Learning Lab

Mental Maps in Coaching

By Amy Brann

  • How do we learn new things?
  • How do we remember old things?
  • How do we easily achieve our goals?

The answer to all these questions lies partly in mental maps. As you know, we have lots and lots of neurons in our brains. These neurons communicate with one another using chemicals and electricity. It’s like a neighbourhood where if number 27 wanted to speak to number 32 to invite them to a party, they could either open their door and shout across the street or they could pick up the phone and give them a call. That communication, that message, leaves a trace; a connection. Imagine now that number 27 also shouts out to number 34 and number 25 and even number 56. All these communications leave a connection. Before you know it you have a map of those connections. Just to have one little party a whole map of connections is made.

In actual fact we make mental maps for everything, people we see, things we do, thoughts we have and these mental maps involve typically 10,000 to 50,000 neurons. Now that is a lot of connecting!

Personally, I’m a real fan of Darwinism; at med school I was lucky enough to take some extra classes on Darwinian medicine. Just recently I found out about a guy called Edelman who talks about Neural Darwinism, in essence ‘use it or lose it’. Basically there will be things that you use and keep the memory of, like a party. You may reply the brilliant party you threw time and time again and enjoy the memory for a long time. Other memories, which you would have created a mental map for at the time, like inviting a person to the party, you may forget and never access again.

The maps that are regularly accessed actually get hardwired into our brain. This makes it easier to access them in the future. Obviously we can see the use of this, driving a car – many maps are immediately brought to life to enable us to get from a-to-b seamlessly, often times not even remembering the route. What about reaching for the biscuit tin when you’re feeling low? Or retreating emotionally when your wife tells you to do yet another thing in the house? These have mental maps too.

While we believe in unlimited potential, there seems to be a limit to the amount of energy available for the neurons to use moment to moment. This means that if a neuron isn’t active the unused connections get erased.

The complexity of an individual’s mental maps is huge and therefore the potential to work with is huge. The Socratic method of Coaching, where we believe that our role is to bring out the answers that are within you is scientifically substantiated here; we would be limiting you to give you advice based on our mental maps.

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