Fondation-LAB founder Dr Florence Nisabwe discusses how we can achieve happiness even in stressful times with flow exponent and expert Dr Marco Giannecchini.
2020 has been a challenging year for almost everybody. The coronavirus and its social, economic and environmental repercussions have had a knock-on effect on every aspect of life. As so often with global issues (climate change being a comparable example), marginalised and lower-income people have disproportionately borne the brunt of events so far this year.
As an NGO dedicated to helping people in Africa achieve increased self-realisation and happiness, Fondation-LAB has been keenly following events worldwide in 2020 – and actively working towards solutions that can be rolled out throughout Africa.
Included in these initiatives was a webinar hosted by Fondation-LAB Founder Dr Florence Nisabwe, and focused on enabling people to upgrade their self-identity and bringing the future into the present.
Dr Nisabwe introduced this essential and very relevant topic by observing that everyone – no matter what their station in life – have two identities:

  • Who they are now; and
  • Who they are destined to be – with the gap between the two being time.

The question then becomes, how can time be shifted to bring the future forward? This a particularly pertinent point given that the impacts of the coronavirus have included job losses, mental health issues, a reported increase in incidents of GBV and food insecurity.
Dr Nisabwe then introduced Dr Giannecchini, a Berlin-based neuroscientist and entrepreneur who has focused his studies on the phenomenon of stress as experienced by individuals.
Dr Giannecchini opened his contribution by defining stress as a “non-specific response of the body to any demand for change”. He also noted that the goal of his professional efforts is the creation of a more positive and learned society.
He also introduced the notion of “flow” – that is, an induced state of mind in which higher performance can be achieved or is indeed more likely – and a way that people can transform their lives.
Dr Giannecchini further defined flow as being an optional state of consciousness, in which people not only feel at their best, but perform at their best. When experiencing flow, people can focus on excellence and effortless achievement. It can involve a complete loss of sense of time. When truly entered, the state of flow can be incredibly rewarded. Flow is not merely a feeling, but involves a rewiring of the neural networks in the brain – there are neuro-chemical changes that can be observed and measured. These include a reduction in activity in the pre-frontal cortex – a reduction in brain activity known as transient hypofrontality.
Relating back to the current coronavirus pandemic, Dr Giannecchini noted that flow can help people cope during challenging times. It is also a state that performers – including athletes and musicians – credit with helping them achieve their greatest feats.
Dr Giannecchini answered several insightful questions from Dr Nisabwe, which threw further light on the phenomenon of flow.

Why is flow so important in modern society?
We are living in a state of heightened fear (because of the coronavirus) and people are anxious about the many changes we are all experiencing.
The result of the slowing down of certain parts of the brain when people enter into a state of flow is a heightened sense of oneness with their surroundings. Spiritual or religious people may experience this as feeling of unity with their environment as being at one with the universe.
Flow is therefore the antidote to worry and “overthinking” – it can help people to deal with stressful situations by making better use of their mental energy. The key questions then become how to use this mental state to its best advantage and how to trigger or activate it.

What else is important in dealing with stress in our private lives and careers?
Dr Giannecchini raised an important issue here: namely, the idea that stress is not necessarily a bad thing. It has long been known that a certain level of stress can be healthy, and the definition of stress (as noted earlier) is “the reaction of the body to having to face change”. This can be any change – not necessarily a negative one.
A persistent stressful situation that causes chronic stress can become unhealthy, and present additional life challenges. However, Dr Giannecchini outlined that stress can be addressed (and its negative effects mitigated) by adopting certain mental techniques:
1. Acceptance of the situation as a part of life. People love to plan, but life is not necessarily under our control. While we all make plans, life may not always go according to those plans.
2. Take an active role in this new situation – set new goals and escape the tendency to become passive. Set new goals daily and take control of your life and reduce your stress.
3. Rewarding ourselves every day for the good things that we’ve achieved, rather than seeking extrinsic rewards or recognition. This will provide motivation.
4. In a challenging situation like the coronavirus pandemic, you can change your mindset. You cannot control the situation, but you could see it as an opportunity to learn something new.

Can people get used to stress?
Many people find it hard to believe that stress and relaxation can be compatible. Dr Giannecchini’s response was an emphatic yes – he is adamant that people can learn to “rewire” their brains to improve their response to stress, and that this can be done every day.
He explained how people can create a new identity according to their wishes, but that this requires both a strong intention and a real commitment to change. It also takes time.

How can people become who they want to be, against a background of stress?
Dr Giannecchini explained that he has undertaken studies of successful people, and distilled their experiences into a simple formula consisting of four steps:
1. Envision your perfect life and make every day as close as possible to your perfect day;
2. Consider how you would make this happen – seek inspiration;
3. Feel your new identity as if it is already real – “see it as done” by using neuro-pharmacological shifts; and
4. Act according to your new identity.
Dr Giannecchini summed up his answer by saying that this basic code is the key to living an extraordinary life – the answer is simply to seeing it as already done.
In simple terms, it’s a question of dream – think – feel – act. With this simple formula, founded on neuroscience, you can create the future that you want.
Dr Nisabwe summed this up neatly as the basic elements for an extraordinary life being to follow this simple code, and moving from a vision to a reality that you love by imagining this life to be already real.
Life, continued Dr Giannecchini, is not a guarantee – rather, it is an option. More than that, it is a one-way ticket. That means that it’s imperative not to waste your time on explaining what you want to achieve to others – rather, you should focus on achieving it. This involves standing up for yourself.
He explained that one of the most joyful parts of life is that we are both the scriptwriter and the actor in the best possible movie of our life. In other words, there’s nothing stopping us! All we need do, is be capable of dreaming an extraordinary life – a healthy, wealthy, meaningful life that has a positive impact in the world.
To do this requires going out into the world, and taking action. One you have started your own journey, you will find that you gain access to the tools you require to reach your goals.
While we each need to do this for ourselves, Dr Giannecchini also made an important point: we are not alone in this. He stressed that it’s okay to need help, and to ask for this. When it comes to self-transformation and self-realisation, the universe is also on our side.
Dr Giannecchini explained that the universe acts just like a mirror: it is ready to help us, but can only reflect what or who we are. This is why we need to understand who we are, and what our mission is. In other words, how we are going to change the world.
Dr Nisabwe opened up the session to questions from the virtual floor, giving Professor Alain Ndedi the opportunity to ask a question that many people have been wondering about during these unprecedented times.

How can we bring the present into the future?
Dr Giannecchini reiterated that this was a matter of understanding (and visualising) your dream life, and who you want to be. The next step is to start to feel as though you are already this person, and then actively work towards this state of affairs.
He reassured everyone that by following this approach, they will one day wake up to find that only do they feel this to be true, but also that their environment recognises them as this person.
Dr Giannecchini then asked Dr Nisabwe – as someone who has achieved a great deal in life, but who still has ambitious goals – what her personal success strategy has been.
She explained that in launching the Fondation Lance d’Afrique Burundi, her overarching aim had been to assist African people to improve their situations, and help them find ways to create their own paradise or happiness.
She described how she was able to set goals than helped her move from her vision or dream to achieving her objective. Dr Nisabwe explained the steps that she had found necessary: firstly, to know who she was, and secondly, to build her “empire”.
Dr Nisabwe went on to underscore how many people would be keen to take advantage of this opportunity to learn more about flow, and apply its principles to their own lives. In this way, they would be able to bring their present into their future.
She closed the session by observing that reaching a heightened level of consciousness will be crucial for people in Africa during the pandemic, as they address the challenges of the present and work towards a better future. Better yet, as they bring their future into the present.