Developments in neuropsychology have given scientists ways of observing how the brain works, creating a deeper understanding of how we learn, form habits and make decisions. In this chapter, we provide an introduction to these insights and consider the implications for career coaching.

There are three main parts to the brain: the reptilian brain, which regulates automatic functions such as breathing, the limbic system, which governs emotions and intuition, and the neocortex, which is responsible for logical analysis and self-control. Many decisions are made using the limbic system; these decisions may be quick, autopilot decisions that are prone to cognitive bias, but the limbic system is also the source of deeper intuitions. Meanwhile, the neocortex is responsible for logical evaluation and analysis. This can help us to avoid falling prey to cognitive bias, but may also prevent us accessing our intuitive wisdom.

Our brains are constantly changing, and we can develop new neural pathways at any time in life, hence the term “neuroplasticity”. However, it becomes increasingly difficult to learn new thought patterns and behaviours, as it takes less energy to use the existing pathways.

The teenage brain is still very much in development, and the areas associated with assessing risk, empathy and long-term planning are rather underdeveloped, whereas thrill-seeking is a major motivator for behaviour.