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Why Understanding Neuroscience Matters

Anyone who has spent any appreciable time around me understands that I  maintain a passion for  neuroscience. I am not sure how or why that passion arose, but I have been a serious student of the mind and brain for over a decade.

A couple of years ago, Daniel J Siegel, M.D., a clinical professor of psychiatry at UCLA School of Medicine and a codirector of the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center finally gave me the language and the rationale that supported that passion. In his book, Mindsight – The New Science of Personal Transformation, Siegel explains, “One of the key practical lessons of modern neuroscience is that the power to direct our attention has within it the power to shape our brain’s firing patterns, as well as the power to shape the architecture of the brain itself.” In other words, you can use acquired knowledge of how the brain works to better shape how you interact with the world and, by that process, change the brain to make such interactions easier.

Siegel’s book is straightforward, accessible, yet profound. I have read it cover to cover on at least three occasions since his publication in 2010. I’ve reviewed my highlighting and margin notes on many subsequent occasions and have viewed Siegel’s recorded talks. I even have attempted to see him when he is spoken in the Bay Area, but to date have had no luck.

I provide links TEDX Blue 10/09 and TEDX Studio City 05/12 to two of his TED talks for three reasons. First, I want you to see what an extraordinarily affable human being Siegel is. For all his notoriety and popularity, he remains humble, open and extraordinarily empathetic. Second, while his writing in Mindsight is directed toward an adult audience, Siegel clearly intends that the benefits of his insights be made available to children. He seeks to relieve human suffering at its earliest stages and to enable the young to understand their minds, to develop their passions and compassion, and to expand their capabilities and capacities to contribute to their own well-being as well as to the well-being of their communities. Third, his science is both engaging and accessible. Likewise, while Siegel’s book is science, its teachings are delivered through personal anecdotes and case studies, which firmly ground the science but allow for a highly readable narrative flow.

According to Siegel, mindsight offers the following extraordinary benefits :

1. “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… enables  us to get ourselves off the autopilot of ingrained behaviors… and moves us beyond the reactive emotional loops we all have a tendency to get trapped in.”

2.”Mindsight… 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.”

3. “Mindsight, our ability to look within and perceive the mind,… is every bit essential to our well-being [as our other senses].”

4. “Mindsight offers the opportunity to explore the subjective essence of who we are, to create a life of deeper meaning, with a richer and more understandable internal world.”

5. “Through our ability to focus attention, mindsight also helps the body and brain achieve homeostasis -  the internal balance, coordination, and adaptiveness that forms the core of health.”

6. “Finally, mindsight can improve our relationships with our friends, colleagues, spouses and children and even the relationship we have with our own selves.”

Seigel assures us that mindsight  is a learnable skill; that as the skill is developed, it actually changes the physical structure of the brain; and that well-being emerges, as an outcome of the mindsight process. Mindsight is a process of neural integration in which disparate elements of the brain are linked together as a working whole.

Needless to say, there is so much information in this 300 page volume that I can do little justice to it in a single post. We will return to select topics in future posts.



Tim Tosta
Life Coach


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