Finding Wisdom At Work With Parneet Pal

26 Jul , 2021 podcasts

Finding Wisdom At Work With Parneet Pal

CMO Parneet | Finding Wisdom

 

As we go on through our lives, we acquire the wisdom that we need for self-fulfillment. We should be aware that we all have the power to create a better world, one passionate step at a time. Join Katherine Twells and the Chief Science Officer at Wisdom Labs Parneet Pal as they delve into finding the mental, emotional and physical balance in dealing with different circumstances every day and how to find wisdom in our professional life as well. Parneet shares her personal experiences growing up and how being exposed to different cultures developed her well-being. She emphasized that we are one world, and the pandemic has exemplified that in so many ways. She has an integrated a holistic view of well-being, and she focused on using lifestyle as a medicine to optimize health.

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Finding Wisdom At Work With Parneet Pal

How Finding Mental, Emotional And Physical Balance Allows You To Soar

My guest is Parneet Pal, Chief Science Officer at Wisdom Labs. Parneet is a Harvard and Columbia-trained physician working at the intersection of lifestyle, medicine, technology and behavior change. An educator and science communicator, she applies her subject matter expertise to optimize human health and its impact on business leadership and planetary well-being. She so strongly believes that together we can create a compassionate, equitable society where health is the default. In her role as Chief Science Officer, she focuses on solving stress, burnout and loneliness in the workplace. Wisdom Labs aspires to build wiser workplaces using the Science of Mindfulness and scaling the skills of mental resilience, emotional intelligence and compassionate leadership. She’s a podcast host at Wise@Work podcast, a writer and presenter of the science of Well-being at work video series, a contributor to Harvard Business Review and very appropriately has been featured on the cover of Mindful Magazine.

In addition to her medical training, Parneet holds a Master’s in Exercise and Movement Science from the University of Oregon and her decades-long meditation and mindfulness practice truly is the key to her personal well-being. She continues to foster interdisciplinary health innovation as a TEDMed Scholar. In this conversation, you will hear Parneet share what I would call critical wisdom for our age, our ability to honor our interconnectivity, listen to the wisdom of our biology and understand the power that we truly have to co-create a better world, one compassionate step at a time. I hope you’ll enjoy the conversation with the very wise Parneet Pal.

Parneet, thank you so much for taking the time to have this conversation. I really appreciate it.

My pleasure, Katherine. It’s always a joy to speak to you.

In every show, we talk about the origin story and I will have already shared your bio at the beginning of this. There is always a lot more to understand about a person’s journey when they tell the story of where they came from and what happened to them that brought them to where they are now. Can you share that with us?

One of the things that have informed who I am and how I show up in the world is the fact that I was born and brought up in India. My family still lives there. I grew up in Bombay, which is a beautiful, crowded, very cosmopolitan city and I was lucky to be exposed to many different cultures growing up. This idea of well-being and an integrated and holistic view on well-being because growing up in India, which has a rich wisdom tradition of many kinds. Especially around meditation and yoga that were practices that my parents were involved in growing up and the community around me. I had this view on well-being in my DNA that it was so much more than a physical body.

The other thing that has informed my perspective is science because I was a straight-A student through school. I was very ambitious and decided to go to medical school. I came to the States for my graduation and residency training and so on. I love science and learning about what the human body and mind are capable of right at the molecular level. For me, what comes naturally is being able to hold those two things equally, the science but also the beyond science, the wisdom that’s incorporated in our minds and bodies. In fact, this whole idea of the mind-body separation is a little bit foreign to me like a lot of people who grew up in India because the mind is a part of the body. That’s become relevant. As my career evolved, I decided not to pursue clinical practice but focused on prevention and using lifestyle as medicine. That speaks to that early influence of wanting to integrate the many different aspects of optimizing our health.

CMO Parneet | Finding Wisdom

Finding Wisdom: Lifestyle medicine is a specialty of medicine that focuses on optimizing different aspects of our lifestyle.

 

One other thing that I’ll point out is it’s interesting because, throughout my life, I’ve straddled to two worlds. For the past many years, I’ve been fortunate enough to live and work in North America both in the United States and Canada. I’ve had the opportunity to travel throughout the world including Europe and other places but my family is still in India and that’s a huge part of my ongoing life. I’ve become very sensitive to the disparity and the differences between the so-called third world or developing world and the first world.

It’s very interesting to me living in Silicon Valley. I’m exposed to some of the newest innovations and what is the best out there in the world while also being cognizant of the fact that most of the world, including in India, does not have access to everything that we are so privileged to have access to. That keeps me balanced in my perspectives whether it’s on health but also it’s inspired me to look for what contributes to well-being beyond our minds, bodies and health but also start to look at the social determinants of health. Through the many crises that we are experiencing, including the climate crisis, that’s been an ongoing area of my interest as well so I hope that gives you some flavor.

Lifestyle Medicine

It does and you bring this wonderful and broad perspective. Let’s face it. We can’t get that perspective unless we live it like we have a visceral experience and for you, you grew up in such a different dynamic and now you live here but isn’t it ironic how we talk about the developing world and where we are here. We’re going to talk more about lifestyle medicine but here in the United States, if you look at the way we’ve been living and the mind-body connection, we’re quite detached from that total system very much in the mind. The US, in general, has been a cerebral, mind-based in general culture. We’ve started to understand that. It’s interesting how we think, “We’re more developed, perhaps we have more conveniences here.” What is the wisdom from India and the developing world that we need? It’s like different environments helping each other. You see both and that’s a beautiful place to sit.

For me, what has also been interesting to observe is the fact that we are one world. The COVID pandemic has exemplified that in so many different ways and has underscored this interconnection. Sadly, a lot of the “westernized” lifestyle has been spreading to other parts of the world including India. We’re starting to shift when it comes from a health perspective and see the same kinds of trends around lifestyle-related diseases globally because we are adopting. We’re losing that connection to our bodies and our well-being.

On the flip side, the West and the innovation that is on offer here have been so helpful as well. It has helped inform and contribute to our health and well-being in many ways. There’s good and bad no matter what part of the world we’re living in and what I’m encouraged by is that increasingly more of us in the world will have access to more of this innovation but also more of that wisdom that we’re yearning for.

To be able to find a middle ground where we pull on the innovation but we’re also not losing the wisdom of what we know. People like yourself, Parneet, are pioneers in bringing that narrative to the forefront here in the West. Let’s talk a little bit about lifestyle medicine because for people reading it may be obvious what that is but maybe they don’t fully understand it. I’d also love to dig into some of the statistics around the diseases we see and how connected they are to lifestyle and that we’re not a victim of what’s happening in our bodies but that we have choices to make to impact that. Can you share a little bit about that?

When you look at some of the trends in health, well-being and disease, many decades ago, infectious diseases were the big killers or the things that we were looking out for. As our levels of sanitation, vaccination and immunization have improved, we started noticing this trend towards more and more about diseases and illness being impacted by the way that we eat, how much we move, sleep and how we manage our stress. Those four components comprise what we call lifestyle-related disease. Lifestyle medicine is a specialty of medicine that focuses on optimizing those aspects of our lifestyle. When we look at the statistics, it matters because it used to be only in North America. Now unfortunately globally, 3 out of 4 of us will suffer from a lifestyle-related disease in our lifetimes. That’s a pretty stunning statistic if you sit down and think about that.

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When I say lifestyle-related disease, it means things like obesity, diabetes, cancer, heart disease, stroke, autoimmune disorders or disorders like anxiety, depression and so on. In North America, they account for 86% or higher of our healthcare costs and we’re starting to see similar trends globally. The flip side in the past decades, there has been very good research looking at large cohorts of people globally and examining what are those lifestyle components that can help us prevent these outcomes. At the end of the day, it’s really simple. If we maintain our healthy body weight, don’t smoke, eat a mostly plant-rich diet and get enough, at least three and a half hours more of movement per week, you’re well on your way to preventing most of these diseases.

For me, the power of lifestyle medicine and why I love it and exciting is that there’s so much that we can do. It’s in our hands. It gives the power back and we’re not a victim to our genes and what anybody says or does at any point. I always like to leave with this message of empowerment so it doesn’t matter where you lie on the well-being spectrum now. You can start at this moment and make those shifts and you will start to see very dramatic effects depending on the changes that you make in your lifestyle.

The body is incredibly renewable. I’m even thinking about the shutdowns with COVID and what happened to the planet like we saw the air get clear, the water get healthier and all these changes. I feel like when we stop smoking or overeating, our body can respond maybe not right away but with those sustained actions, we are very renewable. Is that accurate that we can make big changes?

Absolutely. What happened with COVID was those of us who were lucky to do that and I want to acknowledge the fact that many people did not have the opportunity to do that and have suffered a lot through the pandemic. For those of us who had the opportunity to take that pause and reflect on our lifestyles, the frenzied pace that we normally live our lives with and re-examine our priorities through the pandemic, I think hopefully it’s been a revelation to most said that those changes are possible. I’m a huge fan of human biology. It’s the most fascinating and intelligent machine out there. It has an incredible power for renewal and everything is interconnected.

Human Health And Planetary Well-being

One of my interests is the connection between human health and planetary well-being. When we look at all of the repercussions of climate change, the loss of biodiversity and everything that’s happening on the planet, we start to see that as human beings, one of the most empowering things that we can do is shift our lifestyle. When we shift that lifestyle, not only does it impact the ability of our mitochondria in ourselves to produce that kind of renewable energy that’s healthier for us, that means that we can show up feeling more focused, energetic, we live longer and our immune systems are stronger. Those very same lifestyle changes also have a parallel impact on biodiversity, soil health and climate health. It’s exciting. The challenge for all of us who are reading this blog and for those of us who want to move in that direction is how can we spread this message? How can we support each other? It’s one thing to know what to do but to incorporate those changes can often be difficult if we’re not supported.

That is a question, Parneet, because why is there a level of simplicity? “Make sure you sleep, move and eat mostly plants.” This is not a 25-page thing you’ve got to go through. It’s some key principles but yet why do we get so rooted in habits that are destructive to us? Why is it tough for us to change? What’s going on with us that creates that resistance?

CMO Parneet | Finding Wisdom

Finding Wisdom: It doesn’t matter where you lie on the well-being spectrum. You can start at this moment to make shifts, and you will start to see very dramatic effects depending on the changes that you make in your lifestyle.

 

There are many different factors that are important to keep in mind when we look at the science of behavior change and what allows us to make those shifts in the direction that we want them to. Motivation is key. How do we motivate ourselves? Motivation is a tricky beast because it can go up and down very quickly. Within minutes, things can shift. From a health and health behavior change perspective, it’s all about systems and the environments that we find ourselves in. Taking individual responsibility is absolutely essential. Everybody should examine their lifestyles and look at the changes that they want to make and start taking small steps but it’s hard to do that.

That’s why many of us with the best of intentions find ourselves sliding back into our older, not so useful habits is because our environments are often set up for us to fail. We can take the example of healthy foods and access to nutritious food. If you walk through any supermarket, what you see on the shelves is pretty reflective of the state of our health. It’s easier and cheaper to eat junk foods and for those of us who have the ability to make that choice, that’s one thing but most of the world does not have access to cheap, nutritious foods. That’s one example of how, as a community, society and businesses, we need to start paying close attention to the systems and the environments that we are creating and see how we can shift those so that the easiest choice is also the best decision for our well-being.

We have now brought up a couple of times this whole idea of interconnectivity. Globally, with every step that we individually take to improve our health, perspective, consciousness and compassion, there’s a ripple effect to those around us because we are an interconnected world. We first met because Coke is launching a Mindfulness and Compassion Program. My personal belief around how important it is to embed this type of work into the culture. You mentioned having a system or being surrounded by that support. When we’re taking the journey together, we’re much more likely to succeed and to provide those resources. You do unbelievable work in bringing this into the workplace because it’s one thing, there are lots of resources for the individual journey but there’s a different conversation in the workplace. I’d love to ask you first, why should we do this in the workplace?

Simply because we spend most of our lives at work and especially as it relates to the work that we’re doing at Wisdom Labs and the work that you are so brilliantly bringing into the Coca-Cola ecosystem around mindfulness and compassion through the compassion that speaks to a need that was very well highlighted through the pandemic. We were already in the midst of an overwhelming crisis with our mental health but when COVID happened, it brought to the surface and accelerated the number of people suffering from symptoms of anxiety, depression and loneliness skyrocketed. It’s not that this was anything new. COVID brought to the surface the fact that when it comes to our mental, emotional and social well-being, we’re not doing that well at all.

If you look at some of the stats in the United States, for example, suicide rates are at a 30-year high, 61% of Americans report feeling lonely. Surprisingly, most of those are the younger folks. It’s 71% of Millennials and 79% of Gen Z that report feeling lonely compared to 50% of Baby Boomers. There are many different factors that have contributed to this crisis of our mental and emotional health including the use of technology, how we are living our lives at work. Hopefully, what comes out of this pandemic, the takeaway for us all is that if we want our teams and our organizations to be well, it’s impossible for that to happen if people on our teams are not feeling mentally and emotionally connected.

This is where the Science of Mindfulness and compassion really shines. I’m not saying that’s the only thing important for our mental and emotional health but when we use them skillfully, they can be very powerful tools that can help everyone on the team feel more focused, creative, want to collaborate and give to one another. There are many benefits of this practice. It’s essential that workplaces and more leaders are recognizing the importance of providing that environment and support for their teams.

When we launched Compassion Lab, that first call, as you will know because you were there with us, we talked about this dynamic trauma like the multiple traumas that people have gone through. We find ourselves in a very interesting time. We’ve gone through this journey in 2020 where people had different experiences, some painful and enlightening. Everyone was forced to take a look at how they were living, what was important to them, all these things. It’s a personalized journey for everybody. We’re in this interesting intersection of the world is opening up again. Things are moving again but people are asking new questions about, “Do I want to go to an office every day? Do I want to commute every day? Do I want to go back to traveling as much as I did?” Yet people aren’t sure what’s expected. Do I need to snap back into where I was? I’ve changed.

I always make a joke with friends at work. I say, “I feel that Thelma & Louise moment, which is someone crossed over and I can’t go back.” There are a lot of people who are trying to reorient to this new world. It’s very interesting as you look across your clients, you work with different companies and you bring these mindfulness leaders together to talk about this. What are the patterns that you’re seeing in the conversation with your clients about where people are in the corporate or business space?

One of the trends that I’m definitely noting is that we are still grappling with that uncertainty. Leaders are recognizing that this new normal, whatever it is that we are co-creating, uncertainty factor is something that we will have to contend with for a long time. I don’t think it’s going away and it’s different. That’s very scary for all of us as leaders but also as team members. Nobody knows the answer quite yet. Every culture is unique and they will figure out where they need to be together. Collectively, within the context of mindfulness and compassion, there is such an opportunity here for us to integrate these practices into our entire workday in order for us to help navigate this uncertainty and the fact that we don’t know what’s going to come or what lies ahead moment to moment.

We know from the Science of Mindfulness and compassion that when we do these practices, 5, 10, 15 minutes a day of consistent practice, the changes that are happening in the brain with many different neural networks translate to better ability to stay present with the unknown. To be able to witness that fear, that uncertainty to notice it in the body but to hang in there and lean into that discomfort. When we build this capacity to lean into the discomfort, that’s when our resilience increases. This is when we find that we can overcome challenges, lean on others for support or ask for help that we wouldn’t have otherwise and realize that expanding our worldview of what is important in the moment shifts and then collectively, hopefully, we can make better decisions.

What I find interesting is that sometimes when we have these conversations around the pandemic and everybody talks about this uncertainty, we talk as if we knew, as if there were a lot of certainties before. There never was and there never will be. It’s cool to think about, “This was always the case. In some ways, nothing has changed but we’re becoming hyperaware of the fact that life isn’t permanent. Things can shift easily. We have very little control of what happens around us but we have 100% control of how we show up in each moment. I think that is where the juice and the beauty of mindfulness and compassion lie.

Let me ask you this question. Our readers, people who have come to the CMO Summit so our customer community, our Coca-Cola associates but we have an audience from all different areas and even different parts of the world. For anyone reading this, as you talk about practices and things we can do, if you’re not involved in a company culture that is giving you tools and you’re trying to figure out how to increase your wellness, what would you tell someone who wants to begin looking at this and beginning some of these practices?

I would say, first of all, “Congratulations. This is a journey that you will be very happy that you undertook. Get curious as you would any other aspect of your life.” Get curious about mindfulness, explore what the hell does mindfulness means and see for yourself. Go find the teacher or the practice that speaks to you because that is the practice that you are more likely to stay consistent with. I’ll give you an example. When I was starting off my mindfulness practice and I was growing up in India, even though I spoke about the fact that I was surrounded by all these practices in many different forms, unfortunately, I was not as wise and I chose to ignore those practices because I thought I was too cool for that.

It took a difficult moment in my life many years later, at the end of my residency when I was grappling with both a personal family crisis and a professional crisis in terms of what I wanted to do with my life. It was at that moment when I felt very uncertain about the next steps. I felt like there was nobody I could turn to. What I decided to do was I said, “Let me figure this meditation mindfulness thing out. Everybody seems to be talking about it and maybe let me give it a go.” I started reading anything on the internet or any books that I could get my hands on. I started dabbling with many different practices.

For anyone out there who’s reading and just starting out, try it on for size. Don’t pay attention to what your friend, somebody else or a teacher might say is the best practice. Do it on your own. Fortunately, there are so many free resources available on the internet. There are many guided practices available that you can try out and many different apps available and then see. A common practice that we start with is concentration practice where you focus on your breath. For me, when I started doing them, they didn’t work. I have an analytical mind. My mind would race and I would go down a very ruminative thought so those were not sticking for me.

Everybody should examine their lifestyles and the changes that they want to make and take small steps. Click To Tweet

Somehow through my exploration, I stumbled on a compassion practice. That was it. It was like night and day because it spoke to me. It fills my need for connection and trust that I was longing for at that moment but also it gave me a way to make sense of all the difficult emotions around fear, doubt, uncertainty, frustration and anger that I was feeling at that moment. The compassion practice really opened all of that up for me and started to give me these moments of peace. Not a resolution necessarily but it increased my capacity to be with those difficult emotions without pushing them away, which was a huge win for me back then. That’s how my practice grew and I’ve been a fan of compassion practices. That has also allowed me to then get better and better at concentration and other related practices. My advice would be to experiment with different practices.

CMO Parneet | Finding Wisdom

Finding Wisdom: If we maintain a healthy body weight, if we don’t smoke, if we eat a plant-rich diet, get enough movement per week, we’re well on our way to preventing most infectious diseases.

 

The other thing that folks can do is join an online community or maybe there’s an in-person community because, from a behavior change perspective, you’re more likely to stick with that new habit if you surround yourself with people who are doing the same thing. There’s so much value in being able to share your stories and obstacles. That is the power of community. It’s that you have somebody to turn to when you’re having a bad day, you’re not able to stick to whatever habit you wanted to incorporate. I hope that that gives folks some ideas on where to start.

Compassion Is Courage Stress Response

It’s great guidance. As you talk about compassion, Parneet, there’s that self-compassion for try something. It doesn’t work or you feel like you’re unable to stick with it. Sometimes people go, “It’s not for me.” Self-compassion means that it’s a practice and a practice on anything is that you keep showing up. It’s not perfect and that you have to suddenly achieve something. It just continues to show up every day. You shared something in another interview that I was listening to that I thought was fascinating. When you talk about compassion, people often think about compassion as being kind but you talked about that compassion is courage. Can you share a bit more about that distinction?

What made me fall in love with compassion was learning about science and what happens in our brain and body when we are compassionate. If we go back millions of years or at least hundreds of thousands of years ago in our evolutionary process, when we were hunters and gatherers out in the wild, everyone is familiar with the fight or flight stress response and the idea of the tiger coming into you and our body responding in this way to protect ourselves. If you imagine in that same scenario if there was a mother with her child and a tiger coming at them. If the mother only had the fight or flight stress response at her disposal, what might the result be? She would abandon the child and run to save her own life.

In order for the species to propagate, our body and our physiology had to come up with a mechanism that would, in that moment of stress, override the fight or flight stress response. At least three different things had to happen from the brain’s point of view, the mom would have to have enough of a sense of attachment and bonding to her baby that she would want to protect her baby in that moment of danger. She then had to overcome her fear or any doubts at that moment and be motivated to take some action to protect herself and the baby. This is something that most folks don’t realize about the fight or flight stress response is that it is not an optimal brain state to make good decisions.

In fact, we make lousy decisions when we’re in that state of stress and chronic stress. The brain then also had to figure out a way in that moment of stress to come up with good ideas because the mom had to figure out how we’re going to save ourselves. These three things had to come online and beautifully that’s exactly what our biology evolved to do. The body learned to bring online hormones like oxytocin, which helped to increase that sense of trust, belonging and connection. It brought online dopamine, which gives us that boost of motivation but very importantly, it raises the threshold of fear in our limbic systems and amygdala so we’re not as afraid. It brings online hormones like serotonin, which help us to hone in on what is the best option, idea and way to move forward? It’s not restricted to moms and their kids. It’s equally applicable for all men and women.

When you think from an evolutionary standpoint, we survived in tribes. We depended on each other for our survival. In literature, it’s called the tend-and-befriend stress response. It’s an alternate way of responding to stress that all of us have access to. The thing is most of us are not aware of it, even though we’ve all participated in this response. In a moment of stress, I’m sure each one of your audience has either reached out for help or has even in a moment of stress decided to help somebody else even though they were feeling stressed out.

In both those instances, they were engaging their compassion systems. When you think of what’s involved in a compassionate response, you can break it down very simply into three steps. The first step is before you help somebody, you have to first become aware that somebody needs your help. That first step is being able to notice or being mindful of the fact that somebody is suffering. The next step once you become aware is that you empathize with that person. You might feel how they’re suffering or you might just cognitively become aware of taking the perspective of, “I wonder what’s going on with this person’s life or why they’re suffering this way.” Once you’ve empathized and the third step of compassion is you’re motivated to take action to relieve that suffering. This is where the courage comes in.

Practice of Compassion

If you have to take action to help somebody else especially if you yourself might be feeling stressed out, you have to overcome many difficult emotions. You have to get good at leaning into that fear and discomfort, uncertainty and all the things that we’ve been talking about. This is a part of compassion that most people are not aware of. It’s that, in order to be compassionate, you have to be strong enough to stay with and not run away from that moment of suffering. Staying with the suffering is not enough because staying with the suffering might overwhelm you emotionally. The whole practice of compassion and from a neurological standpoint, how this works is when we do those compassionate practices of meditation or out in the world make a resolution to I am going to intentionally do one act of kindness every day, volunteer somewhere, mentor or coach someone. You’re engaging those same new neural networks that allow you to be more present with suffering without being afraid of it.

When we think of compassion, a lot of the time, people think it was being kind, fuzzy and warm. You can be kind but sometimes being compassionate means that in that action that you’re taking, it involves very hard decisions and those decisions can sometimes be some difficult things that you might have to share with the people that you’re involved with, which may not be perceived as kind necessarily by some. It’s not about kindness. It’s about making the best decision for as many people as possible that are suffering but then also, to be able to do that in a way that doesn’t overwhelm you emotionally. All of that is hard work. It’s less about kindness but it’s more about the courage to lean into that discomfort, stay with it and take action.

I can see how it can take so many forms and we see selfless acts. Even sometimes in the workplace, you have to have a difficult conversation but it’s also compassionate because you’re giving someone important information. I can see how that science and physiology drive the courage to do that. I want to ask another question before we leave the science because I hope what everyone is beginning to see through our conversation is that this mind-body connection that the science of our biology truly is driving our behavior and has a big impact on our outcomes.

Staying with the science because this is fascinating to me, I want to spend a moment on epigenetics and the power of our control. You mentioned we can’t control what happens around us. We can’t control that this pandemic but we have the ability to choose what we or how we’re going to respond, what we’re going to do about it and how we care for ourselves and others in that dynamic and then what that does to our biology. Could you talk about that and this whole DNA is only one part of the equation and the rest is what we do.

Epigenetics is a branch of science that has come to the fore in the past few couples of decades. From the name epigenetics, epi means beyond or above. Genetics what it’s referring to is the fact that the DNA that we inherit from our parents doesn’t change over the course of our lifetimes but whether or not a particular gene is expressed, which means genes are codes for proteins at the molecular level. It’s these proteins in ourselves that enable us to do every single thing and that allowed us to stay alive whether or not a particular gene is active or turned on at a particular time is not predetermined. It’s greatly influenced by many genes that are greatly influenced by these external lifestyle-related factors that we’ve been talking about, which is brilliant news.

This means that we are not doomed to whatever genetic destiny that we may have inherited from a health perspective. No matter where you find yourself on that health and well-being spectrum or your family history through your lifestyle, you have the power to shift your destiny. When you eat a particular way, in more nutritious ways, move, sleep more and manage your mental and emotional health in mindful and compassionate ways, what you’re doing is you’re changing the signal that shifts the expression of certain genes that then correlates to better health and well-being.

I’ll give you a very stark example is when we look at the gene expression of folks who are lonely or have had to face traumatic childhood events essentially, a lot of us who experienced chronic stress, we find that a molecular expression we’ll just call the CTRAs, it’s the Consult Transcriptional Response to Adversity. That’s like a fancy way of saying that the expression of genes that enhances inflammation in the cells is upregulated and the immunity decreases. This is what a lot of us are experiencing and it becomes the substrate or the starting point for all the lifestyle-related diseases that we talked about but also, our mental and emotional well-being. When we start to shift, do the mindfulness and compassion practices and even if you’re not doing more formal practices, that was one study that took a look at two groups of people. One group was volunteering and giving back to their community in some way, the other group wasn’t when they’ve factored out or they canceled out all the other confounding factors and all other things being equal.

What they found was when they asked these two groups, “How happy are you? How well do you feel?” Both of them reported similar reported levels of well-being on a psychological survey. Ask, “Are you happy? Are you satisfied with life? Both of them reported equal levels but when they actually looked at their molecular expression of what was happening at the genetic level, the folks who volunteered or who gave back actually had healthier profiles. Meaning that inflammation levels were lower,the immunity was better and the people who thought were living a good life were reportedly happy but we’re not giving back as much. For me, I always get chills when I think about this because it’s a testament to the fact that our body knows. Our biology shows us how we should be leading our lives.

The more that we can give back to others, compassionate, learn to lean into those moments of discomfort and support each other, the healthier we will be. Our immunity improves, inflammation goes down, the likelihood that you will have these lifestyle-related diseases and cherry on top, you have better relationships because who would not want to be friends with somebody who gives back in this way? It’s such a huge win-win especially post-pandemic. As we are thinking as teams, companies and organizations, it’s such a wonderful opportunity here to create this new normal tapping into our compassionate response.

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Thank you for saying everything you just said. It’s so helpful. I only have one more question for you as we close out the conversation but I have taken some notes and I want to revisit. We talk about how beautiful to know that we are wired for service to one another, how powerful that is that this interconnectivity not only with mind and body but with the entire world. There’s much potential and power as we all do our own individual work to help the whole rise even higher, that we are empowered to shape our destiny whether it’s our DNA. There are many things that we can do to regenerate, change and empower ourselves for a different way of being.

Mindfulness is not fuzzy and warm. It’s a courageous warrior-like act to choose to be compassionate to ourselves and others. As I think about the threads of our conversation, I feel like we need this now more than ever because we are standing on the threshold of co-creating the world in front of us and the more we do this, the more we’re going to create something really beautiful. I have one last question if you’ll indulge me and this is very broad. It doesn’t necessarily need to be about mindfulness and compassion or mind and body As you think about your journey in this exquisite journey you’ve had across continents and cultures, what is a piece of wisdom that you would give to everyone reading that something you have found that’s been powerful in your life?

CMO Parneet | Finding Wisdom

Finding Wisdom: Taking individual responsibility is essential. It’s all about systems and the environments that we find ourselves in.

 

I would like to share what I learned from one of my teachers. A lot of us, I know it’s true for me. I’m always asking, “How can I have more impact? I want to change the world and what can I do?” This teacher very wisely pointed to an oak tree and said, “Look at this oak tree and it’s just being an oak tree.” Being an oak tree, it’s having the best possible impact but also the biodiversity that flourishes on the tree. He said, “Don’t look for impact in the world, be impactful yourself.”

When I sat down and reflected on that, it was very useful for me to think about the fact that he was encouraging all of us to expand our notion of responsibility, which is around moment-to-moment decisions. Who am I being in this moment? For me, I think who I’m being in this moment is informed by my identity. If my identity is limited to just Parneet or my work in the world, family, community or nation, those are the constraints that I’m putting on my own self. The wider I can reach out, the bigger identity that I can have and say, “I’m not only responsible for myself, my family and my organization but how about I’m responsible for the entire world because that’s my identity.” This teacher has encouraged us to all be mothers and fathers to the whole world. That, to me, is something that I hope everyone will reflect on is what is your identity? You have to go out in the world and do the things that you do but focus on this moment. Who am I being? How can my next response come from that sense of a wider, more global, shared sense of responsibility?

Many of us underestimate the ripple effect we can have by simply changing our perspective, being that oak tree and showing up to be the highest version of who we are. I want to say thank you not only for spending time with me but for being a way to show many people how to engage in the narrative of mindfulness, compassion and to share practices and ways to do that. Even though it’s an individual journey, the fact that we’re all trying to step into it together makes it a very powerful road for all of us. I want to say thank you for all that you do.

Thank you so much, Katherine.

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About Parneet Pal

CMO Parneet | Finding WisdomParneet Pal is a Harvard- and Columbia-trained physician working at the intersection of lifestyle medicine, technology and behavior change. An educator and science communicator, she applies her subject matter expertise to optimize human health and its impact on business leadership and planetary wellbeing. She strongly believes we can create a compassionate, equitable society where health is the default.

In her role as Chief Science Officer she focuses on solving for stress, burnout and loneliness in the workplace. Wisdom Labs aspires to build wiser workplaces using the science of mindfulness and scaling the skills of mental resilience, emotional intelligence and compassionate leadership across organizations.

She speaks about the connections between Health, Leadership and Climate at Fortune 500 companies and global conferences across the world.

She is a podcast host at Wise@Work podcast; writer and presenter of The Science of Wellbeing at Work video series; Harvard Business Review contributor and has been featured on the cover of Mindful magazine.

Parneet made a shift from clinical practice to chronic disease prevention, focusing on the execution of wellbeing programs in various business and academic settings. She has directed two wellness spas, expanded a private executive health practice, coached executives and consulted with organizations on the design and implementation of lifestyle management platforms (nutrition, sleep, exercise, stress, mental & emotional health).

In addition to her medical training, she holds a Masters in Exercise and Movement Science from the University of Oregon. She is a BJ Fogg Tiny Habits Certified Coach and Martha Beck-trained executive coach. Her decades-long meditation and mindfulness practice is key to her personal wellbeing. She continues to foster interdisciplinary health innovation as a TEDMED Scholar.

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