Being psychologically resilient isn’t macho, it’s an essential survival skill, which becomes even more valuable when we push ourselves to succeed – here are the mindset hacks we learned from Rick Hanson…
1. We Should Avoid Learning To Be Helpless Most of us see ourselves as able to face challenges, both physical and mental. But we all have chinks in our armour, and these may be slowly weakening our mindsets more than we realise. In his book, neuropsychologist Rick Hanson points to the research of Martin Seligman, which shows we’re surprisingly susceptible to ‘learned helplessness’. Every time we have a negative experience, of powerlessness or defeat, or where our resources outstrip the task in hand, it takes many positive experiences of what Hanson calls ‘agency’ (having an effect) to remove feelings of helplessness, which can drag you down into depression.
Hanson recommends taking a long, hard look at relationships or lifestyles that continually make you feel helpless, and also finding agency through the power of the mind, or making conscious choices. For instance, he says whenever he’s in the dentist's chair he remembers an intensely enjoyable walk through high alpine meadows in Yosemite National Park.
2. Being Thankful Makes You More Present One of the hardest things to do in our super-connected, fast-paced lives is be fully present in the moment – to be mindful, basically. We spend a lot of our time on earth striving to feel good in the future and, as Hanson points out: ‘This is stressful and tiring in the present.’ By being thankful we are able to see the small but significant upsides of everyday life, including sunlight on your face and technology that would have been seen as wizardry just 100 years ago. Hanson recommends simply reflecting on three blessings in your life before falling asleep, to recalibrate your mindset.
If you’re entrenched in a successful mindset then you’re likely to become more successful
3. We Can All Be Successful Every Day Improving our own selves is a basic driving force, and setting long-term goals can help you to progress. But we often get mesmerised by the big picture, to the extent that we only feel how far away our goals are, rather than the progress we are making towards them. Hanson recommends being mindful of succeeding at the small stuff, such as cooking a meal, as well as noticing progress to your big goals and process goals, and successfully avoiding pitfalls. If you’re entrenched in a successful mindset then you are likely to continue to be successful.
4. You Can Train Yourself Calm The human body is a capable machine, designed by evolution to survive in hostile environments. The problem with that is when our fight or flight response is triggered, often by something as mundane as a phone call, there’s no rampaging predator to deal with, so we carry stress and anxiety around with us, day to day.
Hanson recommends activating the parasympathetic nervous system with controlled, slow exhalations, breathing in for three seconds and out for six. As you exhale focus on a part of your body and consciously relax the muscles there. He also says you can use your fitness watch heart rate monitor to view how relaxed you become, and use it to train yourself to calm down in any situation.
5. We Should Beware ‘Auto-Wanting’ Ever saved up for a car, bought it, been slightly disappointed when it actually arrives and then, almost immediately, started looking around for the next thing to buy? You’re not alone – Hanson says humans have been feeling like this for millions of years because we have evolved to constantly chase rewards. He says this can create a chronic sense of something missing and a kind of ‘auto-wanting’ in the back of our minds where we unconsciously scan for the next thing while we are already satisfied. Fight this natural tendency by noticing when you are being oversold something, and really focusing on feelings of satisfaction in everyday life to build up a contentment bank.
Whatever your past fears and limitations get a sense of giving yourself over to the dream today
6. We Can Honour Our Dreams We all have dreams that we no longer think are possible, whether that’s being a rock star or an astronaut, but Hanson says we shouldn’t just abandon them. He says it’s not the dream that’s important but its essence. So, being a rock star isn’t the dream itself, it’s a means to an end, such as playing in a band, being rich, or entertaining people. He recommends asking yourself if you can achieve the dream’s ‘essence, the end it aspires to,’ by other means. ‘Whatever your fears and limitations in the past, get a sense of giving yourself over to the dream today,’ he says.
7. Letting Be, Letting Go and Letting In Makes You Stronger Hanson compares the mind to a garden – you can observe it, pull weeds or plant flowers, in other words: ‘letting be, letting go and letting in.’ He recommends using this as a road map for moving through an upsetting time, such as a break-up. First, you need to recognise your current feelings and accept the reality of the situation without attempting to modify it. Then you can move to letting go by sounding off to a buddy, and trying to get some perspective by looking at things in the context of your whole past, and future. Finally you can shift to letting in, says Hanson: ‘Recognise you have been through something hard, and appreciate yourself for doing so. See if there are any lessons to learn.’
WHAT NEXT? Find out how to change your brain for the better with Rick Hanson’s key videos…
Rick Hanson’s Resilient is available now
Follow the writer @mattfitnessray