Written by Lindsay Briner

The two greatest skills for modern leadership development are resilience, and accessing a state of flow. “Flow” is a level of performance excellence where one can move from task-to-task with effortless ease, clarity, calm, and creativity. In order to reach flow whilst living in a post-pandemic world, our resilience needs to be developed first. To become more resilient, one must have a strong foundational wellbeing.

The Four Pillars of Foundational Wellbeing outlined in this are scientifically-backed brain and behaviour training strategies to:

·  Rewire the limbic system for natural immunity

·  Increase resilience 

·  Access flow state or even flow-trait, when flow becomes more permanent

I have been using this framework of The Four Pillars with my executive coaching clients for leadership development based on stress-management for stabilized flow for a decade now. 

The neuro-psychology research on the specific combination of approaches was done out of the Transformative Technology Lab in Silicon Valley. The research has now been published in the American Psychological Association Journal of Consciousness. 

The Immune System: aka ‘The Floating Brain’

Before outlining the 4-Pillars of Foundational Wellbeing in detail, let’s review the relationship of the mind with the immune system. Until recently, the idea that anyone could influence their autonomic nervous system was thought impossible given its assumed ‘involuntary’ nature. The autonomic nervous system (ANS) is the system that controls all of our internal organs and regulates body functions like digestion, blood flow, hormones, pupil dilation and more.

Researchers are intrigued by the mounting evidence showing that mindfulness has a positive impact on our immune system. One example is the Iceman’s recent feats: suppressing his immune response after being dosed with an endotoxin (a bacteria), which in most people leads to flu-like symptoms and high levels of inflammation in the body. Evidence of our mind’s ability to increase immunity is mounting. 

The immune system is crucial to our physical wellness. Its job as our defence system is determining the differences between our healthy cells and tissues, and any foreign invaders of harmful unwanted pathogens, such as viruses. When the immune system struggles to defend our healthy tissue, infection and disease start to creep in. Our immune system is also referred to as our ‘floating brain’, because of its ability to communicate with the brain through chemical messages that float around inside our body. It has a direct line of communication between the body and the brain to signal distress. This means that not only will our brain become aware of foreign invaders, but our whole-body system will operate as one. 

Why are we Wired to Worry?

Having total control of our mind as a means to stay healthy sounds idealistic. It is helpful to think of the approach as a neuro-hacking approach, where we have to work hard initially to build new pathways in the brain through our determination and behavior until it sticks and becomes an almost an automated process.To be able to do so, it is helpful to understand why our minds are so prone to negative thinking patterns.  

Over several hundred million years of evolution, our ancestors developed fundamental survival strategies which are embedded into our neural pathways as a means to process and access information. Approaching opportunities and avoiding threats, primarily for gains that promote reproduction and resisting things that threaten it. These consciously experienced signals are designed by nature to be unpleasant so we hear or feel these signals loud and clear. These signals to any kind of threat to both our survival and reproduction can range from subtle sense of unease, to full on panic.

To train our brain into new positive happiness set points takes extra effort and attention because it goes against how nature designed us to be, literally. Have you ever noticed how easy it is to be influenced by negative thoughts, emotions, people, and situations? And how it takes much more effort to shift from the low back to the high? The brain is more malleable to negative experiences, whereas positive experiences typically come and go - unless we can harness a rigorous capacity to train our brain to process positive experiences at a deeper level. This is due to what is known as the negativity bias, which exists as a survival mechanism from the ancient humans to learn what threatens survival and reproduction. 

For example, in your experiences with someone throughout the day, even if you have mostly positive and neutral interactions with them, but one or two moments of negativity — typically, the two minor negative ones will be what we ruminate on. Over time, when we unconsciously and habitually ruminate on negative incidents with a person; resentment and grudges proliferate and relationships become sour. To counteract this automated negativity bias, we can generate a greater capacity for compassion and acceptance of the people, and situations, in our lives by making an extra effort to truly digest the positive experiences through practices of appreciation for example. We can install an automated system of positive states with a variety of neuro-hacking approaches to become a more compassionate, accepting, and generally happy person.

This is just one basic example. We can also intentionally install other states of being such as higher states of consciousness like flow state or even a stabilized flow, productivity capability, creativity, inner peace, and more for general optimization of wellbeing. Just as going to the gym to lift weights with an intended targeted goal to compete and achieve particular outcomes of different muscle groups, we can also do this with our mind through top-down approaches to neuro-hacking as I have outlined with The Four Pillars. 

It’s important to note however that some negative memories and experiences, however, may need to be supported by a therapist, clinician, or well-trained coach for extra support to address deeper trauma. The Four Pillars is best for healthy people to raise their baseline of wellbeing and achieve higher stages of development, or to be used in conjunction with a well-trained coach or therapist. 

The 4 Pillars of Foundational Wellbeing 

Implementing each of these Four Pillars into your daily life will lay a foundation for you to reach higher levels of resiliency and stabilized flow for staying centered in the eye of any storm, deeper sense of meaning and purpose, complex problem solving, creativity, inner peace and calm, and newfound capacities for modern leadership. 

1st Pillar: The Basics

·  Good Sleep

·  Good nutrition

·  Good hydration with quality water

·  Meaningful connection to others and socialization

·  Time in nature

·  Exercise (even a little bit regularly goes a long way for mental and emotional wellbeing)

2nd Pillar: Mental Hygiene

Training your brain toward building positive neural networks is especially effective to do the following exercises every morning immediately when you wake up, and at night in those last moments right before you go to sleep. The key is regularity & discipline. Though simple, you will notice a difference in your general mood. 

Each exercise can be quick and easy, or take as much time as you have / desire:

·  Set a positive intention (like saying a wish) for yourself, your family, community, and all of humanity. Feel the emotion of both connection and compassion in your heart.

·  List 3–5 things you’re grateful for. The key here is: break the hedonic habituation of what you take for granted. Be grateful for things you are not normally grateful for, like your home, your car, your back yard for example. The list should be new each time.

·  List 3 people to forgive, even minor incidences. Include yourself if needed. Evoke the emotion of love and forgiveness. If you get triggered or stuck, reach out to a well-trained coach or therapist.

·  Set a few realistic goals and remind yourself of those goals daily by using positive affirmations.

3rd Pillar: Meditation

If you do not have any experience in mediation, don’t fret. A simple thing to do after your morning daily practice is to simply close your eyes and focus on your heartbeat. Use a positive affirmation if needed, such as “I am safe” or “I am loving awareness” or any statement that feels good to you. Or you can try to be completely still focusing on the breath. Try it for 5 min, then 10 min, gradually meditating longer each time. Mind-wandering is normal (so don’t be hard on yourself), once you catch yourself thinking about something, gently bring your focus back to your breath and notice how it slows down your heartbeat. The first skill in meditation is the ability to redirect the mind back to the object of concentration. If your mind wanders, simply bring it back. See how much longer you can stay focused on the breath without becoming distracted. 

There are plenty of resources to learn more meditation techniques. I work with my executive clients to teach them all of the research-backed standard meditation techniques from all the wisdom traditions so they can find which one works best for them. Each style upregulates a different area of the brain. So, it is helpful to explore them all until you find what works best for you and your personal goals.

The key is: the combination of the daily practice (Pillar 2) with daily silence via mediation (3) is a key to quickly boost mental and emotional wellbeing, and therefore immunity. Remember, the immune system has even been referred to as our “floating brain,” because the 2 are so closely connected.

4th Pillar: Be Mindful

Throughout the day, make it a practice to notice things in your environment that bring you joy and pleasure. A beautiful tree, art in your house, or even simple mundane tasks like doing the dishes. Evoke joy, evoke pleasure. Make the extra effort to truly evoke positive feelings doing mundane things. The result — when you intentionally make this a micro-habit throughout the day, you will begin to notice spontaneous ecstatic happiness moments with no effort because you trained your brain to do so. A simple and powerful practice of unprovoked happiness. We often believe we need to achieve something externally to be happy, however this practice can stimulate being happy with your life just as it is and bring you into greater presence and appreciation. There are other ‘throughout the day’ techniques, however this is my personal favorite that I have found most beneficial for my clients.

Go the extra mile with an act of Kindness!

What can you do within your household, neighbourhood, community, businesses, etc. to help others right now? We’re all in this together and we could all use the extra support. Helping others will boost your wellbeing too. The key is to remove the need to receive acknowledgement for your acts of kindness. When we act out of compassion from the heart without the ego needing acknowledgement, the result can be a great sense of altruism. In a crisis-aware world, we need to not just “be the change” — but also lead it. 

To connect with Lindsay and learn more about her work, you can visit her website here.