Distilled Thriving Framework

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Elisabeth Wales

I'm sitting at a wooden table in the "town square" of Stanford's Graduate School of Business, sharing an innocuous cup of coffee with an industry titan. Then a face surgeon. A foreign diplomat. An olympian. A transformational learning expert. A social impact investor. A startup savant and many more. Each individual is world-class in their respective capacities and accomplishments. When it's my turn to share, I offer my life's mission to "Maximize Thriving for self and others". Come again? "What do you mean by Thriving?"

Maximize Thriving for self and others

My life's work and legacy is to maximize Thriving for individuals, organizations, communities, and ecosystems. Ultimately, as we look to the stars, Thriving will extend to inter-planetary populations.

My axiomatic belief is that all Life strives to Thrive. In fact, the default state for Life is Thriving, except that certain blockers get in the way.

For individuals, Thriving is inner peace meets peak performance

Internally, Thriving feels deeply enriching and empowering. A constant state of presence and flow that cultivates pristine focus and calm.

Externally, that looks like reaching peak potential and performance. A never-ending chain of approaching and exceeding new boundaries of possibility within one's self.

Thriving is an intimately personal concept and looks different for each person. There exist evidence-based frameworks and methods that adapt to each person's background, circumstances, and aspirations. 

Distilling and documenting the full set of whats and hows comprises the Unified Theory of Thriving (UTT). Putting the UTT into practice is the Global Institute for Thriving (GIFT).

Thriving emerges from 3 balanced health systems

For individuals, Thriving is an emergent quality that arises from balanced physiological, psychological, and relational health.

Physiological health includes

  • nutrition (diet+)
  • movement (exercise+)
  • rest (sleep+)
  • medicine
  • enhancements

Psychological health includes

  • emotional regulation
  • resiliency
  • learning
  • critical thinking
  • memory

Relational health includes relation to

  • self
  • action (work, play)
  • other - human (family, friends, colleagues, community)
  • other - nonhuman (animals, plants, landscapes)
  • the sacred (something greater, mysticism, eroticism, the arts)

On a micro-scale, each health system is a flywheel internally. On a macro-scale, the 3 health systems are a larger, more holistic flywheel. When the systems are balanced and spinning in sync, they naturally accelerate until individuals elevate into a state of Thriving.

The Thriving path is rarely linear and constantly adapts to changes in internal and external realities. With diligent practice, one can sustain graceful Thriving through any life event.

3 categories of Thrive blockers

Every human can Thrive by systematically removing blockers. The foundational categories of blockers are:

  • Don't know what or how - I do not yet have the knowledge or awareness
  • Don't have practice - I may know how, but I haven't tried the new thoughts or behaviors
  • Don't sustain my practice - I may have tried a few times, but I don't have the safety, systems, and support to sustain my practice

When individuals know how to improve their physiological, psychological, and relational health, and are able to sustain their practice, they invariably Thrive.

The Unified Theory of Thriving (UTT) addresses the "Don't know what or how". The Global Institute for Thriving (GIFT) activates the theory to address practice and sustaining. With data-driven, evidence-based methodologies, we efficiently align tools with individuals to systematically remove blockers. The theory inspires the practice, and the practice refines the theory.

Groups of individuals can become Thriving organizations

Individuals are the cells that, coming together, can form different organs. Organizations are two or more individuals with a shared purpose. This includes families, clubs, bands, troupes, non-profits, businesses, and more.

When individuals share space and purpose, new dynamics and capacities arise. With a thoughtful curation of values, behaviors, and actions, individuals can sustain Thriving organizations.

Groups of organizations can become Thriving communities

Different organs, balancing resources for self-interest and greater good, come together within a single form. Communities are two or more organizations with shared (and limited) resources. Organizations are ever-shifting circles within the Venn Diagram of communities.

Communities can orient around interests, beliefs, geographies, and more. Larger communities (such as nations) can entirely envelop smaller communities (such as states, counties, cities, and neighborhoods).

When organizations properly balance self-interest with group-interest, communities themselves begin to Thrive. Community stewards have the difficult and valiant task of supporting this balance.

Right now, humanity's largest community-scale is our entire plant Earth. In my lifetime, humans will establish communities on other planets. Part of the mission of UTT and GIFT is to study and practice Thriving on Earth so we can adapt Thriving to interplanetary colonies.

Individuals, organizations, and communities must support Thriving ecosystems

For individuals, organizations, and communities to sustainably Thrive, they must support the thriving of plants, animals, and other life forms around them. Ecosystems are the larger context within which human life exists.

We are an indelible part of every environment we touch. There is no such possibility to "leave no trace" because our breath of life leaves an undeniable trace on our surroundings. If humans always leave a trace, then let us leave the trace that maximizes long-term, sustainable Thriving for humans.

Not surprisingly, maximizing sustainable Thriving for ourselves requires Thriving ecosystems to support our own endeavors.

The Master Plan in a nutshell

For the next 50 years, I will intellectually distill a Unified Theory of Thriving (UTT) and experientially remove blockers for individuals, organizations, communities, and ecosystems at the Global Institute for Thriving (GIFT).

GIFT will be located on 100+ acres in a climate-resilient location where we live the Thriving principles at every level. Others will come to GIFT, online and in person, to witness the beauty and learn the techniques of unbridled Thriving. Then, they will bring home the seeds to plant, nurture, and sustain their own Thriving ecosystems.

In time, the lessons we learn for how to Thrive on our home planet will be adapted to Life on other planets. And our children's children will carry the insights we distill across the stars.

Next steps and call to action

For the UTT, I'm piloting a knowledge synthesis project called "Ask Science". Our first area of focus is sleep, especially as it relates to learning and cognition.

For GIFT, I'm curating a list of potential paid offerings to validate demand then activate. Part of any sustainable social enterprise is a revenue stream to fund operations.

How you can help today

  • Sign up for the newsletter. There I'll be building in public and announcing new offerings.
  • Share this page / newsletter with 3 people. The greater the number of people on the mailing list, the faster I find offering resonance, the sooner I can start our offerings.
  • Email me with feedback. What resonates with you? Where do you have a strong pain point that you'd like to resolve? What have you already tried to ease or remove that pain point?


I bow to the Thriving path we all walk together.

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For more depth and my original (less distilled) writeup, here is my 50 year master plan.


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Like what you see? Join my Thriving Thursdays newsletter

Every week you'll receive fascinating finds and synthesized sensemaking in  physical, intellectual, emotional, and relational arenas.