Resilient: How to Grow an Unshakable Core of Calm, Strength, and Happiness is written by psychologist Rick Hanson along with his son Forrest. It 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, and connection) and ways to meet those needs (recognizing, resourcing, regulating, and relating). These are set up in a grid that lays out the 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 presented in a very accessible way, with a focus on learning and neuroplasticity. The concept of experience-dependent neuroplasticity is explained, and there is 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.
Suggestions are given for ways to enrich 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 developing a formal meditative practice.
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 is entered when our needs are adequately met, while 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 parts of the brain that are focused on survival, 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 is always clearly connected to practical applications. The reward system in the brain is described from a neuroscience perspective, and this information is used to suggest 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 to describe 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.
Some common misinformed ideas are addressed, 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. The final chapter is on the psychological resource of generosity. There is no conclusion as one might expect to draw all of the ideas together. For the most part the book didn’t really grab me emotionally, but I was okay with that, as I was able to appreciate the practicality of it. This is the first book I’ve read by this author, and after this I think I’ll be checking out his others.
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