Book Review: Resilient by Rick Hanson

Book cover: Resilient by Rick Hanson

Resilient by psychologist Rick Hanson looks at how to build resilience given what we know about the neuroscience of learning. Despite being grounded in science, it’s refreshingly practical and simple.

The book begins by identifying three basic human needs (safety, satisfaction, connection) and ways to meet those needs (recognizing, resourcing, regulating, relating). These are set up in a grid with twelve primary psychological resources that can be used to meet those needs. This provides the foundation for the remainder of the book, and a chapter is devoted to each psychological resource.

The neuroscience content is very accessible with a focus on learning and neuroplasticity. The author explains experience-dependent neuroplasticity, with an emphasis on maintaining sufficiently prolonged attention to experiences and repeating them often enough for them to become consolidated into the nervous system and for neuroplastic changes to occur in neural structure and function.

The author provides suggestions for enriching experiences to improve installation in the brain. Mindfulness is one example of this, and it’s presented in a clear, simple way that’s likely to be compelling even for people who aren’t interested in formal meditation.

The book describes two main modes of interacting with the world around us: a green zone and a red zone. The green zone is a responsive resting state that we enter when our needs are adequately met. The red zone is a reactive mode, with activation of the fight/flight/freeze response and mental fear, frustration, and hurt. Hanson describes how the reactive mode is driven by the more primitive, survival-oriented parts of the brain, and how evolutionary pressures have resulted in the brain having a bias towards the negative/dangerous.

The book’s direct, matter-of-fact approach helps to reinforce the ideas presented and make them easy to understand. Science and practical applications are always clearly connected. The reward system in the brain is described from a neuroscience perspective, in the context of ways to boost current rewards as well as create new rewards. Empathy is also broken down into its different aspects and the corresponding brain regions, and this forms the basis for a discussion of functioning effectively in interpersonal relationships.

There are a few things that particularly resonated for me. Hanson writes that the inner critic should be considered “guilty until proven innocent.” I also liked the first and second dart analogy for our initial and secondary reactions to difficult situations. The first dart may be unavoidable, but the second dart is one we throw ourselves. Since I tend to be avoidant, it hit home when Hanson pointed out that we often do things because we fear the outcomes, but fail to consider what this dreaded expectation may have actually held us back from.

The book addresses some common misinformed ideas, such as the idea of self-deprivation. Hanson writes that “a healthy body and mind do not come from denying, ‘overcoming’, or transcending needs. They are instead the natural result of taking care of your needs, and being mindful of the needs of others.” The book also explains that focusing on external conditions related to an experience isn’t helpful, because “in terms of internalizing resources into the brain, experiences are independent of the conditions that evoke them.”

The main weakness of this book is that it ends quite abruptly, although, to be honest, that’s something I have a tendency to do myself. The final chapter is on the psychological resource of generosity. There’s no conclusion as one might expect to draw all of the ideas together. The book didn’t really grab me emotionally, but I was okay with that, as I appreciated its practicality. This book is the first I’ve read by this author, and I plan to check out his others.

Resilient is available on Amazon (affiliate link).

You can find my other reviews on the MH@H book review index or on Goodreads.

You can read more on this topic in the post What Is… Resilience.

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