Coaching The Brain

Joseph O’Connor is the founder of the Neuroscience Coaching Centre, Co-Founder of the ICC, The International Coaching Community. Joseph is one of the worlds most renowned experts on NLP, Neuro Linguistic Programming and written dozens of articles, over 20 books and education material on NLP and Coaching. In this show you can learn about:

  • What Neuroplasticity is and how we could develop it.
  • How can we coach the brain?
  • The difference between experiences vs. the medical parts of the brain
  • What is hot cognition and why it is so important?

The Leadership Hacker News

How many leaders does it take to change a light bulb? Well, the answer’s one, however, it takes seven or eight leaders to decide that it’s the right light bulb to change that it needs changing now, and that we have the right technical kit and equipment to change the light bulb. So where am I getting at here? Well, I asked a question. What is the optimum number of leaders that we need typically in a quorum to make the right decisions? There’s lots of research about this. So, I dove into Harvard Business Review and Governance today. Harvard Business Review claims that seven is the right number and odd numbers in fact of any criteria is a good thing. While Governance today said it was eight to ten. Getting back to your actual number, think about the benefits of a large group. The more people you have, theoretically, the better chance you have getting the best information.

However, if that said seven or ten have really opened channels of communication, have created a flow of information through their workforce, then it is probably the right number. What is critically important however, is the diversity of that seven to ten, making sure they bring social sensitivity to situations, making sure that they reflect the true voice of their workforce in those meetings and have the real clarity understanding of expectations from not only their workforce, but their shareholders too. Going way back to the 1970s research concluded by Hackman and Vidmar on the Optum size of groups for membership, communication and outcomes actually composed an optimum size of four point six. This is based on research and science and still holds true somewhat today. Their study concluded that senior teams operate best when the optimum size of number is about seven. Correlated with our recent research, the research and studies provide evidence that the more the numbers are in a team and particularly a leadership team, the more likely the team is to encounter problems with its functioning and its outcomes. So, getting the size right, get the diversity of your team, right, tick, but let’s not forget. Engagement of that team is incredibly important, and size alone is not sufficient in creating a winning success. That success depends on you as the leader of that leadership team, encouraging, engaging, and facilitating great conversations so they put their energy to the front so that you all collectively can achieve your goals. And for those listeners here today who have maybe smaller teams than seven in its entirety, who’s on your personal board? How do you extend that team? So, you get diversity of thinking input and ideas. That’s been The Leadership Hacker News. Let’s dive into the show.

Start of Podcast

Steve Rush: Our special guest today is Joseph O’Connor. He’s the founder of the Neuroscience Coaching Center, co-founder of the ICC, that’s the International Coaching Community. And he’s one of the most renowned experts on NLP Neurolinguistic Programming. Joseph’s written dozens of articles and over twenty books on the education of NLP and coaching. In his new book, Coaching The Brain, he explores how we can use our knowledge of the brain to help ourselves and others learn. We’re truly in the presence of one of the world’s global thought leaders in this space. Joseph, welcome to the show.

Joseph O’Conner: Thanks Steve. It’s great to be here. Many thanks for those kind words.

Steve Rush: You’re very welcome. You have an incredible history. There are very few guests that I get to speak to where I already have a bunch of their books that have taught me on my journey and yours is one of those. So, I’m delighted that we have the chance to speak it through. Tell us a bit about that, journey for you?

Joseph O’Conner: Originally [laugh]many years ago, I was professional guitarist. I was a professional musician, and this got me into an interest, of course, in how we perform? You know, how people do well or not. Because if you’re playing classical guitar in front of a group of people, it’s quite nerve wracking. So, I found that with most players, I could teach them how to play, but I couldn’t teach them how to be able to give their best in front of a challenging audience. If you see what I mean, you know, that’s just the first thing. I think in any kind of skill you can teach the skill, you can learn the skill, but it’s something else to actually be able to do the skill when you really need to, especially if it’s under challenging conditions. So, this really got me interested, in first of all, NLP, coaching you know, in a game of all sorts of things and really how we can get out of our own way when we really need to deliver.

Steve Rush: And since then, you have really dedicated almost a lifetime’s work in that subject of NLP and coaching. What were the things that really drew you into that as a genre and as a philosophy, if you like?

Joseph O’Conner: Well, I’ve always been interested in the inner game as it were. It’s fantastic to see people who are really, really good at something, you know, whether it’s athletics, music theater, presentations, teaching, it doesn’t matter, in anything. You see someone who’s really, really good at something and it looks easy. I can remember as a kid seeing these great guitarists and thinking, hey, I could do that. You know, that looks really easy. And then when you actually come to do it, it’s not, it’s quite different. So, it’s like what goes on inside as it were, these great people that allow them to not only do so well, but also to make it look so easy. And I guess this is what interested me all through when I was learning anything, that inner game thing, really.

Steve Rush: And the inner game as you call it, it’s almost where NLP really overlays particularly well. So, the neuro is the neocortex, the part of our brain that’s kind of supportive. And then of course.

Joseph O’Conner: Yeah.

Steve Rush: Neuro and linguistic is in how we teach our brain to perform in a certain way. And it is about teaching in habits, isn’t it?

Joseph O’Conner: Yes, it is. I mean, I got on to NLP [laugh] again, through music, which was funny, but yes, neuro you know, the brain, the mind, how we think? Linguistic, how we communicate? Because language is just so amazing. There aren’t that many words, but the ways that we can put them together to be able to communicate with ourselves and with others is just incredible. And my father was an actor and a writer as well. So, I kind of got that quite early and then programming, because I don’t think the brain really works as a computer. I think that’s an out molded metaphor, but the programming in the sense of how do we accomplish things, you know, how do we actually do things? How does it all work together in order to get things done? I think that’s the basis of NLP. And then of course those things in terms of, what do we want? What are our goals? What’s important to us? What do we believe? How do we act? This is all really important in coaching and getting the best from ourselves and from other people.

Steve Rush: And the irony of course is, that we’ve all been programming our brain broadly unconsciously from the moment that we were aware of the first environmental things around us. We started that coding and programming from a very early age, often that send us on a track, which we either recognize is helpful or hold us back, right?

Joseph O’Conner: Yeah, well, you know, when we’re babies and children, we just take in the world and we don’t discriminate very much about it you know, we don’t make judgements about it so much. So, we are very, very sensitive. I think that’s the great strength of human beings. We’re incredibly sensitive to each other, to language, to the messages we receive. And we’re always, always looking to try and make it mean something. To try and understand it, and to help to predict what’s going to happen because a random world, you know, where we just don’t know what’s going to happen next. We can’t prepare for it. It’s awful. It’s an awful idea. So, we’re always trying to predict, we’re always trying to have ideas, beliefs, mental models that allow us to predict and find our way through the world in the best way.

And yes, we are very sensitive to this, and of course our great strength and weakness is our ability to learn and to take in information and on a neuroscience point of view, it’s that neuroplasticity of the brain, it’s the brain’s ability to change itself in response to experience. So, I like to think of the brain as a verb, you know, when we think of the brain, we kind of think of a big lump of whatever. It’s a bit like soft butter, really, but it’s stuff, but it’s really a verb. It’s really an organ for converting our experience into nervous tissue.

Steve Rush: Mm.

Joseph O’Conner: And then the nervous tissue in the brain in turn influences our experience and what we do and what we can do on from that. So, it’s an amazing dynamic process. And our brain’s changing all the time you know, my brain’s changing, yours is changing. Our listeners brains will be changed after listening to this podcast. You can’t help it. We are influenced by that. And that’s both a blessing and a curse because in terms of the brain, the brain doesn’t discriminate between some really poor messages and some really good ones.

Steve Rush: Mm.

Joseph O’Conner: So, it doesn’t matter whether people are telling you or you are telling yourself more insidiously you know, I’m no good, I can’t do this. This’ll never work. All of these repetitive thoughts are going to build up the connections in the brain. That’s going to start to make that a habit of thinking. In other words, a thought that’s going to be the default easiest thought to fall into, in response to whatever happens.

Steve Rush: Yeah.

Joseph O’Conner: So, the brain doesn’t discriminate about that. If you repeat that and if you get those messages, that’s what the brain learns. Whereas of course we don’t want to learn that sort of thing. We want the messages of, you know, you are good. You can do this. This is great. This is interesting, but we’ve got to take charge of our own learning very often.

Steve Rush: And the reality is as a species, a human being, human sapien, we really want it to be as straightforward and as easy as possible. We often look for the quickest, fastest, easiest route because our body doesn’t like to face into the emotions that come with that challenge, right?

Joseph O’Conner: No, indeed. And we’re quite lazy thinkers. There’s this idea of the cognitive mind, you know?

Steve Rush: Yeah.

Joseph O’Conner: It’s hard work to think clearly and well and we tend to move away from it, which means that sometimes the sapien part [laugh] doesn’t work so well.

Steve Rush: That’s right.

Joseph O’Conner: My sapien ends.

Steve Rush: And I noticed that you drew a correlation early in your studies, when you were looking at professional musicians who were incredibly well versed, and you facing that kind of ambition to want to do the same. If we apply the approach of neuroscience to those individuals who are excel at anything actually.

Joseph O’Conner: mm.

Steve Rush: The two or three things that you notice that happen alongside is, one. There’s repetition and practice. Because without that, you don’t get good.

Joseph O’Conner: Yeah.

Steve Rush: But also, there is a definite conditioning of the mind that said I can, which keeps people going rather than I can’t and holds people back. And that’s also a core part of NLP teachings, isn’t it?

Joseph O’Conner: Oh, yes. Yeah, absolutely. You know, there’s that saying? Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you are right.

Steve Rush: Yeah.

Joseph O’Conner: Because in that sense, you’ve conditioned yourself to, or put it this way, if you’re going to succeed, it’s good to believe it, right. You go into it fully, wholeheartedly, committedly. You’re much more likely to succeed than if you go into it thinking, oh, well, maybe, you know, I’m not so sure about this. I’m not so good. That’s kind of setting yourself up for failure. Now, there’s no guarantees in the end of course. You may or may not get what you want, but you’re more likely if you enter into it with those more positive intentions and positive ideas.

Steve Rush: Yeah.

Joseph O’Conner: And the repetition is important, absolutely. That’s the way that we build habits. And we want to build habits because habits just help us to do things automatically. And we don’t want to have to think over carefully, everything that we possibly do, these habits are really important, there’s the saying, I think from the Chinese originally, that habits start as cobwebs, but they may end as chains. You know, we want to be careful what sort of habits we form because they’re incredibly powerful.

Steve Rush: Yeah, be careful what you wish for and all that, isn’t it?

Joseph O’Conner: Absolutely.

Steve Rush: Yeah.

Joseph O’Conner: Absolutely.

Steve Rush: So, we’re going to dive into a little bit about coaching the brain and neuroplasticity and neuroscience in the moment before I do, though, I’m just intrigued to dive into the whole community that you set up and founded. So, the ICC is definitely one of the most recognized international coaching communities in the world. And that must be a fantastic experience to have seen that grow from a little acorn into hundreds of trees all over the world now. Tell me a little bit about the ICC?

Joseph O’Conner: Yes, well, we started the ICC myself and my wife and partner, Andrea. We started it in Brazil. In fact, around about 2001, we wanted to form something that encapsulated those three words. Like coaching, yes, absolutely. We were both coaches. We were both passionate and are passionate about helping people to be the best they can be as well as ourselves. So coaching, yes, international, we started internationally. The first was in Poland, I think. The second was in Rio Janeiro. The third was in Arboga in Sweden. So, it’s like, it was international right from the start. And, you know, there’s something about coaching something about people and helping people in this way that is international, it’s transcends culture and country. When you dig down, we’re all human beings and we all respond to the same basic things of what we want and what’s important to us.

That international was very important from the start and then community, we chose that word quite carefully because a community is a group of people that wants to be together that shares value. I think very important for a group of people, because yes, you can kind of group together, you can be together, but do you want to be together? Do you share those values? And that for us was really important. So yes, we started then and now the ICC has, oh, I don’t know, the exact numbers, but something like sixteen thousand trained certified coaches in over sixty countries. And we have fifty trainers all over the world.

Steve Rush: Yeah.

Joseph O’Conner: So, it’s wonderful to see.

Steve Rush: Amazing legacy, amazing legacy, and then fast forward to today. What’s the focus of both you and Andrea’s work today?

Joseph O’Conner: Well, I’m particularly interested at the moment in creativity, this kind of strange word you know, we say creativity, but it’s really a process. Again, it’s really about, how are you thinking? What are you doing? And it’s probably the most valued and valuable commodity, process, gift, whatever you want to call it, talent that there is around because, you know, as the world moves so far, especially technologically. You can create good products and have good ideas, but then, you know, [laugh] maybe a year, maybe months, maybe weeks later and the world’s caught up and you’ve got to continue to do it. And I think you can see this really clearly with businesses. The businesses that are doing well are, the fast, nimble creative ones that are always being able to change and adapt and come up with something that works rather than the more monolithic you know, here’s the product and this is great, and this is how it’s going to be. You’ve got to keep changing. So that ability to come up with something new, that works, that’s appropriate, that fits, is just so important and something that I’ve got really interested in and how it relates to our intuitions about what to do and what works.

Steve Rush: Yeah, and I’ve also had a passion for creativity and studied it too. And delighted, we can kick this around, because what I’ve found in my research and exploring this whole philosophy is, this is something that as young children, we did incredibly well, we were naturally intuitive and we were naturally would go with our gut feel and we would be creative and we would play. But as we got a little bit older and more mature in our years and our days, it often was squeezed out of us unconsciously or consciously in some cases by our environment. What’s the reason from your perspective, do you think that some people really struggle with this whole label of creativity?

Joseph O’Conner: Well, yeah, a lot. I mean a lot of people think they aren’t creative. They think that it’s some kind of magical talent that you are born with or not. And I don’t think that’s true at all. I think we’re all naturally creative just by virtue of being human.

Steve Rush: Right.

Joseph O’Conner: I mean, you’re quite right about children and being creative. And I can remember myself and I think we all can of those feelings when we were young, when it’s just, yeah, we could just think and play, and it would be very spontaneous and flowing. And then gradually as you say, this tends to go. And I think, I mean, there’s many reasons, but I think one of the reasons is the way sometimes that people are taught, like, here’s the right answer, okay.

Steve Rush: Mm-hmm.

Joseph O’Conner: And this is how it’s done and well, yes, this is all very interesting what you are doing, but you know, you’re not quite right. This is a little bit silly. This is how it’s done. This is the right answer. And we get imprisoned by the bars of the right answer. And then we forget all about the other answers and we forget that the right answer is only right in terms of the right question. It’s the question that’s important. Not the answer.

Steve Rush: Yeah.

Joseph O’Conner: The answer is only a response to the question. If you generate interesting, good, powerful, and new questions, you are going to get better answers. And I remember reading a statistics somewhere and I can’t remember it exactly, unfortunately, but it’s something like at the age of seven. The average child asks something like two hundred questions a day, right, [laugh].

Steve Rush: Wow.

Joseph O’Conner: By the age of twenty-seven, it’s down to about four questions a day.

Steve Rush: Blimey.

Joseph O’Conner: Of which one is probably, what’s for lunch? [Laugh].

Steve Rush: [laugh].

Joseph O’Conner: But you know, you can see that and that I think encapsulates what happens with us and how we tend to kind of sink into this well yeah. But all the answers are out there, let’s just fit into them.

Steve Rush: And do you think there’s something to do with habit here as well? We get out the habit of being creative. We get out the habit of play. We get out the habit of asking questions.

Joseph O’Conner: Yeah, we do. You know, for again, from the neuroscience point of view, habit is something that you’ve practiced with attention. And if it’s a good habit, it fits, and you’ve done it and you’ve built it up consciously. So, you forget about it. You know, all of these things that we do automatically, we don’t have to think about them. We forget about them. I think there’s something really important about choosing your habits well. You choose your habits well, including habits of thinking, then you are going to do much better. And if one of those habits is thinking yes, of course I’m creative. Even if it’s only in small ways, I am creative, I am intuitive. I can do this. And to give yourself the opportunity to do it and to continue to repeat doing it. Although of course you’re not always going to be so successful as you would like, it’s that repetition, it’s the attention. It’s the emotion and the value behind it. That’s going to drive you forward and you’ll get better at it. There’s no doubt about it.

Steve Rush: Yeah, and there’s part of the limbic system called the basal ganglia, whose job it is to keep us in that habit. And as soon as we don’t give it attention, it starts to lose that habit. And all the, while we think that habits formed, we can also lose habits as quickly as we can repeat them and gain them.

Joseph O’Conner: Yeah, we can lose habits. And of course, a lot of people want to lose habits.

Steve Rush: Yeah.

Joseph O’Conner: And that’s fine. And you can, of course, and the way to lose a habit is to replace it by another one. I like the metaphor of the ski slope. It’s like, you’ve got the ski slope with this unbroken snow, which is like the metaphor for the brain. And there aren’t any connections. So, then the first skier goes down and makes a track. There’s already a track in the snow, tends to follow that. And the third and the fourth. So, after a while, because so many skiers have gone down in the same way, you’ve got this track and that’s the habit.

Steve Rush: Yeah.

Joseph O’Conner: And that’s the connection in the brain that’s been worn down. So that’s the default way that people will go down. Now, if you want to change the habit, what you have to do is, to ski down another way, not use the ski track that’s already there.

Steve Rush: Yeah.

Joseph O’Conner: And if you continue then to ski down the other way, you’ll make a track there and the snow will cover over the first one. So, we are more in control. We are in control of our habits as long as we feel that, and we can change them when we become aware of them. And of course, the difficulty is always, the habit is easy, it’s the path of the least resistant.

Steve Rush: It’s a fabulous analogy. I’ll be absolutely using that from today onwards. Thank you for sharing it.

Joseph O’Conner: [Laugh], good.

Joseph O’Conner: So, let’s dive into the book, Coaching The Brain. What was the inspiration for you having? And if I can be so bold, you’ve covered pretty much every genre across the whole NLP and coaching landscape that I can see. Then coaching the brain seems like an obvious place to fit because that’s pretty much all of the teachings I think you’ve had in the past. But what was the inspiration for the book for you?

Joseph O’Conner: Well, two things. I like to write books on things I’m interested in, and I want to learn about, so I don’t like to, I don’t want to write a book on something that I feel that I know a lot about, and I’m an expert on, and it’s just kind of filling in the pages. I want to write something that I’m interested in. I’ve always been interested in neuroscience and from a coaching point of view. Well, from any point of view, really, I like to look at the gaps, what’s missing in some study? In the same way that as a coach when you ask questions and when people are talking to you, it’s of course, interesting to know what they’re saying, but it’s also very interesting to know what they’re not saying. What’s missing? What could or even should be there in order to understand what’s going on. So, in the same way if we go back a few years, there wasn’t a great deal of representation of neuroscience in coaching.

Steve Rush: That’s right.

Joseph O’Conner: And I thought this was a gap, and I thought it was important because the more we know about the brain, the more we can understand the purely psychological models of what works and what doesn’t work, and we can refine them, and we can also change them. And we can also get new ones because the cognitive neuroscience is the biology of the mind. So, to understand that biology of the mind is going to help us to understand our mind and others and to use it better. So, the book came from that. It’s like, yeah, neuroscience is interesting. I think I want to learn about this. I think it needs to be in coaching. So actually, I went first of all to New York to get a brain scan for myself.

Steve Rush: Ah.

Joseph O’Conner: [laugh] it’s like, you know, let’s start with yourself of course. I wasn’t ill in any way, but I did want to do this and to find out. So, this was very interesting, and I came back with a lot of highly colored photographs and a lot of insight into how I think and you know, some kind of explanations about, oh yeah, that’s always puzzled me. Well, yeah, that’s how it works after all. And so, took the book from there, talking with many people, of course, reading and putting it together, but always with a sense of the subtitle of the book, which is practical applications of neuroscience to coaching.

Steve Rush: Yeah.

Joseph O’Conner: Because, yeah, of course neuroscience is interesting and you can really delve into it how the brain works and you can go into all the Latin names of all the, bits that are there. But in the end, unless you can actually use, for me, anyway, unless you can actually use that to make a difference for yourself and for other people, then for me, it’s you know, it’s only the first step, so, you know, hey, yeah. How can we use this? What’s important? And that’s how the book came about.

Steve Rush: And I observe in my coaching career, so I’ve been coaching professionally and as an amateur coach, probably for twenty-five years. And it wasn’t until I really understood the impact of neuroscience on my coachee that I really changed my coaching game because it is as simple as just understanding some of the subtle levers we might want to pull or not, as the case may be, the language we could choose, the environment we’re in, all of these have an effect on an outcome, don’t they?

Joseph O’Conner: Yes. Oh yes, they do.

Steve Rush: So how do we go about coaching the brain specifically?

Joseph O’Conner: [Laugh] well, when you say that’s phrase, it’s an interesting question, because paradoxically my immediate response would be, we got to be careful not to isolate the brain and to think about when your are coaching somebody, you are just coaching their mind or their brain or any particular part of them. And of course, as coaches, we know, and all good coaches know that you are coaching a human being, mind, body, spirit, all the time. So, in terms of that metaphor of coaching the brain, it’s well, how does our understanding of the biology of the mind help us to be better coaches for our clients who come to us and indeed for ourselves in order to be, you know, healthier, happier and more productive? There was three important things. I think, if I could pick the three biggest, most important things that came out of my studies for that book.

Steve Rush: Sure.

Joseph O’Conner: And they’re not rocket science in a way. And you know, anyone listening may think, well, yeah, that’s obvious, isn’t it? Well, yes. In a way it is, but that’s again, you know, when we look at something and say, oh, that’s obvious, I knew that. Then sometimes that’s an excuse just to forget it and think, well, okay, fine, you know, been there, done that, got the t-shirt and we can forget about it again. But if you take these things seriously, they make a huge difference. So, the first one was sleep. Sleep is really, really important for our brain and for our health. You know, there’s only a few things that you die if you don’t get them, one is air of course, very quickly, another, is water, food, and the fourth is sleep.

If you don’t sleep, you die. Takes a few weeks, but you do. And the brain needs sleep in order to consolidate the memories and the skills that you’ve done. The brain needs rest and healing every night, it’s really important. And one thing really struck me with regard to some of the statistics which is, in the UK, of course we have this daylight-saving time where at the end of March, the clocks go forward, I think, and you have one hour less sleep. And even on one hour less sleep. The road traffic accidents due to people not paying attention, spiked dramatically the next day.

Steve Rush: Wow.

Joseph O’Conner: Even, you know, one hour less sleep. So, to expect people to function well on poor quality and poor quantity of sleep is crazy. And it’s such a shame when, you know, hardworking executives will say things like, well, you know, yeah, I can do fine on four hours sleep at night. There’s a lot of work to do, right. It’s more important than sleep well, in one way, it is. But in the other way, they’re working against themselves because if they took an extra two, three hours of sleep, they’d actually do better with the work that they had to do during the day.

Steve Rush: Yeah, just one observation actually around sleep. If you think about it in simple terms, if you didn’t eat for a whole 24-hour period at worst, you’d be hungry. But if you didn’t sleep for a whole 24-hour period, you’d start pumping into psychosis.

Joseph O’Conner: Yes.

Steve Rush: That’s the difference between the two kinds of approaches, isn’t it?

Joseph O’Conner: [Laugh] yes. Well, I don’t know, I’m tempted to say we’ve all done it and pulled an all nighter. I certainly have, and you’re just useless the next day. Completely useless. It’s you know, you just lose a day [laugh] instead of doing some good for yourself at night, you just lose the next day. So yeah, absolutely.

Steve Rush: So, what were the other things that came out?

Joseph O’Conner: Well, exercise, physical exercise, because of course the brain is embodied, it’s part of the body and if the body isn’t healthy, then the brain doesn’t do well either. So physical exercise very important. And the third is meditation, some kind of meditation or mindfulness practice has really iron clad research, in terms of benefits for emotional intelligence, emotional stability, focus, concentration for the brain.

Steve Rush: Yeah, all form part of resilience as well. Ironically.

Joseph O’Conner: Yes.

Steve Rush: Yes. So, when I dove into the book, there were a few areas I’d just love to explore with you. One was hot cognition. Tell us a bit about what that is?

Joseph O’Conner: Hot cognition. Yeah, well, I guess the metaphor here and there’s been a metaphor like this for thousands of years, the Greeks had this metaphor of the human being as a charioteer. And they have two horses drawing chariot. One is black horse, which represents emotions. And one is the white horse that represents reason. And in the metaphor, which I think Plato used first. The chariot is always trying to get these two horses to kind of work together. And the problem is, very often the black horse of emotions kind of going off their own way and drawing the chariot to one side where they don’t want to go. And sometimes that indeed is our experience of emotions kind of take us over and we do or say things that we regret afterwards which is a pity because emotions have enormous energy.

And to be able to harness that energy in a constructive way is, really, really important rather than allow the energy to either, you know, explode like in anger or to kind of implode like in anxiety or fear and stop us doing something or in anger, you know, make us do something that we didn’t want to do. So, you know, that’s one metaphor. Now, the metaphor that I prefer is the hot and cold streams, because all of our thinking is warm to some extent, right. You don’t get anyone who’s completely cold, rational, logical thought outside Star Trek, you know, outside the Falcon.

Steve Rush: [Laugh] yeah.

Joseph O’Conner: It doesn’t exist. You couldn’t do it actually. You couldn’t make decisions for a start. So, there’s always emotion there. There’s no thinking without emotion, there’s no emotion without thinking. It’s just that our thoughts change temperature, depending on what we’re thinking about, who’s with us and these sorts of things. So sometimes the thinking is much hotter. It’s got much more of an emotional component. So, the parts of brain, particularly the prefrontal cortex that’s involved with emotion and integrating emotion is more active. And at other times, the part of the prefrontal cortex is more about rationality and reason, and logic is more active. Most of our thinking is fairly lukewarm. Occasionally maybe if we’re doing math’s or something, it gets quite chilly. And then if we get really angry, it gets very hot indeed. So, how do we manage that? I think is, the important question in terms of coaching neuroscience and this idea of what sort of thinking and how do we best manage that emotional intelligence as well?

Steve Rush: And one of the other areas that I really liked, and I often find itself presents when I’m coaching is the whole notion of identity, the labels people wear.

Joseph O’Conner: Mm-hmm.

Steve Rush: And I wondered if you give us your spin on how identity forms are part of a coaching conversation and how we might want to help people pay attention to their identity?

Joseph O’Conner: Oh, wow. Yeah, how long have we got? [laugh] A couple of days? [laugh]. Well, identity is a strange concept. And again, bit like creativity or the brain. I think it’s a process. I don’t think it’s a thing. I think that once you kind of decide your identity and fix it, then I think you’ve lost something. I think you’ve lost an important part of living. Here’s just a couple of thoughts. I think irreducibly we all are aware. We can all say I am, and that is in a sense, quite impersonal and the absolute bedrock of our identity. Everyone can say, I am. Now the things that then get pulled on top of that, where people start to say, you know, I am a coach, I am a leader, I am a father, a mother, a child, a teacher, a good person, a bad person, whatever it might be. Those come from the process of living an experience. And sometimes we identify with those for good or bad. So, I think the quick answer would be identity’s a process that’s always under construction. We all have a bedrock to it, the foundation of it, which is this feeling of I am. And I also think that it’s more mutable and more changeable and more chewable perhaps than we sometimes think.

Steve Rush: And it can often also create behaviors based on the identity you choose to wear.

Joseph O’Conner: Mm-Hmm.

Steve Rush: Because as you rightly said, you can choose that identity in different scenarios, and that comes with a different set of behaviors, right?

Joseph O’Conner: Yes. Yes. I mean, in many ways we’re fully functioning schizophrenics, you know, we are two different people, depending on the context. You know, we all know when I’m with my daughter, I’m a different sort of person to when I’m standing on stage giving a training or when I’m coaching or something like that.

Steve Rush: That’s right.

Joseph O’Conner: We’re very flexible in that way, amazingly flexible. But at the same time, there is something there underneath that we can always come back to and know clearly.

Steve Rush: Yeah.

Joseph O’Conner: To ground ourselves.

Steve Rush: So, we’re going to give folk an opportunity to dive into the work you’re doing. Find out about the book in a little while. Before we do that, though, this is where we turn the table a little and we get to hack into your years of experience of leading teams and leading others. And just dive to find out what your top three leadership hacks would be? Top tools, tips, or ideas.

Joseph O’Conner: Oh, wow. One would be authentic, be yourself. Don’t try to pretend to be something that you aren’t because it doesn’t work. Usually, people will see through it. So whatever leadership context you’re in, be authentic. Secondly, and this may be a bit of a paradox. You need to adapt to other people, as to what they are. I think one style of leadership for everybody doesn’t work. And I think leadership has evolved over the last fifty to a hundred years from a time where it was, this is what you do to be a good leader, you know, learn these characteristics and you’ll be a good leader, kind of laundry list thinking. Two, well, there’s a whole set of skills here and people are very different. And leadership is a very mutable changing kind of skill that you’ve got to be very flexible in terms of, you know, it’s not just about, I am a leader, but who are you leading? Because a leader, without anybody, as it were to follow them doesn’t exist. You know, you can’t be a leader on your own crying in wilderness. So, you’ve got to pay attention and adapt to the people that are with you. Let’s put it that way. So that would be the second one. The third one would be the ability and willingness to say no where necessary because you know, people who are good leaders are usually pretty good at delay thing.

Therefore, they are under a lot, people ask them, you know, the better you are at something, the more people will ask you to do stuff. And this becomes a vicious circle whereby you start being pretty good at something people start asking you then overburdening you. And very soon, because you’re trying to do too much and spreading yourself too thin you lose that edge that you had at the beginning. So, I think again, part of being authentic is to say, this is what I want to do. And these other things, while very interesting. And I wish you the very best with them. They’re not for me.

Steve Rush: Power of no, really important. Love it.

Joseph O’Conner: Yes.

Steve Rush: The next part of the show we call it Hack to Attack. So, this is typically where something in your life or your work hasn’t worked out well, could have even been quite catastrophic, but as an experience, you now use it as a force of good. What would be your Hack to Attack?

Joseph O’Conner: There’s many examples. Just maybe a more trivial one. Some years ago, I was involved in some marketing, I think it, through some social media or LinkedIn or something like that. And I sent out an email, which I meant to send to one or two people. I sent it out to a list of some thousands of people. And, you know, you have that horrible. Oh my God moment.

Steve Rush: Yeah.

Joseph O’Conner: You’ve just pressed send, and then you think just a minute, did I do that right? And then that horrible thinking feeling where, oh God.

Steve Rush: Yeah.

Joseph O’Conner: So, and you know, a lot of people didn’t like that at all, and I felt embarrassed and there was a number of emails back from people, but it taught me lot. It taught me to be able to, and I can remember this now after it happened, it’s going, you know, initial panic. Yes. Absolute panic. And then you go, okay, well that’s happened and there’s no way I’m going to get this back. So, you better deal with it [Laugh]. And so, in that sense, it was a very clear example because often these things take much longer to happen. You know, you do something, and it carry on doing it and it takes maybe a few weeks. And then you think, oh my God, we know what have I done? And then there’s a lot of trying to take things back or trying to change it or say, no, I didn’t really mean that or whatever it was, and which can sometimes make things worse or covering it up. You know, they say that it’s not the crime, it’s the cover up that gets you into trouble.

Steve Rush: Yeah, that’s right.

Joseph O’Conner: So, I think this was a good example where it’s like, okay, that’s done. No way to get that back. So, you better deal with it. So that was one lesson, and second lesson was, I’ve never done it again. I [laugh].

Steve Rush: Yeah.

Joseph O’Conner: I made sure that I learned in excruciating detail how these things work [laugh] so that, you know, I was much more a master of communications and marketing than before. And even now I have an email address where there’s a two-minute delay that’s programmed in so that I press send. And if it’s wrong, then I know, oh, thank God it hasn’t sent yet. It won’t send for two minutes.

Steve Rush: That’s a perfect example of where neuroscience has created an instant reaction in you and created a really big, thick layer of neuroplasticity.

Joseph O’Conner: [Laugh].

Steve Rush: Neuro pathways. I’m not going to repeat that one [Laugh].

Joseph O’Conner: Well, yes. You know, with neuroplasticity. If you repeat stuff, you learn, but also you have one big emotional experience.

Steve Rush: Yeah.

Joseph O’Conner: That also it’s like a very heavy skier [laugh] or like a bulldozer going down the ski slope.

Steve Rush: That’s it. Tracks already made. There it is.

Joseph O’Conner: It make a really big track.

Steve Rush: Yeah, so the last part of the show, Joseph, we want to do is, we get our guests to do a bit of time travel. You get to bump into yourself at twenty-one and give yourself some advice and some words of wisdom. What would it be?

Joseph O’Conner: Twenty-one, oh my God. Oh, I don’t know. It it’s like, hey, man. Yeah, I love you. You’re going to be alright. Don’t sweat the small stuff, you know, sleep well and it’ll be okay.

Steve Rush: Awesome. Sometimes that’s all it takes, right. It’s just that little bit of reassurance. And I like that, yeah.

Joseph O’Conner: I mean, you know, from that perspective, you know, what would you say to your twenty-one-year-old self? But supposing you are twenty-one and some guy comes, suddenly appears in your room and goes, hey, it’s going to be alright.

Steve Rush: Yeah, I’m not sure I’d ever paid huge amounts of attention.

Joseph O’Conner: But how would that change your life?

Steve Rush: Indeed?

Joseph O’Conner: Or would it?

Steve Rush: Sliding doors maybe?

Joseph O’Conner: Yeah, yeah.

Steve Rush: Yeah, so that’s the whole kind of crazy notion of time travel, isn’t it? Is that, you know, you are who you are, you’ve created what you’ve created because that Joseph at twenty-one gave you the permissions to do what you did. If you change that, then who knows what the future would hold. That’s a whole deeper, meaningful conversation. Let’s not go there.

Joseph O’Conner: [Laugh] yeah.

Steve Rush: So, I’ve loved chatting. I’m really delighted to be part of our community on The Leadership Hacker Podcast, Joseph. So how can our listeners get hold of a copy of the books? And I say books, there are many, and find out a little bit more about the work you’ve done?

Joseph O’Conner: Well, first of all, I’m on LinkedIn, I’m on Facebook as well. So can contact me there. is the website where you can read about the courses there. And I’m just starting the creator’s club. So, if you’re interested in creativity, intuition and hacking into to that, then you can get me at

Steve Rush: Brilliant. We’ll put those links in the show note and you can count me in. I’m absolutely in. Joseph, thanks ever so much for coming on the show, some great stories, some great lessons, and thank you for helping the world on the journey you’ve been and personally thanks for helping me on my journey too.

Joseph O’Conner: Well, thank you, Steve. It’s a pleasure. Yeah, we do what we do and it’s like we all drop pebbles into the lake, don’t we? And the ripples go out and we have no idea where the ripples go to, and we hope that they ripple against the shore in some good places. And I’m really pleased that it’s happened. So, thank you and wish you the very best.

Steve Rush: Thanks, Joseph. Really appreciate it.


Steve Rush: I want to sign off by saying thank you to you for joining us on the show too. We recognize without you, there is no show. So please continue to share, subscribe, and like, and continue to get in touch with us with the great new stories that we share every week. And so that we can continue to bring you great stories. Please make sure you give us a five-star review where you can and share this podcast with your friends, your teams, and communities. You want to find us on social media. You can find us on Facebook and Twitter @leadershiphacker, Leadership Hacker on YouTube and on Instagram, the_leadership_hacker and if that wasn’t enough, you can also find us on our website Tune into next episode to find out what great hacks and stories are coming your way. That’s me signing off. I’m Steve Rush, and I’ve been your Leadership Hacker.

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