A SCARF to See Us Through

A SCARF to See Us Through

As we go into another lockdown and an uncertain winter, our mental wellbeing is under threat, so we need a SCARF to help us through. SCARF is a model developed at the Neuroleadership Institute, based on neuroscience research. It represents the interpersonal primary rewards or threats that are important to the brain. Status – Certainty – Autonomy – Relatedness – Fairness interact with each other to create our mental state.

In uncertain and fearful times, each of us can find ways to wrap a SCARF around ourselves, our teams and our families. If you provide what the brain craves by delivering SCARF, you can influence and satisfy people more. This aids mental wellbeing and provides a positive mindset to face what lies ahead. I believe the country needs this now more than ever from our leaders and each other.  


  • Status or a sense of worth is a major driver of social behaviours at work or home. People will go to great lengths to protect or increase their status. Exclusion and rejection is physiologically painful. A feeling of being less than other people activates the same brain regions as physical pain. Everyone wants to be more than a statistic whatever their gender, race or ethnicity, etc.

We can maintain our own feelings of self esteem, whatever befalls us, by being assertive, recognising our uniqueness and not putting ourselves down. We can show respect to others, even when their views and circumstances are different from our own. If we patronise, dismiss, or threaten others, we take away their status and dignity.

How could you increase your self esteem or status today? What could you do to help someone else feel better about themselves?


Coming Out of Lockdown
  • The brain craves certainty, because uncertainty feels like a threat to life for the brain. It is the primary reward or threat to the brain. Prediction is not just one of the things your brain does, but is the primary function and the foundation of intelligence. The danger is when we predict the worst and become fearful, it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Forward thinking leaders provide realistic optimism. Saying something like ‘this will all be over by Christmas’ is truly unhelpful, as it sets unrealistic expectations. Conversely, giving no certainty allows fear to flourish.

Let’s not engage in scare-mongering, in-fighting or being doom merchants, but rather create greater certainty. There are some aspects we have no control over, but the more we plan and master what we can direct, the more certainty we create in our daily lives. There are lots of things we can plan for during this lockdown period that will impact on the wellbeing of ourselves and others.

How can you create more certainty in one aspect of your life?


  • Autonomy, the feeling of control, is another primary reward or threat for the brain. When we feel empowered to make decisions about how we work or control our lives, our self esteem and performance improve. A sense of not being in control is highly threatening, as we can witness currently, when many of our choices are being taken away from us, even if for very good reasons. As some of our liberties are removed, we can find ways to take control of our daily lives.

What is one thing you could take control of in your locked down life which would have a major impact?


  • Social connections are a primary human need, as important as food and water at times. Safe connections with others are vital for health, trust and genuine collaboration. The brain thrives in an environment of quality social connections, of safe relatedness. Virtual working is having an impact on remote teams and creating new challenges for distant leaders.

This is one of the biggest aspects under threat in this self isolation environment we are in, especially for those who live alone. We need a real effort to make meaningful connections with family, friends and colleagues. Virtual platforms are providing new opportunities, but also creating their own issues. I strongly believe that now is the time to show LOVE – Listen, Observe, Verify and Empathise.

  • Listen – really listen to what the person is saying and also what they are not saying. Stress and negative emotions can be subtle.
  • Observe – see the person at a deeper level and observe small changes of self-care, wellbeing or body language, which may indicate they are not in a good place.
  • Verify – check out with some insightful questions whether your perceptions are correct. Clarify how the person is truly feeling.
  • Empathise – Show them that you empathise with how they are feeling or what they are going through. Offer help or signpost them to professional help if necessary.

Who could you contact and enhance your relationship with today?


mental well-being
  • People experiencing a sense of unfairness may get as upset as being told they are not going to eat for a day. A sense of fairness can be a primary reward, whereas perceived or actual unfairness can be a primary threat.

There is a growing sense of unfairness in this country as some businesses and areas are hit harder than others by the pandemic restrictions. History tells us that civil unrest will escalate unless we work to reduce this inequality. As some will carry on working, be furloughed or others made redundant, being treated fairly becomes a major issue. We need to recognise that we all have a role to play. This is no easy task, which requires everyone to play their part, as we fight a common enemy. Each small act that creates a greater sense of fairness will have an impact; like ripples in a pond.

What could you do to help build greater fairness at home, work or in your community?

We wish everyone a safe passage through this winter and trust you each have your self-designed SCARF wrapped tightly around you and your family. You are very welcome to join our virtual workshops, which offer guidance and support, or contact me if you have a topic you would like more information on.

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