Making the Connection: Brain-based Coaching Intro

ACO Conference Binder 2012

Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, MCC, SCAC
Blog augmented
Speaker Content – Part I

Making the Connection:
Brain-based Coaching

White cake with white icing (and a cherry on top!)ADD Coaching is much MORE than ADD Icing on a vanilla cake:
It’s ADD-specific through and through!

Series Description:

EVEN if you understand the impact of an ADDer’s unreliable Prefrontal Cortex, do you know how to tweak your coaching to reflect what you know?

How do the brain’s OTHER areas relate to ADD challenges — and how we need to massage our technique so our clients are able to change can’t into can?

In the articles of this series (blog-edited “reprints” of my speaker’s content published in the ACO 2012 Conference Binder), you will learn what’s going on and what it means – in plain English – and take a new look at  ADD Coaching competencies in light of brain-based understanding.

Understanding this information has the potential to kick your coaching skills into outer space!

Readers of this series will:

1.  Be introduced to the regulatory responsibilities of 4-6 primary areas of the brain that are currently believed to contribute to ADD characteristics, and how the inter-relationship of those areas combine to create the ADD challenges and strengths described in the DSM (the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, published by the American Psychological Association)

2.  Come to a new understanding of the “conductor” role of the Prefrontal Cortex, along with why it is not optimally effective to focus ONLY on the PFC in our attempt to understand or coach ADD challenges.

3.  Begin to develop a set of competency-linked skills specifically tailored to compensate for the differences in the ADD brain-style, allowing you to begin to come to a brain-based understanding of how, where and why ADD Coaching and vanilla coaching differ.
“Vanilla” coaching,  unflavored by techniques tailored for those with Attentional Spectrum differences, is the established coaching technique used by coaches who are not trained to work with ADD; older technology designed to be effective with the neurotypical brain-style,


Brain Basics: The Cliff Notes

Personality, talents and abilities, emotions, intellectual prowess – and consciousness itself – are products of the biological function of the brain.

Your brain is a 3-pound organ with a consistency not unlike thick pudding, composed of a right and left hemisphere. It is made up of cells and micro-components that are fundamentally different from most of the cells in the rest of the body, with names that may be unfamiliar outside the coffee houses and neighborhood bars of the neuroscience crowd.

We are going to concentrate on the components that are most important to us as ADD Coaches, in just enough detail that we can begin to understand how certain areas of the brain combine to produce our client’s struggles, so that we can augment our coaching skills to help them move on to wild success.


Say hello to your CNS

In the articles of this series, you’re going to meet your CNS –the “brainy” half of your nervous system. She’s in constant communication with her brawny sibling, the PNS (Peripheral Nervous System) – by the way, her C stands for Central.

The PNS, who won’t be with us much in this series, consists of all of the nerves that are not part of the brain or the spinal cord:

12 pairs of cranial nerves, 31 pairs of spinal nerves, nerve plexus,
and the spinal and autonomic ganglia associated with them.

We’re going to focus on CNS because understanding what she does is
going to help us understand why ADD Coaches need to do what WE do.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that the PNS is not important — or “peripheral” to your sense of Self — that’s not true. However, the part of the Nervous System that can be addressed with COACHING is, primarily, the CNS. 

The CNS includes the Cerebrum, Cerebellum, Brainstem and Spinal Cord

In addition to a few other types of cells I’ll mention briefly, the CNS is made up of roughly a hundred billion neurons: cells specialized to receive and transmit information.

Although we often refer to our brain “wiring” (as in, “neurons that fire together, wire together” – and vice versa), neurons communicate with each other through an electro-chemical relay race.

And that’s what makes the conscious coach’s world go ’round!

Neurons — The brain’s voltmeters

A human being is a bioelectric organism.  In every cell in our bodies there is a tiny difference in electrical charge between the inside and the outside of the cell wall (aka cell membrane).

neuron is a specialized cell that can detect these small electrical charges and use them to begin a chemical cascade that will transmit those charges to other cells.

  • Inside each neuron is an active “biological pump”
    that pushes positively charged particles out of the
    cell, while the cell membrane keeps negatively
    charged particles inside the cell.
  • At rest, a neuron is negatively charged:
    75 millivolts less than outside of the cell
    (a millivolt is a thousandth of a volt).
  • When a neuron is stimulated
    (at synaptic sites – aka synapses),
    it quickly raises the electrical charge inside the cell.
  • This reverses the charge differential –  meaning that the charge inside the cell is now greater than the charge outside the cell membrane.

That change fires the starting gun for an electro-chemical relay race.

In addition to a nucleus, neurons (aka “nerve cells”) have long, thin, carrot-root looking fibers called dendrites as well as a long fiber “bridge” called an axon.

What’s an Axon?

An axon is a bit like a lamp cord — it carries current and it is often sheathed in an insulating material called the myelin sheath.

An axon (also called a nerve fiber) can be up to three feet long, carrying impulses from, say, your spinal cord to your big toe.

That signal needs to get there FAST– fast enough to allow another relay to send messages that move your hand to your foot — quickly enough to swat that pesky mosquito that started the relay races in the first place!

So you know the voltage has to travel much faster than household current.

A heavy myelin sheath helps information travel distances quickly.

Although a great many axons have no sheathing at all, the more quickly information must travel (meaning the more necessary rapid communication and feedback are to the survival of the organism), the thicker the myelin sheath.

At a certain point (+50 millivolts) that “biological pump” inside the neuron’s nucleus pushes the positively charged particles out of the cell along the axon, info on its way to some other neuron which will take its turn relaying the electro-chemical message – and the beat goes on!

Axons vs. Dendrites

Most nerve cells have one axon, but some can have up to 100,000 dendrites, connecting to other neurons – primarily at synaptic sites.  The connection is accomplished neurochemically, using one or the other of about 60 neurotransmitters (depending on how you count and who’s counting). That’s how neurons pass notes!

Each neuron could potentially be communicating across
one hundred thousand synapses – in patterns of connections
that continue to change and evolve through-out the life of the brain.

And THAT’s the great news for ADD Coaches and their clients!


The particular way neurons accomplish this communication task is still a mystery in many ways.

Since the amazing strides made during The Decade of The Brain, scientists are learning more and more about the brain every single day, throwing out old information as they learn more about what’s really going on in that “black box” inside our skulls.

It is incumbent upon us, as Professional Coaches who work with clients with brain-based differences, to keep up with the science!


Stay tuned – I will be posting all of my speakers content from the 2012 ACO Conference – editing to take advantage of the chance to add content I had to delete to fit within space constraints, and adding links to provide background context, illustrations and additional information.  There will also be a few resources that I did NOT share at the conference that those of you who stick with the series will LOVE me for sharing leave me comments, likes and gold stars or I may change my mind ::grin::

As always, if you want notification of new articles in the Brain-based Resources series – or any new posts on this blog – give your name and email to the nice form on the top of the skinny column to the right.  (You only have to do this once, so if you’ve already asked for notification about a prior series, you’re covered for this one too)
STRICT No Spam Policy

 graphics not otherwise attributed, are courtesy of
Wikipedia, under the Creative Commons License

Articles in this Series
(links click ONLY once the article has posted – active links turn red on mouseover) 

Related Articles on

Related Articles around the ‘net

About Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, MCC, SCAC
Award-winning ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching field co-founder; [life] Coaching pioneer -- Neurodiversity Advocate, Coach, Mentor & Poster Girl -- Multi-Certified -- 25 years working with EFD [Executive Functioning disorders] and struggles in hundreds of people from all walks of life. I developed and delivered the world's first ADD-specific coach training curriculum: multi-year, brain-based, and ICF Certification tracked. In addition to my expertise in ADD/EF Systems Development Coaching, I am known for training and mentoring globally well-informed ADD Coach LEADERS with the vision to innovate, many of the most visible, knowledgeable and successful ADD Coaches in the field today (several of whom now deliver highly visible ADD coach trainings themselves). For almost a decade, I personally sponsored and facilitated seven monthly, virtual and global, no-charge support and information groups The ADD Hours™ - including The ADD Expert Speakers Series, hosting well-known ADD Professionals who were generous with their information and expertise, joining me in my belief that "It takes a village to educate a world." I am committed to being a thorn in the side of ADD-ignorance in service of changing the way neurodiversity is thought about and treated - seeing "a world that works for everyone" in my lifetime. Get in touch when you're ready to have a life that works BECAUSE of who you are, building on strengths to step off that frustrating treadmill "when 'wanting to' just doesn't get it DONE!"

12 Responses to Making the Connection: Brain-based Coaching Intro

  1. Pingback: Downloadable ADD-ADHD/EFD Coachablity Index™ | ADD . . . and-so-much-more

  2. Pingback: Brain-hacking – Moving Beyond the Brain you were Born With | ADD . . . and-so-much-more

  3. Robbie Haworth says:

    I learned most of the ‘science’ part of this in college biology-it was a good refresher. Can’t wait to see how it applies to helping those with ‘ADD brains.’


    • Yeah, most of us had it thrown at us to some degree when we were in school–at least at this basic level. Unless it becomes a passion or a career, however, most of us don’t really give it a second thought, so need a refresher if we are going to need the info at some later point in life.

      How it relates? Neuroplasticity! If we understand typical regulatory responsibilities, look at what a client “can’t” do, and set what amounts to “rehabilitative strategies” in ways that activate other areas, we can “bypass” what’s troubling and turn “can’t” into CAN.

      IF – and only if – we can keep them in action long enough to set the new pathways.

      “Information is the booby prize.” ~ Thomas L. Leonard (my first coaching mentor)

      It’s a necessary FIRST step, but it’s not particularly useful without connections to relevence and continued usage. ADD Coaching in action!


  4. Jeanie Smith says:

    Well Madelyn, science was never my thing in school and reading this article reminded me why. It will, no doubt, take a couple more read throughs for me to start to connect the dots, BUT I will work at it. I know it is important and will be a great foundation for the “people” part. Thanks for all of your research and work to prepare us to be great coaches! Jeanie


    • Don’t make yourself nuts, Jeannie – it will begin to make more sense in class (and with time — over the rest of the training).

      “Cramming” will only wake up Mr. Amygdala, who will shut down the areas of your brain you need to make sense of it all 😐 Best thing is to read before bed and sleep on it (really! we’ll talk about why in brain-based terms) — accent on the “let it go and go to sleep!”

      YOU don’t have to connect the dots – that’s my job! You DID your part — the assignment was NOT to “understand” everything as a result of taking the time to read this for background, merely to familiarize yourself with it — so that you’re not starting from zero as we cover the topic, and so that you HAVE the foundation to build upon.

      The written content is intended as a PRIME – think of it as priming the [collective] pump, so you don’t zone out in class – so hard to teach when everybody’s snoring (only half kidding).

      Remember what I said in one of the classes about MY process “back in the day” – it was a YEAR before I didn’t have to read with a well-thumbed medical dictionary at my side!

      Fast forward a decade or three and I can now read these polysyllabic terms with ease – even aloud – and my brain’s file-clerk sifts through my brain’s “stacks” to bring me information to link it to for relevence. I was not science-friendly in school either, and neuroscience has become a passion. It is not necessary for YOU to love it, however, to be able to understand and apply.

      Nobody’s born knowing this stuff – and you are CLEARLY smart enough to get everything you need to use it to inform your coaching — I promise!

      Thanks for taking the time to comment – and for exposing your vulnerability while you were at it. This will put some wind beneath your already excellent people skills – we’ll talk about THAT in class too.



    • Kim Carrington says:

      Like Jeanie, science (especially biology) was not of interest to me. However, as more research has some out on the brain, I have found the topic of neurobiology to be very compelling. Thanks, Madelyn, for making this information easier to digest and for showing how it relates to ADD.


  5. annie ellerbusch says:

    I just read and printed out this article yesterday!! Ann Miller and I must be psychics.
    Great article btw, as usual. – informative and so entertaining.
    I don’t usually print out the pictures (to save on ink) but couldn’t resist these.
    Anxious to get more reading done on website today and if I ever get even close to caught up with my reading on ADD and so much more, I will move from psychic status to miracle status!
    Sto kalo,


    • I’m with you on the pictures and the cost of ink! Sheesh. You may have noticed I’ve started to put more illustrations on the posts anyway. Checking my search-term stats, I noted that the majority of those who find me through searches use terms like “monkey on a pole picture” – in other words, my ADDers link the info to the photo! (and we KNOW they aren’t searching JUST to see that cute picture, right?)

      That said, brain-pics with labels may be something worth printing, even if I don’t tell you that you will want the picture in front of you during class. I set my printer to greyscale – which helps – but sometimes the use of color clarifies in ways black and white cannot. Those of you who dial in near your computers can also have it up on the screen instead – but some students can’t focus on class content unless they can move around, etc.

      I’m simply trying to make it more likely that you will LINK to the content (in ways you will be able to USE it in your coaching) – and to keep your brains alert because what you hear in class won’t seem so incomprehensible (brain-based reason I won’t have time to illuminate in the short time alloted to neurology in the Spirit trainings, but it has to do with priming and neural-connectivity).

      Neuro-terms, etc. are pretty foreign to MOST of us – and I don’t want anybody shutting down on MY watch simply because I didn’t do what I know helps!!

      btw – you are already a miracle, Annie. Thanks for your comment.


  6. Ann Miller says:

    Tee-hee! Big pat on my back. I read this even before you asked us too. I want to know what is in the “black box?” I hate secrets!

    BTW, I REALLY enjoy the content on your blog, although I wish I could access it all in ONE BIG FILE! I don’t do so well with these bits for short attention spans, as apparently THAT is not my problem. I just want to keep reading without loading a new page or figuring out where to go next–but that’s a good problem to have, right?


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