Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for May, 2010

Photo credit: Todd Huffman

Meditation, mindfulness, awareness, consciousness and metacognition are terms appearing in different contexts and defined through different schools of thought. They all refer to processes within the mind that have to do with the mind itself. They all try to increase knowledge about the self and help find some degree of control over or release from the automatic verbal and nonverbal hum generated by neural networks in the brain. The idea is that through self-awareness, release and increased knowledge, more control and autonomy can be experienced. A person can more fully concentrate on the most important thoughts at the moment and choose to feel better by centering on adaptive feelings and mindstates.

The brain never sleeps. It continuously goes over information recorded in activity of neural networks, rearranging and combining it with past experience and producing future predictions. Meditation techniques that aim at silencing the brain usually actually result in immense activation because the brain cannot cease doing what it is built for. The brain does not want to be quiet because the fluctuations of activation and deactivation are what define its existence. And as people typically relate the self to activity of the brain, the brain’s activity defines the existence of the whole person. Trying to silence the brain can therefore result in a quite discomforting feeling of nonexistence.

In addition to endless activity, the brain does not understand the word “no”. When your try not to think of something, the mental image of the “thing” will automatically be produced in the mind. There is then, no sense to try and stop the brain from producing for example maladaptive thoughts or feelings. This will only result in activation of their representations in the mind as well as the negative feelings associated with them. Trying to actively stop thinking depressive thoughts will only result in a mind full of depressive thoughts.

However, the ongoing automatic and responsive activity of the brain naturally contains many levels of control and awareness. When there are maladaptive thought processes or mindstates that a person wishes not to experience, what needs to happen is a shift in the level of awareness and a change in feelings towards indifference. Through recognition of malign thought processes, a person can gradually learn to view them more objectively and detach emotion from thought content, which leads to deactivation of the thought and more infrequent appearance in the mind. Techniques that increase self-awareness are thus also the core of many types of psychotherapy. Problems of the mind can be cured by consciously altering processes of the mind.

Although thinking about the functions of the brain and awareness of thought processes may feel detached from normal life, there is a lot of which people without specific problems can make use.  Approaching the workings of one’s mind in a more relaxed and objective state is beneficial for not only people with thought processes disturbing mental health but for everyone. For example, increasing metacognitive awareness and metacognitive skills can support learning . Becoming more aware of own thought processes helps identify the way that knowledge is constructed in the mind. It helps answer questions like: ”That do I know?” ”What do I not know?” ”How could I understand this better?” and ”Where could I find this information?”.

Information intensive work typically requires functioning within hypermedia contexts. Even the more conservative companies have now evolved into complex organizations with numerous parallel processes through which employees have to define their work. When thinking about the nature of modern work it becomes evident that the amount of specific knowledge that people have is actually less important as flexibility of thought and use of metacognition. To succeed it is more essential to understand how to make use of available resources, how to develop oneself and operate within different contexts. Information contents do not matter as much as the employees’ flexibility in using them and viewing their personal contribution from different points of view.

Developing oneself through meditation, increasing self-awareness and training metacognitive skills are not only for those in therapy or those quitting work and leaving for India to become enlightened. They are ordinary human skills that are already needed in day-to-day work. There are ample possibilities for learning more about self-awareness and a lot of scientific and non-scientific information available from studies on metacognition to yogic philosophy about self-awareness and enlightenment. What is still missing is an integration of this knowledge into leadership and management. Ideas about personnel development and wellbeing are typically somewhat regarded as expendable or additional on top of “real work”. However, as metacognition is becoming a vital skill for knowledge workers, companies should consider integrating more metacognitive and awareness-supporting elements into their basic functions. Luckily with the abundance of different types of software and platforms, there are many possibilities to further this kind of thinking and integrate it into the core functions of work. In the future, instead of arranging for separate personal development programs, working itself can contain functions that increase awareness, wellbeing and learning.

Read Full Post »

Coaching is a term that is used for various kinds of services aimed at promoting personal development and providing support for making good career choices.Coaching as a service is easy to approach. It does not sound as threatening as counseling or therapy even though they are all based on problem-solving interaction between people and try to produce change in thought processes and life situations. In addition, when considering the form, general aims of interaction and factors determining efficacy of all these services, they come very close to each other.

Several studies have shown that the framework or theory behind coaching and also behind therapy is not the critical factor in achieving good results – good results meaning actual change in thoughts, feelings and behaviour. The critical factor is the relationship between the coach and the client: if the client feels that she can trust the coach, good results will be guaranteed.  How can this trust be created?  One basic issue that builds trust is the expertise and experience of the coach and that these aspects come forth naturally in interaction – the coach is able to signal her expertise to the client.

Trust can also be created actively by using special techniques in interaction. These techniques are taught in many therapy trainings and during basic practical studies in psychology and include active listening, reading “between the lines” and acting upon nonverbal messages as well as signaling understanding. Although the factors and techniques behind professionalism can be singled out and taught, the best measure of expertise in people-related services is personal experience of the service.

Through personal experience of being a client in coaching, I have discovered that a trustworthy coach is straightforward and honest (not too diplomatic) and has a genuine trust in that the wanted change can be achieved.  During the past year two coaches have truly made an impression.  They were both very experienced and had a lot of knowledge about psychology but in addition to this they were both also very good at finding and bringing forth the most important questions to be tackled. In fact, very seldom were specific answers given to these questions during the coaching sessions. What was more important was the process that had begun during the sessions that made it possible for answers to start appearing one by one.

Another specific skill that these coaches had that made them excellent professionals was that they could easily recognize and adapt to different moods or problem areas at hand. Excellent coaches adapt efficiently to differing needs of different customers and their individual situations. They must also take many roles during one coaching process. For example, usually in the beginning they need to be an understanding and listening  “mother “ in order to help people clarify their thoughts and get a better understanding of the challenge at hand. An essential part of coaching is also being “a career counselor” who is able to help the client in converting her thoughts into attainable goals and outline several paths leading to these goals. Knowing what to do is essential but we also need to act upon this knowledge and this is where the role of the “father” comes in and becomes realized in feedback about fruitful and not so fruitful actions.

There are many steps that the coach has to take in order to enable smooth and customer-oriented approach in the actual coaching situation. Some examples of skills needed in coaching are understanding the message of client, understanding what she does yet know in order to comprehend the big picture and being able to find relevant questions based on this information. In general, the coach has to understand what the client wants to achieve and why, even though it would be something very different from the coach’s values.  She must also be able to see the meaning, rational and positive aspects in the client’s thoughts even though they would be very different from her own.

From the viewpoint of the coach the most important skills to develop are metacognition and self-awareness. They permit identifying the emotions of others and stepping into different roles from which to meet the needs of the client. In work that highlights personality and interaction, the tool to develop is the self, and luckily in this area, there is always room for development and refinement.

Read Full Post »