June 22, 2024
Mental Health
Mental resources like gratitude or courage can match your basic needs. This four-step HEAL Framework will help you to develop your inner strength and become more resilient in the face of challenges. I camped with my friend Bob near Sequoia National Park in the winter of one year. We were tired but needed to set up camp after slogging through deep snow. Bob began to shiver uncontrollably as the temperature dropped rapidly. He was in the early stages of hypothermia after he had spent so much energy. We had to hurry and set up the tent. Then we got into our sleeping bags. We lit the stove. We drank hot water. And ate hot food. Soon Bob’s teeth stopped chirping. We were lucky to have just enough resilience to make this adventure successful. We could keep going with mental resources such as calmness, courage, and grit when the temperatures dropped below freezing. These are all resources that we can use in our lives to overcome obstacles and cope with challenges. How do we cultivate these inner resources? Knowing how to transform passing experiences into internal resources built into our brains is essential. This skill, called positive neuroplasticity, is taught in my new book, Resistant: How to Develop an Unshakable Foundation of Calmness, Strength, and Happiness, written by Forrest Hanson. Changing your brain is possible, but it won’t happen overnight. You have to work it like you would a muscle. You will feel better as you grow more resilient to life’s challenges.

Twelve Resources for Resilience

Our ancient evolutionary history has shaped three fundamental human needs: safety, satisfaction, and connection. Brains are unchanged, even though our lives have changed dramatically over the past 200,000 years. Our brains still contain the following:
  • The neural machinery that allowed our ancestors to satisfy their needs for safety and satisfaction through shelter.
  • Obtaining food.
  • Bonding with other people.
Inner strengths that match a particular need are the best way to meet it. These mental resources make us resilient. We can rely on the following to meet our safety needs:
  • Compassion: To be sensitive to others’ burdens, suffering, and our own. This includes the desire to assist in these situations if possible.
  • Grit Being tenacious and resourceful.
  • Calm A sense of emotional balance and capability when faced with threats.
  • Courage: Standing up for yourself and others, even if you are not the one to do so.
Use the following:
  • Mindfulness: Being present at the moment as it is. This is different from daydreaming or meditating.
  • Gratitude: Feeling good and appreciating what is already there.
  • Motivation Pursuing Opportunities in the Face of Challenges
  • Aspiration Achieving results that we value.
We can use the following:
  • Growing and developing: Growing and creating is a process that allows us to cultivate our other strengths.
  • Confidence: Feeling a sense that you are valued, deserving, and confident.
  • Intimacy: Being open to knowing others and being known yourself.
  • Generosity Giving through compassion, altruism, and forgiveness.
Pick a life challenge and consider the safety, satisfaction, and connection at stake. You might be facing an external challenge, such as a conflict in a relationship, a stressful work situation, or a medical problem. You could also be dealing with an internal issue, like harsh self-criticism and feeling unwanted. There are two sides to a story. You might find that tension with another person is causing you to criticize yourself. Consider a significant problem and the need at its core. See if you can identify any of these twelve resources. You might ask yourself:
  • What would it do for me if I was more aware of this in these times?
  • What inner strengths can I use to stay calm, loving, and content when facing this challenge?
  • What would you have done differently if this problem had started in the past?
  • What is it that I want to experience?

Four Steps to Healing

Answering these questions will help you determine the resources you need to overcome your challenge. Follow my HEALTH Framework to develop this resource into a permanent strength that is hardwired in your brain.
  • Have a positive experience
  • Enrich it
  • Absorb it
  • Link
  1. Enjoy a positive experience
Most of the time, these experiences are mild and short. It feels good to wear a sweater when you are cold or to be friendly to someone who has been kind to you. Do you focus on these feelings and draw them into your awareness, or do you move on? As you gain experience, your brain remodels itself. You can strengthen a brain circuit by repeatedly stimulating it. The brain is fast-paced, with neurons firing up to 50 times per second; you can increase resilience and well-being many times daily. It is essential first to be aware of the positive things around you. For example, you can notice the fortunate circumstances you’re in, the beauty and wonder of nature, the tasks you’re completing, the people concerned about you, your abilities, and so on. You can even find the good when you are going through difficult times. For example, you might notice the kindness others show while experiencing a loss. You can create positive experiences by exercising (to build grit) or consciously recognizing the good in yourself (for confidence). You could also make a good thing happen in your relationship by listening to someone carefully (for intimacy).
  1. Enrich it
Five Ways to Enhance an Experience
  • Lengthen it. Please keep it going for at least five, ten, or more seconds. The more neurons that fire together, the longer they tend to connect. Focus on the experience, protect it from distractions, and return to it if you get distracted.
  • Make it louder. Let it fill your head. Increase the volume of your breathing, or get a bit excited.
  • Extend it. Take note of other aspects. If you have a helpful idea, for example, notice any related sensations or feelings.
  • Refresh it. Your brain is designed to be a novelty detector. It will teach new things and unexpected experiences. Find out what is interesting or surprising in an incident. Imagine you’re experiencing it for the first time.
  • Learn from the things that are important to you. We can learn a lot by learning about what is personal. Consider why you value the experience, what it means, and how you could benefit from it.
  1. Absorb it
Three ways you can increase the absorbency of an experience:
  • You must intend to receive the experience. Choose to experience it.
  • Feel it sinking in. Imagine the experience as a soothing balm or a precious jewel placed into your treasure chest. Allow it to become part of you.
  • Reward yourself. Listen to what is pleasant, reassuring, or helpful about the experience. This will increase the activity of the two neurotransmitter systems–dopamine and norepinephrine. The experience will be marked as “keeper.”
It is not about holding onto experiences. It is impossible to hold on to the stream of consciousness constantly shifting.
  1. Click here to link it.
By linking, you become aware of both “negatives” and “positives”. In this example, feelings of being unwanted and left out (perhaps from an unhappy childhood) could be pushed to the side while others’ feelings of being included and liked at work are brought forward. As the brain can naturally associate things, if the positive material in awareness is more intense and prominent, this will help soothe and ease the harmful material. It is helpful to use positive material, which can be matched to harmful material in some way. To identify specific psychological resources which will be particularly effective in dealing with particular issues, I use a framework based on the three basic needs of humans. A sense of anxiety, anger, or powerlessness can indicate a challenge to safety. Calmness or grit will help you overcome these challenges. Frustration, disappointments, drive, addictions, boredom, or blah-ness often challenge our need for satisfaction. Feelings of gratitude, awe, or contentment best match these issues. Connection challenges can manifest as feelings of loneliness, resentment, or inadequacy. Feeling cared for or loved is a great relief.

Core of Happiness

We know we must bring food and supplies on a dangerous trek. It is the same when we travel through life. In our “neural backpack,” we need supplies such as courage and generosity. When filling your backpack, consider which need is most important to you. Safety, satisfaction, or connection? Call on your inner strength to meet that need. You can reinforce mental resources within your nervous system as you develop mental resources. As you develop these strengths, you will experience less anxiety, irritation, disappointment, frustration, loneliness, hurt, and resentment. You’ll be able to meet the waves of life with greater peace, happiness, and love.

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