Resilience and Intensity

Resilience and Intensity

Originally published on and reproduced with permission.

There is a view that Resilience will only emerge if we are tested beyond our comfort zone. At times we are thrown into adversity or novelty. Today, we must volunteer for the experience. We will explore intense practices to test and build resilience of body, heart, mind and spirit.

Hypothesis: growth, development, and specifically our Resilience, can be skilfully accelerated and embedded by training at the limits of our tolerance for discomfort. In other words the intensity and risk found at the edge of our perceived abilities builds Resilience effectively.

Background: Human nature is to seek comfort. While much of our development will proceed naturally, certain capacities only emerge if we test and extend talent well beyond “comfortable”. Flow is another approach to this. We know:

  1. Physical capacity declines if not tested
  2. Peak performance demands rigorous effort
  3. Practicing emotion recognition and control at subconscious speeds develops a superskill
  4. New brain cells generated in old age only survive if cognitively challenged
  5. Spiritual aspirants who invest 10,000 plus hours in meditation have extraordinary brains and measurably positive impact on others.

Comfort and rest is essential but only if peppered with periods of intensity and risk when we push the envelope of FLOW. Here are some methods to test the hypothesis in building the resilience of your body, heart, mind and spirit. Many experience the payback as quick and memorable.

Physical Intensity

Recently added to the American College of Sports Medicine guidelines, resistance training (working against loads that cause muscle failure) and speed work (short bursts of max speed) are clearly embedded in prevention, fitness, elite training and anti-aging medicine.

Basic Training: make sure you develop adequate cardiovascular fitness, flexibility and technique before starting high intensity sessions. It is tempting to go too hard at first. This will cause injury and embed performance-limiting habits. New skills must be learned at lower intensity.

Intensity Tactics: 2 to 3 times per week give it everything – and more – in short bursts. Weights should cause fatigue before 12 repetitions. Speed work can be done running up hills, swimming, biking, paddling or in tennis. Sprint for 8 to 30 seconds for maximum effect, resting at least that time between each. Longer sprints can be used to build race endurance.

Benefits: you will feel this immediately with bursting energy, confidence (testosterone and growth hormone), belly fat loss, sleep improvement and vastly better metabolism.

Emotional Intensity

Most of us are lazy with our emotions – even those with brilliant natural talent. The first step is to bring your conscious attention vigorously onto what you are feeling. Once aware, the journey is thrilling.

Basic Training: learn the emotions by studying the facial movements, noticing their effects on your body and mind, and using visualisation to shift between emotions. Micro-expression training and emotion regulation are the key disciplines to master. This will take some time and effort, particularly when mastering Emotional Intelligence (EQ) competencies. Slow down, practice, visualise and rehearse.

Intensity Tactics: emotion must be mastered under pressure. Increasing the speed of micro-expression training is a start. The goal is to get into testing environments. Debate, conflict, adventure sports and fierce conversations can take us into arousal and it is here we must practice awareness (thinking and talking about feelings) and mastery (regulating and transmuting emotion from destructive to constructive states). The key is to stay conscious of emotion (prefrontal brain) and keep the amygdala (reptilian brain) under control.

Benefits: many researchers believe this to be the single most potent factor in Resilience. The confidence that comes from beating the negative emotions is huge and your relationships and leadership will flourish. Political correctness and excessive sensitivity has done immeasurable damage to the acceptability of emotional intensity.

Cognitive Intensity

We can build resilience at a cognitive level by training different forms of attention. Athletes call this attentional style. We are biased to our preferred style – particularly under pressure or risk. Focused attention can be extended with training such as meditation. Being able to switch focus quickly and using different perspectives on each situation develops flexibility.

Basic Training: Learn to recognise the difference between novelty seekers, persisters, reward dependents and harm avoiders. Understand your preferences and watch people who use different styles. Notice that each style has real strengths but when used in the wrong situation can limit us. Practice exploring situations from different perspectives. Imagine how others might view the same situation. Test each style for validity and fresh insights.

Intensity Tactics: sport is excellent practice. Keep working your mind around the different styles and notice which ones come easily. Practice hard on those that evade you. Review perspectives with others and coaches. Then practice these styles in leadership, parenting and conflict management . Increase speed and risk. Know your strength and use it for advantage.

Benefits: Cognitive intensity is a path to more flexible and resilient choices that generate Flow. It allows you to explore and test difficult environments so that you can reduce risk.

Perhaps we are governed by “harm avoiders” and “reward dependents” who prefer compliance to safe, reliable, well tested rules. Be sure to keep your “novelty seeker” and “persister” alert and trained.

In summary, reaching beyond your comfort zone and testing your abilities in challenging situations can cultivate Resilience. It is essential to reduce intensity for learning new skills but real-time application requires rehearsal under “match pressure.” You may like to reflect on what Spiritual Intensity would be for you.


Ekman, P & Dalai Lama, (2008) Emotional Awareness
Scott, S (2002) Fierce Conversations

Awaken your Mind

Awaken your Mind

Originally published on and reproduced with permission.

Our minds are being tested well beyond the limits of “normal”. The global market is complex, fluid and furiously competitive. The information density confronts the functional limits of our mind. All too often the result is overload, confusion and mindlessness. We pay in missed opportunity, error, conflict, sleep disruption, anxiety, and frustration. We suffer! Leaders are working at fitness and emotional intelligence. The next frontier will be training our minds to steward life through chaos.

Body, Emotion, Brain and Mind

Evolution unfolds upward from body, through emotion, into a more complex brain and ultimately mind – or consciousness. The body is the organ of movement and regeneration. Emotions evoke movement – approach or avoid. The brain is a physical processing device. It is wired with dispositions that automatically fire in certain situations – food, sex, fight, flight and sleep.

Body, emotion and brain can operate without consciousness. They are cleverly designed to deal with the environments we evolved in. Conscious mind is optional. Most of us are vaguely aware that we are sitting, eating or talking. We become more acutely aware when we are in pain and seek urgent remedy – perhaps pills or intoxication.

In fact, it can be argued that to be too conscious was hazardous. It was better to trust our instincts. Many still warn: “you think too much!”

The written word was the first huge step in human awakening. Ancient philosophers began to dig deep into the realm of mind about 2,500 years ago. The enlightenment and rise of science has accelerated our capacity to reflect, think, generate options and seek better solutions. Today we operate in a very abstract, virtual and cognitive world. We can spend the entire day securing an income, acquiring food, finding mates and entertaining ourselves through a screen in bed.

Welcome to the disembodied world of mind.

What exactly is mind? Mind is awareness. Mind allows us to shine a light on body, emotion and brain. Starting slowly, we begin to “see” how we are responding to environmental stimulus. This consciousness begins with a vague sense of self – “I am here”. Next we become aware of how we are responding to a situation – “I am running for the bus”. Then we start to construct a story of our life – “I am a doctor saving lives”.

Finally, we have the option to examine these conscious images. We look more deeply inwards, start to question the wired dispositions and perhaps even investigate whether we might change the story or our lives or our leadership. It is this conscious insight into the mechanics of life that awakens the leadership mind. We start to understand self, others and reality. We move from judgement to curiosity, from defence to creativity and from anxiety to joy. The conscious leader is fully awake, creative and a steward of constructive change.

However, there are many obstacles and traps!

Failing at the Basics

When our health suffers, consciousness suffers. Fatigue, poor nutrition, overweight, low fitness, and distress destroy our capacity to awaken the mind. Destructive emotions collapse the potential of mind. Fear, anger, sadness, pride and contempt create deluded perceptions and destructive actions. It is critical to get your basics right.

Information Overload

From the perspective of the human brain, we are hopelessly overloaded with information. We have replaced the natural stimuli of nature with a deluge of digital and marketing images designed skilfully to capture our attention. Whether this is your e-mail, texts, Facebook page or simply driving through a city, there is too much input.

Our prefrontal cortex and seat of attention control is barraged by information. Neurobiologists estimate that we can only handle four discrete issues at any one time and be effective. When emotions such as anxiety, craving or anger are attached it further strains available resources.

From the perspective of mind, it is very difficult to focus consciously on what is important. To truly pay attention to one issue, such as a conversation or writing an e-mail, is enormously expensive biologically. The brain consumes close on a quarter of available oxygen and glucose when focused. As a consequence these bursts of attention (type-2 thinking) can be very short.

The brain saves fuel by switching to a cheaper, shallow thinking (type-1 thinking). Unfortunately the mind doesn’t notice the switch . Neurobiologists call it attentional blink. One second we are focused and the next we are daydreaming or fidgeting. This is where we make our mistakes.

The take out is that we need to cycle attention from focused engagement to rest. The challenge is to learn how much sleep you need, when you should take a break, or how to insert a micropause during activity. Relaxation or mindfulness training is very helpful. We teach the brain to pay attention and to recognise when attention is likely to fail.

From Monkey Mind to Alpha Mind

The next step is to pay attention to the content of thought. While this feels like an unnatural act, with practice we notice that the mind is endlessly chattering away. Listen to these voices in your head. We term this endless dialogue monkey mind. Anxiety-based monkeys worry and chatter away about the future. Angry and sad monkeys chatter away about the past. Angry monkeys attack others and sad monkeys blame you.

Welcome to suffering. An uncontrolled troop of monkeys in your head is the primary source of distress. Primate troops can only function with an alpha in charge. Our job is to select one of the monkeys for leadership. This monkey is responsible for taking care of the troop. Philosophers call this the watchman or witness. We put one of our thought streams in charge of staying alert, calm and caring for the mind.

The job of the elected alpha is to keep the monkeys focused on the task at hand. This is the higher mind. It decides what is most important and marshals all our cognitive resources towards that task. It is rapidly obvious that mindless chatter about what has already happened or might happen detracts from the reality unfolding now. As we learn to keep all mental activity focused on the situation at hand – the PRESENT – we become massively more effective and relaxed.

When the mind is fully present we have only three options – focused attention, relaxed awareness or deep sleep. Be prepared to spot wayward monkeys and administer a sharp slap to bring them back to the present. This is the single most important step in awakening the alpha mind and realising life beyond suffering.


Learning how to marshal our mind into a state of focused attention is the next challenge. Quite clearly this type-2 thinking – alert, focused, complex and fully in the present – is trainable. This has been demonstrated in Richard Davidson’s research and has long been a central principle of meditation practice. When we train attention the muscles of attention – left prefrontal cortex and nucleus accumbens – become strong.

We start by instructing the alpha mind to focus deeply on an activity. This may be reading, exercise or listening to someone. Initially, we might limit the time to a few minutes and be sure to place a recovery pause before resuming. Alpha mind will have to stay vigilant for wayward monkeys. Random thoughts will intrude. The job is to notice the diversion and gently bring attention back to the chosen activity.

Many mindfulness practices are available to deepen the power of focus. Em-wave biofeedback is a great and simple start. Mindwave is an option that directly measures prefrontal activation. Sound based training also shows potential. Learning a mindfulness practice is the most robust pathway. It requires practical help from a good teacher.

We can train the mind to stay focused for 30 minutes or more. As we accumulate practice, the effort required reduces. However, neurobiological research suggests that this might take a good 10,000 hours of meditation.

Open Presence

A version of mindfulness training is a calm, relaxed and observing state. While focused attention fixes on a point – sound, breath, part of body or image – open presence just notices what comes and goes. Alpha monkey is up in a tree aware of the troop confident in the knowledge that there is no imminent threat. Alpha mind is deeply relaxed, clear and alert. This is the witness state. We notice but quickly release – empty mind.

In open presence we sink more deeply into the nature of mind and explore the essence of self and being. Each thought, emotion or physical change is accepted for what it is. No judgement takes place. Over time, we notice that previously distracting or irritating monkeys just fade back away and we return to the witness . I n m y experience this is a difficult practice but one that can be deeply rewarding and pleasurable.

In our complex, hyperkinetic world this ability to stay calm, clear and contented removes much of the strain and distress. As noisy thinking and destructive emotions fade away, we are able to access a much more creative state of mind. Open presence leads to contentment, playfulness, curiosity and deep insights into the gap between current state and desired future state.

Flexible Perspective

Awakening to the deeper aspects of mind frees us from the constraints of repetitive, defensive and offensive thought traps and habits. As fear, anger and resentment fade we experience life with greater equanimity (calm). People, events and experiences don’t trigger such strong reactions. This is liberating. However, the real benefit is to be more understanding and flexible in our responses.

For example; a person’s behaviour that used to drive you nuts becomes interesting. You can simply watch the show, understanding that it is normal and real for that person. Perhaps you can even feel some respect and compassion. In this case you are not attached to the way someone or something “should be”. Your openness allows you to remain calm, attentive and connected. Your response becomes skilful and appropriate – both for you and for the other person.

To be a good parent, leader or friend recognising the different ways life unfolds in a calm, respectful and empathic manner, enables creative responses. We are no longer locked into our own constrained demands of “how it should be”. Others will sense this change and doors will open to more skilful and creative interactions.

Generating Positivity

An element of awakened mind is the capacity to access and generate positive emotion. Positive emotions such as contentment, gratitude, passion, joy, and kindness are very helpful in the journey of awakening the mind. Destructive emotions close the mind. When we build positive emotions we build strength in the left prefrontal cortex. Brain studies show a strong correlation with a high performance mind, health and happiness.

While this can be practiced in simple ways, it can also be built into your mindfulness training. Spend five minutes sitting quietly and bring forward these positive emotions. For example, if you choose joy think of something that gives you profound joy. Concentrate on that feeling and see if you can strengthen it allowing the joy to concentrate, expand, fill your being and even radiate out to the environment and others.


An awakened mind is the crucible for real transformation. Whether this is to transform your life – from fitness to spirituality – or to transform your relationships, this happens when we can deeply appreciate the reality of a situation and resolve to seek a better way forward. An awakened mind has the insight to appreciate reality, the creativity to generate better alternatives, and the resolve to execute the skilful changes required in body, heart mind and spirit.

Can there be a more important journey?

Davidson & Begley (2012), The Emotional Life of your Brain.
Fredrickson, B (2009), Positivity.
Kahneman, D (2011), Thinking fast, Thinking slow.

Nutrition Fuels Success

Nutrition Fuels Success

Originally published on and reproduced with permission.

Organisations have aggressively cut costs to maintain profit during the downturn. Often one of the “costs” cut are corporate wellness initiatives. Yet, even today it is clear that corporate wellness can reduce costs and improve productivity. A recent Harvard Analysis identifies an average ROI of $3.27 for every $1 invested in wellness due to improved employee health, engagement and reduction in medical claims.


In this Resilience Insight we team up weight management with resilience to focus on how healthy weight and smart nutrition can optimise engagement, performance and creativity. For responsible leaders who recognise optimal employee health and return on investment as a global competitive advantage, we have developed some simple and practical implementation tips to help attract, make and keep the current workforce engaged, productive and resilient.

Lose weight or lose business?

“Flab is out!”Lean organisations are built on healthy people

The rate of obesity – 17% across the OECD region – has more than doubled over the past 20 years. A recent study in England forecasts that total costs linked to overweight and obesity could increase by as much as 70% by 2015. In the workplace, medical benefits for overweight employees cost up to 42% more on average than the medical benefits of those employees in the healthy weight range.

According to a study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, issues associated with obesity account for over 9% of the total costs of absenteeism in the workplace. This is largely because cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension, sleep issues, injury, respiratory disorders and certain cancers are all more common in overweight or obese people.

Excess weight can cause psychological problems such as anxiety, depression and low self-esteem as well as the often ignored weight discrimination, which has increased at an estimated 66% over the past ten years. According to a study in the Journal of Obesity, this is comparable to racial bias in the workplace.

Through healthy weight management, organisations can build resilience, leading to decreased costs and improved productivity.

At work: the perfect setting


Weight management in the workplace is effective, efficient and fun. Organisations can make a difference.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), 60% to 85% of people in the world lead sedentary lifestyles, making it one of the more serious yet insufficiently addressed public health problems of our time.

Our work site environments have become more sedentary over the years, through the shift from an agricultural to a service based economy and urbanisation. This has had a direct effect on our weight. One study found that the more time employees spent at their desks, the greater their odds of being overweight. The combination of sedentary jobs, poor eating habits, an abundance of energy rich foods and workload pressure make maintaining a normal weight a challenge.

Since the majority of the week is spent at work, on-site weight management programmes with co-workers create a great network for on-going support and motivation.

Think quality & eat smart

Good nutrition is good business and a sound investment. Proper nutrition leads to gains in productivity and worker morale.

Nutrition is an essential resource to manage our physical vitality and weight. However, we sometimes underestimate that nutritional choices also have an impact on our emotional state, our intellectual abilities and ultimately, our performance. The Resilience Institute calls this interdependence “The Performance Supply Chain”.

The Performance Supply Chain

When you are energised and present (body), emotionally engaged (heart), mentally focused (mind) and guided by clear values (spirit), your performance is optimised.

On a daily basis, we are fuelling our brain with nutriments that could either enhance or hinder our alertness, our concentration, our memory and our ability to think effectively.

“What is good for the heart is also good for the brain,” Alzheimer’s Association.

A typical brain accounts for just 2% of our body’s total mass, but it uses 20% of the oxygen and 25% of calories taken in. Glucose is critical to sustain brainpower, so clean arteries and healthy levels of blood glucose are essential.

Overnight we burn our liver glycogen supply and need to replace energy to sustain brain glucose levels. We “Break-the-fast” to supply brain power. If not we shut down parts of the brain. However, 4 out of 10 people skip breakfast. A study from the Sussex Innovation Centre, Brighton UK, found that eating breakfast improves people’s mental performance. Breakfast eaters also showed a reduction in anxiety levels when faced with stressful situations. Breakfast eaters tend to weigh less than breakfast skippers. Skipping breakfast has been associated with overweight and obesity.

Omega-3 fats (fish, fish oil and flaxseed) are good for the brain too. A growing body of research suggests that a diet rich in omega 3 fatty acids may help lower the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, depression, and some types of cancer. Our brain is 60% fat. Omega-6 oils in soy, peanuts, pumpkin seeds or corn oil may also help. However, recent food trends tend to over emphasise omega 6 which when taken in excess can counter affect omega 3 benefits.

Vitamin D from sunshine, fatty fish and eggs contributes to mood and cognitive performance. Vegetables, rice, and whole-grains provide the low glycemic index carbohydrates best suited to cognitive performance. They contain the vitamin B group which supports memory. Quality over quantity should guide our choices.

For concentration and mood: protein and regular meals

Our ability to focus can be affected by specific foods, as well as the timing and volume of meals and snacks. Our presence, which is a critical component of leadership, is determined through our ability to control our attention, our focus and our mood. Stable glucose supply is the key.

Low blood glucose often leads to reduced attention and focus, sleepiness, irritability and impulsive behaviour followed by negative impact and regret. However, when too much food is consumed at once, our digestion can monopolise our energy, leaving us with an unpleasant feeling of heaviness . Overeating processed and simple carbohydrates like sweet snacks, cakes or cookies can lead to an energy spike followed by a crash causing lethargy, irritability and cravings.

Eating nutritious food on a regular basis is an enjoyable experience boosting positive mood and presence. Food with a high satiety value like protein, high fibre foods, whole-grains, and vegetables (beans, peas) or bananas can help extend the time between meals and the amount of food needed to stop hunger. In addition, eating high satiety and regularly can reduce the overall number of calories consumed in a day, resulting in weight loss.

Neurotransmitters are chemicals that stimulate neuronal connections. Proteins affect these neurotransmitters in two ways. Stimulant proteins contain tyrosine – for example tofu, tuna, turkey or yoghurt – that supports alertness and concentration. These are not ideal before sleep but appear to be beneficial for breakfast or before a challenge.

Calming proteins including tryptophan found in dairy, soy, poultry, whole grains, rice, beans or peanuts relax the brain. These may be better at night to support sleep. Both tyrosine and tryptophan have been associated with a better ability to cope with stress.

Here is your opportunity

According to Hewitt’s 2008 Two Roads Diverged survey, 8 out of 10 employees, regardless of weight, believe weight management programmes belong at work. This creates an opportunity for employers to expand their weight management and nutrition education programmes within the workplace. Our surroundings have changed dramatically and with them our behaviour. Given that we spend more than 1/3 of our daily lives at work, a great opportunity is presented to deal with weight management and nutrition. It is essential for organisations to prioritise a wellness strategy of which weight management and smart nutrition can be the core.


“With access to over 54% of the global adult population, employers are well positioned to make a valuable contribution by taking measures to improve the health of their workforce,” Workplace Wellness Alliance.

Workplace wellness initiatives deliver value on two fronts; they decrease costs and improve performance. Promoting healthy nutrition can help optimise the physical, emotional and cognitive health of a workforce. Responsible leaders can build a healthy foundation for business success.

By creating behavioural change in the workplace, we can also improve health for all by encouraging behavioural change in individuals, families and communities. Named “Resilient Dynamism”, this topic has been recognised as a global priority at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Start today and experience how you can use nutrition and weight management to keep operating successfully and create a sustainable workforce that can engage the challenges ahead and create dynamic solutions!

Healthy weight management and resilient nutrition are important parts of sustainable performance. The time has come for leaders to advocate health as an investment, both for individuals and for organisations.

Employees are ready. How about you?

Practical tips

  1. Lead by the example! Eat well and radiate positive energy.
  2. Always have fruit or pre-packaged nuts (+/- 10 nuts per pack) in your bag, desk or car as a healthy snack.
  3. Always keep 1 litre of water available nearby.
  4. Create awareness and engage support. Share this article with key decision makers
  5. Contact your Human Resources and/or Medical Professionals to assess the opportunity to increase employees’ awareness on these topics.
  6. Ensure availability of healthy options at your cafeteria, vending machines etc…
  7. Consider partnering with The Resilience Institute to design the best empowerment programme or your team.


Baicker, Cutler & Song (2010) The workplace Wellness Alliance, investing in a sustainable workforce
Kelland, K (2011) Thomson Reuters Report “Half of Europe’s adults overweight or obese”
Finkelstein EA, Trogdon JG, Cohen JW, Dietz W. (Sept-Oct 2009) Annual medical spending attributable to obesity: payer-and service-specific estimates. Health Aff (Millwood). 28(5):w822-31.
Hewett Study (2008) “Wellness and beyond: Employers examine ways to improve employee health and productivity and reduce costs”
Donald Liebenson, article (2010) “The crippling costs of obesity in the workplace” Kaiser Health News
Church TS, Thomas DM, Tudor-Locke C, et al. (2011) “Trends over 5 decades in US occupation related physical activity and their associations with obesity”
Anjek C, (2005) Food at work “Workplace solutions for malnutrition, obesity and chronic diseases, Geneva, International Labor Office
Alzheimer’s Association
Weight Watchers Science Center (2012): “Breakfast and Weight Management” A growing body of research suggests that eating breakfast is a successful strategy for lasting weight loss
Eating satisfaction and appetite control Weight Watchers Science Center, June 2012.

Carbs out, Fat in

Carbs out, Fat in

Originally published on and reproduced with permission.

The emergence of High Fat Low Carbohydrate Nutrition (HFLC) is radically confronting for those of us wedded to the High Carbohydrate Low Fat approach (HCLF). However, the evidence and wisdom can no longer be denied. This will be the biggest paradigm shift since the US Dietary Goal for Americans of 1977. We know why obesity and diabetes have exploded. The food industry is making a killing (literally)! Will you take action?


What the Fat Paradigm means

Since 1977 political, food industry and health body dogma has been that we should base our diets on convenient, “healthy” grains – the base of the old food pyramid. This was a political and commercial experiment on humankind. The food industry has nailed the “bliss point”, a combination of sugars, processed carbohydrates, vegetable oils and salt almost impossible to resist. It has made us fat!

Studies show that it is carbohydrate, NOT FAT, that is responsible for the epidemic of obesity, diabetes and heart disease. ADHD, Cancer and Dementia are also linked to excess blood glucose.

Our Resilience Insight Sugar, Glycation & Risk explains the carbohydrate issue. This paper will show you why you will have to fight against 40 years of dogma and a predatory food industry to reduce your carbohydrate intake dramatically and raise your fat intake. Testing!

Evolutionary Design

Evolution tells us clearly that the success of humans is based on the hunter-gatherer lifestyle:

  • Running/walking 9-15km per day
  • Intense collaborative social activity
  • Hunting, digging tubers & picking fruit
  • Plenty of sleep and plenty of rest

Over 200,000 years our brains and social abilities gave us significant advantages over our primate ancestors. Nutrition was a key part.

Collaborative hunting gave us protein and fat. Gathering gave us access to fibrous tubers and fruit (hard and bitter) in season. We ran, we climbed and we dug for our energy.

Carbohydrate was very hard to access. Sugars, such as honey were a rare treat. Meats gave structure and nutrients. Fat, whether from hunting or fishing provided the energy density to thrive, populate and innovate. We prospered and conquered Africa. Around 40,000 years ago we migrated to colonise and populate the planet. Our success is coded into our genes and our culture. But our genes determine what we are designed to eat. With the right food we thrive. With the wrong food we get sick. See table below showing how food has changed:

Processed carbohydrate is the wrong food.




Data: CDC for US data, Konner, Eaton, Paleolithic Nutrition,
2010. RDA is Recommended Daily Allowance.

Processed Carbohydrate x 3

About 12,000 years ago we started to farm in the Middle East ushering in the first era of cerealderived disease. Egyptian mummies show diseased teeth and gums, obesity, arterial disease and high blood pressure – Carbageddon One.

The US Dietary Goal for Americans in 1977 was based on the flawed science of biochemist Ancel Keys who concluded that fat in the diet raised blood cholesterol and caused heart disease. He was wrong on all counts. We know today that fat in the diet is inversely related to heart disease. Countries such as France  and Switzerland who eat high saturated fat diets have the lowest rates of heart disease. It is now evident that it is cigarettes, sugar, processed grains and cereals, high fructose corn syrup, and unsaturated vegetable oils that drive heart disease.

Nevertheless in the Nixon era a political decision was made to promote industrial production and global sale of grains, corn and soy. The purpose was cheap food and happy farmers. The USDGA of 1977 was a huge, unscientific experiment on human health – Carbageddon Two. Within five years obesity and diabetes rates exploded. Despite hundreds of millions of dollars spent to prove the benefits of low fat high carb diets NO evidence exists to support it. Yet practically every health body has doggedly promoted it ever since!

Processed food manufacturers had a windfall. Masses of cheap grains, cereals, corn and soy were pumped into Americans and the world. We thought – many still think – that it is good for us. The food industry profits, we get sick and the sickness industry saps GDP.

Further, the food industry has systematically shaped grains, cereal, vegetables and fruit through selection and genetic modification. The goal is profit through easily digestible and sweet carbohydrates that we love. Thus our carbohydrate foods bear no resemblance to preagricultural foods and release abnormal amounts of fructose and glucose – Carbageddon Three.

Basic Science to Understand

Our genes are coded to hunt (protein & fat) and gather ( fat , fibre & carbohydrate). Dietary fat liberated time providing the energy to live, increase birth-rates, make tools, and build culture. Enter agriculture and the processing and refining of carbohydrate. One downside was the feast and famine cycle but the long-term downside is the excessive release of glucose and fructose. Bread quickly becomes pure glucose in the blood with a glycaemic index (GI) the same as pure glucose.

Glucose triggers insulin release allowing small amounts to be used for immediate energy or stored in liver and muscle. Everything else is converted into fat. Further, high insulin stops us burning fat as fuel. Result: obesity! Fructose is another simple sugar found mostly in vegetables and fruit. Sugar is 50% glucose and 50% fructose.

Fructose is not released into the blood so has a low GI. Fructose goes to the liver where it is processed into fat. Some accumulates in the liver as fatty liver and the rest goes to fat storage in the body. Small amounts of fructose bound by fibre in fresh fruit or vegetable is fine. When added to processed foods – particularly high fructose corn syrup – it overwhelms the liver.

All carbohydrates break down into glucose or fructose. The quicker they break down the more addictive they become. Processed carbohydrate is skilfully engineered to hit the “bliss point” and is basically irresistible. Carbohydrates make up 50% of many diets and 25% is sugar. Way too high!

Over time excess insulin becomes Insul in Resistance ( IR ). However, some of us are Insulin Sensitive and somewhat protected. Insulin Resistance is the iceberg that underpins high cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes. IR is also a brake on athletic performance as it stores energy as fat and blocks fat burning.

Worst of all you become perpetually hungry, driven by ghrelin to find more carbohydrate.

The Science of FAT

The new paradigm is that we must drive carbohydrate down dramatically and get our energy and performance from fat. YES FAT!

To repeat, there is no evidence that fat causes cholesterol elevation or heart disease. It is an essential, energy-dense nutrient that can fuel most of our energy needs. The liver can manufacture glucose from fat and protein (gluconeogenesis) where needed. Fat stores make up 98% of your energy reserves. We can quickly teach the body to burn fat. Volek and Phinney have shown that this is the best fuel for endurance exercise.

Dietary fat also makes you feel full and satisfied. Omega 3 fats (fish & flaxseed), monounsaturated fats (olive, avocado & nuts) are still great but many scientists and practitioners now recommend increasing our saturated fat intake. Their rationale: it is safe, delicious, curbs hunger and drives fat burning. We are designed to thrive on fat.

When we drive our carbohydrate down to less than 50g per day (a slice of bread or preferably 3 cups of vegetables) and replace our energy needs with fat we keto-adapt. The body learns to burn fat first for its energy needs.

The evidence is now clear: high fat low carb diets:

    • Drive weight loss & reverse diabetes (T2)
    • Are pleasurable and filling
    • Lowers bad cholesterols (small LDL, Tgl)
    • Raises good cholesterol (HDL)
    • Lowers blood pressure & heart risk
    • Fuels elite sports performance

There is some evidence that HFLC may also reduce the risk of dementia, ADHD, migraines and cancer.

A long story of low carb diets

Low carbohydrate diets are 150 years in the making. Dr William Harvey saved a Mr Banting in 1862 with the first high fat diet. Dr Robert Atkins was hugely influential in 1972 but was heavily criticised for his lack of science. More recently the Wheat Belly and Grain Brain movements, focusing specifically on gluten have had impact. Gluten is important for 1% of us but processed carbohydrate restriction is probably the key.

The Paleolithic Diet brought some improved science to the movement and then Jeff Volek and Stephen Phinney brought the science into mainstream with their Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living.

Until recently the medical dogma has steadfastly ignored science and vilified these high fat low carb (HFLC) diets. As more quality studies are being produced to support this approach things are starting to change. Acclaimed Sports Medicine researcher Professor Tim Noakes came out publically in 2011 and in 2013 published The Real Meal Revolution with his team.

Our family is currently working through this book, which includes the science, practical tips and some stunning recipes. He has the attention of many athletes, coaches and business people who are urgently looking for a coherent solution to “Carbageddon”. I highly recommend it. The first week was tough.

Going high fat low carbohydrate (HFLC) works but you may be able to achieve some of the gains through intermittent fasting – two fasts per week. Some athletes are dropping dinner to trigger overnight fasting

Our Practical Suggestions

1. Pick a couple of the references to study
2. Have a good debate at home
3. Eliminate bread, cereals, pasta & rice
4. Resolve to hold the line for at least a week
5. Keep your vegetable intake high
6. Introduce high fat foods including meats, eggs, avocados, nuts, whole fat dairy & coconut oils
7. Eat a solid high fat, high protein breakfast
8. Stick to three meals per day
9. Eliminate seed oils (omega 6 polyunsaturates)
10. Trial the occasional fast – no more than 150cal
11. Develop a smart shopping routine
12. Help your family make delicious HFLC meals
13. Maintain daily exercise and regular sleep
14. Read The Real Meal Revolution


Liberman, D (2013) Story of the Human Body
Noakes, T (2013) Real Meal Revolution
Sugar Intake and Cardiovascular Disease Mortality, JAMA Internal Medicine, Feb 2014
Phinney and Volek (2012) Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance
Perlmutter, (2013) Grain Brain
Djokovic, N (2013) Serve to Win

Carbohydrate, NOT FAT, is responsible for the epidemic of obesity, diabetes and heart disease… View and download PDF

Living Resilience

Living Resilience

Originally published on and reproduced with permission.

“If one thing protects and builds Resilience, it is Integral Daily Practice (IDP). Here we transform ideas into actions that create the freedom of Resilience. IDP is the fuel of growth. Discovering the right IDP and shaping it into one’s life is the making of Resilience. This Resilience Insight is a personal reflection on IDP as a father, Resilience practitioner and older athlete” – Dr Sven Hansen.

Our calling is to live and work with BODY, HEART, MIND, and SPIRIT. Both in our own lives and in our work with others. Realisation requires the daily work of practice. In a busy, information cluttered world, holding this attention on practice is very challenging.

Life tests our resolve relentlessly. Again and again our good intentions slip under the deluge, practice wavers and sometimes collapses, resilience fails and the death spiral sucks us down. Then we come back to the recognition that our Integral Daily Practice (IDP) has slipped.

Accept, embrace and work at your IDP. It defines who and what you become. It is never too late.

Intention and a better life

Research shows very clearly that daily exercise of body, heart and mind reaps many benefits. If you care about yourself and your impact on the world you will find a way to do it. The fact is that many of us don’t care.

At 14, I recognised that one game of life is the realisation of potential, and I was free to choose a high road or low road. What a responsibility.

Ultimately, we have to care. We have to value our short journey and accept responsibility for nurturing the inputs of life’s experience. To see our life as an input to other’s experience widens the circle of care and empowers choice. Once we see that every feeling, thought and action can damage or enlighten, intention becomes clear.

A better life is a natural human impulse. Your daily practice is a commitment to live that better life step by step, skill by skill and day by day. With a good measure of humility and humour for our frailty the goal is fierce determination.

I learned about IDP from my father, who woke at 4am to his research love, a run, a swim and breakfast with us before a long, demanding day. By the age of 15, I had some success with waking early, enjoying the dawn, early exercise and some preparation for the day. At 30, yoga helped me understand how to prepare body, breath and consciousness for the day.

Since then my IDP steadily evolved with trial, error, children and wisdom. As I encourage, stretch and discipline my body, heart and mind it has become an increasingly spiritual practice. IDP gives me enormous joy so I look forward to it. IDP is now my default choice each morning.

Base Practice – the morning

I wake just before 5am, practicing some gentle warm up exercises and stretching before more vigorous basic yoga poses and some strength work. By 5.30am I shift into mindfulness/prayer focusing on an ethical stance, breath extension and control, cultivating positive emotion, and a period of meditation. Just after 6, I head down to the beach to exercise the dog and on a good day have a walk and coffee with my wife Susan. Three days a week I go out for a hard Ski paddle – ideally with a group.

As a consequence, by 7.30am, I am ready to rock. For some, that sounds like madness. There are times I slip and sleep in a bit or have to head out for an early flight. I am about 90% compliant. Every time I miss this practice I can feel the edge of confusion and irritability. It is so marked that within a day or two I am vigorously rebuilding my routine. When I am consistent life is in flow.

Getting this right has taken years of determined experimentation. Tackle IDP with a passion.

Aligning work

My entire career has nudged in this direction. In retrospect, pathfinders, sport medicine, executive health, and leadership training are all expressions of my urge to encourage the expression of body, heart, mind and spirit in life and work. While at times travel and work intensity can interfere, the fact is that I have designed my career to suit and support my Integral Daily Practice.

It is with some horror that I listen to stories of how people pour resources into machine-like work and leave nothing to invest in themselves. Start nudging. Look for communities and businesses that respect a full and rich life.

Learn to manage your boundaries and how to say no. Move away from people and organisations that sacrifice humanity for a dollar. And be sensible!

Enlightened organisations recognise and encourage Resilience at work. Motivations include productivity, employment brand, engagement, risk management and wellness initiatives. As we watch some of the world’s most successful organisations experiment we are confident that we will see measurable benefit.

For example, in recent times, Boston Consulting Group has shown improved productivity when consultants have to take a day off a project per week. Over several months of testing this improved productivity has been a consistent finding. We can now link sustainability and organisational performance (Harvard Business Review). Sustainability initiatives will work with people as the critical element of business input. Building productive, satisfying workplaces that support IDP will attract and nourish talented people.

Eat with intention

While I love to indulge and enjoy treats, I am very careful to craft my nutrition to meet my needs. Basic meals are a priority and always planned well in advance. I firmly push in the direction of veggies, fruit, fish and fibre and will mostly have a quality morning and afternoon snack. Breakfast is a base. Dinner is early and light or simply missed.

Smart eating has a short term productivity and energy payoff and huge long term health and longevity benefits. Get this sorted! Work with your family, friends and workplace to nudge toward smarter eating. Keep fruit readily available, remove sugar snacks and drinks, and build intelligence into the supply of food to yourself and those who matter to you.

Disciplined rejuvenation

Given our connectivity and 24/7 lifestyles, rejuvenation is absolutely critical. It is easier when you run your own business but the more I take conscious down-time, the more effective I become. I book little breaks in all over the place. Every few minutes I reset and slow my breathing. I take power naps when I can. Good sleep is a non-negotiable. Find a way to secure your sleep.

I have found meditation immensely helpful to lift energy and stay calm. After regular exercise, daily mindfulness practice which can include prayer, relaxation, meditation and biofeedback such as Em-wave, is the single biggest contributor to your Resilience.

Yes, you will need to invest in learning and practice and it will take time to recognise the payoff. Practitioners in the various expressions of self development, meditation or performance arts and sciences pretty much all find a way to embed a mindfulness practice into their day. Build your practice on sound diaphragmatic breathing.

Mastering the evening

Evenings are often the fail point. One is tired, hungry and can be distressed. It is easy to come home too late, drink too much, eat too much, watch TV and end up going to sleep too late to sustain your morning practice.

For many years I would come home at 5.30pm to be with the family and then go back to work to “keep up”. Some years a g o I just stopped working at night . Productivity continued to improve.

As a family we always eat together around 5.30 to 6pm, practically never watch TV and instead read, talk and prepare for an early night. This has a huge impact on the quality of sleep.

Necessary sacrifice

Without doubt this is not for the faint-hearted. You will have to make space for an IDP that works for you. You will also need to reduce energy-sapping activities such as alcohol, TV, online addictions and late nights. Over time the negative effects of these indulgences will be so obvious, you will enjoy their absence.


Consistency is challenging. The body aches, your emotions will scream against you and your mind manufactures good excuses. Practice is hard because the body is stiff and the mind weak. Skill takes time. At times you will feel like you are making no progress. The trick is to get enough help to be able to practice skilfully. Then one needs to establish bench strength and you will start to feel the benefits. Then try to arrange your home/travel practice around your life so that it is convenient, flexible and can adapt.

However, IPD is a non-negotiable!

Build support networks

There is nothing like having fellow travellers. You will need to seek them out and treasure them. It is far easier to find people who will undermine your practice. You will be working against the centre of gravity of our time. I have struggled to form more than a couple of close colleagues on the full journey. Much of my research and support has been through books and the Integral Institute. The practice and dedication to IDP can be a lonely journey. Seek out small committed groups of friends or colleagues. See if you can build a practice group at work. I suspect Practice Groups will become increasingly common and sophisticated.

Family as Practice Group

We all struggle with this as there are so many choices today. Young people tend to resist structure and self discipline plus we have different circadian rhythms. On the other hand, what could be more important than building your family into a Resilience Practice Group?

With enormous sensitivity, try to involve your family in components that work for them. Quality meals, family walks and shared adventures will prepare the way. Encourage your kids to sleep early and stretch in the mornings. Build it into your partnership. Experiment with aligning to the rhythms of others.

What about a conversation around the role of Integral Daily Practice in your family? Consider asking children to research various practices. I asked our daughter Lauren to research coffee and she promptly became a coffee drinker!

Encourage your family to experiment and learn for themselves what works best.

Developing smart IDP practices in exercise, relaxation, sleep and nutrition will have a profound impact on the long term wellbeing and success of your children. This is one of the most important roles of parents and family. It is not one to outsource!

Good luck and let us know what really works for you.


Murphy, M & Leonard,G (2001) The Life we are Given
Integral Transformation Practice

Creativity and Resilience

Creativity and Resilience

Originally published on and reproduced with permission.
Written by Benoit Griendl – January 25th 2014

Ghandi said “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Change starts with oneself taking responsibility for what is under one’s zone of influence. Companies have more influence and impact than ever. The future is bright if leaders create an environment where creativity is stimulated and innovation rewarded. Humanity faces huge challenges. What if we reframe this apparent crisis as a huge opportunity to build a better world? The critical condition to succeed in this reframe is to enable creativity.

In this Resilience Insight, we explore environments and organisational cultures that favour creativity. We show how resilience stimulates innovation within your organisation. Finally, we outline practical steps to build a creative culture through resilience.

Creativity & innovation

Creativity and Innovation are at the heart of Human evolution. Throughout our history some people, communities, and more recently companies, have been more innovative and creative than others. Consider the Renaissance in Europe and the impact of the ideas of Galileo, Gutenberg, and Leonardo Da Vinci … to name only a few. During the industrial revolution Thomas Edison, James Watt, Alexander Graham Bell and Henry Ford shaped the world we live in. More recently, Richard Branson (Virgin), Steve Jobs (Apple and Pixar) and Jeff Bezos (Amazon) have defined the world currently evolving. Every great historical change began with waves of innovations. These waves not only lead to massive wealth creation but have transformed the quality of our lives and work. Today many executives firmly believe that innovation is central to a company’s strategy and performance, but getting it right is a complex challenge.

The heart of Innovation: Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose

Academics and leaders agree that the most important drivers of innovation are culture and people. Following Maxwell Wessel (member of the ‘Forum for Growth and Innovation’, a Harvard Business School think tank developing and refining theory around disruptive innovation), the reason most mature businesses can’t innovate is because they’re not designed to innovate. Instead, they’ve been carefully organised to execute. Too often, processes and organisational cultures create pressure that runs against the flow of innovation.

As stated by Richard E. Boyatzis, the atmosphere at work – which we define as “culture” – is 70% driven by leadership. This culture impacts significantly on the performance of the organisation (20 – 30%)

In his TED talk Dan Pink, explains that there is a mismatch between what sciences knows about motivation and creativity and what business does.

Here is what science knows:

1. Those 20th century rewards do work, but only in a surprisingly narrow band of circumstances.
2. Those if-then rewards often destroy creativity.
3. The secret to high performance isn’t rewards and punishments, but that unseen intrinsic drive – the drive to do things for their own sake – the drive to do things because they matter.

In fact, science confirms what we know in our hearts. Pink believes that creativity and innovation can be boosted by autonomy, mastery and purpose.
1. Autonomy: the urge to direct our own lives.
2. Mastery: the desire to get better and better at something that matters.
3. Purpose: the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.

These are the building blocks of an entirely new operating system for our businesses. When a leader integrates these three elements, people feel trusted and empowered to deliver results beyond expectations.

Stimulate collaboration

The complexity of current problems requires the collaboration of people with differentbackgrounds, able to bridge the gap between different disciplines. Great ideas emerge from the connection between theories, disciplines or technical solutions that existed before. But, once assembled, they create solutions, products or new experiences for clients. The entry of Apple in the musical industry is maybe the best illustration of this. More connections lead to more ideas. It requires good collaboration between people.

Good collaboration requires first that organisation develop the employee’s self-confidence. Secondly they need to create a culture of mutual trust between people and be sure that strategy is well understood.

Traditional rewards destroy creativity

Economists at the London School of Economics looked at 51 studies of pay-for-performance plans inside companies. Here is one of their findings: “Financial incentives can result in a negative impact on overall performance.” As long as the task involved using only mechanical skill, bonuses worked as expected: the higher the pay, the better the performance. But once the task called for even rudimentary cognitive skill, a larger reward led to poorer performance.

Purpose is becoming the key element that drives, motivates and enables the creativity of people and especially the younger generation. To boost creativity and so the performance of the organisation, leaders need the courage to put the contribution to society as a top priority.

As Daniel Goleman explained in his approach on Emotional Intelligence, knowing yourself and mastering your emotions helps to understand the emotions of others. This is empathy. When activated positively, empathy leads to compassion and compassion to purpose – paying attention well beyond your own interests.

Patagonia clothing company is a good example of a company living it’s purpose with great success. Patagonia earned $500 million in sales in 2011, growing almost 30% in each of the previous two years – all while setting the bar for sustainability. Patagonia’s values are clearly aligned with what its customers expect of it: love of nature and adventure. The company has not used these values as a means of making its product brand better known, but instead it has sought to invent new ways of showing that these values are at the heart of its strategy and are not just a result of it.

Accepting failure – No fear!

“The most important thing we do to encourage innovation is give people the freedom to fail…We really spend a lot of time upfront with our audiences…to really try and draw out from that what it is they would like to play…And if we disappoint their expectation, I think we are a very good learning organisation, really digging deep into understanding why it didn’t work,” Robert Kotick, Activision Blizzard.

Creativity expert, Ken Robinson says that if you are not prepared to be wrong, you will never come up with something original. It does not mean that to be wrong is creativity but it is an enabling condition.

Education often teaches students to avoid mistakes. This can educate students to neglect their creative capacities. Unfortunately, our companies can be organised to avoid mistakes, too often minimise risks and push people to stay outside their creative capacities. This is a wasted opportunity.

Welcome the frustrations!

The gap between reality and desire is an opportunity for creativity.

“Typically in an entrepreneur, ambition outstrips resources and that inequality forces the entrepreneur to think differently. We’ve learned to innovate by raising our ambitions and constraining our resources.” Nitin Paranjpe, Unilever

Every creative journey begins with a problem, says Jonah Lehrer, author of Imagine: How Creativity Works (2012). It starts with a feeling of frustration; we worked hard and we are facing a wall. We have no idea what else to do. Archimedes bath to Newton’s apple is the type of mental process described by Einstein, Picasso and Mozart. When we think of creative breakthroughs, we imagine a flash glowing like a light bulb illuminating the mind.

Scientists define inspiration through two common characteristics. First, “experience the idea”, before the Eureka moment, the intention and the goals are clear, but the processes, the ideas are not there yet. Second is the “moment of revelation” which is combined with a feeling of certainty. After his Eureka moment, Archimedes came out of the bath to run immediately to the king and share his solution, still dripping.

We all have the potential for creativity. Organisations need to recognise and develop that potential.


Resilience leads to Creativity

At the Resilience Institute, we observe how Resilience lays the foundations of autonomy, mastery and purpose. This helps to develop a clear vision for the future and also boosts creativity. The impact of resilience is straightforward: distress goes down, confusion drops, emotions are controlled, the mind is clear. Creativity follows and performance soars.

Resilience is learnable, thus creativity and innovation are also skills that can be strengthened. The “Eureka moments” happen in very specific conditions.

In our Creativity Supply Chain (see model below), resilience requires a full engagement of body, heart, mind and spirit. An integral daily discipline (refer to Living Resilience insight) will put you in the right place to be creative.

When your Creativity Supply Chain is activated, you are calm and alert (Presence). You engage your emotions (Resonance), your mind guides you according to clear values (Meaning), and we honour a goal (Purpose). The alignment is immediately actionable.

When you reach the limits of your effort, you experience a gap between reality and desire. When your mind freezes and you cannot find “the” solution, let go and relax. Relaxation skills will help you be more creative.

Resilience leads to empathy and compassion. Compassion integrates the needs of your colleagues and clients. Compassion frees the mind to think beyond the obvious to integrate human needs, sustainability and profit. When we achieve all three we have a purpose that inspires all.

Five Resilience Practices to boost creativity:

1. Lead by example! Have an Integral Daily Practice that supports your own creativity.

2. Practice Relaxation – a skill at the heart of the innovative process. Organise a relaxation space, facilitate breathing exercises before meetings, consider walking meetings etc.

3. Encourage collaborative ways of working. Prefer face to face dialogue over virtual communication, reward groups initiatives that support formal & informal connections.

4. Build your team’s Emotional Intelligence, encouraging leaders to develop self mastery and empathy for all stakeholders.

5. Clarify the values and purpose of your activity. Communicate it clearly and make sure actions and decisions are fully aligned with what matters the most.

Consider a Resilience program for your team to strengthen the creative culture in your company. Beyond processes, creativity and innovation are first and foremost the result of inspiring leadership. Go for it – this is precisely what we all need now!



Mc Kinsey Quartely (October 2006)
Wessel, M (September 2012)
Harvard Business Review Boyatzis, R, E (2008)
Becoming a Resonant Leader Pink, D (2009)
The Puzzle of Motivation TED Talk Goleman, D (2005)
Emotional Intelligence, Why it Can Matter More Than IQ Robinson, K (2011)
The Element Lehrer, J (2012) Imagine how creativity works