Mindsight: Part 1—Understanding Our Own Minds

By Rachel Pallesen Nov 23, 2017

One of the greatest gifts we can give our children is the ability to understand their own minds, as well as the minds of others. This ability is referred to as “mindsight,” a term coined by Dan Siegel, author of The Whole-Brain Child. Mindsight is about seeing and understanding ourselves, as well as seeing and understanding the people in our lives. This month we will focus on the first half of that equation, understanding our own minds.

Mindsight is a learnable skill. In fact, it is the basic skill that underlies what we mean when we speak of having emotional and social intelligence. As parents, we spend a lot of time managing our children’s schedules and behaviors, but if we do not take the time (possibly because no one did this with us when we were children) to help our children pay attention to what is going on in their minds, we miss a huge opportunity to influence the way their brains develop.

Here are two strategies from The Whole Brain Child that promote mindsight.

“Let the Clouds of Emotion Roll By: Teaching that Feelings Come and Go”

Mindsight is the difference between saying “I am sad” and “I feel sad.” As similar as those two statements may seem, they are profoundly different. “I am sad” is a kind of limited self-definition. “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.

I get to practice this at times with my students, especially when I see them after a test that was difficult on which they think they did poorly. When they say things like, “I’m a failure,” or “I’m dumb,” I remind them that this is a feeling, and it is only temporary. It is not who they are. Students who are developing mindsight might say something like, “I’m not dumb; I just feel dumb right now.”

“SIFT: Paying Attention to What’s Going On Inside”

In order for kids to develop mindsight and then influence the different thoughts, desires, and emotions whirling around within them, they first need to become aware of what it is they are experiencing. Helping them SIFT through all their Sensations, Images, Feelings, and Thoughts is a good way to give children practice at paying attention to their inner landscape.

To practice this concept, I had the following conversation with a student. (For student confidentiality, I will only give my side of the conversation.)

Me: We are going to play the SIFTing game for a couple of minutes. I’ll start. I’ll tell you about a sensation my body is telling me. I’m hungry. How about you? What is your body saying?
Student: I”m …
Me: Now let’s think of an image. What picture is in your mind? I got an email this morning from a student who moved last year, so I am picturing her. What about you? What pictures are going through your head?
Student: I am seeing ….
Me: What about feelings? I feel excited about my haircut after school because I love getting my hair cut. What are you feeling right now?”
Student: I am feeling ….
Me: OK, S-I-F-…Now T for thoughts. I am thinking about what I need to do to get ready for the next group of students who are coming in. What are you thinking?”
Student: I am thinking…

Not only did my student help me realize how easy this was to do, with this quick probe I was able to understand what my student was experiencing inside his head at the moment. Then I was able to help him problem solve something that was bothering him and help him become more productive the rest of class.

When we develop the skill of mindsight, we change the physical structure of the brain. This revelation is based on one of the most exciting scientific discoveries of the last twenty years: how we focus our attention shapes the structure of the brain. Neuroscience has also definitively shown that we can grow these new connections throughout our lives, not just in childhood.

To learn more about mindsight and other ways to foster healthy brain development in your children, RSVP for Rachel Pallesen’s presentation on Friday, December 1 from 9:30-11:00 a.m. at http://yis.to/brain-Dec1.

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