How Danielle Posa Transformed A Health Crisis To Become The Wellbeing Hacker
When you think of wellness, what comes to mind? Is it intense yoga poses that you see on Instagram? Is it green juices at the poshy juice bar? Or is it the mysterious world of meditation? Wellness is a practice with many moods, but often, we forget the many elements that play into it.
That's where Danielle Posa comes in.
As a child, Danielle was diagnosed with stage three, Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Despite the extreme challenges that come with cancer, she says that her mind was preserved from the trauma that is cancer, which she believes played a major role in ensuring her survival. When she got older and discovered the truth behind her childhood sickness, it served as a catalyst for her passion for wellbeing.
Today, she is the creator of The Wellbeing Hacker, where she helps people maximize their personal wellbeing–which goes far beyond our stereotypical ideas of wellness. She has worked with some of the world's top spiritual thought leaders and wellness experts, including Deepak Chopra, and armed with 15 years of digging deep into all that encompasses wellbeing, she's the expert we've all been looking for to connect the dots between mind, body, and spirit. If you've felt stuck on the road to a healthier, happier, more connected you, keep reading. This is about to get transformative.
You went through so much at such a young age. How did you originally become interested in wellbeing?
When I was 14 and I had to give a speech for the Children's Cancer Research Foundation. They told me that there was going to be about 300 people in the room and I was meant to be an inspirational survivor to families who still had kids with cancer and I would share my experience.
That speech was the first time I started to ask more questions about what I went through as a kid because when you’re a kid, you don’t know what cancer means. You just know you have to be at the doctor and go to the hospital a lot. You take things at face-value. But when you’re older, everything has more significance and that’s when you really start to reflect on it.
I’d ask questions like, “So how bad was it, Mom? What stage was it in? What actually happened? What kind of treatment did I get? Was it an easy process? Was I expected to live?”
The responses from my parents were a bit shocking to me. It was a lot more serious than it had felt to me as a kid. I was diagnosed in the third stage, Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. 10 rounds of chemotherapy. I lost all of my hair, was homeschooled, had blood transfusions, spinal taps, and a port catheter put in. There were a few unexpected complications and “scares” that I was unaware of. And so after my mom walked me through more of the details, my life had new value. I began to feel that I had a bigger purpose for being here.
So the speech forced me to learn and to begin the reflection process on my life. At the time, I was in high school, and I was very interested in topics like philosophy and I gravitated towards bigger, deeper concepts. And discovering the truth behind my cancer at 15 years old, made me even more motivated to learn everything I could about health, life, mind over matter, and the power of the human spirit.
Plus, my mom was always pretty health conscious as well so she instilled some of that in me from an early age. She insisted on boosting my immune system with as much health foods and remedies as she could.
You’ve talked before about the fact that you really weren’t aware that you had cancer. You knew you were sick of course, but you didn’t necessarily know the severity of it. You’ve said you believe that your preserved mindset helped you heal. Why do you believe that to be the case?
When I watch home videos of myself when I had cancer, I was still a crazy kid. You would never think I had cancer other than the fact that I lost all my hair because I was so energetic. I was joking around all the time, hanging upside down on the monkey bars and things, doing magic shows with my sister Jaime. I didn’t “feel” sick mentally even if I the physical symptoms.
When I put myself back into that kid’s mindset, there was no fear there. I never remember worrying about losing my life. When you’re an adult, that’s one of the biggest things on your mind when you get cancer. You create an entire drama around what cancer means. You start asking yourself all those questions about life, all the ifs, ands, or buts about what might happen. It’s like you get cancer in your mind, not just in your body.
As a kid, when you don’t have that in your head, you just get in the car and go to the doctor. Things are fairly simple. It doesn’t mean that a kid doesn’t experience pain or sadness, but a kid doesn’t create a huge story about it at the same time. The pain and the sadness is short lived - and before you know it you’re back on the monkey bars. And I believe that the difference in the mindset of a child, accelerates the body’s ability to heal.
Our thoughts exist somewhere. They exist in the cells of our body. And when you have a will to live and the excitement for living is still very real, there is a physical manifestation that takes place. We can quite literally affect our physiology with our thoughts. When you’re an adult, it’s so much harder because you can’t help but to have those harmful, and worrisome thoughts that creep in. And doctors give you more information than what’s necessary which doesn’t help.
How can other people preserve their mindset for their own healing?
You have to be much more intentional about your thoughts. You have to recognize that there’s a bigger purpose in your life (even if you don’t know what it is) and that you’re going to get through this process. And that’s really hard. But we’ve seen those miracle stories of people who declare that they are going to choose to live even when they are told the opposite. People have been told they’d never walk again, never use their brain in the same way again. People have come out of comas unexpectedly or cured themselves of the incurable. And it all really begins with a choice. They make a choice that that outcome is not going to be the case for them. And that sends them on a new kind of path to healing. That choice enables people to search for solutions that aren’t initially right in front of them.
And those kind of choices come from the soul. And the soul can impact the mind, reducing fear, and creates a more empowering thought process even when the physical body is saying that the cards are stacked against you. The mind has incredible power when it’s either preserved like mine was as a kid, or when there is a conscious choice coming from a deeper part of who we are–who we really and truly are.
One of my favorite books is Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl. Viktor was in the concentration camps during World War II. He talks about the concept of logotherapy, which is the study of meaning and purpose in someone’s life. When he was in the concentration camps, everyone’s bodies, including his, were so emaciated because they weren’t getting any kind of nutrients or sleep. Physically, there was no reason to be alive because their bodies weren’t even getting the basics of what was needed for survival (according to basic science.). So what was enabling these men to survive transcended the basics of food and nourishment, and all that was left was sheer will. The will to live. Viktor was in the concentration camps, he knew the purpose of his life was to be able to tell his story, and as a result he was constantly dreaming of the day that he could get out and share what he learned from this experience of being in the concentration camps. For other people that went through that time period, they were so convinced that a loved one was waiting for them. And these are the things that pulled them through the physical torture of what they were going through. This search for meaning kept them alive.
Part of what drives me crazy about the wellness space is that it keeps us fascinated with the physical. We’ve become obsessed with green juice and nutrition. As a result, it prevents us from diving deeper into these other aspects of our lives that are driving us.
When you explore the mind and when your life has a bigger context—where you see yourself as part of a much bigger equation and you tap into the power of your soul and spirit—that has way more implications on your health than just eating healthy and exercising.
I believe so much in this concept of there being a will to live that comes from a combination of the mind and spirit that is inside of you. When you’re in trouble, the physical self can’t necessarily take care of itself all the time but if there’s some kind of meaning and purpose of life or preservation of the mind, that can carry way more weight than any green drink or headstand.
I love that you’ve said before that there are so many factors that go into being healthy. Can you explain more about that?
Physical wellbeing can often make people feel worse about themselves because a lot of people are struggling with that part of their health. When you are constantly hearing about it being all about food and fitness, but other parts of your life are out of whack, you can feel like you can’t get your act together with your physical health.
Maybe you’re dealing with challenges with your relationships, whether it’s your spouse, your kids, or your parents. You could be living in a space or a community that just doesn’t uplift you in the way you need. You might not like your job. All of these factors could rob you of the motivation to go to the gym or eat healthy, and you’re looking for a way to do that, but you’re not looking at your life holistically and so you can’t access your health the way you desire.
It’s all so interconnected so when we put so much emphasis on just one area, most people aren’t able to just tackle it unless you’re someone who is very health conscious and able to focus on it. That eliminates a lot of people from the equation, especially when you look at lower income areas of the country.
The wellness revolution can feel very reserved for the elites of Manhattan and LA who have a yoga studio around the block and a green juice store on the corner. There need to be other access points, like how you can optimize your relationship with your manager at work and stimulate yourself in the work environment.
That might end up making you want to take a bit better care of yourself and choose some of those healthier options because you feel better about the job that you get to go to everyday. Or maybe you learn about the ways you can “buy happiness,” how to use your money in ways that make you feel good. We all know that when we feel more empowered in our finances, we feel better about life overall, right?
My point is that getting healthy depends on a whole lot more than just what we’re putting in our mouths. And good health is sometimes just a byproduct of loving our jobs, having great relationships, or doing a kick ass job at managing out money. So if you’re not great at the food/exercise part, master other areas of your life first.
So really, it’s changing the way we look at wellbeing and see it less as the world around fitness and more so, the world around our spirit?
Yes you could say that. When you know everything about what will lift your spirit, make you fulfilled and content in life, physical health is easy.
What I'm trying to do is legitimize wellbeing and spirituality in a way that doesn’t just sound like it’s reserved for the people who are doing meditation, paying for the retreats, and all of those kinds of things. A focus on your life, your spirit, your vitality is smart and just makes a lot of sense.
Deepak [Chopra] calls your soul the “choice-maker.” He’s saying that your choices are coming from somewhere. They are not just built into your brain. Your brain is not who you are. There’s a choice-maker that tells your brain what to do. When you’re laying down, looking at your body, and if you choose to lift up your right leg or your left arm, the brain didn’t just come up with that. Those choices came from somewhere else first. They come from your soul and your spirit.
Click here to check out Danielle's course with Deepak Chopra, "Workplace Wellbeing & the Soul of Leadership Course"
Sometimes these things need to get simplified for people. There is a core essence of who you are that exists somewhere. If you don’t take the time to access your soul and you’re confronted with the challenging circumstances of life, it’s going to just be up to the doctor or circumstances to determine your fate. And you’re just a victim of whatever treatment is available to them.
But if you actively choose to spend some time thinking about how you are going to deal with a given circumstance, you’re really getting in touch with the power that exists inside of you.
When people talk about wellbeing, most people automatically turn to their physical health, but there’s so many other topics. There are so many components to it, but what are the big subjects on wellbeing that most people disregard that actually have a massive impact on their health?
There’s a lot. I’ve looked at nearly every single area of life that is affecting us on a given basis. I have this framework that I put together for The Wellbeing Hacker that included 5 Areas of Life and 7 Influencers of Wellbeing. The 5 Areas of Life are rooted in the most comprehensive global wellbeing study ever conducted (by Gallup) and so you must learn how to master these: Work, Relationships, Money, Body, & Community. They sound simple, but the criteria behind them is what makes them unique.
One area that people get wrong is money. Succeeding in this area is all about mastering how you spend and manage your money, as opposed to how much of it you have. You can be somebody who is a great investor and has significant wealth, and yet you don’t have a clue about how to leverage your money to actually buy happiness. You might just be running around in a hamster wheel, just looking to make more money than the next guy. You could be a billionaire doing that. But this doesn’t guarantee happiness. You might have a lot of money, and maybe in the context of just quantity you might be “successful,” but the value is in understanding what it means to be financially thriving.
When you’re financially thriving, you know the importance of spending more money on experiences. You know the value of spending money on the people who matter to you. You control the need for instant gratification. Instead, you look forward to a plan that you have actively created for the future - a new memory that will have everlasting value in your life.
There’s a slew of things that come with financial wellbeing that don’t necessarily equate to what conventional wisdom has taught us about money. A lot of what we’ve been taught is actually counterintuitive to our happiness. So it’s crucial to understand the truth behind what drives wellbeing, and dispel the myths so that you can be a happy camper on your deathbed.
What is an Influencer of Wellbeing that has the power to impact us both positively and negatively? And how do we manage its influence?
So an “influencer of wellbeing” is exactly that. It has an influence on our life whether we are aware of it or not but it’s our job to harness its power so that it is positively influencing us instead of the reverse.
Technology is a great example. Technology has the power to have many negative impacts on our lives. It can prevent us from being present with our loved ones. From life in general, it distracts us from what’s important by providing us with endless opportunities to keep us busy. Yet it can positively influence our wellbeing when we learn to manage it properly. Technology should be used to help make us more productive or effective in our jobs. We can use it to be more organized therefore giving us peace of mind. We can use it to stay connected to people who matter.
It’s not important to do everything faster, or to do simply get more done. It’s important that we are clear about what’s important, what matters in our lives, and let technology be the enabler of that.
The concept of leveraging something to achieve wellbeing is interesting, especially considering technology plays such a huge part in our daily lives. Are we missing other big players in our day-to-day that could have a positive influence if we capitalized on it?
Your Environment is another huge Influencer of Wellbeing. There’s not enough information about how to leverage your environment in ways that make you feel better about life. In The Wellbeing Hacker methodology, I go into things like the power of designing your home in a way that is uplifting and inspiring. It’s not just your home, though. It’s also important connect to your natural environment and know the benefits there are to being around water and going for a walk in nature and what hat does for your brain function and your ability to think clearly.
My framework is designed around five areas of life and seven influencers of wellbeing. Technology and environment fall into those seven influencers.
We have to talk about your new site, The Wellbeing Hacker. How did that idea come about?
Technically, I’ve had my own business for five years now but this is really the first time I actually feel like I’m in the main vein of what I’m supposed to do. It took me five years of doing a bunch of different things in my business to feeling like this is the brand that is most aligned with who I am.
I was defining myself as a wellbeing hacker to people because it was an easy way to explain my passion for wellbeing and how I was always looking for the most effective solutions and strategies for living a great life. I was constantly researching all these different methodologies on human behavior, trying to figure out what I felt were the best practices, testing them myself to see what was most effective, and really understanding what was backed in research. I kind of think of my life as a business–what’s going to give me the biggest ROI on happiness. I’m committed to “doing life right” and I want to help others do the same.
I have always been someone who has learned from so many different sources and experts. I worked with Deepak Chopra a great deal. And I’ve done a lot of different retreats in different places. I’ve been able to learn from different experts and “gurus.” People like Deepak influenced my spiritual side, working at Gallup stimulated my curiosity for research, and I’ve also done countless courses at Landmark Education and even took a leadership course directly from Werner Erhard, the founder of EST, and one of the pioneers of self-development education.
So, to me, hacking is being the kind of person who can curate a large body of knowledge and narrow it down for people and say, “Here’s what will be most effective.”
What is your hope with The Wellbeing Hacker?
My mission with The Wellbeing Hacker is for people to be as intentional with their entire lives as they would be in their jobs. I want people to be the CEOs of their lives. We should be as intentional with winning the wellbeing game as we are about getting our next promotion.
It’s crazy how many people end up with regrets at the end of life. And it’s not their fault because none of this stuff is taught in school. And society makes us chase the money carrot, and feeds us the wrong information about what makes us happy. Many of us go through life living up to the expectations of others, without getting clear on what we really want, and what really makes a difference in our fulfillment.
If I can save some people time and package this knowledge into a digestible format that makes it easy to consume, then I’m doing my job in creating that road map.
I’ve spent 15 years of my life digging deep into all of this stuff and I don’t want people to have to go through 15 years to learn this. I want to put it into a format that makes it more approachable.
I want people to be able to see their lives in categories. When you have a “Framework for Life” and a way to measure it, you can clearly see if you’re making process. Now that I have this five-by-seven (the 5 Areas of Life & 7 Influencers of Wellbeing) lens that I live my life through, it’s easy for me to notice when I’m not doing such a great job with technology or if I didn’t get enough time in nature, and I know the benefits of that. It makes it easier to gauge where I’m at in my life, where I stand, and how I can improve.
Why do you think it is so difficult for people to hack their own wellbeing?
The problem is that in society, there have always been metrics for success when it comes to the financial world and financial gain. The world isn’t run by wellbeing metrics. If every CEO and president were evaluated based on their people’s wellbeing, then everything would change. Everyone would be more focused on that. But that’s not the current metrics of society. If you looked on Forbes and every billionaire had a wellbeing score next to their names, you may look at their worth differently. You might see that many of the super rich aren’t that satisfied in life and it would help you rethink your priorities.
Even if people are “successful,” the key is to know how that financial success actually correlates with their wellbeing score. Are they going to be happy at the end of their lives? We are glorifying material success and we need to do a better job at legitimizing wellbeing so that everybody can live better lives overall. Just to be clear, financial wealth makes a difference but it definitely doesn’t paint the whole picture.
If you're interested in assessing your wellbeing with Danielle, click here to schedule a call with her and click here to subscribe to her free Wellbeing Hacker Video Series. And stay tuned for another post, where we ask Danielle our biggest wellbeing questions!