Installing Inner Strenths — More With Rick Hanson


How do you transition from the short-term of taking in the good, being with that good, to longterm of allowing it to absorb? What differentiates people or situations that allow that transfer to happen from those that don’t? 

First, the person has to be on their own side. They have to be for themselves. If they don’t have that fundamental stance of care, concern, or self advocacy toward themselves, they’re kind of dead in the water. The very first practice is “Be on your own side.” That’s where it starts.

The second is to turn toward the practices that are enjoyable. Take a gym, for example. When people ask “What’s the best exercise?” the answer is always the exercise that you’ll actually do. People are much more likely to be open to positive experiences and to internalize them if they are enjoyable and they find them rewarding. It’s legitimate to look for the reward opportunities in useful experiences.

Here we’re at the essence of how do you develop psychological resources for coping, healing, spiritual practice, resilience, the capacity to simply stay steadily aware of the breath. These are psychological resources, inner strengths.

How do we get them in the brain? How do we alter neural structure or function?

I summarized all that in the HEAL structure, a four step process. Here’s how it breaks down:


  1. Have a positive experience. Notice an experience that’s already present or create an experience that is rewarding.
  2. Enrich it. Stay with this positive experience for 5, 10, 20 seconds in a row. The classic saying neurons that fire together, wire together. The longer they fire together, the more they’re going to wire together. Deep down in the bowels of the brain, it’s pretty mechanical.
  3. Absorb it.
  4. Link positive and negative material.

To promote the installation of these inner traits, there are five major factors that promote installation:

  1. Duration: the longer we stay with an experience, the more likely we are to learn from it. Get the neurons firing together.
  2. Intensity: Second factor is intensity. The more intense an experience, the more it’s going to get encoded as a change of neural structure or function. Even if it’s a subtle experience like tranquility, if it pervades your mind, it’s relatively intense.
  3. Multi-modality: The more aspects of an experience, the richer the experience, the more it’s going to get encoded. An experience having imagery, perception, emotion, desire, and/or behavior is more likely to get encoded.
  4. Novelty.  This means looking at an experience through the eyes of a child, beginners minds in mind, as they say. The brain is a big novelty detector.
  5. Salience/Personal Relevance: The more we see the salience, the personal relevance to something, the more likely it is to encode.

What can people start incorporating this practice into their everyday lives to help, not just be more mindful, but also turns these states into traits?

  • Look for good facts.
  • Let yourself have good experiences that are authentic and proportionate
  • Critically important, enjoy those experiences so they sink into you to grow resources
  • Identify for yourself high impact experiences that are a pathway for growing the good inside yourself, internalizing resources that you’ve longed for. Let the longings of your heart be your teacher, directing you toward those high impact experiences that will mean the most to you.

These high impact experiences relate to our three great needs — safety, satisfaction, connections. For example:

  • If you have issues in the safety system — anxiety or anger or fear — look for experiences that help you feel safer.
  • If you have issues in the satisfaction system — you’re dealing with frustrations or loss — look for experiences like gratitude, gladness, or accomplishment. This could include small things like getting the kids to bed finally.
  • If you have issues with connections — feeling left out, insecurely attached, or devalued by others — look for opportunities to experience feeling cared about, feeling included, liked, seen, or loved.

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