Resilience is a Skill

Steve Gillett
4 min readNov 30, 2020

The path to bouncing back stronger.

Resilience is not just for surviving the worst day of your life, it’s for thriving every day of your life. Rick Hanson

Global pandemic, social justice activism, the global climate crisis. If there ever was a year to challenge our resilience, 2020 wins.

Victor Frankel was a neurologist, psychiatrist and writer. He survived the Nazi concentration camps while most of his family perished. After his release, he became a renowned psychotherapist and the author of 39 books. Man’s Search for Meaning has sold 10 million copies and is translated into 24 languages.

Nelson Mandela was a South African anti-apartheid revolutionary. He was incarcerated for 27 years as a political prisoner. He became the country’s first black head of state and won the Nobel peace prize.

There are countless examples of historical figures and everyday heroes who have not just survived great hardships but flourished because of them. This strength of character is not just an inherent quality. How you use your attention, moment by moment, largely determines the type of person you are.

Resilience can be learned and developed. Neuroplasticity is the brain creating new connections and remapping old patterns.

Hardwiring Happiness

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. Rick Hanson.

Photo by Robina Weermeijer on Unsplash

This negativity bias is an evolutionary adaptation. It’s less survival of the fittest and more survival of the skittish. Our ancestors who saw a threat behind every bush and jumped at the sound of every snapping twig were the ones that survived. But this evolutionary trait is now detrimental to our well-being. It creates unnecessary anxiety and tension in our lives.

In his book, Hardwiring Happiness, Dr. Rick Hanson outlines a 4-step process to cement and grow a stronger, more resilient mindset through neural rewiring. He uses a framework he calls HEAL. (Have a beneficial experience, Enrich it, Absorb it, Link it)

The key is knowing how to turn passing experiences into lasting inner resources built into our brains. I teach this skill – called positive neuroplasticity. Rick Hanson.

Have a positive experience.

It’s not just positive thinking, it’s the experience of positivity. And this doesn’t have to be elaborate. It could be something physical, like that first sip of coffee in the morning or the smell of fresh bread. Or you can mentally recall a positive experience. Something you’re grateful for or a song that brings back a warm memory.

Photo by author

Enrich it

Next, you have to stay with the positive experience for at least 5 to 10 seconds. Enjoy it. Let it marinate. Feel it in your body.

The necessary second stage is to install that experience as a lasting change of neural structure or function. This is the stage that is routinely overlooked in psychotherapy, coaching, human resources trainings, and informal personal efforts at healing and growth. Therefore, this stage is where we have the greatest opportunity for steepening the learning curves of ourselves and others. Rick Hanson.

Photo by author…of the author…trying to look heroic

Absorb it

Have the intention of creating the sensation of letting the experience sink into you. Visualize it seeping into every pore. Let it become part of you. Like a deep well of positivity, you can tap into when you’re hit with something negative.

We tend to routinely rush forward toward the next good thing continuously, which prevents the current good things from sinking in.

Link positive and negative material

Humans are complicated. Often, while experiencing something positive in the foreground we are also recalling something negative from our past. Or we imagine something harmful in our future. Hanson uses the example of how he feels included and liked in social settings in the present but, at the same time, recalls all those times he was bullied and ostracized when he was a child.

By consciously linking the present positive experience with a negative past experience we begin to diminish its power.

The brain naturally associates things together, so if you keep the positive material more prominent and intense in awareness, it will tend to soothe, ease, and even gradually replace the negative material. If you get pulled into the negative, drop it and focus only on the positive. And remember that this step is optional: If the challenge you’re facing is too powerful, you can grow mental resources for addressing it through the first three HEAL steps alone.

Do the work

It’s liberating to know that we are not slaves to the way we process our environment. Like any new skill, you have to do the work.

We unconsciously have a negative bias towards how we perceive the world. By implementing the HEAL framework we make this bias conscious. Then we have to consciously Have that positive experience, Enrich it, Absorb it and Link the positive and the negative.

The more we do this consciously the more it becomes our basic operating system. We don’t have to think about it. It becomes our subconscious mode of processing our world.

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Steve Gillett

Dad, husband, first responder, personal trainer, nutrition coach, resilience coach, animal lover. Will tolerate select humans individually or in small groups.