Coaching Techniques

What Is A Behavioral Coach And Why Do I Need One?

Explore the science behind behavioral coaching, and how identifying (and shifting!) negative thoughts, patterns, and beliefs can help you achieve your goals.

What Is Behavioral Based Coaching?

If you’ve ever tried to change a habit, you know just how tough it can be to make that shift. Whether you’re trying to ditch an unhealthy old behavior or introduce a positive new one, change is just plain hard. 

Plans fizzle out. Resolutions fade. Before you know it, you’re back in the same old rut. 

Sound familiar?

For everyone who's had this experience, know that you’re not a failure... and you’re certainly not alone. It's part of the human condition. And what you may not be aware of is that every time you try to make a change, you’re fighting an invisible battle inside your brain. 

So why is that?

Ever hear the phrase “neurons that fire together, wire together”? What it means is that patterns of thinking and behavior form links in the brain. The more some neurons light up at the same time, the deeper that groove gets. 

Let’s take a simple example. If you usually hit the snooze bar when your alarm goes off, your subconscious mind is patterned to respond that way… without even thinking about it. 

What we think, feel, and do each day is directed by our subconscious far more often than we realize. 

Would it surprise you to hear that at least half the decisions you make each day happen on “auto-pilot”? It’s true! Studies conducted by neurobiologists, cognitive psychologists and others have shown that anywhere between 40% to a whopping 90% of human behavior is habitual.

From brushing our teeth to driving to the grocery store, we’re often not “all there”... and that's by design. Through repetition, our brain creates shortcuts - automatic responses developed over time as a result of associated learning. It’s what allows us to move through so many activities of daily life without having to stop and think about every single one.

The human brain is efficient, which is great! It also helps to explain why it can be so hard to change an established habit or way of thinking.

How to change your mind

Thanks to the research that’s being done in the field of neuroscience, we know a lot about how the human brain works. We also know that lasting change requires shifts in how we think, which isn’t necessarily a linear process.

If you’re looking to change a behavior or form a new habit, it really does all start in your head!

How We Think Change Works:

  1. You have an epiphany
  2. You succeed in changing unwanted behaviors
  3. You follow through with better, new behaviors all the time
  4. You are now changed, never to repeat old patterns again!

How Change Actually Works:

  1. You gain awareness
  2. You fumble and succeed, stumble and learn as you adopt new behaviors
  3. You keep growing and stretching as new challenges arise
  4. You develop awareness around something new you’d like to change and repeat the cycle

Turns out it isn’t “willpower” that is our most reliable tool for change - it’s awareness. And this process of cultivating awareness is where behavioral coaching comes into play!

One of the benefits of behavioral coaching is that it can help you literally rewire your brain. The scientifiic term for this is neuroplasticity.⁣ It’s what allows us to interrupt old thought patterns in the brain so that we can make new choices. 

What is a behavioral coach? Image of a man sitting at a table explaining something to the person next to him

What is a behavioral coach?

A behavioral coach helps people make changes to their thoughts and behaviors. They do so using a variety of tools, including:

  • building awareness
  • positive psychology interventions
  • motivational interviewing
  • reframing
  • goal setting
  • experiential learning

Many coaching specialities address behavior change, and are likely to apply some of these techniques. 

What do behavioral coaches do?

Coaching is a strengths-based approach to behavioral change, and typically begins by defining the client’s goal or future vision. From here, a plan is developed to help the client move toward that desired future state.

On the road to goal attainment, it’s likely that the client will encounter roadblocks and obstacles. In coaching, these are the moments that are most ripe for building insight and awareness! 

When motivation wanes or things don’t go according to plan, that’s when the coach gets out a flashlight and mirror. Together, coach and client explore what’s getting in the way, and where subconscious behaviors and beliefs may be lurking.

Cognitive behavioral coaching

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one such method for identifying those patterns. According to Healthline, the idea behind CBT is that how we think affects how we feel, which in turn influences how we behave. 

Left unexamined, negative emotions can get in the way of our ability to develop insight, find solutions to challenges, and stay focused on what we want to accomplish. 

One cognitive behavioral therapy technique that is frequently used in coaching is called a reframe. When a negative belief is identified, the behavioral coach partners with their client to reframe that thought into one that is more supportive or positive. 

The purpose of reframing and other CBT interventions is not to gloss over or bypass difficult emotions and experiences in life. Rather, the work of a behavioral coach is to help their client identify unhelpful thoughts, and explore how to work with them more productively.

What’s the difference between behavioral coaching and therapy?

While coaching may include the application of interventions and techniques from the field of psychology, it is not therapy. 

Only therapists and counselors are qualified to determine and diagnose mental illnesses. This is exclusive to the practice of psychotherapy, and wholly outside the scope of practice for life coaches.

Coaching assumes a baseline level of emotional and mental wellness. 

The focus of behavioral coaching is on the present and future. Unless a coach has  received specialized training and credentialing, they are not qualified to address mental health issues, or traumatic stress disorders. 

The difference between coaching and therapy infographic

Want more clarification on this subject? Check out: The Difference Between a Therapist and a Life Coach.

What are the benefits of behavioral coaching?

People hire coaches for a variety of reasons, such as:

  • Career change & advancement
  • Recover from a breakup, or find a new relationship
  • Make new friends and build community 
  • Improve fitness and health
  • Explore purpose, meaning and personal development
  • Start or scale a business

According to the 2017 International Coaching Federation’s Global Consumer Awareness Study, people who have worked with a life coach report a variety of positive impacts across the board. Reported outcomes from working with a coach:

  • Improved communication
  • Increased self-esteem/self-confidence
  • Increased productivity
  • Optimized performance
  • Improved work/life balance

Benefits of behavioral coaching include:

  • Enhanced awareness of problematic thinking when it arises
  • Tools for reshaping thoughts and cultivating positive emotions
  • Practicing new behaviors and overcoming roadblocks 
  • Gaining momentum toward goal attainment 

If you're wondering how behavioral coaching would apply in a business setting, check out Strengthscape's blog: Importance of Behavioral Coaching In The Workplace.

How to become a behavioral coach

If you’re not already a certified coach, your first step is to check out coach training programs and find the one that’s right for you. Coaching is a growing field, and there are many training options on the market.

Like any other investment you’ll make, it’s smart to shop around. Define what you’re looking for, and learn as much as you can about different programs. Costs will vary, as will quality. Check out reviews, ask questions, and explore what’s out there.

If you would like to specialize in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques, the training resource guide published by is a great place to begin: 18 Behavioral Therapist Certifications & Training Courses.

Ready To Take The Next Step?

At Lumia Coaching, we offer a life coach training program that’s grounded in science-based, behavioral coaching techniques. You’ll learn from authentic instructors who are dedicated to helping you carve a unique path in the world of coaching. And if you’re interested in pursuing International Coach Federation (ICF) credentialing, our Signature program will help prepare you for that process.

Lumia Coaching: Vibrant community. Evidence-based life coach training. Lifetime support.

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