How to Hardwire Resilience Into the Brain

Synopsis of “How to Hardwire Resilience Into the Brain” by Rick and Forrest Hanson in “Greater Good”, April 24, 2018

I came across this piece in the newsletter, “Daily Good– News that Inspires”. The authors propose that we can choose to turn passing experiences into lasting inner resources built into our brains through developing the skill set they call “positive neuroplasticity”. They present this work in detail in their new book, “Resilient: How to Grow an Unshakable Core of Calm, Strength, and Happiness”.

Those of you who have attended our ARD Annual Meetings know that much of the material presented at these meetings deals with the value of resilience whether it be physical, psychological or financial as we face the many challenges and changes that aging and retirement bring to our lives. Indeed, a mindset of resilience is valuable at any age.

The authors state that hardwiring resilience into our brains is not a quick fix, but a gradual process similar to developing a higher level of physical fitness through regular physical exercise over time. They observe that we have three basic needs that have been hardwired into human brains since time immemorial– Safety, Satisfaction and Connection– and that each need is best met by inner strengths that are matched to it and that those pairings will build resilience as we practice them.

Examples of inner resources to meet our need for Safety, we can draw on compassion, grit, calm and courage. For Satisfaction we can draw on mindfulness, gratitude, motivation and aspiration. To meet our need for Connection we can draw on learning, confidence, intimacy and generosity. Obviously, this is just a summary– you need to read the article to flesh out these concepts

The authors created the acronym, HEAL (Have a beneficial experience, Enrich it, Absorb it, Link it) to further integrate the paired resource into the brain. For example just having a beneficial experience is insufficient to build resilience.

Enrichment happens when we “lengthen” an experience by focusing on it, “intensify” by letting it be “big” in the mind, “expanding” by finding related sensations or emotions, “freshening” by looking at surprising or novel aspects of the experience, and “valuing” or finding a personal relevance in the experience.

Absorb it means we intend to receive the experience, we can feel it sinking into us, and we reward ourselves by tuning into what’s pleasurable, helpful or hopeful about it.

Linking refers to being aware of both positive and negative material at the same time. For example, a challenge to one’s sense of safety may bring a sense of anxiety, anger, and powerlessness. A sense of calm and grit may help with them. By focusing on the positive, it becomes more prominent and the negative loses some of its power.

The authors conclude with a Core of Happiness being the goal. If we can be mindful of which particular need we may have and the inner strength related to that need, we can deliberately choose which tool to use to meet it, thereby reinforcing the process in our brains. “And when the waves of life come at you, you’ll meet them with more peace, contentment, and love in the core of your being”.

As an aside, I find the portal Daily Good (dailygood.org) which contains inspiring stories from around the world to be an effective antidote to the content of what I read in the media. Just a suggestion.- Peter Thomas

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