Building emotional resilience has been on my radar for several years now. It's actually one of the reasons behind our Meaningful Alignment body of work and research. In my coaching practice, poor interpersonal coping strategies is a prevalent issue that I see many people struggle with at work and at home. When you increase your capacity to handle intense emotions -- and manage the emotions of others -- everything shifts and your relationships improve.
Rick Hanson, Ph.D., is an expert on the fascinating subject of positive neuroplasticity and mindfulness. I have followed his groundbreaking work for many years. He is a psychologist, Senior Fellow of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, and New York Times best-selling author. Hanson has the amazing ability to distill complicated brain science processes and simplify them into easy-to-follow methods. I connected with him a few years ago for my book Kensho: A Modern Awakening and included his tips on how to practice self-love and create more happiness in your life. Hanson's latest book, Resilient: How to Grow an Unshakable Core of Calm, Strength, and Happiness is equally inspiring and offers researched-backed strategies to develop inner strength using mindfulness, grit, and self-acceptance in order to stay calm and content, even during challenging situations.
With so many external factors bombarding us each day, taking a few moments to reboot and realign your inner self might seem impossible. It is a challenge, to be sure. But here is a golden nugget of science that Hanson's book reminds us to hold onto the next time a thought crosses your mind: the brain is hardwired to focus on the negative. It is a phenomenon that social scientists have labeled as the "negativity bias." It refers to the innate ability to absorb and anchor negative events and thoughts, and to bypass or give less attention to the positive ones. Simply put, the brain is built with a greater sensitivity to focus on bad news. As Hanson puts it, our brain is "like Velcro for the bad experiences, and Teflon for the good ones." The negativity bias is the result of the way in which our ancestors' nervous systems evolved, millions of years ago. While they hunted for food and avoided predators their brains were constantly on defense mode -- planning for the worst case scenario, in order to survive.
Here is the good news. Hanson's research affirms that you can hardwire resilience into your nervous system. The key is to train your "states" into "traits." Most everyone has several positive experiences each day -- the secret is to train the brain not to get "stuck" on the negative ones. Hanson's method to rewire your brain and "catch" more positivity is simple. First, you must have the capacity to mindfully identify the positive situations in your life. Notice the experiences that are useful for you -- the ones that are authentic and bring you happiness. It could be something as minor as receiving a compliment or someone offering you a smile. Next, it is important to pause for a moment and take a few deep breaths to "feel" the result of the positive experience by letting the "good" sink in. Stay with it for a bit, take a few slow breaths and identify what is rewarding, meaningful or enjoyable about it. Try to really feel it in your body before you move on. This simple step drives the neuro-processes of installation into your nervous system, according to Hanson. The more you recognize joyful and rewarding experiences, the more this feeling will stay with you. Hanson notes that it is not about positive thinking or denying your situation or how you feel inside -- it's about developing the resources inside to deal with the really hard things by using this technique of mindfulness. Hanson reminds us of why this method is so crucial to our happiness by using the quote first made famous by Canadian neuropsychologist Donald Hebb; "neurons that fire together, wire together."
So, go ahead and show negativity the door. Make the choice to hold on to the positive, and allow it to firmly take up residence in your brain. Eventually, you'll be able to access more feelings of positivity instead of obsessing over the negative, while you build upon emotional resilience. And remember this quote from a recent interview with Hanson; "you have the power inside yourself, every minute of the day to use your mind to change your brain to change your mind for the better."