On December 2, the doctor of psychological and economic sciences, DBA and MBB, certified NLP trainer, coach, and psycho- and hypnotherapist Alexei Sitnikov gave a lecture in London entitled Personal and Business Destiny Management. The evening before the lecture, Kommersant UK met Aleksei to find out the secrets of long life, both in and outside the office. We were also looking for answers to some questions which have been puzzling our readers. What faculties help us preserve mental health? Why are there more and more women in politics and business every year? What is ‘yin’ thinking? Why do yin companies top the league for the most highly valued businesses?
This drawn-out financial crisis, accompanied by a pandemic and political conflict, has taken both an emotional and economic toll. How can we maintain spiritual well-being in such a turbulent time? Where can we find the strength?
It’s true that Covid, followed by geopolitical events have created a condition of post-traumatic stress. I’ll give an example. In 2013, during the SARS epidemic, 500 people, both doctors and patients, were sent into isolation for just a month. Three years later, they went through full checkups, and severe consequences were identified, such as heightened cortisol levels, various psychosomatic reactions, and high levels of alcohol and drug abuse. Just one month of isolation due to SARS led to this severe impact, and SARS is a less frightening disease than covid, which humanity lived with for two years.
What is stress? From a physiological perspective, it is a non-specific preparatory reaction of the body, which detects subconsciously that something is happening, but does not yet know how to react. In the human brain stem, there is a structure called the reticular formation which is responsible for the analysis of significant external stimuli. If something important or dangerous is happening, it warns the body. Closely linked to these processes are the almond-shaped amygdalae, which deal with decision-making. When there is enough information a decision is made and implementation programmes are engaged, but if there is insufficient information this induces a state of anxiety or stress. Cortisol is released, followed by adrenaline, which results in heightened blood pressure, increased heartbeat and dilated blood vessels in the brain and sensory organs. Blood flows out of the organs of the sexual, digestive and excretory systems, and enters the brain, sensory organs and muscles. The blood thickens. This is why stressful situations result in hypertension, diabetes, gastrointestinal disorders etc. (In particular, this is why people were dying of thrombosis rather than of covid). Additionally, cortisol and adrenaline greatly weaken the immunity. After the pandemic, everyone has heightened cortisol. If this was a short-term situation, it would be nothing to worry about, but when heightened anxiety goes on permanently, the immunity suffers and people become sick more often.
Five ways to relieve stress exist; sleep, sun, sport, sex and laughter. However, in my view, the most effective and accessible way to relieve stress and recuperate the immunity is to set yourself a goal, any at all, whether it’s to draw up a ten-year plan of all the countries you’re going to visit, take up sport or start collecting something. Even if this planning is only done in your head, dopamine begins to be released, together with its metabolic precursor, noradrenaline, the hormone of creativity, genius and talent. Together with cortisol, these hormones restore the immunity to its base level. This is why people who have set themselves goals and are moving towards achieving them are sick less often and have fewer psychosomatic problems.
How can someone be made to come out of a state of stress, so that they pull themselves together and start to act?
It’s impossible to make someone do this, you can only motivate them, which must be done by example rather than with words. Sigmund Freud, on studying the human psyche, divided it into three structures; the unconsciousness, consciousness and superconsciousness. The unconsciousness is linked to all the organs and systems of the body and knows how they work as it receives signals from them every second. Having analysed these signals, the task of the unconsciousness is to bring the most important information to the attention of the consciousness as an integrated signal in sensory form so that a decision can be made about what to do. The superconsciousness (the social brain) is society inside the person’s head. This is a set of religious and moral norms about what people will think and say, as well as about what should be done and what is expected to be done. The consciousness receives demands and wishes from the unconsciousness while the superconsciousness provides it with signals about the social appropriateness of these demands, after which it must use logic to make a decision about what to actually do. The consciousness is always being faced with choices. And the main problem of these three structures is that while they live in the same head, they speak different languages. If the consciousness and unconsciousness are able to become allies and the latter forms an image which meets the person’s demands, then talents and skill will be revealed, the memory will improve and the immunity will be strengthened. Incidentally, this is the best path to longevity, as the people who live longest are dreamers such as collectors, selective breeders and conductors. They plan for the long term and they achieve no definitive results over the course of their lives.
But most people do not choose goals and dreams guided by their own requirements and desires. Instead, they use criteria imposed upon them by society on the principle of what is and what is not convenient, financially expedient, or beneficial to their health. On reaching these goals, burnout occurs, as they have not achieved what they want. According to Freud, freedom is the ability to want what you actually want. However, in the European culture we were brought up in, from an early age children ask for what they should want: ‘Mum, I want to eat an apple!’- ‘You can’t, you’ll spoil your appetite’. After some time the child stops even trying to want something. And quite often an adult European, on coming to a restaurant, doesn’t know whether they want fish or meat. If we are to set a goal which has been agreed with the unconsciousness, all our faculties need to be involved. But if, instead of our own aims, we work towards ones set by society (‘Dad said I have to be a dentist because they earn a lot’), the unconsciousness will put up barriers. The first level of defence is reduced attention and interest, worsened memory and a lack of punctuality. The second level is injuries, breakages, damage, scratches and smashed car headlights (the unconsciousness, in its resistance, is always steering you off course, to show that you’re going the wrong way). The third level occurs when you’re doing something unambiguously contrary to the requirements of the unconsciousness. The stress this causes lowers the immunity, and the person becomes ill and starts to fall apart.
How can we hear ourselves?
There is a particular state of the brain called the default state. The brain enters this after 20 to 25 minutes of calm without signals from the outside world such as a text message. The brain realises that nothing is happening around it and so it stops trying to adapt the body to its environment. Instead, it starts the process of sorting things out internally. We can call this self-regulation and self-healing. Only in this state is it possible to be creative, or to hear your own thoughts and ideas in the place of moral or social impositions. The American psychiatrist and physiotherapist Milton Erickson held that a trance state is therapeutic in its own right. A meditative trance state, in which the action of the cerebral cortex and its associated zones is inhibited. This releases the unconsciousness, allowing us to hear what we like. Imagine going to a concert. The orchestra comes out. At this stage, the brain is still reacting and adapting to its environment. When you understand that nothing dangerous or important is happening to you or your body, then, under the influence of the music, the brain gradually begins introspection and analysis of its own thoughts, desires and requirements. During the concert, self-regulation mechanisms are activated. These allow us to listen to ourselves and for the brain to heal the body. In fact, the desire to induce this mental state is the very reason why we create art. Contemplating nature; being in the forest, or by the sea, as well as watching sunsets and sunrises (as long as they have the right colours, physiologically speaking) are all convenient natural phenomena that can help induce the default state. Anyone who devotes the time to it is able to enter this state and relieve post-traumatic stress.
During a crisis, some businesses go bankrupt while others grow. How can we draw some benefit from crises?
Firstly, let’s look at the experience of two modern thinkers; Ken Wilber, the creator of the Integral Theory, which proposes a synthesis of all human knowledge and experience, and Nassim Taleb, the author of the books Black Swan and Antifragile, which are guides to who wins in a crisis when everyone around them is losing. Taleb writes that to become antifragile you need to surround yourself with as many measuring devices and sensors as possible because it is only by monitoring many processes simultaneously that you can be the first to notice that black swan coming.
Secondly, the world is gradually entering the zone of feminine, or ‘ying’ energy. According to one theory of historians 30,000 years ago, with the appearance of the first tools, humanity made the transition from a matriarchy to a patriarchy. It turned out that men, who are not constantly burdened with children and pregnancy found it easier to use these tools. This gave masculine thought an advantage, despite it being more primitive than feminine thought. Under the crown of the head, there is a structure which links the left and right hemispheres of the brain; the corpus callosum, which is much much more developed in women than in men, which leads women to sense the world differently; they are more sensitive, they can hold many different topics in their heads at the same time, they think more about consequences than about aims and they distinguish different colours better. Men see better in the grey-black-white spectrum, they distinguish between different shades of grey well (this means they see better in twilight). Men are hunters, they are focused on the achievement of aims by any means. This became the reason for the dominance and almost unlimited power of though of the masculine kind, whilst feminine thought only really began to be accepted 100 years ago when feminism began. But now everything is changing; the number of women in politics and business is increasing. According to the statistics, if a woman takes part in negotiations (on either side) the probability that the agreement will be kept over the course of the next 15 years grows by a third. If there are five per cent more women than men in parliament, then the likelihood that the country will enter conflict decreases fivefold. Nature is drawing more and more women into spheres that create meaning; culture, politics, administration and fashion.
But this seemed insufficient to nature. She felt that humankind would continue to annihilate itself until the numbers of women on boards of directors, in parliaments, and among the leaders of countries and businesses had reached a sufficient level, so she decided to increase the quantity of feminine energy in the world, creating yin type thinking even among men. This is where there is such a variety of genders. There used to be two alone, now there are more than 70. Yin processes, which are not tied to masculine, yang-type models of victory, are also winning in business. Yang energy takes the form of a knife, and it is always focused on internal resources. When two knives fight, each of them understands that they can only win by drawing on their internal resources; their length, strength and sharpness. A knife destroys using its inner strength while the yin symbol is water, which wins in a different way; the knife may try to cut it, but cannot succeed. Instead, it becomes rusty. Only by using the yin approach can you defeat an opponent several times stronger than yourself. The most expensive companies in the world are yin businesses, which have nothing. The first is Apple, which has virtually no production of its own. It only holds patents, rights and ideas. Their main resource is not their devices, which are, in the appraisal of many experts, already rather antiquated; the Chinese and Koreans produce much more impressive gadgets. It is the inventions of Steve Jobs which everyone must bow down before. App Store and iTunes are the egg cells which have allowed the work of tens of millions of authors to bear fruit. They risk their own money to capitalise their applications, games, films and songs. The second such company is Amazon, and eBay is also a leader. These are also egg cells. The risks are taken by those who produced goods and did not sell them, not by the marketplaces themselves. The three largest hotel chains in the world are Marriott International, Hilton Worldwide and Hyatt Hotels. They have palaces, restaurants and their own beaches. Together they are worth $84 billion. The Airbnb service, however, which does not have its own property, not one room, is worth $108 billion. Currently, Yin thinking has the advantage. It coordinates those who have resources and it smooths out their work together. This is why the winners will be those who have studied oriental philosophy and thought and understand the balance between yin and yang.
We didn’t use to know the names of the owners of companies, but now personalities such as Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg are now more well-known than their corporations. Where is the intersection between the fate of companies and the fate of individuals?
First of all, it shows that the world is run by meanings and not by resources. Both Elon Musk and Steve Jobs show this clearly. There was no ceiling to their dreams and no instinctive caution to limit their imaginations. Nobody could even imagine that an ordinary guy with a private company could, in a few years, overtake the American and Russian space industries with their trillions of state investment or, instead of just creating another gadget in their garage, come up with a new way of viewing the world, as Jobs did. More technical capabilities to realise ideas and thoughts have appeared. While previously, hundreds of years passed between technical innovations, now it is only a matter of years; only 20 years elapsed between the creation of the internet and the appearance of the blockchain. Technological progress has amplified the multiplying cascade of ideas. This is why more arthouse films, independent schools, unorthodox technological solutions and innovative companies have appeared. Think of the stories of Mercedes-Benz, Ford, General Electric and Macdonald’s. We know the names of the creators of new lifestyles, but now there are just more of them. In the lecture Personal and Business Destiny Management, rather than talking about the link between any particular person and the fate of their company, my topic will be the destinies of companies themselves. It will talk about the management style which will define its destiny and the direction of its growth. We will look at what different management styles there are, from the perspective of leadership and cascading meanings. What different types of corporate culture are there and what are their strengths and weaknesses? How is destiny made and what mechanisms control it?
We have talked about the importance of the balance between business and personal happiness, however, in Japan, for example, employees are virtually slaves of their corporation. What is the difference between oriental and western thought on this?
Here are two facts to show you that it is hard to even begin to analyse this: the first is that in Japan, sexuality is not connected to the body. The behaviour of a fully clothed geisha is more arousing for a Japanese man than she would be undressed and with spread legs. The second fact is that a Japanese person is motivated not to commit wrong more to avoid a sense of shame rather than through fear of punishment (harakiri and bushido, the samurai’s code, only exist in Japan). This is why Europeans cannot understand why the Japanese value the companies they work for so highly. You see, the Japanese, unlike the Europeans, are brought up differently; until the age of five everything is permitted to them. A Japanese child, upon entering adult life and leaving behind the eidetic period, with its holistic perception of the world, retains the ability to feel what they want, as do Japanese men when they enter a social life with a great number of limitations, ten times more than Europeans experience. The philosophy of Marxism-Leninism held the postulate ‘freedom is the recognition of necessity’. If someone chooses not to do something, they do not experience stress since it is their own choice. Here’s a paradox for you. The Japanese eat worse than the Russians. Only the rich eat fish. On Okinawa, the island of longevity, they eat pork. They have an extremely high population density and a polluted environment, yet the Japanese live twenty years longer than the Russians. On signing a contract for a permanent, life-long position, they interpret it differently. We teach children to disassemble toys and break objects down into their component parts while in Japan they teach children to perceive the world holistically and to see themselves as parts of that whole. We perceive the world at a remove, as bystanders, while the Japanese see themselves as part of the process. The real slaves are those who consider themselves to be slaves. For the Japanese, their companies are a family that looks after them for life. They are part of them and they are proud of them.
These days, many diets and health programmes have appeared aimed at preserving physical and mental health. Do you have a universal recipe for longevity?
The latest research of my neurologist colleagues shows that cognition has a much greater influence on longevity than any diet or health programme. Our grandparents lived through the revolution and the war, they smoked, drank, ate badly, worked in factories and breathed in toxic fumes, yet they lived to 90 or 100. Nowadays physiologists are increasingly saying that the process of anthropoptosis, or self-destruction of the body, is written into the genome and begins at 28, ending with a heart attack or stroke for some at 40, while others live to 100. These 60 years of difference are completely under the control of the unconsciousness, while being regulated in part by cortisol, which doctors call the death hormone.
To ensure that there is less of it, the limbic emotional system must react differently. The principal neuro-mediator of this system is serotonin. As a psychologist, I can affirm that your perception of the world, of whether the glass is half empty or half full, of whether you find the world stressful or not, is 90% due to internal factors, and only 10% dependent on real circumstances. In the book Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl wrote that even in the concentration camp he had happy moments. This is to say that happiness is a sliding scale, and where we find ourselves on it and how we view life is much more important than any diet. The main thing is positive thinking, thinking with gratitude, faith and purpose.