Watch Dr. Dan Siegel explain how you can change your own brain.
Contrary to what we used to believe we now know that the brain is open to change throughout the lifespan. And what some people don’t realize is that not only can the brain change, but we can learn to use the focus of the mind to actually change the connections in the brain itself. You might ask, “How in the world could attention change something like the physical structure of the brain?” And answering this question is exactly the way we illuminate a path toward wellbeing. Because the brain gets set up by our genes, from something we call “temperament”, and also by just chance. But then our experiences actually sculpt synaptic connections in the brain itself. But here’s the key: that when neurons fire you can get them to rewire. And experience stimulates neurons, the basic cells of the brain, to fire in particular patterns.
One form of experience that we now know shapes neuronal firing, and also synaptic growth – changes in the growth of the connections among the neurons – is how we focus attention. And amazingly when you learn to focus your attention on the nature of the mind itself, you actually can rewire important parts of the brain that help regulate how your entire nervous system functions – so, for example, how your body regulates itself, how you balance your emotions – and also how you engage in relationships with other people. It also changes the way you relate to someone very close to you, how you relate to yourself.
This reflective ability I call ‘Mindsight’, and it’s how you can learn to use the focus of your attention on the mind itself to actually transform the connections in the brain, to move the brain to a more integrated, harmonious way of functioning. That’s the promise of Mindsight. And in the Mindsight approach we see the brain as not just limited to what’s in the skull but actually an extended nervous system that is the mechanism by which energy and information flows. So when we look at this connection among mind, brain and relationships, we become empowered actually to move our lives from unhealth to health.
And this can be called the triangle of wellbeing. We can learn to promote relationships that enhance our lives. We can help the brain move from states of dysfunction, where it’s rigid or chaotic, to states of harmony that emerge from something we call neural integration. And integration is where we take different parts and link them together.
And then the mind itself, how we regulate energy and information flow, can be something that we learn to master and become in many ways, the captain of our own ship, where we actually instead of just riding things and being passive as a participant to just see where the mind takes us, we actually can become empowered to move our minds in a way that is healthy, enriching, and creates a much more flexible way of living.