What is Mindsight? by Daniel Siegel, M.D.
An Excerpt from Dr. Daniel Siegel’s New Book Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation.
Diving into the Sea Inside
Within each of us there is an internal mental world—what I have come to think of as the sea inside—that is a wonderfully rich place, filled with thoughts and feelings, memories and dreams, hopes and wishes. Of course it can also be a turbulent place, where we experience the dark side of all those wonderful feelings and thoughts— fears, sorrows, dreads, regrets, nightmares. When this inner sea seems to crash in on us, threatening to drag us down below to the dark depths, it can make us feel as if we are drowning. Who among us has not at one time or another felt overwhelmed by the sensations from within our own minds? Sometimes these feelings are just a passing thing—a bad day at work, a fight with someone we love, an attack of nerves about a test we have to take or a presentation we have to give, or just an inexplicable case of the blues for a day or two. But sometimes they seem to be something much more intractable, so much part of the very essence of who we are that it may not even occur to us that we can change them. This is where the skill that I have called “mindsight” comes in, for mindsight, once mastered, is a truly transformational tool. Mindsight has the potential to free us from patterns of mind that are getting in the way of living our lives to the fullest.
What is Mindsight?
Mindsight is a kind of focused attention that allows us to see the internal workings of our own minds. It helps us to be aware of our mental processes without being swept away by them, enables us to get ourselves off the autopilot of ingrained behaviors and habitual responses, and moves us beyond the reactive emotional loops we all have a tendency to get trapped in. It lets us “name and tame” the emotions we are experiencing, rather than being overwhelmed by them. Consider the difference between saying “I am sad” and “I feel sad.” Similar as those two statements may seem, there is actually a profound difference between them. “I am sad” is a kind of selfdefinition, and a very limiting one. “I feel sad” suggests the ability to recognize and acknowledge a feeling, without being consumed by it. The focusing skills that are part of mindsight make it possible to see what is inside, to accept it, and in the accepting to let it go, and, finally, to transform it.
You can also think of mindsight as a very special lens that gives us the capacity to perceive the mind with greater clarity than ever before. This lens is something that virtually everyone can develop, and once we have it we can dive deeply into the mental sea inside, exploring our own inner lives and those of others. A uniquely human ability, mindsight allows us to examine closely, in detail and in depth, the processes by which we think, feel, and behave. And it allows us to reshape and redirect our inner experiences so that we have more freedom of choice in our everyday actions, more power to create the future, to become the author of our own story. Another way to put it is that mindsight is the basic skill that underlies everything we mean when we speak of having social and emotional intelligence.
Interestingly enough, we now know from the findings of neuroscience that the mental and emotional changes we can create through cultivation of the skill of mindsight are transformational at the very physical level of the brain. By developing the ability to focus our attention on our internal world, we are picking up a “scalpel” we can use to resculpt our neural pathways, stimulating the growth of areas of the brain that are crucial to mental health. I will talk a lot about this in the chapters that follow because I believe that a basic understanding of how the brain works helps people see how much potential there is for change.
– Daniel J. Siegel, M.D. Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation 2010, New York, NY: Bantam Books
Watch an exclusive PsychAlive video featuring Dr. Daniel Siegel discussing mindsight:
Tags: mindfulness, mindsight, resource