When making progress towards an ideal lifestyle or a specific goal there are always going to be times when things seem to unravel in an undesirable way. Mental resilience is the ability to overcome obstacles and recover from adversity without getting pulled into negative distraction.
This is a mental skill that enables us to make consistent progress in the right direction while not easily being thrown off course by hard times.
Although some people seem to be more resilient than others in times of challenge and pressure, this powerful ability to override stormy weather is a skill that can be developed and strengthened. Cultivating mental resilience means having a place of inner peace always available.
Strengthening the Brain
Contrary to popular assumption, meditation is not passive; meditation is an act that is carried out with intention and one that challenges the brain. Research on brain plasticity suggests that interventions like meditation can allow people to alter their emotional styles by changing the very brain circuits that govern them.
The prefrontal cortex of the brain is mainly responsible for governing behavior such as rational decision-making and willpower. This part of the brain also exhibits strong connectivity with the amygdala — known as the fear center of the brain and plays a large role in influencing vulnerability in mood and anxiety.
In meditation, the prefrontal cortex is challenged through repetitive awareness and focused attention. Increased levels of prefrontal activation enable a more balanced regulation of activity in the amygdala. This also helps in turning the overactive fear response off once it is turned on. This means that people with more activation in the prefrontal cortex are able to recover more quickly from negative stimuli.
Mental resilience can be observed in how slowly or quickly you recover from adversity or hardship before taking the next step in a positive direction. Some people take a long time to come back to their baseline of mental balance after being thrown off-kilter. Other people are able to recover very quickly.
Practicing gratitude is one of the most powerful ways to strengthen one’s ability to put things in perspective and quickly find the center of gravity in any given moment.
According to positive psychologist Sonia Lyubomirsky, gratitude boosts mental capacity to experience happiness in eight ways.
- Practicing grateful thinking promotes the savoring of positive experiences in order to extract the maximum satisfaction and enjoyment from your current circumstances.
- Expressing gratitude reinforces self-worth and self-esteem. When you realize how much you have accomplished, you feel more confident and empowered to keep taking steps in the right direction.
- Gratitude helps cope with stress and trauma. This is a healthy way to positively process stressful or negative life experiences.
- Encourages moral behavior and promotes care and giving towards others.
- By allowing us to stay grounded, gratitude can help build social bonds, strengthening existing relationships, and nurturing new ones.
- Gratitude is incompatible with negative emotions and may actually diminish feelings of anger, bitterness, and greed.
- Being thankful is a powerful way to put things in perspective and helps prevent us from taking the good things in life for granted.
- Practicing gratitude is an amazing way to build resilience and enhance our capacity to adjust to change in circumstance. This is extremely adaptive when the new event is unpleasant, but not when a new event is positive.
Loving Kindness Meditation
Loving-kindness (Pali term metta) is a meditation practice taught by Buddha to develop the mental habit of selflessness, which gives rise to positive change and healthy emotional energy flow.
As an act of self-therapy, loving-kindness uses our inner resources as a way to deal with difficult emotional states in high-pressure times when feelings of anger or hurt are usually more present. Loving-kindness does not remove negative emotions but helps cultivate enthusiasm and purify the mind in times where positive emotions are needed to flourish.
Ironically, developing an abundant resource of these softer emotions will provide you with an amazing amount of power and strength. This ability to carry love and experience empathy will become essential in cultivating strong relationships, dealing with adversity, and overcoming personal challenges.