I am attending a year-long course called the Foundations of Well-being led by Rick Hanson. The program is structured around a dozen important inner strengths or pillars that I plan to grow inside myself this year and hope to share with you as well. Each Pillar contains 4 Themes so that will be the basis of my weekly theme.
Whatever the reason, many people are harshly self-critical, even mean toward themselves. Or indifferent to their own pain, lax about protecting themselves from mistreatment – both inside their head and outside, in the outer world – to make their life better. It’s a good idea to make sure you are on your own side. Why is it good to be on your own side? All beings deserve decency and care – including you.
You have the most responsibility toward the person you have the most power over: your future-self. As the airlines put it, place your own mask first before you help another. Many studies show that if you fill your own cup until it runneth over, you will be more generous altruistic and kind to people around you.
We have to shape our life course so that it increases well-being inside us. How do we do that? The model used in healthcare and social sciences is based on three fundamental factors: the challenges we face, the vulnerabilities that these challenges expose us to and the resources that we use to deal with them. An analogy could be when you are washing dishes in soapy, messy, germ-filled water, that is the challenge. There is a cut on your hand – that is the vulnerability where the germs could get to your body. If we have a pair of rubber gloves that can protect our hands, those are the resources. Similarly, as we go thru life, as challenges arise, our vulnerabilities rise, so must our resources. So if one doesn’t have many resources, one should lower the challenges and vulnerabilities. In working with these, it is the resources that can affect you most. Our challenges and vulnerabilities tend to be more stable and harder to change.
Where are resources located? Out in the world, inside your body and your own mind. Money in the bank or friends who support you, a good healthcare system in the country are examples of resources in the world. Resources in the body are vitality, basic health, good nutrition, good neurotransmitter functionality in your brain. Resources in your mind are determination, patience, happiness, sound perspective etc. Out of these three places, you have the most opportunity to grow resources in your mind.To grow resources out in the world and in your body can take a long while. In your mind there are many ways in your everyday life to grow resources.
In order to grow resources in your mind, you need to develop inner strengths. Inner strengths are well known in psychology – such as capabilities (understanding how to manage a tricky conversation with a partner, to know how to work with your own thoughts and feelings) and positive emotions (research by Barbara Fredrikson shows that positive emotions such as gratitude, contentment, love and happiness are very important factors for mental health as well as physical health). Other kinds of inner strengths include attitudes such as tolerance and openness, inclinations such as we lean into interactions with other people rather than run away from it. Inner strengths are built from brain structure.
There are different adaptations of a story of two wolves who live inside us. One is love, patience, kindness etc. The other is ill-will, hatred and such. We are always feeding one wolf or the other. So we are constantly changing the brain for better or for worse. The question is which wolf do we feed? We want to feed and grow the wolf of love and other fundamental inner strengths that we care about. How do we do this? The starting point is, you have to be on your side. To make these changes you have to be a friend to yourself. As Rabbi Hillel wrote, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? It is good to recognize why it is good to be a friend to yourself. There is a joke in therapy world, how many therapists does it take to change a light bulb? Only one, but the light bulb has to want to change. It is not selfish or conceited to be on your own side.
Anytime during the day if we could just pause and offer a moment of some gesture of kindness to ourselves. And it could be – when you are happy, oh I am happy – some gesture of goodwill, In that moment your bio-chemistry shifts and your worldview opens and you become more whole again.