April 19, 2014

Understanding Emotions is Essential to Brain-Based Learning Strategies

golden-gate-bridge-84I just attended the 37th Learning and the Brain Conference, in San Francisco.  This my 3rd such conference, and as usual, the speakers did not disappoint.  The theme was using brain science to build social and emotional skills.

Brain-based learning, up until fairly recently, has focused on building cognitive skills.  Such skills include executive function skills such as focus, memory, reading and the like.  In both education and in the workplace, the role of emotions in optimizing learning and performance has not been studied as closely as these other aspects.

However during the conference, it was made clear that the brain is first and foremost a social organ.  The cortex is shaped by social interactions.  How much we feel that we are a part of something has much to say about how ready our brain is to learn.  I was struck by the number of speakers who had learning disabilities but who went on to complete advanced degrees from the some of the loftiest academic institutions:  Harvard and Stanford, for instance. Each of them credits significant figures or groups in their lives who made them feel connected, safe and empowered.

This is very critical.  I remember a teacher I had in 8th grade who didn’t like me, at all.  In fact, when my father went to a conference for my brother who was a year older, she wanted to talk about how there are good kids and bad kids and I was a bad one.  I had another teacher in high school who told me I wasn’t going to get into college, let alone the college of my choice.  Today, I would like to hit her over the head with both of my diplomas from the college of my choice!  And by the way, she was in no way an inspiration as if I had to prove something to her.  She was just awful.

Now things could have turned out rather badly if it weren’t for my father who wrote me a letter of support- basically saying that he loved me and wanted the best for me. He urged me to give my full effort because my world would be opened onto me if I did. I would have an interesting life.  And you know what?  He was right.  You can read that letter here .

Life is full of challenges- one of the speakers grew up in a 1 bedroom apartment in New York with several siblings. However it is clear that if we hope to meet these challenges, someone has to be in our corner, someone who will make us feel valued,connected and encouraged. Not someone who will blow sunshine at us but someone who will acknowledge our lives as they are and encourage us.  It is in this framework and this mindset that the best learning can occur.  Who in your life played this role for you?

 

3 Practical Strategies to Help You Organize Your Thoughts

The capacity of the working memory is approximately 7 units, +/- 2.

The capacity of the working memory is approximately 7 units, +/- 2.

How accurately can you assess information when there are a myriad of angles to consider? How do you organize your thoughts to arrive at the best possible conclusion?  Sometimes we seem to be talking in circles unable to arrive at any essential decisions or courses of action.  This is a phenomenon that is common to all of us, and it is often a byproduct of trying to hold too many pieces of information in working memory while simultaneously trying to draw conclusions about that information.

Did you know that once you reach the human capacity of 4,5,6 or even 7 units, your mental clipboard is full so you need to shift something into long term memory in order to make room for more information?   The problem is, once you move something into long-term memory, it becomes subject to subliminal influences such as emotion and biases.   So when it is retrieved, it is unlikely to be a copy of the original thought or piece of data.   These are the very real shortcomings of brain’s working memory.

So what are the practical implications of this limitation?   In the complex world we live in today, there are more pieces of information and more choices than ever before. How do you plan and make decisions when the number of variables to consider continues to expand?  There are several strategies that can be used and I’d like to share a few of them here:

1. Card sorts:  Card sorts are an effective way to evaluate information.   One strategy is to separate the cards into 2 piles of “this but not that”, or “applies, does not apply.” Or card sorts can be sequenced in order of most to least based on a given parameter.  The possibilities are actually quite endless.  The key is to know what outcome you are seeking for it will dictate how you sort the information.  An added benefit of card sorts is that you can manipulate the information endlessly without having to erase or start the process over if you change your mind.

2. Mind maps:  Mind maps are a way to visually map out information. There is usually a central theme with subsequent thoughts and ideas stemming from that.  Mind maps help an individual see connections that may not be accessible when trying to keep information in working memory.   An additional benefit is that mind maps can also encourage creativity by allowing divergent thinking to happen and to be harnessed.

3. Visual Overviews:  Visual overviews are a way to organize information so that the pieces work in concert with each other.  Some of the essential components of an overview might be our the current scenario (e.g., economic environment)  our values, our capabilities (skills, tools etc…),  and our desired outcome/impact.   With an overview,  the pieces are laid out in a way that they reinforce each other and inform each other.   This is not a manual written over several pages but a visual schemata of these variables. A couple of the many advantages of an overview are that it helps an individual be creative within a central focus and, from a team perspective, it helps members of a team coordinate forces in a harmonious way.

Working memory is the capacity to hold several ideas or units of information in mind, and manipulate and analyze these parts. Unfortunately, the capacity itself is rather limited and it also uses a considerable amount of brain energy. The answer to this dilemma is to have the units outside of the mind and into a written or symbolic format.  It’s even better if you can physically manipulate the information. The key is to free  brain energy that can be used for analysis, planning, problem solving and other higher level functions instead of trying to do it all in your head.   I’ve listed 3 strategies here in this blog.  What techniques do you use?

Lessons from the Neuroskeptic

 

Dr. Robert A. Burton urges us to use the findings of neuroscience wisely.

Dr. Robert A. Burton urges us to use the findings of neuroscience wisely.

A Skeptic’s Guide to the Mind by Robert A Burton is currently capturing my attention.   While one of the cornerstones of my coaching business is brain science, 25 years working in the field of brain injury has taught me to be cautious about jumping to conclusions about the current findings in neuroscience and what they can definitely tell us about the mind.

Let me share this perspective.   In the years that I worked as a speech pathologist, we often worked as a team with physical therapy and occupational therapy.   When setting goals, I was envious that it seemed easier for occupational therapy and physical therapy to set measurable goals for the client.   Especially in physical therapy, the goals were concrete, such as “the client will walk 100 yards unassisted.”  You could not only observe this phenomenon and check it off, but deciding on the next step was fairly clear.  Add distance.  Do it with less assistance.  Change the terrain.   The goals were directly connected to the measurable outcomes.

In my field, speech pathology, it was a little different.   These goals could be concrete such as “The client will answer Y-N questions with 70% accuracy” or “The client will name items with 90% accuracy.”   However these goals didn’t seem to translate necessarily to functional outcomes. What did communication look like when the client could use multiple strategies like pointing, changing intonation in speech despite a limited vocabulary, or communicating with many modalities at once: gesture, writing, and speech? Or with cognition,  having a client remember 5 digits in sequence is one thing but demonstrating adaptability by writing those numbers down to complete the task showed something else about the client’s mind.   Trying to define the client’s cognitive-linguistic capability in terms of simple parameters of behavior seemed to fall short most of the time.  Trying to reduce complexity to simplicity can be like capturing air.

However, it is true that certain principles of neuroscience can be very useful, especially if applied with flexibility and the notion that these principles might be relevant for an individual. I am truly energized and excited about the explosion of neuroscience and it’s implications for maximizing human potential,  Still, I am well-aware of it’s limitations too. That’s why I am eager to read what Dr. Burton has to offer as a counterbalance to the neurohype that is definitely out there.   In the next few blogs, I will blend what I read from this book with my “25 years in trenches” to expound on the  brain principles that I believe are largely true and that have implications for uncovering your potential.

 

 

3 Reasons To Read The Willpower Instinct

The Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonigal is a step-by-step program for setting goals, improving self-control, and making lasting changes.   As a life coach and formerly as a speech pathologist working with brain injured individuals, I have had ample experience observing individuals struggle to meet goals or gather focus.  In fact, self-control or willpower is the backbone for just about anything meaningful that we do.   I have attended workshops and read many books and articles on this topic.  I believe The Willpower Instinct  is one of the best resources available and worthy of your time and attention.

Here are the top 3 reasons to read The Willpower Instinct:

1. It is based on a course that the author taught at Stanford University called, “The Science of Willpower.”    The book has multiple challenges and exercises for the reader to complete.   Anyone who has ever taught a course knows that some exercises get excellent results with students and some exercises flop.  The exercises in this book have been field tested.

2. The book offers an ideal balance of theory,research findings, and practical applications.   As a coach or a student of the mind, you may want to know what underpins these ideas and willpower challenges that the author suggests.   All of these components are masterfully weaved together throughout the book.

3.  The book is readable.  Dr. McGonigal is one of those rare talents that can take complex psychological concepts and relate them with open simplicity and clarity.  You don’t have to be a brain science geek to enjoy this book and yet, as a brain science geek myself, there was plenty to sink my teeth into and be totally satisfied.

In short, I highly recommend The Willpower Instinct. 

If you wish to purchase this book now through Amazon.com, click here.

In upcoming blogs, I will highlight some willpower concepts from this book and other resources.  You can read them here or check out my blog “The Mind Matters” at The Minnesota Coaches Association which is slated to begin sometime in the Summer 2012.

What Color is Your Spark: Using Psychological Type to Energize Your Exercise Plan

It’s becoming indisputably clear that exercise not only benefits the body, it benefits the brain.  I just returned from the Learning and the Brain Conference in Chicago and the importance of physical exercise for learning, mood stability, and mental acuity was reiterated.  However, what  if we aren’t motivated to exercise or have a well-meaning trainer or friend who is trying to steer us toward a program that is workable for the short term, but tedious and likely to fizzle in the long run.

Shortly after I published a review on John Ratey’s Spark book, a scientifically based but very readable text on the benefits of exercise on brain health and function, I had several people step forward praising his work.  One of these was Suzanne Brue, author of The Eight Colors of Fitness and the former president of the Association for Psychological Type International.   One of Suzanne’s major projects is help match fitness approaches and goals to one’s MBTI type.

There are 8 major types based on the perceiving function.  Hence, as an ENFP, I am grouped with ENTPs because we both share dominant extraverted intuition.  Morever, instead of trying to remember a letter code, I am assigned a color, in this case silver, to help me remember what my type is.  Silver exercisers prefer variety and the opportunity to disguise exercise as fun..  Of course, we all prefer to have some degree of fun when we exercise, but is essential to silvers in order to sustain effort over the long haul. Other colors, such as the blues, respond better to goals and objective parameters.

Imagine a silver, who prefers variety and loosely defined objectives receiving exercise direction from someone who sees objective parameters as essential to a successful exercise program.  Here you may find a client and trainer who are initially attracted to each other because of the differences in approach but over the long haul, may grow weary of each other because of these differences.    Apart from the interpersonal element, an individual may also choose a regime that worked for a friend but become discouraged because it doesn’t work for him.   The exercise plan is not the problem but the fit may be.

The Eight Colors of Fitness website has many useful components. First, there is a quiz that will help you identify what type of exerciser you are-your fitness color.  It also has suggestions on how to energize your inner exercise warrior by giving concrete suggestions on what types of activities are likely to appeal to you in the long run.   There are also several links to articles that have featured the Eight Colors system including Arthritis Today, The Chicago Daily Herald, and the  Lifetime Fitness magazine.  Please visit Suzanne’s website and browse the offerings to see if this might help you get moving and stay moving.

Long ago in my career as a speech pathologist helping brain-injured people recover, it was intuitively clear to me that individual differences in the personality of the client dictated what approach would yield the best long-term results.  For any resilient changes to occur, a brain must be engaged and anything that goes against cognitive preference is likely to be discarded in the end (unless the client deliberately chooses to operate out of natural preference).   How one prefers to approach a challenge serves as the underpinning for the strategies he chooses to meet the challenge.

So it is with exercise!  Match your personality with the vast array of methods to achieve fitness goals. We now know that exercise and brain health are inextricably bound so start exploring your preferences for the sake of your body and your mind!  In  the words of  Thomas Jefferson:  A strong body makes the mind strong. As to the species of exercises, I advise the gun. While this gives moderate exercise to the body, it gives boldness, enterprise and independence to the mind.

For more information on the Eight Colors of Fitness system, there is a free webinar this Thursday, 12-12:12:45 EDT.  Click this link for more information and to register.

 

Q and A from the I-Brain Conference Part III: Exercise and the Brain

Exercise releases a substance that is  ”Miracle Grow for the Brain”, according to John Ratey, an expert on the effects of exercise on optimal brain functioning. The release of brain-derived neuroptropic factor (BDNF), in effect, fertilizes brain cells to keep them functioning and growing, as well as spurring the growth of new neurons.  This was one of  the several benefits of exercise that Dr. Ratey shared at the Learning and Brain Conference I attended recently.   We were designed to move and yet our culture has evolved to the point where we sit more often than we exercise. Tight clothes, lethargy, high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease aren’t the only threats from inactivity.  Our brains pay the price too.

Our ancestral brains and bodies were used to walking/running 10-14 miles per day. We kept active because we were searching for food or avoiding a threat.  Our brains benefited from this exercise. When we move, 3 important brain chemicals, serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine are released and the organism becomes patient, optimistic, focused and motivated. From an evolutionary context, these are the qualities that make if possible for man to zero in on it’s prey (food). Likewise, when an individual gets consistent and sufficient exercise in today’s world, these same neurochemicals  helps him or her keep a stable mood, focus on tasks, meet challenges and engage in purposeful activities .  The more we exercise, the more nerve synapses in the brain are primed to be alert to these chemicals making these beneficial states of mind available to us.

Another benefit of exercise is that it regulates the stress hormone cortisol.  The brain and body needs a certain amount of cortisol to respond to stress but excessive levels of cortisol has a toxic effect on neurons.  The neuronal connections erode in the presence of high and unrelenting levels of cortisol, causing difficulty with learning and memory.  The hippocampus structure in the brain is the way stay station that bundles new and stored information together making learning possible.  This structure is highly sensitive to the effects of cortisol. It is also a structure that benefits from BDNF, the chemical that nurtures neuronal growth.   Exercise attenuates the damaging effects of cortisol and at the same time, increases the growth of new brain cells via the action of BDNF.

Who do you think has the highest math and science scores in the world?  An Asian country?  We know it’s NOT the United States.  We aren’t even in the top 10.  It’s Finland.  The typical school day in Finland has 45 minute class periods followed by 15 minutes of compulsory exercise. Students don’t use these 15 minutes to check cell phones and laptops.  They go to the gym or step outside to throw a few snowballs.  The best time to learn new information and have it stick is after a period of physical activity.

The take-away:

1. Exercise every day not only to stay physically fit but to stay mentally fit.  The same activity can provide multiple benefits.  What an efficient use of time!

2. Keep challenging your mind so your brain takes advantage of it’s readiness to learn something new as a result of exercising.

After the conference, I purchased Dr. Ratey’s book Spark that covers this topic.   He makes the case that if you can’t find the motivation to exercise for the sake of your body, it is certainly a good idea  to move for the sake of your brain. This is a highly readable book that will inspire most couch potatoes to get moving once and for all!

Divers and Surfers: The World of the I-Brain

Diver brains and surfer brains are different.  The diver brain thinks deeply and can hold a line of thought for an extended period of time, generally without distraction. Imagine going deep beneath the surface, studying and thinking about the surroundings, carefully maintaining attention.   There are no cell phones, Google, or RSS feeds to interrupt the experience.  In contrast, the surfer brain skims the surface, taking in data and making rapid decisions and judgments about the data.  Stimuli are coming from all directions and the brain has to constantly  decide if it is relevant or not.  Much like surfing, it is exciting but the brain quickly fatigues.  Moreover, surfing absolutely precludes the possibility of deep thinking.

In recent weeks, I read  The Shallows by Nicholas Carr and Brain Rules by John J. Medina, in preparation for the 4-day Learning and the Brain Conference in February titled, iGENERATION:  HOW THE DIGITAL AGE IS ALTERING STUDENT BRAINS, LEARNING & TEACHING.   Clearly this is a hot topic.  In The Shallows, Carr sets up the argument that our brains, due to their neuroplastic nature, adapt to the demands of the environment.  He outlines the changes that likely occurred in the brain as a result of moving from the oral traditions of managing information, to the first methods of recording information on stones and papyrus, to the invention of the printing press and now the internet.  As information management evolved, some cognitive processes were strengthened and some were weakened.  Today’s brain is bombarded with information but how do we manage it so that we can also think?

Meanwhile, in the Brain Rules book, Medina addresses attention.  What engages the brain and what distracts it?  He states bluntly that the brain cannot multi-task  and he tells the story of his son trying to write a paper for school with 11 other windows open including 2 instant messaging screens!  Each time he has to shift attention, his brain has to engage, disengage, and re-engage somewhere else. This sequence has to occur every time attention is shifted. Studies show that a person who is interrupted takes 50% longer to complete a task and he makes up to 50% more errors in the process!  What’s more, this is an exhausting process.  I wonder how long a surfer could actually surf  if he had an endless wave?

I think we need both a diver brain and a surfer brain. However, it’s important to know what situation calls for which brain.  One does not put on an oxygen tank when he plans to surf and one does not go without one if he plans to dive.   The key to all of this will be teaching strategies to know how to manage the different demands that each situations calls for.  Do you have a paper to write?  Then it’s probably a good idea to close the other windows on your computer and turn off your cell phone.  Do you need to research something quickly?  Then Google is your answer, not the stacks at an old university library.  Do you want to get to know someone really well?  That’s a diver’s job.  Put away the cell phone.  Are you looking for a restaurant in the area?  Time to surf!  You get the idea.

I will have more to share on this topic after I attend the I-Brain conference in a couple of weeks.  As a life coach, I hope to learn strategies that will help everyone, student and non-student alike, maximize their performance in school and work, and reduce the potentially overwhelming feeling of brain fatigue as we manage our lives in the Age of Information.

The Prefrontal Cortex: Your Brain’s Search Engine

The Executive Brain written by Elkhonon Goldberg, is a book that examines the role of the frontal/prefrontal cortex (frontal lobes, frontal cortex and prefrontal cortex will all be used interchangeably in this article) in the overall functioning of the human mind. Goldberg, who studied under the venerable Russian psychologist Alexander Luria, is an engaging writer who describes the critical functions that the this brain structure plays in higher level thinking such as judgment, attention, problem solving, personality, imagination and ethical behavior. He uses a wide variety of examples and many excellent metaphors making the concepts accessible to most readers.   One of the metaphors he uses in his book is that of  a computer, wherein skills such as language, motor control, knowledge, and all of the possible skills that any brain can acquire are elegantly accessed via the frontal lobes, which serve the same function as an internet search engine.  The book , written in 2001 largely precedes the phenomenal emergence and importance of the internet search engine but  the power of this comparison written almost in passing,  continues to become more and more apt.  Increasingly, our minds are more and more challenged to stay focused, to access what is relevant, much the way a search engine cuts through irrelevancy and delivers the information we want.

The frontal lobes, and in particular, the prefrontal cortex, are connected to all of the other areas of the brain.  They do not store knowledge, per se.  Instead,they act as a a CEO, a general, or a sophisticated search engine to access the right information at the right time. Damage to this area of the brain can be devastating because even with normal functioning in other cortical areas, there is no way to get to it, to organize it, to use it.  Likewise, the development of these areas is critical because in an increasingly complex world, one must know how to think, to prioritize, to act appropriately more than ever before.

Recently, I attended the Project Zero education conference in Washington DC.   Howard Gardner, best known in educational circles for his theory on multiple intelligences, outlined 5 “new minds” that will be required of the  new generation of brains.  These new minds, as defined by Gardner include:

1. The Disciplined Mind -  A mind that can concentrate, hold attention, and understand in-depth.  In the digital world, the temptation is to take in snippets of information rather than to learn deeply.  However scholarship is a prerequisite to new ideas.   As Gardner stated, “You can’t think outside of the box until you know what the box is.”

2. The Synthesized Mind-  A mind that can blend and compare concepts. Cognitive flexibility.

3. The Creating Mind- A mind that can create new ideas. Entrepreneurship.  The willingness to make mistakes en route to new discoveries. Imagination!

4. The Respectful Mind- A mind that can understand the perspectives of another especially those who are from a different culture.

5. The Ethical Mind- A mind that does not confuse resourcefulness with cheating.

Never have the frontal lobes been more important in successfully navigating the challenges of today and in the future.   As the world rapidly changes and information, data and stimuli approach us from every angle,  a way to sort through and select the right course of action will be critical.  As a society, how are we progressing toward this goal?  Within the next few months, I will be attending two Learning and the Brain Conferences to find out what the experts in the field are saying.  One conference is titled, “The I-Generation: How the Digital Age is Altering Brains, Learning and Teaching”, the other is “The Science of Success: Optimizing Student Success and Reducing Failure.”

Whether one is a student, a young adult embarking on a career, or someone wanting to reinvent him or herself,  the concepts are the same.   Optimizing how we learn and respond, given the challenges and rapid pace of today’s world, is going be an important component for success moving forward.  The prefrontal cortex is indeed your personal search engine and mindfully and deliberately attending to it’s healthy development will pay off long into the future.

For general suggestions on how you can tune up your “search engine”, please contact me at annholm@annholm.net  or see my website at http://www.annholm.net/

A Review of 3 Brain Books

March is Brain Awareness Month so the bookstore was overflowing with intriguing selections for me to take on vacation.   I have a lifelong passion for brains.  How do they work? What happens when they are broken? How do you get the most out of your brain?  For instance, I am intrigued by the notion that many of the behavioral observations that have been made about the brain, behavior, cognition, and personality over the course of thousands of years can now be confirmed through imaging techniques such as the fMRI or the PET scan.  Indeed, there is no better time than now to learn about the brain, appreciate individual differences, and to be wowed by it’s wonders.

The first book I read was The Edison Gene/ADHD and the Gift of the Hunter Child by Thon Hartmann (By clicking the link, you can also read the American Psychiatric Institute’s review  of the book).  There is ongoing controversy as to whether ADHD is a real disorder or if it is the gift of creativity and adaptability in it’s highest form.  Thomas Edison, left school after only 3 months of formal education and was labeled, “a problem child, stupid and difficult” by his teachers.  He set his father’s barn on fire to see what would happen.  He laid on goose eggs to see if he could hatch them.  His mother had to move his laboratory into the basement for fear that he would blow up the house.  Of course, without Thomas Edison, there would be no light bulbs, no phonographs, and no motion pictures among other critical inventions.   The author makes the case that medicating or trying to “break”  the highly creative types like Edison, our society would not move forward.    As I read the book, I imagined the Thomas Edison types to be intuitive- thinking-perceiving types  ( ENTP  and the INTP) using the Myers-Briggs terminology.  Another parallel terms would be right brain thinking (holistic, random, intuitive and a “could be” focus) versus left brain thinking (linear, sequential, concrete,and a “what is” focus).

I agree with the author’s assertion that people are wired differently and are therefore more adept at various tasks.   Some individuals tend to remain open to changes in incoming data and adapt accordingly while others prefer structure, organization and consistency. Neither style of thinking is superior to the other.  [Read more...]

The Talent Code

“When Gallimore and Tharp studied John Wooden in 1974, they were surprised to find that he distributed praise and criticism talentedunevenly.  What’s more, he was open about this: …Wooden would say, “The good Lord, in his infinite wisdom did not make us all the same.  Goodness gracious, if he had, this would be a boring world, don’t you think?…each one of you deserves individual treatment that is best for you.” (The Talent Code, p 184-185)

The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle, released in May of 2009, asserts that “Greatness isn’t born. It’s grown. Here’s how.”  The book outlines 3 critical elements that foster talent namely deep practice which is slow, targeted, practice that depends on careful refinement of errors;  ignition or motivational fuel that can be triggered by any number of events such as pursuing a goal because someone you admire did it, or the presence of some other force that creates value or passion.  The third element is receiving master coaching and Coyle calls these coaches, “The Talent Whispers.”  Hmmmm.  Now that captured my attention!  As a long-time speech therapist, a mother, and more recently, a life coach, I was intrigued to read what qualities the author felt were present in master coaches.

The first quality was age(Coyle calls it The Matrix).  More than half the coaches that Coyle studied were in their 60′s or 70′s.  That makes sense if wisdom comes with age and one doesn’t get set in his ways. Either one can happen. Ironically, Jungian type development theory suggests we develop our dominant psychological  function up to age 7, our auxiliary or supporting function up to age 20,  the third preferred or tertiary function in our 30′s and 40′s, and the inferior, or least preferred function after that.  When we are young, much of our energy goes into developing our core and then when we get to be old salts, we can turn our attention to completing our personality.  Therefore, an older coach can draw on more perceptions and exercise greater depth of judgment.

Another desirable quality is being able to be laser sharp with coaching directions (the GPS Reflex). Try this. Do that. Layer the next skill upon the new skill.  The other day, I was reading an article in my favorite magazine, “Scientific American Mind”   titled “A New Vision For Teaching Science.” The United States ranks 25th among developed nations in math and science.  The nations that lead the way advocate revisiting topics moving from basic to sophisticated views.  Refining to create deeper understanding.

Theatrical honesty or basically “being a character” apparently contributes to the effectiveness of a master coach. Coyle mentions coaches with snow-white pompadours and black leather jackets, turban-style head wraps and  track suits. Personal style.  When I think back to the teachers I had (or my kids had) that captured attention, many of them did have a unique quality that made them more interesting: Mr. Craft throwing erasers, Mr. Henrich with his classroom that looked like a living room, or Mrs. Chang the piano teacher from China who would complain, “You have no ENNNERGY in your fingers!!!  ENERGY! ENERGY!!”

Perceptiveness rounds out the list of virtues that make up a master coach. Master coaches want to know as much as possible about each student so they can customize their communication to fit the larger patterns in a students life.  Individual differences matter and the coach watches for the qualities that make someone unique.  I use the MBTI results as a springboard for an interactive dialogue to make the connection between personality type and learning style. I wonder how I can address this client so his/her brain is primed to take in information and grow from it.  In the coaching parlance, there is the concept of resonance.  What makes an individual light pick a lockup and want to know more?  Of all of the qualities attributed to a master coach, this one seems to be the most critical.  Like cracking a lock on a safe, listening for the tumblers to click is just as important as turning the dial.

The Talent Code is worth reading particularly because of  the thought provoking nature of this topic, the pursuit of excellence.  Many of the concepts in the book are another angle on what is already intuitively known about the formula for success: practice, passion and a teacher to show you the way are key elements in harvesting talent.  What makes this book interesting is the references to the role of myelin, the fatty substance that coats nerves cells as it responds to these elements, adding speed and accuracy to movements and thoughts.  While it’s  tempting to believe that the formula of 3  key components  as identified by the author would optimize myelination ,  the holy grail for the foundation for greatness,  with the brain, it’s seldom that simple.