“It seems like I discovered a house that I had always lived in and never knew that I
owned “! This aptly sums up the outstanding journey of Colleen Lightbody, who at the age of 40 discovered her true calling as a coach.
She is an internationally renowned coach and motivational speaker. As the founder of Brainwise: Mastery through Neuroscience, she helps individuals and companies in exploring and living their fullest potential. Colleen has a PhD in Mindfulness and Leadership and is the recipient of the University of Johannesburg’s Top Achiever Award. She has a Master’s degree in Leadership and a Postgraduate Diploma in Neuro Leadership through Middlesex University. Her positive and energetic style reflects the passion she has for her career and people, as well as for living her core purpose of being a catalyst for change.
From climbing Kilimanjaro and Everest Base Camp, to achieving Provincial Colours in both Cycling and Triathlon, completing many Iron Man Challenges, cycling races and ultra- marathons, Colleen walks the talk of Personal Mastery in the real sense.
Incidentally, she is the one who introduced me to the world of neuroscience-based coaching and I am truly grateful for being taught and coached by her.
In this interview, we cover her amazing journey, through which she has not just transformed herself but also many others. So here goes …
Tell us a bit about your journey into the field of Neuroscience and the history & span of your work in Coaching.
I only started this new career in coaching, just over 16 years ago, when I went through a personal crisis and discovered coaching and neuroscience almost by accident. I had, unknowingly been moving towards this field, in a desire to help people in my personal life who had been through unimaginable traumas. That’s when coaching appeared into my frame of reference. I did my initial training with a leading coaching organization and the lead trainer said to me on the final day “it seems like you discovered a house that you had always lived in and never knew that you owned “.
The years ahead seemed to unfold in a way that showed me that I was in complete alignment with my purpose. I loved coaching and soon became a lead coach trainer. In the next couple of years, I was lucky enough to be at the forefront of the world of neuroscience, connecting leadership and psychology. Interestingly, the coaching profession happened for me at about the age of 40 and before that I had been a beauty therapist running my own beauty salon. Quite a change, isn’t it!
Tell our readers a bit more about what Neuroscience is, top concepts and the different areas where it can be applied, how it links to coaching?
It is important for people in the coaching world to understand that we are not neuro scientists. As a coach, my job is to facilitate people's thinking and get them to act towards possibility. By understanding the neuroscience that underpins human functioning, I am able to use skills and techniques more effectively to get people to think deeper and to change their behavior. From a neuroscience perspective we talk about how to leverage decision making, analytical thinking and logic, as well as intuition and emotions at work and in relationships.
I believe understanding our brain and that of other people, is a critical life skill and should be taught at the school level. It forms the basis of emotional intelligence which is the most important skill when it comes to being a leader in today’s world. I am so lucky that I have been exposed to this information. That said, I still would confess to being a novice, although I am so deeply entrenched in the subject and study neuroscience constantly.
Share a bit more about your TED talk and the book you are currently writing?
Actually it's a few books, and I probably need a coach to support me to think more strategically about how to get them completed. Most of them have a neuro slant, however I'm also writing the story of my great life change that occurred after the age of 40. That was my first TED talk as well which I called ‘worrier to warrior’ and told the story of how discovering my son was profoundly brain damaged, forced me to take more control of my life. The other books are centered around coaching and self-coaching.
4. Tell us a bit about cycling and how nurturing passions not just helps maintain better work life balance but also to build mental strength in the face of crises; not to forget better productivity and happiness that this very balance brings in.
Cycling is one of the ways that helps me maintain balance in my life. I have a high level of stress, with my strong work ethic, thirst for knowledge, life aspirations and managing my home and family who have challenges. To top it, I'm extraordinarily busy, so it is cycling that is an outlet for the adrenaline and cortisol that are produced in me every day. I also believe that as a coach we need to walk the talk.
Being physically active and committed to my physical, mental and spiritual well-being is essential to me. I am well known for saying that success does not fall out the sky and land on your head, but takes commitment, effort and self-discipline. I try to live by those principles, however I am lucky enough to be really passionate about cycling and exercise.
During the first lockdown in 2020 I tried out yoga, which was not something I had ever been interested in or thought I could do. One year later, I had done almost 200 sessions and set myself a goal this year to do yoga every single day, 2021 and beyond. These kinds of challenges keep me sharp and committed.
5. Share a bit more about how you manage time productively? What’s the mantra to get so much done is a day?
My days starts at 4 am and I get on my bike to ride for at least 50km and sometimes a couple of hundred (on weekends). That is my productivity hack – stay fit and disciplined. But also, I understand the neuroscience of learning, so I have a task list which is prioritized in terms of the amount of cognitive effort a task will take. Urgent tasks can also sneak into the early part of the day, too, if necessary but surely the important ones shouldn’t get missed.
I take frequent breaks, stay hydrated, meditate or do yoga in my breaks in line with my attention span. I also use many creative tools to keep my interest levels up. For example, I have made a lot of mind-maps that help me stay focused and motivated by making me see the connections between my own goals. Most importantly, I manage distractions fairly well and objectively at that. I am also passionate about my work, so it’s almost always engaging and interesting for me when I am engrossed in it.
6. What made you set up Brainwise? What were the challenges and high points of your journey?
My company evolved out of living with purpose and passion. I do not have corporate experience or business skills. What has made my business successful is that I do what I'm good at and what I love. I'm lucky enough that this seems to have bought me a reasonable amount of success. Once again, I guess I truly believe that when we live with purpose and focus and commitment, success comes to us as a byproduct.
7. Share any one or two stories or milestones from your career and life that have been transformational for you & why?
I think discovering coaching was transformational, but that happened quite late in my life. through my life I have encountered many traumatic experiences and difficulties. From the loss of loved ones, to mental illnesses, addiction and, divorce, just to name a few. Through each of these experiences, I was forced to grow up and take another perspective of what I needed to do. Traumatic family experiences led me to discover counseling for trauma, grief, addiction and to do a degree in psychology (a couple of degrees actually) and finally jump into the world of coaching and neuroscience. I'm grateful for the challenges that I have faced, because I certainly wasn't as resilient in my younger days, as I am now!
8. What have been your biggest learnings in the year 2020, that was truly unusual due to the pandemic?
Apart from discovering yoga which seems like one of the best changes in my life, the pandemic has forced me to focus on the therapeutic aspect of my coaching and get more involved in up-skilling myself from a psychological and neurological perspective. I truly see so many of my clients experiencing burnout, anxiety and depression. I really feel that there is a strong reason for coaching not only for performance but also to provide a safe, effective and constructive space for mental, physical and emotional wellness.
And finally, staying indoors so much during the pandemic, helped me learn about my husband a lot more. For example, he likes the washing hung in a very particular way, which I didn't realize was important! And he realized that the floors had to be cleaned properly every single day, which he didn’t consider as important earlier. This is on the lighter side, but to get to know him and my family so well practically and at a deeply personal level was a gift as well as a challenge.
9. What advice would you give to someone who is starting out as a coach?
I usually advise my new coaches to niche themselves in this space, find a brand and own their identity as a coach. All too often new coaches don't trust themselves or believe in their own coaching capabilities, but I always say that merely giving another person the gift of a dedicated and consistent sacred space that allows them to do some deep thinking, is a remarkable gift in itself. Coaches also serve to be co-passengers and accountability partners for their coachees, in their journey towards transformation.
I also encourage my coaches not to focus so much on their own performance, but rather just be deeply interested and curious, about their clients and what is possible for them. Human beings have remarkable abilities that they often don't see themselves, and it is our job as their coach to offer them that unconditional positive regard that really enables them to be the best versions of themselves.
10. What would be your advice to naysayers who aren't able to understand the ROI on coaching and the impact that being coached can make?
I’d say, try it out! Make sure the coaching is linked with measurable, visible and tangible results. That’s when both parties are able to benefit as they see the ROI. This further accelerates progress. All in all, coaching is about accountability, responsibility and change.
11. We live in a world where most of the people are exhausting themselves while running a rat race and yet are clinging to their spots in the race out of fear of missing out. Is there a way out for people to live more happier, mindful and fruitful lives without adding on more stress to it? What are your thoughts on this?
You used the word mindful, and that for me is the key to living a happy and fulfilling life. It is, however remarkably difficult to live in the present moment as we are not trained to do this and yet this ‘being mindful’ and ‘being present without judgment’, is really the most liberating experience. Some of the dis-empowering conditional narratives that we inherit from our environment tend to limit as from being the best and most authentic versions of ourselves. Being present allows us to step aside from that limited ego identity and to live in full purpose, so we may make a positive impact on this earth.
12. You help people find clarity and direction, overcome limiting beliefs and express their fullest potential. How can people feel happier being authentic? Is there a secret sauce as per you?
I would ask, how can people feel happy if they are not authentic? Living our truth takes courage and commitment, but that is exactly what we need to discover in our lifetime, and have the courage to live out as well. This is not for the fainthearted!
This was quite inspiring Colleen. Thanks! It was really a pleasure to interview you.
Visit http://www.brainwise.co.za/to know more about her work.
Here is the link to view the talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wmdp7tr8UFc