Healthy, adequate, restorative sleep is not a nice-to-have luxury. It is a universal human need that all people would do well to meet and serve.

Coaching Inquiries: What is your pattern when it comes to sleep? Are you getting at least 6 hours of sleep a night? What could help you to push that up to 7.5 hours or more? What practices help you to get a good night’s sleep? How might your life be better if your brain was getting more sleep? What’s keeping you from making it so?

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form to arrange a complimentary conversation. 

LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Form or Email Bob.


Thanks for sharing that outpouring of support following the publication of your message at your mom’s funeral. What a beautiful testimony of life, love, and grace. 


The outpouring of support you received was well-earned. You reap what you sow! I am grateful to have received some of your gifts over the past few years (as a learner in Wellcoaches and as a reader of your Provisions). It is lovely to learn that you have been strengthened by the circle of people you have contributed to. My best to you and your family at this time.


These are wonderful tributes to so many loved ones that have come before and now live eternally. Thank you for sharing these to your people!! My favorite quote: “Death leaves a heartache no one can heal. Love leaves a memory no one can steal.”


Thanks, Bob, for sharing these messages. Powerful to share your wonderful impact with so many.



May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching Internationalwww.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformationwww.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coachingwww.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

Address: 121 Will Scarlet Lane, Williamsburg, VA 23185-5043
Phone: (757) 345-3452 • Fax: (772) 382-3258
Skype: LifeTrek • Twitter: @LifeTrekBob
Subscribe/Unsubscribe: Subscriber Services

Provision #761: Your Brain On Support

Laser Provision


I have written many times about the notion of a “Limbic hijack,” when your emotions take over and your thinking gets pushed to the side. When that happens, we often succumb to “fight, flight, or freeze” responses. Fight relates to anger; flight relates to fear; freeze relates to grief. That was what I was going through last week when I sent out my Provision, Your Brain on Grief. I have received scores of condolences since that time and I have new appreciation for the power of empathy to soothe the Limbic system and to help us get back on track. What follows, then, is a selection of the things you wrote to me following the death of my mother. I can hardly thank you enough.

Provision


I am so sorry to hear of your mother’s passing. Moving through grief is indeed one of life’s biggest challenges. There are moments of grace, as I am sure you have found, that take us through the pain and sadness. I am certain that you still feel your mother’s love & presence, just in different way.


I have just read what you said at your mother’s funeral and it is beautiful. She must have been very proud of you. I know it’s the cycle of life but it is so final when a dearly loved one leaves us. My mother died four years ago and it would have been cruel to wish that she should live with the invasive pain of cancer. But that does not minimise the sense of loss and longing.

We all grieve in different ways but until the last person who ever knew her passes away she will be alive in the hearts and minds of her family and friends. And indeed part of your mums DNA will be there in her offspring’s offspring. With love at this sad time.


Thank you for sharing the reflections you spoke at your mother’s funeral service. May God bless you and her and all her family. Your recent loss and experience brought back to me mine from just 2 months ago with that of my beloved Dad who died at age 86. Reading your Provision made the tears flow again.

I also officiated at my Dad’s memorial service and gave a tribute to him. All I can say is that for me it was the most important day of my life and felt that the words I said were the most important I have ever said and written — giving tribute and thanks to the most wonderful man who had been a son, a brother, a husband, a father, an uncle, a stepfather, a grandfather and step grandfather — and just 2 days after his death, a great grandfather. 

The hardest thing I find about losing an aged parent is that, regardless how much we can know and expect it will happen one day, we are never quite prepared for that overwhelming feeling of emptiness and sadness when it happens. My thoughts are with you.


I read your meditation and I am sure it contributed to your mom’s soaring joy as she transitioned. What a beauty filled message of love, humor, appreciation, such an incredible richness! Thank you for sharing.

I was amazed and touched by not only the pain she managed but what fortitude and spirit. The same kind of life force I have been fortunate to witness in you. You are a very special person on this earth spreading such love and grace!!! Even though it meant you were not President of the United States. 🙂

I have appreciated being an observer and at times a participant in the great life you have created. What I have witnessed in your choice making and guidance at times, has provided me with hope, understanding, fortitude and the belief that we can lead handcrafted lives with our hearts at the center and spirit at the helm. May you find the soft heart places in your grief. Much love, many prayers sent your way.


Thank you for sharing your heart with us. My father passed away in July 2011, and my brain has not quite been the same since. My mother (85) is struggling with her grief, and many other thoughts. I am going to be printing and sharing your thoughts with her, as I know it will help her through this journey of going on without him. Sincerely, and with a mixture of sympathy and joy.


Your eulogy was lovely. Your mom sounded like a very loving and caring woman. You really captured why we grieve — because we loved them so much, we miss them so much. May your grandchild-to-be bring you lots of comfort. My prayers are with you and your family.


My sincere condolences. Your message touched my heart this morning as I am struggling with my 86-year-old mother’s decline of health and her loss of memory. I do not know how long I will have her with me to love and care for but I am entering into a grief process as I recognize the finality of this precious time with her. Thank you for sharing from your heart and may our gracious Lord wrap and keep you in His unfathomable love and grace.


Your meditation at your mother’s funeral was so beautiful, Bob. Thank you for sharing that with me (whom you have met only once, and that years ago) and with all your other readers. It was inspirational. Your mother would have been even prouder than she already was with the work of her son.

Mourning is a process, and a long one at that. Please know that there are people ‘out there’ on whom you can call (literally or figuratively) for support. With warm feelings and sympathy.


What a beautiful service to honour your mother. I am touched that you have chosen to share this with your readers. Many blessings to you and yours at this difficult time.


Thank you for sharing your intimate story. What a beautiful piece of work. I’m sorry that you no longer have your mother as an earthly presence, but I feel sure that her spirit will remain with you always. (And I can’t replace your mother in any other way, but I do read your work whenever it shows up in my mailbox.)


I read about your very sad news today. I hope you’re holding up OK. I just wanted to let you know you’re in my thoughts.


Thank you for sharing your heartfelt message about your mom’s life and passing. It was very touching. I feel like I’ve gotten to know her — and your family — in a new way.


Your Provision this morning was beautiful. Wow. I hope you all are doing well. What an inspiring story, in so many ways… thank you for sharing the love that clearly envelopes your family.


Thank you for sharing your beautiful celebration of your mother’s life — she certainly will live on in all of her endeared family members…. My deepest sympathy to all of you and my prayers that you be strengthened by her love and grace.


I have received your Provisions for many years now and I have forwarded many of them onto people that I thought needed those words at that time. You say the things we need to hear sometimes but are not sure of those words ourselves, you fill in the blanks.

I want you to know, at this time of your need and sorrow, I am positive many of your readers, including myself, are thinking of you, and your family. Your Mother sounds like a wonderful human being, and she passed those qualities into you. God Bless You at this difficult time.


Sending thanks for sharing this precious time and enduring time of life with us. It will live with you for ever, just like June Ann Tschannen. Take care of your soul. My mother died almost 3 years ago and her first great grandchild was born on the same day she died, two years later.. Duality of life, pain and joy in the same day.


Good afternoon! I wanted to send along my heartfelt empathy for your loss and for what I am sure is a difficult time for both you and your family. Please know you are both in my thoughts and prayers and if there is anything I can do please do not hesitate to let me know.


Thank you Bob…. I feel your heart so deeply in this piece….. my Dad passed in Cleveland last month and your story certainly resonates with me…. my house is also surrounded by fallen trees and tiny saplings… so it goes. Blessings to you my friend.


What a beautiful eulogy. What a privilege to share the family story with you. How magnificently heart wrenching for you. I understand how bottomless pain and loss can be — my mom died on Valentine’s Day (1995) and that day has forever changed in my life.

My life hit rock bottom after my mom died, I had no better friend or source of inspiration. When I would start to get down I knew I had to go and have a good cry to lift the sadness for a little while. Sometimes I still reach for the phone on Friday night wanting to call her. She is in my dreams frequently.

Your mom is a class act in every way. She knew how and when to live and die. I hope your dad can continue his life with love and meaning — how devastating for him. 


Good Morning. I read the subject title of your email and looked forward to opening it — perhaps some more salve for my grief — and I did receive it — thank you. I recently ended a sweet relationship and while I know I am healing — there is still pain — and I truly appreciate your quotes about the happiness then surely creating the pain now — only sense.

I want to tell you about my mom — she too died on Valentine’s Day — and that was 27 years ago — right before my eldest was born — Long story — and yet there is a synchronicity that is existing as we speak. I send you love and joy for the mom you had and still have. She will never be missing from your heart and will become your greatest angel — mine surely is. Be well — and thank you for the little bit of healing that you’ve provided me this morning. Smiles….


My deepest sympathy in the loss of your mother. She would be so very proud of you, this is absolutely beautiful. I am sitting here at my desk in tears, heart full, ready to go to church and look up, give thanks and sing.


My condolences on the going home of your Mom. I know what it is like to lose a Mom. I lost my Mother in 2006 just five days after my birthday. She had heart related issues that she would not take care of. Then the following year my husband passed from Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and heart issues, but I know that they are both with God now and at peace. God has seen things go well for me and at that I am grateful. I really enjoyed the testimony that you gave of your Mom; it was really touching.


These were such moving, thoughtful, insightful, meaningful words given for your mother and to all of our hearts. While I grieve with you, I am also deeply thankful for the life infused in you from your mother that has time and again overflowed like life-giving rivers onto my own life.


My heart aches for you guys — I do know how it feels, having gone through the same thing with my dad. I hope your dad is finding a way to go on. Love & hugs to you & your family.


Life is filled with joy, happiness and sorrow and it is only understanding the sorrow we really understand the significance of the joy which had come before. Please accept our greatest sympathy.


This is beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing something so personal with your readers. I lost my brother in October. He was only 55. His lymphoma was thought to be in remission, and unfortunately he was among the 1% of people who have a recurrence 2 years after remission is obtained. It came back in a virulent form that attacked his brain — he was gone in 3 weeks. I spoke at his funeral, here in Massachusetts. He leaves two precious daughters — both very accomplished and good people. 

I also struggle with a different form of chronic grief — my youngest son has a progressive neuromuscular disease. He is in a wheelchair and cannot walk or talk. He functions like an infant but is 12 1/2 years old. My older son and my marriage have been profoundly affected by this. And yet, I see God’s purpose in all of this. And I am able to experience profound joy amidst the ongoing struggles. In fact, raising my disabled son has given me more joy than any other experience life has offered so far. He is a pure manifestation of God’s love. Well, just wanted to offer you these thoughts and, again, thank you for sharing so beautifully from the heart.


Sorry to hear about your loss. Moms are wonderful people. My Dad had a major stroke last year and we almost lost him. In a way, we did lose him. I sat by his side in hospital and he looked at me with curiosity, not recognising me but trusting my hand holding his outstretched hand requesting comfort. He is well now, but will never be the same. He can’t make speech properly anymore. But we are closer than ever, after a rift when I decided to cut the apron strings many years ago. Even though I lost my original pre-stroke dad, I have a wonderful feeling in my heart about a dad I can no longer really hear speaking to me. It’s nice to have love in our hearts about people we have lost. My thoughts are with you.


Nothing will make up for the Love of a Mother. I know that sadness will fill the hearts and the minds of those who had the pleasure of not only knowing but also sharing memorable moments with June. Her example of strength, wisdom, and love will always be present in our lives, despite the short time we knew her.


Thank you for sharing the story of June’s final experience. I wasn’t aware of the process of aiding a family member on to the next state of existence until handling my own grandmother’s death in early January. The conclusion I came to with it all was that it was absolutely perfect. She was surrounded by loved ones the entire last week of her life, she was supported in every way throughout the process, and she was able to share herself in various small moments that will be forever remembered. I am so grateful that it sounds like June’s experience — she was surrounded by all of her loved ones, fully supported, and able to share various moments that I have no doubt will be forever remembered by you all, with fondness and gratitude. How incredibly beautiful that is to hear.


Thanks for sharing the news so profoundly of your mother’s death on Valentine’s Day. I was praying for you and your mom and asked that she would be relieved of her pain and let go, but only ‘after’ her loved ones could give her love and their thoughts. Now I, too, will remember Valentines day a bit differently. May it bless you to always remember this day in this way. I have always been touched by the saying, “Death leaves a heartache no one can heal. Love leaves a memory no one can steal.” May your memories be healing.


When my brother died, it was very hard to leave my folks to return to home, but they had each other. When my mom died, saying goodbye to my dad at the airport was maybe the hardest thing I’ve done in my life. My mom really was everything to him, and I don’t believe he ever really recovered from that loss. My heart is with you and your family as you process and grow through this difficult time. The Lord’s mercies are new every morning, and He is always there for us. That is my reality, and I pray it will be for you also.


I am amazed how you managed to conduct an evocative coaching class so soon after your mother’s demise. Somehow, you made us more engaged and passionate about the classes by showing us how evocative coaching looks like in spirit and action. One of Stephen Covey’s 7 habits is “seek, and you will find.” When I came to evocative coaching, I was searching for the true embodiment of coaching and I must say that I have found it. Trials are meant for us to be stronger; a rough sea makes a good sailor. I pray that you will have the strength and faith during this trying time.


Sincere condolences to you and your family — my heart is with all of you. I’ve shared the following poem with many friends and family as we•ve gone through the loss of loved ones. I hope it may provide some small sense of comfort for you and yours.

“Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there, I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush,
I am the swift uplifting rush.
Of quiet birds in circled flight,
I am the soft star that shines at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there, I did not die.”


I just read your Provision; what a beautiful tribute to your mother. While I was reading the part about the trees at the end of your run, a poem I love by Mary Oliver came to mind. I am sending it off to you now and hope it brings some comfort during these challenging days.

In Blackwater Woods
by Mary Oliver

“Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars

of light,
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
and fulfillment,

the long tapers
of cattails
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders

of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is

nameless now.
Every year
everything
I have ever learned

in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side

is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.”

May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC, MCC (IAC)

President, LifeTrek Coaching Internationalwww.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformationwww.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coachingwww.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

Address: 121 Will Scarlet Lane, Williamsburg, VA 23185-5043
Phone: (757) 345-3452 • Fax: (772) 382-3258
Skype: LifeTrek • Twitter: @LifeTrekBob
Subscribe/Unsubscribe: Subscriber Services

Provision #760: Your Brain On Grief

Laser Provision


Last week I shared with you that we were waiting with my mother in a hospital in Cleveland. At the time I wrote my short Provision we were only beginning to glimpse the severity of her condition. With blood clots in both lungs, damaging her heart and other internal organs, she was lucky to stay alive for one day, let alone for five. But stay alive she did, so that all of her children and grandchildren could make it to Cleveland in time to say goodbye.

The past ten days have been a blur with frequent sighs and tears as I and my family have come to grips with our loss. We were heartened by the outpouring of support we have received from people here at home and around the globe, including many of you with your replies to last week’s Provision. I thank you for that. We were also heartened by the emerging recognition that my mother was staying alive to die on Valentine’s Day. That day had special meaning for her.

My mother was one of 3 girls, separated in age by 7 years each. My mother was the youngest, her middle sister, Norma, was 7 years older, and her oldest sister, Geraldine, was 14 years older. When Norma turned 21, in 1938, she died of ulcerative colitis on her own birthday. My mother was very close to Norma, and Norma’s death was very formative in my mother’s life; it contributed to a lifetime of anxious concern for all her loved ones. To love someone, for my mother, meant that you worried about them. Indeed, my mother never ended a conversation with any of us without saying, •Be careful.• 

Well, as it turns out, Norma’s birthday and dying day was Valentine’s Day, the same day my mother died. And that was no coincidence. At the hospital, all the doctors and at least one of her pastors were telling us that my mother might linger to the end of the week. But they didn’t know my mother. If anyone in her condition could will themselves to die on a particularly significant day, it would be my mother. When she went to the hospital, my mother told my sister, ‘today is not my day.• That’s because Valentine’s Day, 5 days later, was her day. And she made it to that day, against all odds, just the way she wanted.

One of my mother’s requests, for the at least the past ten years, was that I would officiate at her funeral. Today’s Provision, then, is in her honor — the only person I could count on, along with my father, to read my musings each and every week. Stacks of past issues are still printed out in their home. What follows are the reflections I shared at yesterday’s funeral service. I hope you will find them to be a worthy description of what it’s like to find your brain on grief.

Provision


I want to start by thanking each and every one of you for coming. Words are not adequate to express the appreciation we feel as a family. The many ways in which you have been holding us up with your thoughts, prayers, and innumerable acts of kindness have made all the difference in the world. We would not have gotten this far in our grief without you and we are counting on that support to continue far into the future, especially for my father.

I have been dreading this day for at least a decade. That is how long my mother has talked to me about her desire to have me officiate at her funeral. I would often protest, saying, •Mom, I don’t know if I can do that. It’s going to be an awfully emotional day. I’m not sure that I will be able to get through it.• But she had no doubt and it was a request that could not be denied. So I here I stand. And I will do the best to not only honor her memory but to draw out a few life lessons for us all.

It’s kind of dangerous, when you stop and think about it, to ask your son to preach at your funeral. I mean, I have a lot of dirt on this lady! But in this case, and at this time, the glow of my mother’s presence and loving kindness is all that I can see and feel. She has always been and will always be, for me, a channel of the divine Spirit. Through her I have come to know God and what greater gift can any parent give their child?

There are lots of ways to introduce your children to God, of course, and she took many expected paths, participating actively in three churches, all United Methodist and all here in Cleveland, from the time of her own childhood (at the Broadway Church) to that of my own and Laurel’s (in Parma and Brecksville). In those places I went to Sunday school and Vacation Bible School and youth group meetings such that I came to understand my life in theological terms. It was here, in this place, at the behest of my mother and father, that I first began to hear the still small voice of God speaking my name. 

Since that time, over the past 50 years, my mother and I have traveled many journeys together, marked by the highest of mountains and the deepest of valleys. There were some ferocious battles of love. During my first year of college I was compelled to register for the draft, at the end of the Viet Nam war. It was a soul searching and heart wrenching time not only for the country, that had largely given up on the war, but for me and my mother as well. That registration led me into the pastoral ministry, where I served for more than 20 years, and also to declare myself a conscientious objector. When I looked at that war and asked myself the WWJD question, •What Would Jesus Do?•, I had no doubt as to the answer.

My mother, at least at first, was beside herself. In the age when long-distance phone calls still cost lots of money and there was no such thing as email, we spent hours and hours on the phone and writing each other letters to explore where my convictions were coming from and where they might lead me. •You know,• she would point out, ‘this means you can never be President of the United States.• I told her I felt comfortable with that and, ultimately, she felt comfortable with my decision.

Every single member of our family • her husband, my sister, and her six grandchildren • knows exactly what I am talking about. June was at once our greatest champion and greatest critic. When she had a concern, you were sure to hear about it. More than once. More than twice. More than three times. She was, in her own words, ‘tenaciously honest.• Some might say, ‘tenaciously opinionated.• But for all the tenacity of her concerns, none of us ever doubted her love and commitment. She was in our corner to the end and nothing could ever break that bond.

Her tenacious love for me and for us was the more important way that she introduced me, and all of us, to God. Participating actively in church was, for her, an outward and visible expression of an inward and spiritual grace. Not a night went by that she wasn’t praying for the safety and success of her family. Person by person. Name by name. We may have thought we were off doing things by our own power, here at home and in the far reaches of the world, but I am persuaded that our power came, in part, from June’s nightly prayers. By refusing to quit on any one of us, regardless of how strongly we might be disagreeing at the time, and by lifting us up in daily prayer, she became for us not only a model but also a source of love that we may never fully appreciate.

One way to measure the depth of that love is to understand the pain we have been going through in the past week. Last Thursday, after nine months of struggle following her badly broken leg at the end of last May, June developed large blood clots in both lungs that damaged her heart and other internal organs as well. What often leads to sudden death in others became, for my mom, one last battle to fight for the sake of her family. She and my dad got to the hospital, under her own power, where she managed to hang on for five days giving every child and grandchild • from Virginia and Florida and Las Vegas and Washington DC and parts around Ohio • the chance to say to goodbye and to hear her say, one last time, in a slow and steady voice, •I love you.• Her love for us, and our love for her, is what fills us with this heartbreak, now.

In 1993, Anthony Hopkins played C. S. Lewis in the movie Shadowlands. The movie tells the true story of how Lewis, a great novelist, poet, and Christian theologian, fell in love, for the first time in his life, as a middle-aged man. The object of his affections was a young woman, 17 years his junior, named Joy, that he had known first as an admirer and then as a friend. Early in their relationship, the woman contracts cancer which had progressed to a terminal state before it was discovered. In caring for her as a friend, Lewis realizes how much he loves her and they proceed to get married.

Their marriage lasted four years before she died. Although they have a brief respite when her cancer goes into remission, giving them delightful days filled with tenderness, caring, and love, Lewis finds that he is unable to enjoy that time because he cannot take his mind off the certain unhappiness that lies ahead. Seeing his despair, Joy encourages him with these words: ‘the pain then is a part of the happiness now.• ‘the pain then is a part of the happiness now.• 

After she dies, as Lewis is attempting to deal with his grief, he remembers that saying, turns it around, and comforts himself with the recognition that: ‘the happiness then is a part of the pain now.• ‘the happiness then is a part of the pain now.•

That’s as good an understanding of what we are going through here today as I can imagine. Had there never been any happiness then, had there never been any joy or laughter, had there never been any hopes and dreams, some of which June takes with her to the grave, there would not be more than a hundred people gathered in this room today feeling the weight of such a loss. Grief is the price we pay for having loved and loved well. Just because the melancholy Teacher of Ecclesiastes tells us that there is a time for every matter under heaven, that does not make hard times any easier. Our feelings are real. Our needs go unmet. And God shares that pain as much as our happiness. ‘the happiness then is part of the pain now.• The God we knew then is part of the God we know now.

Today is our time to weep, our time to mourn, and our time to lose. And I venture to say that if we knew then what we know today, namely that on Valentine’s Day, February 14, 2012, death would come as it did for my mother, June Ann Tschannen, we wouldn’t have changed a thing. She really had a wonderful life. We would still have married and loved and laughed; we would still have fought and struggled and cried; we would still have parented and played and taught; we would still have lived and worshipped and served.

That is the bittersweet mystery of life. Death is never fair. It’s never sought after. It’s never far enough away. But life, loaned to us for but a season, makes the happiness then more precious and the pain now more poignant.

Before my mother died, in her final hours at the hospital, she learned a secret. My daughter and son, her first two grandchildren, are not here today because they chose to come to Cleveland earlier in the week, from Las Vegas and Washington, DC, in time to see her off. The secret she learned was a follow-up to one she learned over Christmas. Rather than me telling it to you, perhaps you would enjoy seeing the look on her face for yourself. PLAY VIDEO CLIP. In another coincidence that may not be such a coincidence, that baby, her first great grandchild, is due on her birthday in July.

Well, the secret she found out was the baby’s gender and name. Evan kicked all of us out of the room, made her promise to not tell anyone, and then asked her to raise her finger if she liked the name. She raised her finger and then proceeded to raise her entire arm. Right before she died, then, my mother found herself once again filled with hope, smiles, and joy as she thought about the prospect of new life rising up in her wake.

Yesterday, for the first time since getting that fateful call 9 days ago, I went out for a run. I’m not sure I have ever gone 9 days without running, since I started running in 1998. It felt great and as I came up the final hill to my parent’s house from the Tow Path Trail, I looked around and saw many huge, dead, fallen trees. Around all those trees, I also saw tiny saplings springing up with leaf buds already beginning to swell in this unseasonably warm weather.

Do you see the connection? Do you see the truth? The happiness then is a part of the pain now. The pain now is a part of the happiness then. This life is all so precious and all too brief. In the end, one can do little more than to look up, give thanks, and sing. Surely God has now given my mother rest for her soul. She has yearned for time of reunion and that time has arrived. For to everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven. Amen.

May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC, MCC (IAC)

President, LifeTrek Coaching Internationalwww.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformationwww.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coachingwww.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

Address: 121 Will Scarlet Lane, Williamsburg, VA 23185-5043
Phone: (757) 345-3452 • Fax: (772) 382-3258
Skype: LifeTrek • Twitter: @LifeTrekBob
Subscribe/Unsubscribe: Subscriber Services

Provision #759: Your Brain On Waiting

Laser Provision


Waiting. There’s a reason people describe waiting as being in the meantime. Waiting can be mean and otherwise difficult. It’s hard to put life on hold, to not know the future, and to make decisions with limited information. That’s the space I am living in right now, in a hospital in Cleveland, Ohio, as I wait with my mother through a difficult health scare involving blood clots. The brain reels from the loss of certainty and the proleptic grief of what might be.

Yet waiting, especially this kind of waiting, is also a gift. It gets us to slow down and it reminds us of the things that are important. We live in faith that things are unfolding in mysterious and yet wonderful ways. There is no blame or shame in waiting. So we sit in the connection of this time — with each other, with loved ones near and far, with the hospital staff, and with the Spirit of life itself. Wait with me for a time, if you are so inclined, to see if you too can feel the gift.

No one knows for sure where this will go, but I return now to waiting rather than to writing a normal Provision. My wish for you and for my mother is the same this week as every week:

May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC, MCC (IAC)

President, LifeTrek Coaching Internationalwww.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformationwww.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coachingwww.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

Address: 121 Will Scarlet Lane, Williamsburg, VA 23185-5043
Phone: (757) 345-3452 • Fax: (772) 382-3258
Skype: LifeTrek • Twitter: @LifeTrekBob
Subscribe/Unsubscribe: Subscriber Services

Provision #758: Your Brain On Exercise

Laser Provision


I have often written about the connection between my running routines and these weekly Provisions. Schedule permitting, I often sit down and write them soon after I clean up from a long run. I’m doing that right now. If you thought that running for 2+ hours just gives me a lot of time to think, you have only a small part of the picture. Exercise doesn’t just give me time to think, it fuels the brain with ideas, happiness, vitality, alertness, and creativity. That’s because, as we have seen my current Provision series, the brain is not just in our heads. It is distributed throughout the body and is nourished through a physiology of extracellular chemicals and fluids. If you want to make your brain smarter, then exercise may be just what the doctor ordered. Intrigued? Read on.

LifeTrek Provision


The connection between exercise and intelligence is well established. If you think exercise is good just for your heart and weight, then I encourage you to think again. Exercise is the best thing you can do for your brain. That’s true on every level, including IQ and EQ, cognitive and emotional intelligence.

It wasn’t that long ago that people thought the brain more or less stopped developing new cells and connections in childhood. Just as women have a fixed number of eggs at birth (approximately 400,000), which then decreases steadily with age, it was thought that people had a fixed number of cells in their brains. After childhood, it was all downhill from there with the brain steadily losing cells and connections with age.

That was then, this is now. Current research indicates that brains are flexible and pliable networks of cells and connections that expand and shrink over time in response to external and internal stimulation. When it comes to our brains, including our cognitive and emotional capacities, we truly are in a “use it or lose it” dynamic. But the “it” is far larger and more expansive than you might imagine. It’s not just mental stimulation that helps to counteract the effects of aging. If you want to grow your brains, then exercise may be the most helpful technique of all.

The same blood flow that stimulates muscle growth in response to exercise also stimulates mental growth. That’s because our muscles and minds are interconnected. They feed on and respond to the same extracellular fluids and exercise generates a plethora of hormones, peptides, transmitters, factors, and protein ligands that mediate life-enhancing, emotionally-charged information.

Everyone knows this, of course, but we don’t always connect the dots. We know that exercise is good for us but we’re not always good to ourselves when it comes to exercise. It’s easy to make excuses, to be too tired, to be too busy, or to just not feel like exercising right now. So we put it off until later, only later never comes. So we put it off until tomorrow, but tomorrow is no better than today. So we put it off until the weekend, which may or may not work out — especially with a Super Bowl game to watch (or some other distraction).

At this point, we’re in a vicious cycle and a downward spiral. We may vaguely realize the consequences of not exercising, but we assume they can’t really be that serious. When we start feeling depressed or we start forgetting things, it never dawns on us that these may be self-inflicted wounds. By failing to exercise we are failing to grow our brains and we are accelerating the aging process. It happens one skipped exercise session at a time.

Here are some of the things scientists know about the brain benefits of exercise:

  • Exercise increases alertness by increasing blood flow in and to the brain.
  • Exercise reduces depression by releasing feel-good chemicals like serotonin and dopamine.
  • Exercise combats ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) in both children and adults.
  • Exercise smoothes out behavior for 2-4 hours after the exercise.
  • Exercise causes new stem cells to grow, refreshing the brain and other body parts.
  • Exercise also stimulates nerve growth factors. That’s why John Ratey, MD, refers to exercise as “Miracle-Gro for the brain.”
  • Exercise calms the nerves, reducing anger, fatigue, and tension. It’s great for anxiety disorders.
  • Exercise improves “executive function,” the ability to make wise, situation-appropriate decisions.
  • Exercise strengthens working memory, the type used to execute everyday tasks.
  • Exercise reduces the risk of dementia later in life.

Are you persuaded yet? I hope so. The problem with our world is that we have become a sedentary society. Activities that used to be the norm, like walking and playing outside, are now things we have to make ourselves do. With the advent of the digital age, it’s become possible to live and work without leaving home. And even those who still go to an office may only walk to and from their cars as part of their daily routine. Then we wonder why we’re not thinking as clearly or feeling as good as when we were younger. The problem is not aging; the problem is a lack of exercise.

In his excellent book, Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, John Ratey, MD, makes this case persuasively right from the start of the book:

“We all know that exercise makes us feel better, but most of us have no idea why. We assume it’s because we•re burning off stress or reducing muscle tension or boosting endorphins, and we leave it at that. But the real reason we feel so good when we get our blood pumping is that it makes the brain function at its best, and in my view, this benefit of physical activity is far more important — and fascinating — than what it does for the body. Building muscles and conditioning the heart and lungs are essentially side effects. I often tell my patients that the point of exercise is to build and condition the brain.”

“In today’s technology-driven, plasma-screened-in world, it’s easy to forget that we are born movers — animals, in fact– because we•ve engineered movement right out of our lives. Ironically, the human capacity to dream and plan and create the very society that shields us from our biological imperative to move is rooted in the areas of the brain that govern movement. As we adapted to an ever-changing environment over the past half million years, our thinking brain evolved from the need to hone motor skills. We envision our hunter-gatherer ancestors as brutes who relied primarily on physical prowess, but to survive over the long haul they had to use their smarts to find and store food. The relationship between food, physical activity, and learning is hardwired into the brain’s circuitry.”

“But we no longer hunt and gather, and that’s a problem. The sedentary character of modern life is a disruption of our nature, and it poses one of the biggest threats to our continued survival. Evidence of this is everywhere: 65 percent of our nation’s adults are overweight or obese, and 10 percent of the population has type 2 diabetes, a preventable and ruinous disease that stems from inactivity and poor nutrition. Once an affliction almost exclusively of the middle-aged, it’s now becoming an epidemic among children. We•re literally killing ourselves, and it’s a problem throughout the developed world, not merely a province of the supersize lifestyle in the United States. What’s even more disturbing, and what virtually no one recognizes, is that inactivity is killing our brains too — physically shriveling them.”

“Fortunately, exercise unleashes a cascade of neurochemicals and growth factors that can reverse this process, physically bolstering the brain’s infrastructure. In fact, the brain responds like muscles do, growing with use, withering with inactivity. The neurons in the brain connect to one another through ‘leaves’ on treelike branches, and exercise causes those branches to grow and bloom with new buds, thus enhancing brain function at a fundamental level.”

So how much exercise is enough? The short answer is that no exercise is too little to be insignificant when it comes to the effects on the brain. Even short breaks to walk or stretch have a measurable impact. So don’t use time as your excuse. Those simple things that you have heard about when it comes to physical fitness and weight loss, things like taking the stairs instead of the elevator or parking further away from the entrance of a building, are also good for cognitive and emotional abilities. If you want to remember what you went in the store to get then walking a few extra steps may help you do that.

The longer answer is that more and harder is better. When it comes to the brain, vigorous cardiovascular exercise at least three times a week is the best medicine. Five times a week, totaling at least 150 minutes, is even better. Walking, running, swimming, rowing, cycling, or working out on any machine that raises our heart rate is all we need. Even chores like gardening, sweeping, raking, or cleaning can help to meet our brain’s exercise requirements.

And it’s never too soon or too late to start. The earlier in life the better, so we set good habits. But even senior citizens who start to walk regularly after long periods of sedentary lifestyles demonstrate measurable improvements in memory skills, learning ability, concentration, abstract reasoning, and mood.

The bottom line is this: exercise is not just good for the brain, it is essential for optimum brain functioning. Sitting around all day and sleeping all night is a surefire formula for brain deterioration and dysfunction. If we want to stay sharp and happy, then we have to stay active.

Coaching Inquiries: What is your pattern when it comes to exercise? Are you getting at least 90 minutes of vigorous exercise a week? What could help you to push that up to 150 minutes or more? Who could help you? What are some of your favorite exercises and activities? How might your life be better if your brain was sharper and your mood was happier? What’s keeping you from taking the first step?

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form to arrange a complimentary conversation. 

LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Form or Email Bob.


Thank you for your latest Provision: Your Brain on Dialogue. It is a fascinating topic and since my youngest daughter has epilepsy, everything relating to mind/body, brain and healing is especially interesting to me.

My background is in massage and body work and my training in Asian disciplines has taught me to focus my attention on the “emotional foods” we are consuming. You were referring to emotional resonance and considering that we are about 75% made up of water (our complex internal chemistry relies on this solvent/conductor) it is truly amazing that all our thoughts (and associated emotions) carry a measurable frequency that imprints our cellular make-up.

During my work with Dr. Emoto (The Hidden Messages in Water) I realized that dis-ease and all the joys in life are connected to our internal thought pattern and equally responsive to our emotional environment. My daughter is my greatest teacher to this day. We don’t know what each day holds, she has taught me to be flexible and to go with the flow, she has taught me gratitude for all things in life and to embrace my sense of humor.

Perhaps this is why I am so connected to your work with Evocative Coaching, because its foundation is rooted in appreciation of what is, focusing on the positive aspects of people, organizations, and life. It is transforming people and systems because it resonates with people on all levels, not just a theory.

Scientist have shown that all thoughts and actions translate into frequencies and our thoughts leave a measurable pattern on an MRI. Measurable in terms of blood flow and electrical output. Scientist are now able to “read” our thoughts in this way.

Our thoughts effect our bodies in many ways; non-verbal communication and the energy it carries is far more powerful than the spoken word. They effect our sense of well-being. Thoughts and words change the molecular structure of water and thus our internal chemistry. Therefore, leaders who set out to transform need to be instrumental in creating a positive climate and culture within their organization to fully leverage everyone’s true potential.

Thanks so much for all you do. Every week, I am looking forward to the next issue:) With gratitude and cheers.



May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching Internationalwww.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformationwww.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coachingwww.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

Address: 121 Will Scarlet Lane, Williamsburg, VA 23185-5043
Phone: (757) 345-3452 • Fax: (772) 382-3258
Skype: LifeTrek • Twitter: @LifeTrekBob
Subscribe/Unsubscribe: Subscriber Services

Provision #757: Your Brain On Dialogue

Laser Provision


Last week I wrote about the impact of goals on the human brain and by now I hope you know that when I write “brain” I mean the entire body-brain complex. Our brains are connected and distributed throughout every part of our body and goals have a demonstrable, beneficial effect on both their form and function. Simply put, it’s good to put your brain on goals. But goals are not the only brain food. Omnivores that we are, our brains also thrive on dialogue. Indeed, if you want to wake up your brain there’s no more surefire way to do that than to get into an engaging conversation with someone, if not an argument. Maybe that’s why you’re reading this Provision right now. Read on to start the conversation.

LifeTrek Provision


You may have no idea how much your reader replies mean to me. People often ask me, “How do you come up with things to write about?” I can answer that question in one word: dialogue. By hearing from, talking with, and listening to you on a week-to-week basis, things just pop into my mind. Once the first sentence has been struck, the rest of the Provision seems to flow rather naturally. One thought has a way of leading to another.

That’s hardly unique to me, although I may be a bit more disciplined and prolific than others. The human brain is wired for good conversations. That’s why solitary confinement is viewed as such a harsh punishment of last resort in prisons and other detention centers. The isolation is even worse in padded cells that eliminate ambient noise and dampen the sound of one’s own voice. In the absence of dialogue, the brain goes numb and the spirit dies. At that point, the body is soon to follow.

One way to understand the brain’s need for dialogue is to understand the mechanism of action behind our emotions. I want to thank Bettina, the reader who recommended Candice Perth’s book, Molecules of Emotion, for my new-found understanding here. The book is a delightful journey through not only the workings of the brain but also through the workings of the scientific communities that study the brain. Any woman looking to make her mark in a traditionally male profession would do well to read this book. But I digress.

The focus of Perth’s research and writing is to shift our thinking from a linear, neurocentric model of emotion to a quantum, neuropeptide model. That may not mean much to you, but Perth’s writing on the subject is often poetic, always eye opening, and connects the dots for me as to why dialogue has such a powerful influence on our distributed brains.

Perth describes how the brain-in-the-head was once thought of as a controlling supercomputer filled with “neurotransmitters being released from nerve endings, traveling across synapses to ignite another electrical discharge, in a hardwired (neuron-to-neuron), point-to-point hookup of traveling neuronal impulses. All brain functions, even for the most complex levels of mental activity and behavior, were thought to be determined by the synaptic connections between billions of neurons.”

But that model has been displaced by “a new theory of information exchange outside the bounds of the hardwired nervous system, focused on a purely chemical, nonsynaptic communication between cells.” Indeed, it is now estimated that less than 2 percent of neuronal communication actually occurs electrically at the synapse. Things are rather being controlled by a parallel system of continuously-circulating extracellular fluids containing hormones, peptides, transmitters, factors, and protein ligands that mediate emotionally-charged information.

So the age old question of whether emotions originate in the brain and get passed to the body or vice-versa ends up with a simple answer: “Yes!” It’s a simultaneous, two-way street that is controlled less by electrical signals being passed from one neuron to the next than by what happens to the chemicals coursing through our brains and bodies in all those fluids. Those chemicals are not just circulating mindlessly; they are looking for receptors with whom they can meet up and dance.

If it seems odd to think of your emotions in terms of such dynamic choreography, then perhaps the language of emotional resonance will help to make the case. Everyone knows that emotions are contagious, beyond the use of words, not only in human beings but in other animals as well. One bird gets spooked and the whole flock flies away. The charge, positive or negative, and intensity of an emotion determine whether we are drawn towards something or pushed away, a lot or a little. We are in constant dialogue with ourselves, both consciously and unconsciously, deciding what to remember and what to forget, what to act upon and what to ignore.

“Peptides,” Perth writes, “are the sheet music containing the notes, phrases, and rhythms that allow the orchestra–your body–to play as an integrated entity. And the music that results is the tone or feeling that you experience subjectively as your emotions.”

How far can that dynamic dance or emotional resonance go? All the way to a spiritual experience, according to Perth, when peptides reach beyond the body to make us feel connected to the whole. Such extracorporeal reaching, Perth notes, is analogous to the strings of a resting violin responding when another violin’s strings are played. When our molecules of emotion are all vibrating together as one, in concert and in harmony with each other and with others, we can have a very profound sense of connection with ourselves, with others, and with the spirit of life itself.

That feeling is a deep emotion and that deep emotion has a chemical basis brought on through the miracle of dialogue, both spoken and unspoken. “The emotions are the connectors,” Perth concludes, “flowing between individuals, moving among us as empathy, compassion, sorrow, and joy.” They “are at the nexus between matter and mind, going back and forth between the two and influencing both.”

It behooves us, then, to learn how to dialogue with ourselves and with others in ways that respect the wisdom and potential of these critical factors. Our health as well as our success in life and work depend upon our ability to do this. In her excellent book, Learning to Listen, Learning to Teach, Jane Vella identifies twelve principles and practices to begin, maintain, and nurture dialogue:

  1. Needs assessment: participation of the learners in naming what is to be learned.
  2. Safety in the environment and the process. We create a context for learning. That context can be made safe.
  3. Sound relationships between teacher and learner and among learners
  4. Sequence of content and reinforcement.
  5. Praxis: action with reflection or learning by doing.
  6. Respect for learners as decision makers.
  7. Ideas, feelings, and actions: cognitive, affective, and psychomotor aspects of learning.
  8. Immediacy of the learning.
  9. Clear roles and role development.
  10. Teamwork and use of small groups.
  11. Engagement of the learners in what they are learning.
  12. Accountability: how do they know they know?

Although written in the context of facilitating dialogue in adult education, Vella’s list also represents a set of spiritual principles and practices for becoming more aware of and in tune with our own emotions. Talking with ourselves in these deeply respectful and attentive ways can be even more transformational than putting our brains on goals. By engaging in such dialogue with our conscious and unconscious selves we become more fully alive as the molecules of emotion begin their resonance anew.

Coaching Inquiries: When was the last time that you had a good dialogue with yourself? With someone else? How could you deepen those practices? What kind of effect do you think that would have on your life and work? What’s keeping you from starting that dialogue right now?

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form to arrange a complimentary conversation. 

LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Form or Email Bob.


Your last Provision on the power of goals was exactly what I needed. Thanks! It gave me the nudge I needed to set some goals for myself. 



May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching Internationalwww.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformationwww.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coachingwww.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

Address: 121 Will Scarlet Lane, Williamsburg, VA 23185-5043
Phone: (757) 345-3452 • Fax: (772) 382-3258
Skype: LifeTrek • Twitter: @LifeTrekBob
Subscribe/Unsubscribe: Subscriber Services

Provision #756: Your Brain On Goals

Laser Provision


When people work with coaches they usually want help with setting and achieving goals. The motivation is often very practical: they want to be more successful in life and work. What they don’t always realize, however, is that the act of setting and striving to achieve goals changes the brain in demonstrable and positive ways. If you want to not only accomplish more but also to feel better, one of the best prescriptions is to get involved with intrinsic, goal-directed behavior. When was the last time you put your brain on goals? If it’s been awhile, then this Provision might give you a nudge.

LifeTrek Provision


It could be argued that coaching just makes people miserable. Seldom do I spend time with my clients on how to be happy or content with the way things are in the present moment. Even though I and my colleagues have written many Provisions on the notion of enough (see, for example,Envision Good EnoughEnough is Enough, and Reach for Enough), most of the time as coaches we are talking with our clients about their desires and strategies to move beyond the insufficiencies of the current moment to a more sufficient future. That is, in fact, one way of defining coaching: we assist people to cook up and make dreams come true.

Great coaching also assists people to avoid being miserable on the journey from now to then, from Point A to Point B. There is no benefit to cooking up big dreams if they make us feel inadequate or incapable in the moment. To avoid that eventuality, coaches assist clients to break down their dreams into manageable steps. Quick wins enable us to feel good about ourselves in the moment even as we hold and work toward bigger dreams in the future. When coaches assist people with this essential task, instead of feeling miserable, people feel great. There’s nothing better than making progress towards a self-directed goal.

That is, in fact, the true work of coaching. Coaches do not assign goals to clients as though we were physicians with a prescription pad: take two goals, drink plenty of fluids, and call us in the morning. Clients come to coaches with goals in hand, seeking the clarity and competence required for dreams to come true. And that’s exactly what happens in a surprising number of cases. Clients end up better off than when they started. Through the enhanced representation, design, and pursuit of the goals talked about in coaching conversations, clients achieve better goal attainment as well. Each facet is an important part of the puzzle:

  • Goal Representation. One of the more interesting questions that coaches talk about with our clients, either directly or indirectly, is the question, “Whose goal is this anyway?” Clients often start out by representing their goals as coming from outside themselves, with extrinsic motivators and directives. These are the things they “should” do or that someone else wants them to do or that society expects them to do in order to be successful or healthy. When clients represent their goals in this way, they are engaging in the Mental Musterbating that I wrote about in my last Provision. Such goals often can and do make people miserable until and unless they become internalized as something people want for themselves.In this stage, the work of coaching is to explore whether or not that should happen. Not all extrinsic goals should become intrinsic goals for every person. The question we ask, then, is simply, “What do you need most?” Different people will answer that question in different ways. At first, they may think we are asking about strategies: “I need a better job,” or “I need a divorce.” Through appreciative inquiry and empathy, however, clients can move from the surface level of particular strategies to the deeper level of universal needs.

    Here’s an example: I recently spoke with someone who was contemplating a major life change that would involve relocation and quitting her job. It would have been easy to stay on the surface level, weighing the pros and cons of each strategy. Instead, we dove deep into the needs that were most alive for her in the moment. How would she represent her goal? To have more autonomy and adventure in an area about which she feels great passion? Or to have more security and acknowledgment in a community around which she feels great connection? Weighing those alternatives led the conversation in new and profitable directions.

    One reason for that is because the shift from extrinsic to intrinsic goals, from particular strategies to universal needs, lights up the brain in very different ways. We move from the lateral prefrontal and parietal cortices to the medial, which engages our sense of attachment and understanding in very different ways. Our brains on intrinsic goals are not the same brains as when we are contemplating or working on extrinsic goals. Great coaching makes for great changes in the brain when we challenge people to examine and own their goals.

  • Goal Design. Once people have a goal in mind, the next piece of the puzzle is to design a plan for doing something about it. That’s especially true for intrinsic goals, which often come without a road map. When the boss assigns us a project with a deadline, the project plan gets delivered in the same envelope and, whether we like it or not, it’s our job to follow the instructions and complete the assignment. Everyone has had that experience at different points in life and some people do better with it than others. That, too, has something to do with how our brains are structured and developed. Compliance depends upon neural networking.Pursuing intrinsic goals, however, has less to do with compliance than intention. It’s up to us to set our minds on how we want to get something done. Some of the more interesting research in this field comes from the observation that approach and avoidance goals effect the brain in very different ways. When we are designing a plan to get something we truly want and need, that unleashes all kinds of positive emotions and hormones that make for a very happy brain indeed. When, on the other hand, we are designing a goal to avoid something we don’t want, we activate the fight-and-flight mechanisms that actually make it harder, rather than easier, to stay on task and to realize our dreams.

    That is why great coaching always stays in conversation with clients until they can clearly articulate what they do want. To get to that point, we often ask clients to close their eyes and visualize themselves going through the motions of their design. Such visualization triggers the mirror neurons of the brain in ways that make both goal pursuit and goal attainment more likely. When the brain imagines that we are doing something the brain engages the same circuitry that will be used when we are actually doing something. Creating vivid, preparatory neural sets is important to successful coaching.

    Back to our example: As we spoke about my friend’s options, we explored in detail what life would be like both now and in the future under different scenarios. In each case, we explored the feelings and needs that were being stimulated and met. This was helpful but not sufficient to devising a plan just because we ran out of time. It’s not uncommon to have to sleep on these things, literally, in order for the brain to generate a coherent goal intention and design.

  • Goal Pursuit. Once the goal has been conceived (representation) and set (design) it has to be pursued in order to be attained. Such pursuit, according to Elliot Berkman and Matthew Lieberman in their paper, “The Neuroscience of Goal Pursuit,” includes at least four dimensions: attention (to the goal in context as the design unfolds and to goal-relevant cues), motor control (as we act upon and react to circumstances), response inhibition (self-control and self-regulation so that we don’t get distracted by situational and personality moderators), and progress monitoring (noticing and reducing discrepancies).Project managers will recognize those four elements. Nothing gets done without attention, motor control, response inhibition, and progress monitoring. What project managers may not realize, however, is the complexity of these interrelated tasks in both neurological and physiological terms. So many different regions of the brain are involved, each of which must be coordinated with the body, that it’s a wonder we are ever successful when it comes to goal pursuit. Thanks to millions of years of evolution, however, most of us are up to the task as long as we have sufficient help and support along the way. No one is an island, especially when it comes to goal pursuit.

    Coaches can be an important source of such support. When we talk with clients about what is going on, we are strengthening their attention muscles. When we assist them to develop healthy routines of work, exercise, and rest, we are strengthening their motor control. When we bring back conversations to their stated intention, session after session, we are strengthening their ability to manage their emotions and stay on task. When we receive reports on what clients have accomplished and learned through their various activities, we co-create success through progress monitoring.

    Example: My friend decided to do more thinking about her goals and about the relevance of coaching to achieving her goals. It became clear, as we talked, that her need had less to do with goal pursuit than with goal representation and design. Once she knows what she wants to do, she’s pretty clear that she knows how to do it. She is naturally high in self-control and self-regulation and more than able to monitor her own progress over time. Still, at this phase in her process, she sees the value of talking with someone who can help her to sort things out and make decisions. That’s the goal she wants to pursue now, setting up the implementation goals to follow.

The neuroscientific literature abounds with studies that explore what happens to the brain on goals. A brain with goals is clearly not the same as a brain without goals. It is firing differently, generating different connections and chemicals, producing different emotions, ideas, and actions. We know this to be true from our own experience, but scientists are now learning more about the mechanism of action as well as the consequences of inaction.

Brains work better with goals. Indeed, brains are goal factories. There’s no end to the stuff we come up with. By challenging ourselves to identify intrinsic motivators, to design attractive (rather than aversive) goals, and to pursue them with the focus and organization of a project manager we will attain those goals more often than not, on the way to making dreams come true.

Coaching Inquiries: What are your goals right now? Are you sure? How could your goals better serve your life energy? What designs would help your goals to be expressed more fully? How could you stay focused on your goals even when distractions arise? What systems do you use, like a project manager, for progress monitoring? Who could help you to improve those systems in life and work?

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form to arrange a complimentary conversation. 

LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Form or Email Bob.


When you suggested in your last email that we click to confirm our address, I was happy to do it. Your writing is always meaningful and we appreciate it. We hope to meet you in person again.



May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching Internationalwww.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformationwww.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coachingwww.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

Address: 121 Will Scarlet Lane, Williamsburg, VA 23185-5043
Phone: (757) 345-3452 • Fax: (772) 382-3258
Skype: LifeTrek • Twitter: @LifeTrekBob
Subscribe/Unsubscribe: Subscriber Services