How Practicing Meditation Enhances Resilience

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You made a pitch that was turned down, or lost a close tennis match, or lost your temper in an emotionally charged discussion with your co-founder.

Whatever the scenario, you failed to achieve your objective. That night, instead of falling asleep, you tossed and turned as you replayed the event in your mind. Your internal dialogue included phrases such as, “If only I had,” “If only I hadn’t,” and “Why did I do that again,” and on and on until the early hours of the morning. The next day you were irritable, unable to focus at work, and emotionally exhausted.

Probably everyone has had at least one such experience, ruminating over a loss or failure. Reflecting upon and learning from a mistake is necessary for our personal and professional growth, but the endless negative looping of the mind is not productive. It drains our energy and actually impedes our ability to move forward, to be resilient.

The word resilience comes from the Latin resili, meaning “to spring back” or “to rebound.” We all make mistakes, but some of us are more resilient than others. In fact, many of the most successful entrepreneurs are the most resilient. Thomas Edison tried more than 10,000 times before he invented the light bulb; Walt Disney, Oprah Winfrey, and Steve Jobs were all fired at one point in their careers but achieved great professional success.

Meditation is a practice that can help you develop resilience.

The practice of focusing on your breath calms your mind and helps you create distance from the thoughts and emotions that you may be experiencing. Practicing meditation helps you recognize that your thoughts and emotions are transient, that they arise and fall away, and, even more important, that they may not even be true! When Steve Jobs was fired from Apple Computers, he was quoted as saying, “I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.”

Because of MRI studies by neuroscientists such as Richard Davidson, we now know that practicing meditation actually changes how the brain responds to negative experiences. In situations where we experience negative emotions and anxiety (such as the sleepless night), a part of the brain called the amygdala is active. In comparing the brain activity of meditators with non-meditators, Davidson found that the amygdala in meditators had a faster recovery time after being activated by exposure to a negative emotional event. Their brains are literally more resilient.

How much meditation do you need to develop more resilience? As of now, there is no exact formula. What is clear, though, is that any amount of consistent daily practice (even ten minutes a day) will be beneficial. You have the power to choose how you respond to, rather than react to, life’s challenges. Start meditating today.


Cindy Conlon is an adjunct professor if the School of Education and Social Policy at Northwestern. She teaches mediation classes at the Wellness Center. Learn more at www.nurecreation.com.