Rick Hanson Interview Questions

Possible Questions for an Interview with Rick Hanson, Ph.D.




Resilience and Well-Being

Your work focuses on increasing resilience and well-being. What is resilience?

What do you mean by well-being? Is it the same as happiness?

What are the benefits of well-being for physical health? For mental health? For relationships? For effectiveness and success?

What got you personally interested in resilience and well-being?


“Negative” Experiences

What about pain and suffering? Are you saying we should suppress that, or tune it out?

What’s the role of sadness, anxiety, hurt, or anger? Do these emotions have benefits?


What Can People Do to Have More Well-Being

What causes well-being? What can people do themselves to grow and stabilize their well-being?

Is this the same as positive thinking? Or the same as looking on the bright side or “fake it ‘til you make it?”

You talk about growing mental resources – such as mindfulness, patience, compassion, and gratitude – for resilience and well-being. You also call these “inner strengths” or “psychological resources.” What do you mean by “mental resources?” What are some examples?

Are positive emotions such as love, satisfaction, or peacefulness mental resources? Is happiness itself a mental resource?

But don’t we grow from stress, loss, and painful experiences? People say: What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger? Is this true?


Does Growing Well-Being Make People Selfish

Does your approach have the risk of turning away from the problems of the world and getting caught up in self-improvement, selfishness, and navel-gazing?

How does it work, that becoming happier usually makes people kinder and more cooperative and generous toward others?

Is this mainly for people who have fortunate lives and are already happy? What about all those people whose lives are really hard, maybe with intense health issues, or living in poverty, or simply long hard days making a living at a crummy job and taking care of their family?


Mindfulness Is Not Enough

You say that mindfulness has become really misunderstood. What do you mean? Why is this a problem?

You’ve written that mindfulness is good but it’s not enough. Even that it’s gotten overrated. What do you mean?


How the Mind Changes the Brain

You say that growing mental resources is a kind of learning that requires changing the brain. What do you mean?

You’ve been talking about the brain. Can you give us a quick summary of what it contains?

Does the brain stay the same over a person’s lifetime or does it change?

Are the brains of men and women different from each other?

How do our thoughts and feelings change the brain?


The Negativity Bias

Is the brain changed by positive experiences as much as by negative experiences?

Why does the brain have a negativity bias?

How does the negativity bias affect us?

What can people do about the negativity bias?


The Two Steps Needed to Change the Brain for the Better

You’ve written that the big weakness in much counseling, coaching, human resources programs, and mindfulness training is that people very often leave out the second step of “installation,” which means no learning and no lasting value. As a result, the healing and growth curves of people are a lot flatter than they need to be:

  • What are the effects of this issue?
  • What can we do about it?
  • Why do you say that getting better at the second step of actually changing the brain is a huge opportunity in businesses for increasing productivity and morale, reducing turnover, and lowering health care costs?
  • Why do say that this is also a huge opportunity to increase the effectiveness of coaching and counseling? And to lower the disease burden in our country from stress, depression, and anxiety?

What about modern, wealthy societies? Why is it that people who have so much are often so unhappy?


The HEAL Steps of Positive Neuroplasticity

You use the acronym HEAL to summarize the steps of changing the brain for the better. You also call this self-directed neuroplasticity or “mindful cultivation.” Can you walk us through these steps? Can you give a practical example?

How would someone use the HEAL steps in the flow of their day?

Are there special times to use the HEAL steps?

Is it appropriate to encourage others to use the HEAL steps? How could a coach or therapist do this? A human resources trainer? A manager? An educator? A parent?


Growing the Inner Resources That We Need the Most

Are there specific mental resources – inner strengths – that are useful for particular external challenges or internal issues? Let’s say a person’s job is really stressful; what would be useful? Or say that a person feels anxious a lot of the time; what could help? How about trauma?

You use the evolution of the brain as a roadmap/framework for identifying the mental resources that are matched to particular challenges or issues. Can you summarize that evolution?

You say that humans have three fundamental needs, for safety, satisfaction, and connection. Can you give examples of these needs? How do we meet them? How do these needs relate to the evolution of the brain?

Can you give examples of how a person would grow specific mental resources for particular situations? How about situations or relationships at work? What kind of mental resources would help people with peak performance?


Growing a Green Zone Brain

You say that our brain has basically two settings, two ways of going about meeting our needs (for safety, satisfaction, and connection). What are these two settings? What’s the difference between them? And why does this matter?

Let’s say that someone is caught up in the Reactive, “red zone” setting of the brain. They feel a lot of fear, frustration, or hurt. What can they do to get out of the red zone?

What can someone do to build up the Responsive, “green zone” setting of their brain? So that they are more able to stay in the green zone when things are tough. And so that they feel more peace, contentment, and love.


Helping the Stone Age Brain in the 21st Century

Your view is that a major source of the world’s problems today is the mismatch between our Stone Age brains and modern 21st century societies. What are examples of this mismatch? What are the consequences?

In particular, you emphasize that our ancestors lived in small bands of about 50 people that cooperated with “us” but were aggressive toward “them.” Why does this matter today?

You point out that when people feel deep down that their needs are not being met, they feel unhappy, get worn down, do worse at work, and get into conflicts with others. How does this work out at the level of nations or the world altogether?

You think it’s important to take in the good of experiences of your needs being met. How would this affect humanity as a whole?

You have a vision of a world in which a critical mass of human brains are centered in the green zone, and you say this would change the course of human history. What do you mean? Why is this important? You say, “green brain, green world.” What would this look like?

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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