Can we grow our resiliency? In registering for my upcoming Summer semester, I felt pretty elated to snag a seat in the elective, “Transforming Trauma through Resilience.” Our textbook’s author, Dr. Rick Hanson, who is considered a leading researcher in resilience did a lecture for the Global Resiliency Summit. I thought I would share with you some of his wisdom, especially as this pandemic challenges our resiliency.

“When the storm comes, you are left with whatever’s inside you” (Hanson). This really speaks to what we are all experiencing right now. For many, this is the first time your survival has genuinely been threatened. And while, for some, being in our homes does not present the same raw fear of, say, war or being chased by a lion, the unseen threat of the Coronavirus opens up aspects of ourselves that we have perhaps never witnessed before. During this time, when we feel guilt or shame rise up, irritation and reaction, fatigue and despair – those are all telling factors that are defining your current state of resilience.

Hanson notes there are three features to a resilient brain: First, “it doesn’t overreact to the negative.” This means we “deal with the bad, as it were, but we don’t get glued to it.” What are you holding onto that has passed? Or perhaps you’re ruminating on an issue that needs a solution? This is what he means by ‘glued to it.’ When we hold onto the negative of our circumstances and dwell in it, rather than dealing with it and moving on. Secondly, we are “able to mobilize and take effective action.” We are not locked in the freeze mode where we sit in the muck of our situation, but, as he states, we are “able to think while we feel.” Perhaps you also hear in this that resiliency is about reacting from a grounded, contemplative place, and not simply out of an emotional tornado. Thus, we need coping strategies and emotional regulation to ground ourselves to consciously choose our actions that allow us to deal with our crisis rather than stew in it. Thirdly, “A fundamental ground of well-being in one’s core,” which he notes is defined by the qualities of “meaning, purpose, wisdom, thankfulness, and warm-heartedness.” He goes on to say that we must “marinate in a sense of content-ness, inner peace, and love whenever possible to hardwire it into our being.” In order to marinate in these majesties of life we also have to be seeing them, valuing them, and choosing them. This will likely require us to address our habits that slow this process, as well as seek out those opportunities to grow these qualities. I hear in this that resiliency is a choice.

Hanson explains the two steps to developing inner strength. First, we must “experience what we want to grow.” This is explained as – if you want to grow mindfulness you must experience mindfulness, by making the choice to practice it. If you want to grow gratitude you must seek to notice where you can feel and express gratitude. Leading to step two, “Turn that passing state into a lasting trait.” The more you do it, the more you embody it, and the more it is hardwired into your brain. “Neurons that fire together, wire together.” You see, this is about your brain. This is about neuroplasticity or your brain’s flexibility, if you will, to process and integrate new information, and rewire your interpretations through conscious choice.

Hanson notes how we, as humans, struggle with this process of changing a state to a trait and he offers three key steps. First, we must “stay with it for a breath or longer.” When we experience something unfamiliar, we must allow ourselves to be with that experience. If we are continually avoiding change, well, change will never happen. Second, we need to “feel it in your body.” That mind-body connection is vital in our rewiring. Think about this, if you feel stress in your mind you likely have shoulders touching your ears, thus, our mind impacts our body. So, it only makes sense that the body is also an inroad to the mind. Finally, to make a state a trait, Hanson notes we need to “focus on what’s rewarding about it.” This makes me think of when I went zip-lining. It was terrifying, yes, but focusing on the exhilaration, the view, the progress of industry to allow for such an event… these things are the reward. It’s this mindset that confirms to us that we are safe to try again, or take a risk, or lean into discomfort.

This pandemic presents us with an opportunity for self-reflection and perhaps you’ll be inspired, as I am, to challenge yourself to grow your resiliency.