Most people initially react to adverse life events with a sense of uneasiness and negativity, but over time seem to adapt. People somehow “bounce back” from tragedy and trauma. Early resilience researchers Garmezy and Masten defined resilience as the process of, capacity for, or outcome of successful adaptation despite challenging circumstances.
Resilience is measured by how quickly and strongly we respond to adversity. There is a difference between resiliency and resilience. Ego resiliency is a set of traits of resourcefulness, sturdiness of character, and flexibility in response to circumstances. Resiliency signifies a personality trait. Masten cautioned against using the term because it gives people the perception that you either have it or you don’t.
Resilience involves behaviors, thoughts, and actions that can be learned and developed in anyone (McDonald et al., 2012). You are not born with it and you must suffer to build it. The pandemic is giving all of us that opportunity. Just experiencing adversity doesn’t automatically make us resilient. We must learn about the process and apply it.
Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to re-wire itself. The brain creates new connections all the time. The more we use those connections the stronger and faster they become. “Cells that fire together wire together” is Hebb’s Law simplified. It teaches us that thinking about solutions creates more solutions and thinking about problems creates more awareness of problems.
President-Elect Joe Biden suffered the personal losses of his first wife and two children and the professional losses of two presidential campaigns. It was Joe Biden who said, “never give up, never give in” as well as, “move forward unburdened by what has been.” during his acceptance speech of his successful presidential campaign. Biden often speaks of resilience and the importance of connections.
Resilience is associated with optimism and flexibility as well as building protective factors such as gratitude, kindness, and social support. It increases our ability to deal with life’s challenges.
Killingsworth and Gilbert’s Harvard study showed adults are not paying attention to what they are doing 47% of the time. “A human mind is a wandering mind, and a wandering mind is an unhappy mind.” Under stress our mind is ruminating in rewind and catastrophizing in fast-forward.
Richard Davidson, Founder of Healthy Minds at University Wisconsin-Madison encourages people to be more intentional about changing your brain to support your wellbeing. He sees wellbeing as a skill; based on awareness, connection, insight, and purpose. We have the capacity to regulate our focus – to think about what we are thinking about; to connect with healthy social relationships; to strive for a healthy self-narrative and to find a sense of meaning and align our tasks to that purpose. This will develop an enduring wellbeing.
Resilience, (positive) outlook, attention, and generosity have been scientifically validated as components of well-being that can be shaped through neuroplasticity. We have the ability to shape our brains to improve our well-being.