The brain: building resilience

When the brain is working properly you will be grounded, happy, self-aware, decisive, passionate, magnetic, clear-thinking and focused on achieving your goals. But more than this you will be resilient – able to ride all the disasters that come your way and overcome what people used to call ‘stress’.

In this article I summarize the mind-skills you need to practice to make your brain work properly.

First, a little bit of brain science:

The core of your conscious, thinking, mind lies in the frontal cortex which lies mostly in your forehead. It’s job is to process information coming in from other parts of the brain such as the limbic system, from the nervous system, from the external environment and from other people. to do this it utilises thoughts, words, images and ideas. When it is doing the job effectively you achieve mastery. When it is doing the job badly you may get anxious, depressed, addicted, stuck, isolated, rigid and unhappy. You may also suffer a nervous breakdown.

Here are the main functions of the frontal cortex and how they work well or don’t work at all:

1. Awareness.

You develop awareness as you practice mindfulness. If you don’t have much awareness then you are basically unconscious and asleep. Awareness mans that you respond effectively to your own thoughts, emotions and drives and to what is happening around you. But in a state of sleep you are at the mercy of whatever chance influences are blown your way, including manipulation from others.

2. Integration with Bodymind.

This skill is also known as emotional intelligence. As you will know your body produces very strong emotions, desires, gut reactions and sexual impulses. When the thinking mind is working effectively it is able to recognise these states and take action to satisfy the emotions, while respecting the position of other human beings. When it is not working properly it ignores the emotions, leaving them to fester.

3. Left/right brain integration.

The left (dominant side) of the cortex processes detail; the right side keeps in mind the bigger picture. If we over-use the left brain we become over-analytical, stuck in routine and rigid. If we over-use the right brain we can become lost in fantasy and lose the capacity for clear thinking.

4. Integrating memory.

When the brain is working properly it uses memory as a source of information without getting overwhelmed by it. When it is not working properly it treats ‘bad’ memories as if they referred to something happening now, in the present. It then triggers an anxiety response. In this way post-traumatic stress is created.

5. Internal conflict resolution.

Human beings are made up of many different drives, needs and wishes. Some of these are stored in sub-personalities – for example – the lover, the writer, the careerist, etc. If we have developed a clear sense of self through Awareness then we are able to choose between different desires, allocating time and energy to them as they loom in importance. Without this executive function we swing from one state to another (as teenagers do) and fail to see things through.

6. Decision-making

The brain makes decisions through a link between the frontal cortex and the limbic system (the seat of emotions). Good decisions are used when the left brain collects the relevant facts, the right brain checks for the likely consequences, and the limbic system delivers a powerful ‘yes’ or ‘no’ through our gut reactions. Bad decisions are based on poor information-gathering, ignoring how others are going to react, and without reference to how we feel about things.

7. Empathy

The brain enables us to read other people, communicate effectively, and offer compassion. One key way that it achieves this is through mirror neurons – cells that tell us about other peoples’ intentions as we observe them. Empathy is a skill that can be developed through awareness, observation and an emotional connection to feelings linked to compassion.

People who cannot or will not develop this skill are, as a rule, anti-social loners or psychopaths.

8. Communication

The language centres in the brain are on the right-hand side. When the right brain is working effectively we use words clearly and with attention to their true meaning. Without this skill we become confused and are confusing to others.

Keys to resilience:

  • Mindfulness
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Clear, focused, thinking
  • ‘Big picture’ thinking
  • Staying grounded in the present
  • Problem-solving and decision-making
  • Staying connected to other people


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