Do you want to know the secret to becoming more resilient?
(hint: it’s not about positive thinking)
The Secret to Becoming More Resilient with Dr. Rick Hanson
In this episode with resilience expert Dr. Rick Hanson, we’ll walk you through exactly how to create an inner core of unshakable resilience.
This episode is re-airing in time for the holiday season, a time with a lot of expectations and one inherently filled with ups and downs.
The idea of building resilience in yourself is a really beautiful way to approach this season and give you some skills to handle it.
There are some really interesting ways to rethink goal-setting in this episode:
1 | This really isn’t about positive thinking.
So much of wellness right now is talking about positive thinking, but I want you to know that there are more actionable things that we can do like build skills, or as Dr. Hanson says, inner resources.
2 | Seeing reality and the power of the mosaic analogy that Dr. Hanson uses.
This idea has actually changed my life and one I borrowed from him and integrate into my teaching frequently.
3 | Experiencing it in your body.
There’s a lot of research supporting this idea that noticing, paying attention, practicing mindfulness, feeling it in your body, or pausing to notice is actually what changes the brain.
On what led Rick to study neuroscience, psychology, and resilience:
Looking back to his childhood, Rick reflects on even then having a wistful, longing sense that there was so much unnecessary unhappiness that he didn’t understand.
He was raised in a good home, but even in those settings there can be a lot of recurring and unnecessary tension, anxiety, pressure, and conflict.
He saw it out in the world as well as among his peers.
This was a major part of his journey to set out to find out why people were unhappy and stressed out when they didn’t need to be, and what it would actually take to have lasting well being in a changing world.
Decades later, it led to an interest in resilience and growing resilience from the inside out.
Pain was also a motivator for Rick, as he was quite unhappy as a kid.
By his mid-teens, he realized one of the best things he could do for himself was to focus on growing and learning from wherever he was.
Unable to do anything about the past, we can help ourselves develop and learn and grow and become happier every day.
We’re constantly experiencing things, feeling things in our body, seeing, hearing, having thoughts, and so forth.
In the background of all that, in the wallpaper of the mind, is the ongoing sense of mood.
In the foreground of awareness, we’re often focused on one task or situation, losing touch with what’s quietly running in the background.
And then it’s sinking in, including a background sense of subtle anxiety or unhappiness, but we soldier on and put on a happy face.
In the background, there really isn’t as much wellbeing as their could be.
The first step is self-awareness, which we might also call mindfulness, in which we open to and respect our own interior, letting it matter for ourselves.
Rick’s book, Resilient: How to Grow an Unshakable Core of Calm, Strength, and Happiness, has twelve chapters, each about growing a strength.
The first of those strengths is compassion, compassion for others, a sensitivity to the ways life is hard for them, and compassion for yourself.
What is happening in your interior, including in the background wallpaper, is important
On how everyday positive experience can change the brain:
The brain is designed to be changed by our experiences.
What is the most amazing difference between humans and all the other animals?
We’re the animal that learns and we learn profoundly over the course of our lives.
Learning multiplication, yes, but also learning to be patient, learning to feel loved, learning skills with other people, learning that we’re a good person, learning to adapt and cope with disappointment or loss.
The way the brain does this is with two simple but necessary steps: neurons that fire together, wire together.
Stage one is to experience whatever we want to grow inside ourselves.
Stage two is where our neurons wire together.
We turn that experience into a lasting change in the brain.
As connections get stronger and grow, there are effects on how genes are expressed deep in the nuclei of neurons, just based on our experiences.
When blood starts flowing to regions of the brain that are performing important functions, the brain gets thicker in those regions that are busy working away.
Every day gives us many many opportunities, a breath or two at a time, a handful of seconds at a time, and we have to give it those so our experiences can really sink in.
“Every day gives us many opportunities to have and then internalize an authentic experience of accomplishing one thing after another… Every day gives us chances to see beauty around us, to feel relief or reassurance… Everyday gives us opportunities to feel love in our own heart, the goodness in our heart, the goodness in other people.”
All of this is not about rose colored glasses or positive thinking, the point is to develop resources inside yourself.
“The more we grow inside ourselves by taking in positive experiences, the better able we are to deal with negative experiences and help other people with their own negative experiences.”
This isn’t just positive thinking.
On positive thinking versus building resilience:
What’s it like around you? What’s it like inside you?
It’s like a mosaic– it has many many tiles, and some of those tiles in the mosaic of the world around you are neutral (grey tiles), some of them are positive or useful (green tiles), and some of them are negative (red tiles).
Rick talks about the value of “bowing at the altar of reality”, or seeing the whole picture.
This approach is about recognizing what’s true.
We have a brain that was designed by evolution to go negative, or what’s called an innate negativity bias.
We scan for and focus on those red tiles, often ignoring the big picture.
Through the stress hormone cortisol, we become sensitive to negativity.
It’s important to see the whole mosaic of reality with a brain that’s designed to overlook all those green tiles and hyper-focus on the red tiles.
If we move through our day with an open awareness of the many good things around us, we correct the brain’s built-in negativity bias.
We often ignore the vital second step of lasting change, which involves internalizing the experiences of (gratitude, peace, inner calm, etc.).
We have to turn those states of mind into traits, otherwise there won’t be a lasting value.
We are often gracious and bountiful emotionally to others, yet, we are emotionally anorexic to ourselves.
How to do it:
How often do we sit with a positive experience for a few breaths before moving onto the next thing? How often are we distracted by the next person tugging at us? Or the next task on our endless to-do list?
“We tend to routinely rush forward toward the next good thing continuously, which prevents the current good things from sinking in.”
In the books Resilient: How to Grow an Unshakable Core of Calm, Strength, and Happiness and Hardwiring Happiness, The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence, Rick goes into a lot of detail about how to turbocharge the growth process, which you can then apply to anything you want to heal or grow.
1 | Keep the experience going.
Keep the neurons firing for 10- or 20-seconds in a row, so that they really start wiring together and consolidating the experience that you’re having.
2 | Feel it in your body as much as you can.
Turn that idea into an embodied experience– tune into your body, into your emotions.
The more we embody an experience, the greater impact it’s going to tend to have.
3 | Focus on what is rewarding about the experience.
Focusing on what is rewarding about an experience naturally increases activity of two neurotransmitters systems in your brain, dopamine and norepinephrine, which will flag that experience as a keeper for protection in long term storage.
Enjoy the experiences that you want to grow yourself so they gradually weave their way into the fabric of your own nervous system.
“Use your mind to change your brain.”
If you have a lot of tools and resources, you’re able to be adaptive.
Rick got to his focus on resiliency by really thinking about wellbeing.
Happiness is one of the best things you can do for yourself to preserve your long term physical health and to grow fortitude in order to deal with tough conditions.
How do we sustain wellbeing in the long run, when we’re bombarded with rapid changes and pressures?
“To have wellbeing, you must have resilience.”
Gratitude, self-compassion, and mindfulness practices are good, but in addition to that, we have to cope, adapt, and move forward.
“Resilience is not just for surviving the worst day of your life, it’s for thriving every day of your life.”
If wellbeing requires resilience, what does resilience require?
Research suggests it’s not just one thing, like self-compassion, it’s many things.
confidence + self-worth
We can grow in these strengths with everyday experiences.
We can help ourselves a little bit at a time each day to become more like who we want to be.
“What if we are the answer we’re looking for?”
Resilience has two aspects to it: recovery from major life stressors & the daily grind.
It boils down to how we manage the challenges that come at us, how we protect our vulnerabilities, and how we grow and use resources.
On Rick’s books and where to connect with him:
Through pre- and post-survey, people who have gone through this experiential program have reported increases in mindfulness, happiness, and life satisfaction as well as decreases in anxiety.
Check out more from Dr. Rick Hanson, like talks, videos, presentation slides, and other resources, on his website at rickhanson.net.
Rick also does a podcast with his son, The Being Well Podcast, which really gets into a way to grow in yourself each week.
On what it really means to be healthy:
“To be and feel that you are in harmony with reality, biologically, socially, psychologically, spiritually, in harmony with the way it actually is. Harmony, for real, means you have a sustainable way of receiving from the world and flowing your contribution out into it in a way that’s not going to leave you on empty.”
Soak it in seconds– take action today:
Green tiles and red tiles– total game changer, right?
This is all about training your brain to identify what’s good and then soak it in.
How to take action today: soak it in seconds
This is something you can do daily in under five minutes.
1 | Pay attention on purpose: that could be to this podcast, taking a walk, drinking a cup of coffee or tea, snuggling with a pet or partner, just a part of your day that you appreciate.
2 | Receive what was good: notice the good part of that experience.
3 | Reset to green.
You could schedule this ahead of time or do it on the fly, whatever works for you.
Rick Hanson, Ph.D., is a psychologist, Senior Fellow of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, and New York Times best-selling author.
His books are available in 26 languages and include Resilient, Hardwiring Happiness, Buddha’s Brain, Just One Thing, and Mother Nurture.
He edits the Wise Brain Bulletin and has numerous audio programs.
A summa cum laude graduate of UCLA and founder of the Wellspring Institute for Neuroscience and Contemplative Wisdom, he’s been an invited speaker at NASA, Oxford, Stanford, Harvard, and other major universities, and taught in meditation centers worldwide.
Register for Dr. Hanson’s course: The Foundations of Well-Being
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