Dr Etienne shares his thoughts on the effect of bonding and team purpose on team resilience, by drawing from his vast neuroscientific background.
The Neurozone Equilibrium: How psychology and neurology interlink to ensure resilient well-being
How resilient well-being is the result of a sophisticated, dynamic, and careful balancing act in the brain-body system.
Author: Dr Etienne van der Walt, neurologist and CEO & Co-Founder of Neurozone
From ancient philosophies that viewed the universe as a complex and interconnected web of energy and matter, where everything is part of a larger whole, to modern scientific theories of quantum entanglement, we have long been preoccupied by the notion that everything in the universe is connected in some way.
In navigating and making sense of the world, we interpret and assign value to incoming cues, which then triggers bodily responses. These responses are continuously influenced by our assessments of potential threats and rewards, which vary depending on our individual values and beliefs.
As living organisms, we continuously desire to be in a baseline relaxed physiological state – a state of silent readiness or quiet alertness. Heart rate and blood pressure are low, metabolism is optimal. The essence of both longevity and of optimal performance is for us to be in this state. It ensures that we maintain the body properly by removing toxins and making sure the whole body is well nourished, replenished, and that we are ready for action. From this state, we are able to exert the right kind of (healthy) stress response to overcome challenges and maximize rewards.
This process is extremely important throughout our lives, from early childhood development to being students, to working as adults in the corporate world, to aging successfully. It’s all important – not only for us as individuals, but for the healthy functioning of a group or a team as well as for leadership, problem-solving and innovation. I am not overstating it when I say it is essential for every single thing that keeps us alive.
To this end, our brain-body systems have developed unconscious processes to respond to changes in the external environment. The brain creates internal representations of what is out there, the map we use to navigate through life. The more appropriate this is, something at least partly achieved through the right kind of mindset, the more geared we are to respond in the best way.
Finely tuned machine
At Neurozone, we’ve become fascinated by the granular responses of the internal system, the small, nuanced behaviors and processes that make up our complex response to our environments. This refers to the types of exercise and mobility, the components of sleep and mindfulness training, our emotional-energy-releasing responses (such as optimism, gratitude, enthusiasm and humor), the ways in which we learn and solve problems, as well as the ways that we ensure collective creativity through belonging, bonding, and leveraging diversity.
The human brain exhibits the extraordinary ability to generate intricate, granular responses that continuously prioritize themselves within our neural system. We’re always evaluating what is most important, balancing our unique intrinsic brain-body system within the context of an external stimulus. Our responses dynamically assign importance to the most relevant stimuli in the current moment.
This complexity and adaptability in response allow us to have many ways to solve a problem. After all, given the vast range of challenges we encounter in daily life, we would simply not survive if we had only one way of solving challenges.
This is the idea behind the Neurozone Equilibrium. The Equilibrium is created by opposing and interacting forces that need to be equalized to reach a constant desired end-state, that state being the baseline relaxed physiological state. Using what we know about our brain-body systems as a blueprint, the Neurozone Equilibrium says external changes require internal adaptations, which vary depending on context and circumstance. If you know how these differ and what the ‘reprioritizing code’ is, then you can assign the most value to the right behavior, leading you to act in your own best interest.
Building resilience as a system makes use of these granular behaviors that continuously prioritize themselves. Resilience, of course, refers to our adaptability and capacity to respond appropriately. For example, during Covid lockdown, many of us took up exercise. What our research showed was that we didn't exercise because we felt immobilized, we exercised because it became the strongest predictor of resilience. To be more precise, exercise diversity and exercise duration became the two top predictors of resilience, ensuring that we were able to achieve a baseline relaxed physiological state in a very unknown new external environment.
Chronic stress means challenges override our capabilities of achieving or remaining in the baseline relaxed physiological state. If this state is not achieved, the equilibrium is distorted. So, as a finely tuned, sophisticated machine, the entire brain-body system needs to be properly maintained to function optimally. This is best achieved through differential optimization of the granular behaviors we mentioned earlier and that we continue to study in the Neurozone system. The dynamic interplay between these behaviors ensures that our whole system is ready to respond at its best.
More practically, the Neurozone system supports the development of our capacity to maximize personal optimization – mirroring the recognition that perhaps I need high-intensity interval training for the next week or two, for example. Or maybe I need to silence my mind more effectively or I need more meaning in the workplace. This works for individuals as well as for other higher-order entities that we form, such as teams and organizations.
The work we do at Neurozone shines a light on the complex connections between the brain, nervous system and immune system, and is providing new insights into how these systems work together to maintain health, respond to disease and enable the resilience and high performance of individuals, their teams and of their organizations.
How can we help you?
We specialize in training professionals who use a coaching approach to optimize their people.
Contact Cuan Macnab-Holding, Neurozone Consultant: Business Development & Organizational Resilience