It’s not what happens to you, it’s what you do with what happens to you. Chris Waddell, Nametags Resilience Program

Every day, we face challenges in our lives--some big, some small, some good, and some bad. Our resilience is how we respond to those challenges, and that response is determined by the way we think about it--the mindset that we bring. Just like Carol Dweck has outlined the importance of building a growth mindset when thinking about our personal characteristics, we have the opportunity to build a resilient mindset when responding to challenge.

In this blog, I outline The Resilient Mindset Model, which is designed to help people to understand their brains in order to help them to make more mindfully resilient choices. There are 3 parts to the model: The Four Ss of resilience, the four characters of the brain, and REACTS.

Brain Development and the Four Ss of Resilience

When babies are born, their brains are somewhat like a jungle of neurons. Each experience that they have begins to form pathways through that jungle. The more those experiences are repeated, the clearer those pathways become. By choosing our experiences, we can literally choose the thought pathways that we create in the brain.

When we respond to any challenge, we are drawing on the pathways in the brain that have to do with four Ss: self, situation, supports, and strategies. Our past experiences shape our thoughts about those four Ss and determine how we will interpret and respond to that challenge. The good news is that by actively choosing how we think about those Four Ss, we can help shape pathways of how we will respond.

The Four Characters of the Brain

The Four Ss give a good start to understanding our response to challenge; however, we are emotional creatures, so to understand resilience, we also need to understand a little bit about how the brain works. For that, I will introduce you to four characters: the Ant, the Grasshopper, the Glowworm, and the Dragonfly, each of whom represents a different part of the brain.The-Resilient-Mindset-Model updated 2

The Ant lives in the cortex, the part of the brain that is in charge of making decisions that benefit us in the long run. When we go to the dentist, study for a test, or order a healthy salad, we are putting the Ant to work. In the model, the Ant carries the tools for optimum brain performance. When those are in place, we make better long-term decisions.

The Grasshopper lives in the limbic system, which is the center of our emotions and is in charge of our short-term goals and survival. When we are out having a good time or jumping out of the way of the oncoming car, we are putting our Grasshopper to work.

The Glowworm lives in the amygdala, a special part of the limbic system that is designed to look out for threats. When we see a car coming towards us, the Glowworm is in charge of recognizing that threat and switching control of the brain from the Ant to the Grasshopper so that we can get out of the way.

The Dragonfly lives in the prefrontal cortex and is in charge of mindfulness, which includes self-awareness and situational awareness. By being aware of the present moment and what is happening in our brain, we are able to make more informed choices.


REACTS is an acronym that stands for the social threats and rewards of the brain: respect, equity, alliances, control, territory and similarity. The brain responds in much the same way to social threat as it does to physical threat. When we feel social threat, our Glowworm may go to red-alert and call out the Grasshopper to protect us. Understanding those social threats and rewards helps us understand why we are responding the way that we do.

Mindful Practice/ Mindful Choices

The Resilient Mindset model helps us to understand the control that we have over the choices that we make. We can choose when to feed the Ant and when to feed the Grasshopper. We can choose to strengthen the Dragonfly with mindful practices. We can choose to build more resilient thought pathways by using the Four Ss as a framework for preparing for, handling, and reflecting upon challenge. This model can be applied to all aspects of life, from navigating the playground to navigating the boardroom.So the next time your are facing a challenge, think about who you want to call out--your Ant of your Grasshopper.


About the Author

DonnaVolpitta.pngDonna Volpitta, Ed.D., teaches people about the brain in order to help them make more mindfully resilient choices. Her Resilient Mindset Model has been applied to areas of leadership from parenting to corporate management. Dr. Volpitta is co-author of the book The Resilience Formula: A Guide to proactive--Not Reactive-Parenting and co-creator of the Nametags Education Program. Dr. Volpitta holds Board positions for One Revolution Foundation ( and Kids Helping Kids (, both of which develop resilience in youth. She is an expert contributor for, is a Global Presence Ambassador for Parenting 2.0, and presents at workshops throughout the country.