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How to Increase Retention of Insight – by Anita Stadler, PhD

Apr 11th, 2011 | By | Category: Business Coaching

Your executive coach training probably included the recommendation to have your clients visualize a desired result or a new insight.  Do you know why?

Images Reinforce Insight.   Concrete words (words that can be visualized) are more memorable.  Research on memory and other cognitive phenomenon by Dr. Allan Paivio has shown that memory works on two tracks: verbal and nonverbal.  Thoughts that are coded in the brain through both the verbal and nonverbal tracks are remembered better.  Abstract words, because they are harder to visualize, are more difficult to remember.  Concrete words that can be visualized are easier to remember because they are encoded using both tracks.  Researchers Fiske and Taylor (1984) have identified that concrete visual images are the most influential. In addition, high-contrast images and novel images are given more attention in the brain.  Neuroscientists have concluded that 90% of input to the brain comes through visual sources.  They have shown that simple images (like icons and symbols) are recognized more immediately.

Jesus Used Parables.  When Jesus wanted people to remember a spiritual truth He often used parables to make the concepts more concrete and therefore more memorable.  For example, the parable of the Talents (Minas) prompts a memorable mental image of different numbers of coins (Matthew 25:14-29).  The imagery encodes the message in both the verbal track and the image track.

Implications for Coaching.  What are the implications of this for your executive coaching clients?  If you want to help a client remember an important insight, ask your client to think of an analogy or come up with concrete words that can be visualized to describe that new insight.  Consider asking your client to draw a representative picture of the thought or to find a photo that represents it.  Placing the image in a frequently-viewed location can be a powerful reminder of a breakthrough in thinking.  The visual cue will serve as a powerful reminder of the idea that was identified during coaching.

Fiske, S. T. and Taylor, S. E. (1984). Social Cognition.  Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.

Paivio, A. (1991). Dual coding theory: Retrospect and current status. Canadian Journal of Psychology, 45(3), 255-287.


Anita Stadler, PhD is the owner of Horizon Executive Coaching.  She coaches Christian leaders and business executives who want to connect their career and their calling more intentionally.  She is also a full-time executive coach and leadership development advisor for a Fortune 100 corporation.  She can be reached at (714) 952-0995 or  For more information, see

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