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A strong personal foundation

16 July 2013

Building and maintaining a strong personal foundation is a sound antidote for minimising the onset or worsening of many mental health issues. More to the point, it is a wonderful lever for improving mental health or wellbeing.


Building better wellbeing involves neither an isolated solution nor a quick fix.

Being wealthy, physically well, happy go lucky, happy full stop, successful, well connected, or having wonderful friendships or relationships – in and of themselves – are not the answer.

Gallup Inc’s extensive research into people’s wellbeing conducted in 150 countries, culminating in Rath and Harter’s book Well Being: The Five Essential Elements (2010), identifies career, social, financial, physical and community wellbeing as all important. More importantly, it’s about how these five elements interact.

However, the challenge is to get beyond simply understanding wellbeing and to actually experience it. How do you get on a path of improving wellbeing? How might you combat self-sabotage and actually experience wellbeing? Building a strong personal foundation is a sensible strategy for facilitating this shift. It is highly leveraging and self-supporting.

Personal foundation

The term “personal foundation” used here has its origins in a personal coach training programme developed in the United States in the 1990s (Coach U, Inc).

It became apparent that to coach people in their personal and professional lives certain personal foundational stepping stones were important. These provided people with the wherewithal to address challenges, whether they be to restore more balance in their lives, achieve personal or career goals, interact with others better, or simply to feel happier or more fulfilled. There was this “wherewithal” need to build and strengthen people’s personal capacity and foundation – psychologically, emotionally and physiologically.

This lift in capacity and foundation helped people keep aloft their aspiration(s) for maintaining healthy work and life styles, for improving wellbeing or for pursuing other changes, especially those involving time, effort or new ways of thinking or behaving. It also had people more fully employ their skills and resources, instead of dwelling excessively on the fundamentals of life or being beset with a problem-filled life.


The benefits of a strong personal foundation are innumerable, but include how it:

  • builds capacity to meet life’s challenges head on with greater resilience;
  • increases self-awareness and capacity to connect with self and others;
  • improves willingness and ability to be vulnerable, transparent and to ask for support;
  • expands capacity for growth and taking grounded risks;
  • ups groundedness and operating from a place of reality;
  • reduces the contribution of poor physical health to mental illness;
  • lifts energy levels, which increases confidence levels;
  • improves functionality;
  • creates a greater sense of space and feelings of being in control and certain; and
  • supports more responsible and better choice making.

Personal foundation ‘stepping stones’

Building a strong personal foundation may involve a “stepping stone” approach and requires a person to:

  • address past or unresolved matters;
  • have stronger boundaries;
  • eliminate “tolerations” (matters that are a recurring and unnecessary burden);
  • ensure all needs (psychological, emotional and physiological) are met;
  • have high personal standards;
  • choose a positive and yet grounded outlook;
  • identify and align with core life values;
  • be of higher integrity;
  • develop good relationships with key family members; and
  • build strong community participation and relationships.

Treading this personal foundation path consistently and well results in at least two outcomes: a person is more likely to look and feel UP, rather than down; and, just as a tall building is founded on solid foundations, a person growing taller does so the deeper his or her personal foundation.

More specific areas

The stepping stones described, while being personal foundation development areas in themselves, also incorporate other foundation areas.

A fuller, but non exhaustive list of personal foundation areas, includes each of the stepping stones, together with the following: simplifying life, developing and maintaining self-supporting habits, managing money well, having good physical health, having a solid reserve (for example, financial, emotional), living and operating in the present moment, attracting (distinct from self-promoting, seducing or manipulating), being well protected (secure financially, risk and otherwise), pursuing work of one’s choice, being a problem-free zone, fully investing in one’s life and work, and being in a place of greater choice.

Personal foundation in action

What is involved in building a stronger personal foundation ? Here is a snapshot of four examples:

Eliminate tolerations

Tolerations include things in a person’s life that are thought of as necessary and which are not. There is an unhealthy energy fix to be had out of their presence and they thrive when not confronted. However, in raising personal standards and assuming greater personal accountability, what is not actually necessary is tolerated less. People who address their tolerations experience better energy, more quality time and space and are more focused. A quick inventory of home, family/friendships and work life invariably reveals tolerations. Targeting three to four tolerations in each area and then addressing them makes a good difference.

Set boundaries

A boundary is an imaginary line of protection a person puts in place to protect against psychological and emotional (and also physical) intrusion of others which is unhealthy or damaging. Boundaries reduce or stop what others might do to someone. When good boundaries are in place a person experiences greater peace of mind, more “space”, less fear, more trust, and it supports him or her to grow emotionally and developmentally, to build greater respect. The key is to identify what is acceptable and what is unacceptable behaviour in others in and around oneself. This might be in and around a person’s time, heart or spirit. Then, it is necessary to communicate to any boundary intruder what is acceptable and what is not and to then maintain that boundary.

Simplify life

People are too busy and live far too complicated lives. People keep busy to avoid boredom, among other things. Yet it is said that boredom is the gatekeeper to peace. In order to grow and in a way that is in integrity with who a person is, “space” is required, especially time and headroom. People’s lives are crammed full of shoulds, coulds, goals, commitments, to do lists, obligations, ideas, plans etc. It is important to understand what this busyness is all about, what drives it, what gap it is filling; and then to reflect on and choose instead what is missing and more valuable. A simplified life is characterised by a life that is better aligned to a person’s values and is more about the person, not others. It is a life that finds greater acceptance in just how things are, and does not cringe at what is not perfect or crave what is. A useful approach is to axe two or three bigger and yet non essential projects or responsibilities, to streamline time consuming tasks, and to undertake a “do – delegate – dump” review of the to do list.

Be values oriented

Values in a personal foundation context are not confined to traditional societal morals or values, although they may include these. Personal foundation-based values are more the character or essence of what people are more naturally and strongly drawn or inclined towards without effort. Values are of “value” to them and have a fundamental integrity; that is, they line up with who people say they are, how they want to live and what they want for their lives. Identifying and living one’s values is harder in the presence of unmet needs, tolerations, unresolved matters, over attachment (eg, to roles or obligations, other people, substances), stress and irresponsibility. Examples of values include connection, accomplishment, leadership, creativity, contribution, beauty, adventure, ingenuity and excellence. Living a values-based life brings deeper fulfillment and may transcend mere happiness or satisfaction. The key is to identify several core, most important values (say four to six) and then to make changes to orientate oneself around those. Then it is vital to engage in projects or activities which express or give life to those values.


Building a stronger personal foundation is a key element in the path towards better mental wellbeing.

It provides an integral entry point and leveraged traction for improving wellbeing. It also is a valuable buffer or insurance against a slide into mental illness. Key points are:

  • building personal foundation provides a “bite a time” and nourishing avenue for lifting one’s mental and overall wellbeing;
  • it is largely about building capacity and foundation (wherewithal) to underpin living a more focused, productive and true-to-self life;
  • the benefits of building a strong personal foundation are incalculable;
  • it involves a stepping stone approach through various areas that bring about a shift in or realisation of one’s relationships, foci, behaviours, values, choices, time allocation, purposefulness and activities; and
  • it demands a good lift in awareness, what’s important, commitment, courage to change, and in taking action to bring about a tangible and worthy result.

Martin Wilson is the Principal of Selfmade Coaching ( His experience includes 24 years in legal practice, partnership in a large commercial law firm, 11 years running his own commercial law practice, and a period as group manager communications and human resources for a large government agency.


Last updated on the 17th March 2016