Be an Active Agent: The three basic needs that cultivate resilience
When we foster wellbeing it helps us how to grow our mental resources, and our mental resources enable us to be resilient.
Learn the three basic needs that help to cultivate resilience.
When we think of resilience, we might associate the word with ideas like grit, determination or being unflappable when things are going wrong. And it is certainly true that grit and determination are part of resilience.
What we might not realise is that resilience is actually about creating positive experiences that recharge and restore us — and foster wellbeing. And the more we internalise experiences of wellbeing, the more we are able to develop the mental resources that add up to resilience.
Mental resources are things such as self-worth, kindness or compassion, as well as grit and determination.
In his book Resilient: How to Grow an Unshakable Core of Calm, Strength and Happiness, Rick Hanson, Ph.D., psychologist and senior fellow of the Greater Good Science Centre at UC Berkeley, says that the twin processes of mental resources and wellbeing work together in an upward spiral. Wellbeing helps us grow our mental resources, and our mental resources enable us to be resilient.
Experiencing wellbeing by meeting our three basic needs
Dr Hanson says that we experience wellbeing when our three basic needs are met. These are safety, satisfaction and connection.
Safety is a feeling of assurance that we can avoid harms, from knowing we have a secure place to live to knowing that we won’t be physically attacked to being ridiculed. We can have this need met by avoiding certain people, ending toxic relationships and working towards financial independence.
Satisfaction can range from having enough to eat to feeling like life is worth living. We can try to meet this need by doing things like starting a course, being creative, cooking interesting food, taking up a sport, or simply noticing the beauty of a sunset.
Connection can range from feeling loved, valued and understood, to giving compassion to others. We can try to satisfy this need by messaging friends, getting together with family (virtually or face-to-face) or showing compassion for someone else.
Substances and our three basic needs
Sometimes we try to meet our basic needs and put ourselves in the responsive mode by turning to substances. For example, alcohol can temporarily help us feel relaxed, secure and connected to other people. Methamphetamine can help us artificially experience satisfaction and reward.
But in the long-run, we need to create quality wellbeing experiences without substances and develop mental resources.
A brief guide to developing mental resources
Find your refuges
Dr Hanson says that finding a refuge will help us through turbulent times. A refuge can be anything that protects, nurtures or uplifts us. Refuges can be people, such as partners and best friends; places, such as our bedroom or a favourite cafe, things such as a good TV show or a comfy jumper, ideas such as Buddhism or God, activities such as playing the guitar or memories, like grandma’s’ house.
The key is to turn to our refuges regularly, to restore and recharge us. In his book Hardwiring Happiness: the New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm and Confidence, Dr Hanson offers the HEAL steps to cultivate your mental resources.
The HEAL steps are the learning mechanism which form the backbone of mental resource-building. The steps are as follows:
Have a beneficial experience. Notice it or create it.
Enrich it. Stay with it, feeling it fully.
Absorb it, receive it into yourself.
Link it. Use it to soothe and replace painful psychological material.
We can use the HEAL steps to install mental resources, such as compassion, motivation or calmness. First, we call up previous experiences of having experienced those resources. Then we submerge ourselves into the experience until we have felt it fully.
And then by having sustained and repeated experiences of those resources, we can embed them into the neurology of our brains.
Cultivating grit and determination:
Ultimately, grit and determination rely on whether we can experience agency. Agency is the sense that we can actively influence the direction of our lives rather than passively having it happen to us.
And even when we are affected by things beyond our control, we can still look for opportunities, no matter how small, to make a choice or influence an outcome.
Examples include doing a google search, asking a question, changing our diet, doing a breathing exercise, chatting to us at Counselling Online, or sitting with an unpleasant feeling for an extra second.
By doing this we become active agents, rather than passive bystanders.