How To Build Mental Resilience in 5 Minutes With a Brain Game

Creating a strong, resilient personality seems like something you might either be born with, or else you could take a lifetime trying to build it. But it’s not true:  the strategies you can use to increase your resilience don’t have to be tedious or difficult.


Want proof? Check out this article in the Harvard Business Review by Jane McGonigal, a game designer who used gaming theories to bounce back after her traumatic brain injury. McGonigal noticed that it didn’t take much time or effort at all to take baby steps toward recovering her resilience. In fact, some of the smallest things she did had the biggest impact, like little mental counting games and other things that would usually be considered “time wasters.” Her findings back up what I experienced when I was recovering from my brain surgery: when I was laid up in bed for several weeks, I didn’t have the stamina to read (my favorite restful activity!) and my eyes weren’t even up to watching television. But I played round after round of solitaire, even when my neurons seemed to take five times as long as usual to notice the next move.


Jane and her twin sister went on to create the gaming app SuperBetter, specifically designed to help you build up your resilience and notice your already-resilient responses in everyday life. The most important payoff of these gaming activities? The McGonigal sisters say it’s a 3-to-1 positive-to-negative emotion ratio. For every negative emotion you experience in your everyday life, having three positive emotions helps your brain stay capable and your spirit stay resilient.


So what can you do in your life to keep a healthy 3-to-1 ratio? Will it be checking out fluffy animals on YouTube like the McGonigals? (if so, my personal favorite is The Dodo. You MUST check out the rescued baby goat who is only happy when she’s wearing costumes). Will it be solitaire, like me? I’m also a huge proponent of volunteering as a way of keeping a positive perspective. Research for my first book, The Giving Prescription, showed that helping someone else pays you back 5 huge benefits:

  • An increased sense of purpose
  • Deeper personal connections
  • Greater sense of personal power or ability
  • A measurable increase in endorphins dubbed “The Helper’s High”
  • Tangible payoffs like networking


Playing games may be great for your health after all. If you find yourself struggling to stay afloat, set aside 5 minutes to do something enjoyable, whatever that means to you. Try to focus on keeping a 3-to-1 positive ratio, and insert a little play in your life, and you may just find yourself better able to bounce back from life’s challenges faster.


Now that’s better than just winning a game!