Educating Mindful Minds 2018: Slide set

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Unshakable Core: Growing the Inner Strengths of Resilient Well-Being

Educating Mindful Minds, New York

April 2018 | Rick Hanson, Ph.D.


Resilience and Well-Being


Resilience is the capacity to recover from adversity and pursue your goals despite challenges.

It helps you survive the worst day of your life and thrive every day of your life.


Lasting well-being in a changing world requires resilience.


Resilience requires mental resources.


Some Mental Resources

Executive Functions
Character Strengths
Secure Attachment
Positive Emotions
Interpersonal Skills
Patience, Determination, Grit


The harder a person’s life, the more challenges one has, the less the outer world is helping – the more important it is to have mental resources.


Toxic Stress Impairs Mental Resources

This accumulation of allostatic load is intensified by the brain’s negativity bias.


The Negativity Bias

As the nervous system evolved, avoiding “sticks” was usually more consequential than getting “carrots.”

1. So we scan for bad news,
2. Over-focus on it,
3. Over-react to it,
4. Turn it quickly into (implicit memory),
5. Sensitize the brain to the negative, and
6. Create vicious cycles with others.


Velcro fo the Bad, Teflon for the Good

The Negativity Bias

Mental resources are good, period, plus they’re eroded by the stresses we need them for.

So, how do we get them?

People focus on identifying and using resources such as character strengths – but what about developing them in the first place?.


Which Means Changing the Brain for the Better

Half or more of the variation in psychological attributes, including mental resources, is due to non-heritable factors.

This means there are large individual differences in the acquisition of mental resources.


What can people do to steepen their growth curves?


Mental resources are acquired in two stages:

Encoding     >     Consolidation
Activation     >     Installation
State     >     Trait


We become more compassionate by repeatedly installing experiences of compassion.

We become more grateful by repeatedly installing experiences of gratitude.

We become more mindful by repeatedly installing experiences of mindfulness.


Experiencing doesn’t equal learning.

Activation without installation may be pleasant, but no trait resources are acquired.

What fraction of our beneficial mental states leads to lasting changes in neural structure or function?


We tend to focus on activation more than installation.

This reduces the gains from psychotherapy, coaching, human resources training, mindfulness programs, and self-help activities.


How can we increase the conversion rate from positive states to beneficial traits?

What learning factors could improve installation?


Learning Factors

Environmental – setting, social, support

Behavioral – activities, repetition

Mental – motivation, engagement


Types of Mental Learning Factors


View of positive experience
Growth mindset
Feeling supported
Sense of safety


Personal relevance
Alertness, sense of novelty
Arousal, enactment
Sense of reward
Granularity of attention
Maintenance, repetition
Meaning, elaboration

Educators have systematically focused on mental factors of academic learning, including teaching them explicitly.

Therapists, coaches, trainers, etc. have generally not systematically focused on mental factors of social, emotional, and somatic learning – and rarely teach these explicitly.


Benefits of Mental Learning Factors

Benefits of both types of factors:

  • Increase learning from the present experience
  • Prime NS for future beneficial experiences
  • Heighten consolidation of past experiences

Engagement factors have additional benefits:

  • Regulate experience directly
  • Increase initial processes of consolidation
  • Are under volitional control


Turning States into Traits: HEAL


    1. Have a beneficial experience


2. Enrich the experience
3. Absorb the experience
4. Link positive and negative material (optional) 


Have a Beneficial Experience

Enrich It

Absorb It

Link Positive & Negative Material

Have It, Enjoy It

It’s Good to Take in the Good


Develops psychological resources:

  • General – resilience, positive mood, feeling loved
  • Specific – matched to challenges, wounds, deficits

Has built-in, implicit benefits:

  • Training attention and executive functions
  • Being active rather than passive
  • Treating oneself kindly, that one matters

May sensitize brain to the positive

Fuels positive cycles with others


Learning is the strength of strengths, since it’s the one we use to grow the rest of them.

Knowing how to learn the things that are important to you could be the greatest strength of all.


Growing Key Resources

Resilience is required for challenges to our needs.

Understanding the need that is challenged helps us identify, grow, and use the specific mental resource(s) that are best matched to it.


Our Three Fundamental Needs

Meeting Our Three Fundamental Needs

The Evolving Brain

What – if it were more present in the mind of a person – would really help?
How could a person have and install more experiences of these mental resources?


Matching Resources to Needs



See actual threats
See resources
Grit, fortitude
Feel protected
Alright right now




Feel Successful
Healthy pleasures
Impulse Control




Widen circle of “us”


As people acquire resources for a particular need, the mental/neural systems that manage this need are able to do so without toxic stress – and with the positive thoughts and feelings of capable coping.


More generally, people commonly experience an underlying sense of deficit and disturbance that produces the “craving” – broadly defined – which causes suffering and harm.

Internalizing experiences of needs met builds up a sense of fullness and balance – so we can meet the next moment and its challenges feeling already strong, happy, compassionate, and at peace.


Pet the Lizard

Feed the Mouse

Hug the Monkey

Coming Home






As they grow an unshakable core of peace, contentment, and love, people become less vulnerable to the classic manipulations of fear and anger, greed and possessiveness, and “us” against “them” conflicts.
Which has big implications for our world.


Dr. Ramani Durvasula is a licensed clinical psychologist, author, and expert on the impact of toxic narcissism. She is a Professor of Psychology at California State University, Los Angeles, and also a Visiting Professor at the University of Johannesburg.

The focus of Dr. Ramani’s clinical, academic, and consultative work is the etiology and impact of narcissism and high-conflict, entitled, antagonistic personality styles on human relationships, mental health, and societal expectations. She has spoken on these issues to clinicians, educators, and researchers around the world.

She is the author of Should I Stay or Should I Go: Surviving a Relationship With a Narcissist, and Don't You Know Who I Am? How to Stay Sane in an Era of Narcissism, Entitlement, and Incivility. Her work has been featured at SxSW, TEDx, and on a wide range of media platforms including Red Table Talk, the Today Show, Oxygen, Investigation Discovery, and Bravo, and she is a featured expert on the digital media mental health platform MedCircle. Dr. Durvasula’s research on personality disorders has been funded by the National Institutes of Health and she is a Consulting Editor of the scientific journal Behavioral Medicine.

Dr. Stephen Porges is a Distinguished University Scientist at Indiana University, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of North Carolina, and Professor Emeritus at both the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Maryland. He is a former president of the Society for Psychophysiological Research and has been president of the Federation of Behavioral, Psychological, and Cognitive Sciences, which represents approximately twenty-thousand biobehavioral scientists. He’s led a number of other organizations and received a wide variety of professional awards.

In 1994 he proposed the Polyvagal Theory, a theory that links the evolution of the mammalian autonomic nervous system to social behavior and emphasizes the importance of physiological states in the expression of behavioral problems and psychiatric disorders. The theory is leading to innovative treatments based on insights into the mechanisms mediating symptoms observed in several behavioral, psychiatric, and physical disorders, and has had a major impact on the field of psychology.

Dr. Porges has published more than 300 peer-reviewed papers across a wide array of disciplines. He’s also the author of several books including The Polyvagal Theory: Neurophysiological foundations of Emotions, Attachment, Communication, and Self-regulation.

Dr. Bruce Perry is the Principal of the Neurosequential Network, Senior Fellow of The ChildTrauma Academy, and a Professor (Adjunct) in the Departments of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago and the School of Allied Health at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia. From 1993 to 2001 he was the Thomas S. Trammell Research Professor of Psychiatry at Baylor College of Medicine and chief of psychiatry at Texas Children's Hospital.

He’s one of the world’s leading experts on the impact of trauma in childhood, and his work on the impact of abuse, neglect, and trauma on the developing brain has impacted clinical practice, programs, and policy across the world. His work has been instrumental in describing how traumatic events in childhood change the biology of the brain.

Dr. Perry's most recent book, What Happened to You? Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing, co-authored with Oprah Winfrey, was released earlier this year. Dr. Perry is also the author, with Maia Szalavitz, of The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog, a bestselling book based on his work with maltreated children, and Born For Love: Why Empathy is Essential and Endangered. Additionally, he’s authored more than 300 journal articles and book chapters and has been the recipient of a variety of professional awards.

Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith is a child clinical psychologist who specializes in trauma and issues of race. She earned her undergraduate degree from Harvard and then received her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of California, Berkeley. She performed postdoctoral work at the University of California San Francisco/San Francisco General Hospital. She has combined her love of teaching and advocacy by serving as a professor and by directing mental health programs for children experiencing trauma, homelessness, or foster care.

Dr. Briscoe-Smith is also a senior fellow of Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center and is both a professor and the Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at the Wright Institute. She provides consultation and training to nonprofits and schools on how to support trauma-informed practices and cultural accountability.

Sharon Salzberg is a world-renowned teacher and New York Times bestselling author. She is widely considered one of the most influential individuals in bringing mindfulness practices to the West, and co-founded the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts alongside Jack Kornfield and Joseph Goldstein. Sharon has been a student of Dipa Ma, Anagarika Munindra, and Sayadaw U Pandita alongside other masters.

Sharon has authored 10 books, and is the host of the fantastic Metta Hour podcast. She was a contributing editor of Oprah’s O Magazine, had her work featured in Time and on NPR, and contributed to panels alongside the Dalai Lama.

Rick Hanson, PhD is a psychologist, Senior Fellow of UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, and New York Times best-selling author. His books have been published in 29 languages and include NeurodharmaResilient, Hardwiring HappinessBuddha’s BrainJust One Thing, and Mother Nurture – with 900,000 copies in English alone. His free newsletters have 215,000 subscribers and his online programs have scholarships available for those with financial need. He’s lectured at NASA, Google, Oxford, and Harvard, and taught in meditation centers worldwide. An expert on positive neuroplasticity, his work has been featured on the BBC, CBS, NPR, and other major media. He began meditating in 1974 and is the founder of the Wellspring Institute for Neuroscience and Contemplative Wisdom. He and his wife live in northern California and have two adult children. He loves wilderness and taking a break from emails.

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