Boosting mental wellbeing with neuroscience based training

Judy Hersch – Ask The Expert Q&A

The beginning of the year is a challenging time for founders. The opportunity for a new start, fresh ideas and renewed energy often comes with increased pressure and higher expectations. This can take its toll, both for solo founders and founders with teams to lead. The question is, how can founders keep themselves motivated in the face of increased pressure and how can they stay resilient when things don’t go to plan?

Judy Hersch, founder and CEO of Evolution Solutions – a global coaching, speaking and training company providing solutions based on the latest research in neuroscience – joins Founders Hub’s Yiuwin Tsang to share advice to help founders build resilience and keep motivated through tough times. 


YT: My starter question! It’s so easy to make New Year’s resolutions and have grand plans on changes you are going to make – but actually sticking to them is another matter. For me, I’ve been trying to compartmentalise my workload – doing tasks or jobs at a specific time or place with the intention of being more productive, better focussed and just more effective in my role. BUT, I find myself very quickly falling out of sync and scrabbling to complete tasks at random times of the day. How do I unlearn bad habits?


JH: The reason that keeping our New Year’s resolutions or just willing ourselves to follow through with our intentions and goals is so challenging, is because only about 5% of our thoughts are conscious and 95% are subconscious. Neuroscience tells us that 95% of who we are by the time we’re 35 years old is a memorised set of behaviours, emotional reactions, hard-wired beliefs and perceptions that function like a computer program! In other words, we have unconsciously wired our brains into a finite pattern through frequent repetition of thoughts, actions, and feelings which have become our identity or our personality. 

And therefore, our conscious intentions repeatedly get overridden by the powerful subconscious programs. Add to that the stress of daily living, which further reduces our ability to change. The body operates on a priority basis so if it believes there’s an “emergency” to tend to, it activates the fight or flight response and the main focus becomes survival, not changing behaviours or learning something new. 

The good news is two-fold: (1) There is nothing wrong with you…it’s not advancing age and you’re not losing your edge…we’ve just lost our free will to a set of programs, for the time being anyway, until we learn a system for lasting change. And (2) Because of the brain’s immense ability to adapt and form new connections at any age – a function called neuroplasticity – we can finally change.  We just need to know how…

One of the most effective tools I teach in my neuroscience based change program is called Mental Rehearsal. It’s most widely used by professional athletes and performers and enables anyone to ‘unlearn’ bad habits and learn or relearn good habits that align us with our intentions and goals. 

The concept is simple – we slow our brain waves down to enter the subconscious mind and once seated there, we visualise the results we want to experience. For example, you might start with visualising yourself successfully completing your tasks or jobs at specific times or places and feeling productive, focussed and more effective in your role. Use as many senses as you can to create the scene in your mind so clearly that you can see it and feel it. What would it be like to…? How would it feel if…? It gets easier with practice just like anything else.

 The quickest way to slow our brain waves down is to (1) reduce the sensory input of the outer world by closing our eyes and (2) slow and deepen our breathing. These two steps unplug us from autopilot mode and quiet the sympathetic nervous system responsible for the fight or flight response.  If you do this with sincerity, you will have moved from Beta brain wave state into Alpha and if you allow yourself to really drop into this practice you may reach the Theta brain wave state. You know you are in your subconscious mind when your inner world is more ‘real’ than your outer world. For example, when what you are visualising is in the forefront of your mind vs. thoughts about whether you are doing it correctly or how long it will take or what’s on your to-do list for the day.

 Why does this work? Because the brain doesn’t know the difference between a scene you are vividly imagining and one that is happening in the external environment, it will begin to install the neural networks in your brain as if that experience had already happened. And pretty soon your old, automatic programs are being overwritten by the news ones and you are literally becoming the person you want to be. And it’s not because you are using your willpower to push yourself into new habits. It’s because you are physiologically, neurochemically changing your own brain by thought alone!

Give it a try – it’s worth the effort. It changed my life. 


YT: As founders, I think we all carry perhaps a little more self belief than many of the general population – enough to tilt decisions that suit our appetite for risk. That being said, I defy any founder to deny getting bouts of imposter syndrome. I get it pretty frequently, when things are going well and when things are more difficult. What advice or guidance do you have for founders who do get a bit of imposter syndrome?


JH: First, it’s important to remember to radically accept ourselves exactly as we are, knowing that at any point in time we are doing the best we can with the knowledge, experience and awareness we have at the moment. Ideally, developing a daily practice of feeling and in some way expressing deep gratitude and compassion for ourselves (aloud, or in our thoughts, or via journaling). Ironically, we can’t make any lasting changes or evolve until we fully embrace exactly who we are and where we are right now.  

In my 20 years of coaching and working with people all over the world I have yet to meet someone who doesn’t experience at least some level of imposter syndrome. Until we learn a new way of thinking about ourselves and life, we are repeatedly affected by the conditioning of our upbringing. And for most of us, that involves comparing ourselves to others and experiencing secret feelings of inadequacy at times.  

That said, there is something we can do to move beyond imposter syndrome. It requires turning our focus from ‘out there’ – our external environment consisting of people and things at different times and places – to ‘in here’, within yourself and who you want to be and how you want to feel. We were never told we could learn to think greater than our environment.  Most people’s confidence, happiness, self-esteem, peace of mind, etc. is a result of what’s happening outside of themselves. As a result, our life is like a roller coaster ride that we can’t control. Simply stated, when things go the way we want, we feel good and if not, we feel bad. When we receive compliments and praise, we feel confident and if we receive criticism, we feel insecure. This puts us at the mercy of our environment and creates conditional happiness, confidence, enjoyment, and peace of mind.

To navigate this and potentially transcend it, I will reference the tool I mentioned in my response yesterday, Mental Rehearsal. If we can start our day with a question such as ‘who do I want to be today?’ or ‘how do I want to feel?’ or ‘what is the greatest expression of myself that I can be today?’ and then begin the Mental Rehearsal process based on your answers, you start generating your own state of being from within! If you consistently practice this, not only with your eyes closed in the Mental Rehearsal process, but also reminding yourself throughout the day, you will become less dependent on anything outside of you to feel good about yourself. The byproduct is imposter syndrome begins to lessen and may even transform into anything-is-possible syndrome. And you start seeing and experiencing yourself in a new way that builds confidence from the inside out.


YT: This next question is rooted in my early career experience working in sales – dealing with knockbacks came with the territory. You have to have thick skin. It feels as a founder the stakes get higher.

As mentioned in the intro to this channel, I think that as founders, the buck stops with us in regards to the success or failure of our companies. It has to. This means that more often than not, when a prospect says no to a pitch, or an investor declines the opportunity to invest or an existing client moves on, we have to take the knock – the rough that comes with the smooth. Sometimes, when you get a few knocks in a row, it dents something. Pride, confidence – whatever it is it means, we need to be so resilient. How can we be more resilient? What can we do to improve this part of our psyche?


JH: Great topic…resiliency! If you proactively build resilience daily or at least several times weekly, you have an effective buffer when these life challenges surface. 

The first step is to cultivate self-awareness. We typically wake up in the morning and within minutes we are thinking the same thoughts, doing the same things, and feeling the same way as we did the day before! In fact, 90% of our thoughts are the same every day! 

If we are repeatedly feeling some level of impatience, anxiety, frustration and overwhelm, we are reducing our resilience and affecting our ability to think clearly and communicate effectively.

In fact, emotions such as impatience, frustration and anxiety set in motion a cascade of over 1,400 biochemical and hormonal changes that turn up energy production and utilisation processes in our body. In other words, we expend a lot of energy and negatively impact our immune system.

The stress hormone, cortisol, which is produced even during a brief emotional reaction such as when we feel anxious or impatient, sets in motion a cascade of biochemical changes that can last up to 12 hours. That’s why emotional upsets during the day can have a disruptive effect on getting a good night’s sleep.

So as a first step, I would recommend starting your day with a Mental Rehearsal practice or using any technique that builds energy in your body and gives you peace of mind. For example, the HeartMath Institute recommends a very simple technique called Heart Lock-In® which is designed to establish heart-brain coherence and build resiliency. Here is the technique:

Step 1: Focus your attention in the area of the heart. Imagine your breath is flowing in and out of your heart or chest area, breathing a little slower and deeper than usual.

Step 2: Activate and sustain a regenerative feeling, such as appreciation, care or compassion for someone or something in your life.

Step 3: Radiate that renewing feeling to yourself and others. 

The Heart Lock-In Technique is a simple, yet powerful tool for creating beneficial and sustained changes at the physiological level. By sustaining coherence for longer periods of time, you can build your energy reserves and recharge your system, which builds your resilience capacity. 

Practising the Heart Lock-In® Technique regularly helps establish new and beneficial attitudes, which can become your new baseline or default point. It’s like downloading a new operating system.

You can not only use this to prep for your day but can also use this to set the tone for your daily experiences or, in the middle of the day, to offset energy drains and re-energize your system. Use it before going to bed to promote more restful sleep.

Lastly, on the topic of self-awareness, you may want to identify situations, events, interactions, or attitudes that drain your energy and write them down. Identify or name the feeling or emotion you experience for each: for example, impatience, resentment, anxiety or anger.

By bringing these examples into your conscious awareness, you can prepare yourself in advance by using the Heart Lock-In® technique when you anticipate that you will encounter one of these circumstances. You will likely notice an almost immediate shift in your energy and at that time you can decide what new thoughts, actions, or feelings you want to apply that may in fact create a new experience and outcome for you.


YT: What are the good habits a time-poor founder can learn to maintain mental wellbeing? 


JH: This is a very important question! Below I have provided my favourite mental well-being practises. Enjoy!

  • Conscious Breathing – Create moments throughout your day where you are consciously breathing with a feeling you want to have. For example, you may want to start your day breathing in and out while feeling gratitude. The idea is to breathe a little slower and deeper than usual. Breathe consciously until you feel a shift…usually you will feel more relaxed or rejuvenated and/or you may feel more clarity. Ideally, pause several times throughout your day for 2 – 5 minutes of conscious breathing.
  • Lead with Kindness – Do a random act of kindness for someone.
  • Connect with Nature – Get out in nature (preferably barefoot) ideally for an hour, but even 5 minutes every day makes a difference. It changes your energy!
  • Water and Hydration – Start each day with a glass of water. Infuse the water with a positive intention. Continue to drink at least 8 glasses of water throughout the day. You are made of 80% water – replenish yourself!
  • Caffeine and Stimulants – reduce the amount of caffeine and other stimulants you take in. Choose herbal tea when you can.  Rose tea is especially healing.
  • Live & Work in a peaceful, organised environment – Create sacred space in your bedroom, office, and any place you spend a significant amount of time. Remove clutter. Include plants, candles, art, pictures or anything that makes you feel good.
  • Music – create a playlist of your favourite songs. You can create several playlists, so you have a theme that addresses the need of the moment. For example, you may want to have a morning activation playlist which is either peaceful and harmonious to ease your way into the day or a very upbeat fly-out of -bed and dance set. You may also choose to have a rejuvenating mid-day playlist and a wind-down get-ready-for-a-restful sleep playlist. 
  • Mindful Pause – Before you answer any question or respond to a challenging situation or person, pause first to check in with the truth of how you feel and take a deep breath to recentre yourself before responding.


YT: The last question I have for you is this – it’s around motivation. So much of what we do as founders starts us overcoming that ‘human inertia’ that holds people back. What advice or ideas do you have to keep self-motivation levels high?


JH: What drives us to stay motivated is as individual as who we are, so you need to tailor an approach that resonates with you. The more you know and understand yourself, the more effective your efforts will be. 

I have listed 20 simple strategies you can check out to see which options resonate with you. Some of these ideas come from an article that I have updated and adapted for my clients and now here for our Founders Hub family.  

Get clarity on your why. Sometimes it’s not so much the what or how that matters, but your why–the purpose behind what you’re doing. Generate a 1 sentence purpose or mission statement for yourself. I keep my Why-Purpose-Mission Statement in front of my computer and often ask myself, ‘Is this action I’m taking (or not taking) going to get me closer to my goal/vision or take me further away?’ 

Create a clear vision. To stay motivated, you must create (and write down) a clear compelling vision, something that makes you come alive when you read or think about it! If we’re not being driven by a clear vision of the future, we’re being run by our conditioning of the past and it can be hard to stay motivated.  If your vision doesn’t speak to your heart, it won’t motivate you to stay on target. Create the highest, grandest vision possible because you can achieve only what you see. Have this vision in front of you too! I have my Why-Purpose-Mission as a header on my Vision Statement and I’m looking at it daily to stay motivated!

Define your goal. Identify specific goals that roll up to your vision and mission. Define short, medium, and longer-term goals that will put your ideas into action. You can add and modify this as you make progress and gather new insights along the way. Checking off small goals along the way fuels you forward, building momentum.

Produce a plan. Once you have goals in place, develop your overall plan, taking your vision and breaking it down further. Break goals into manageable tasks. One important key to your success will be your ability to break down your goals into shorter-term and smaller single tasks. Keep things manageable. Now you have your blueprint for building your vision into reality. It helps you stay motivated when you can see a path to it.   

Identify what is needed for your plan. Ask yourself, Who and what do I need (people, knowledge, skills) to accomplish these goals?  What is the priority for each? And more importantly, Who do I need TO BE as I’m moving toward my vision? What attitudes, beliefs, habits, etc. do I need to cultivate? 

Look for the bigger picture. When you have to stay motivated, think of the bigger picture. How does this relate not only to yourself but to others? How will it contribute to something important? Where will this make a difference? To accomplish more, think bigger.

Keep it positive. Positive thoughts lead to positive actions, and self-affirming statements will help you achieve your best. Take control of how you think, how you feel, how you act. Positivity will help you make the choices that lead to accomplishment.

Approach tasks in new ways. Sometimes just getting started might be the problem. A different approach might give you a new perspective and more energy. GET CREATIVE!

Get organised. Make sure your workplace is uncluttered so your mind can be organised. A calm environment gives you a better chance of being more efficient and productive.

Tackle procrastination head-on. Don’t make excuses or waste time rationalising why you haven’t already started. Instead, get to work immediately. The best way to begin something is just to begin.

Seize the power of deadlines. Setting a time limit for an activity will enable you to assemble your resources and materials toward accomplishing things you might not otherwise get done.

Stop multitasking. Don’t divide your attention but give your full and undivided self to the task at hand. When you do, your chances for success go way up.

Starve your distractions. Do what you need to do to stop being distracted by people, tasks, or electronics. Devise strategies to help you start and complete tasks without any distractions or interruptions.

Find your most productive time. Find the time of day when you do your best and most productive work. Then schedule the more challenging activities or those things you like least for that time of day.

Choose success. Choose to feel successful and accomplished. What would it feel like if you stayed on point with your plan today?  Allow yourself to feel that sense of accomplishment then CHOOSE to feel that way throughout your day. Most people don’t know they can actually choose their emotional state. We are so conditioned to ‘react’ to the outer world. You can choose to let your old mindset win or decide to override that.

Keep it fun. If you seriously want to stay motivated, find a way to make it fun. Fun is not the enemy but a great motivator. For example, create a variety of playlists of your favourite music to listen to either before, during or after work to keep you motivated. If you like to listen to music while working, it’s best to find music without lyrics so it’s not distracting.

Reward yourself. Learn what it takes to get yourself to complete dreaded tasks and set up a system of rewards for completion.

Visualise yourself succeeding. Visualisation is a powerful technique that can help you to focus, stay motivated and achieve your goals. By creating a mental picture of yourself successfully completing a job, you prime your brain and body to have that very experience.

Find a Master Mind Partner or Group. Have at least one “mastermind” partner and have a standing meeting with them weekly or every other week to stay motivated.

Take care of your Mental Health & Well-being. 


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