Dan Siegel: Re-Wire Your Brain

91 Overpass-2 006Like I say, Dr. Dan Siegel introduced me to brain science, and I write about brain scientists like him ‘cos they saved my life.  It was all an accident… or a God-send.

In August 2010  I heard psychologist Dr. Henry Cloud on CD saying, “we can now do scans of the brain of older kids who were… not held, comforted or soothed, and there are parts of the brain which are dark. There’s nothing growing in there — because nothing was planted; neurologically there’s literally no brain activity.”

That was me, and it hit me in the gut: “Oh, s#$%!  Parts of my brain are dark!”  I thought it was fried for life.  I was commuting and almost drove off this I-91 overpass near Anaheim, CA at 70 mph (view from my car, above).  It was no trip to Disneyland.

Later I learned what I had was  “developmental trauma.”

But in March 2011, Dr. Dan Siegel taught me that we can re-wire our brains. It was literally an answer to prayer.  I clicked the wrong link in a friend’s email and ended up by mistake watching a webinar by some guy named Siegel titled  “How Mindfulness Can Change the Wiring of Our Brains.” [FN1]

He announces with characteristic excitement (I do love him) : “We’re in a moment now of making one of the most revolutionary findings from neuroscience: neuroplasticity.

“Neuroplasticity is the way we can study how the connections in the brain… continually change throughout the life span… we’re now learning  that the brain doesn’t stop growing after childhood or adolescence; it continues to grow throughout the entire life span.”

Re-Wiring with “Mindsight”

Dan Siegel Mindsight cover1 “Experience drives those changes by activating the firing of neurons, and then as neurons fire, they can rewire their connections to one another,” and make new synaptic connections, Siegel said. We can even grow more myelin coating on the neurons involved in the new thought patterns where we want to focus our attention.

That leaves the bad old brain patterns we don’t want to repeat, the ones which cause us emotional pain, not so myelinated.  And as our new brain patterns create more myelin on the cells we’re deliberately firing in new ways, our new neural patterns  become supercharged to fire faster and at way higher efficiencies, he continued.

We can use mindfulness meditation, therapy, and even brain exercises, he said, to “focus attention, which is basically harnessing the power of the mind to focus energy and information flow through the substance of the brain. As you do that, you can change synaptic connections, you can stimulate the growth of new neurons” and develop mental skills which grow myelin. “In all those ways, we can change the physical structure of the brain to the focus of the mind.”

Plus, Siegel said, we can specifically use a technique he invented called “Mindsight” to become mindful of all our mental activities, and reorganize them, to re-wire our brain even more efficiently.  We can recognize that whatever happens to be mechanically flowing through our brain is not really “us.”  It’s just the mechanical patterns of neurons which have been firing on autopilot (brainlessly!) without our wanting or needing them to fire, often since infancy, and most of them since adolescence.

“Mindsight is the capacity to sense that those mental activities are, in fact, not the totality of who you are, “ he said. “So in that sense, it overlaps with mindfulness… but it goes beyond mindfulness because once you have this ability to sense that these mental activities are just part of your identity, you then specifically can move the way your energy and information flow is happening in your mental life, in your relational life, or even in your neuronal life….”

For more, get Dr. Siegel’s book ”Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation,” (Bantam, 2010) (see http://www.drdansiegel.com/books/mindsight/ ).  Also check out his Mindsight Institute at http://www.drdansiegel.com/about/mindsight/.  [FN2]

What immediately blew me away was how Siegel used mindsight to work with a  ninety-two year old lawyer who came into Siegel’s office with half a brain (Lawyer? Was that a no-brainer?)  Siegel completely rewired the man.

Details in my next post — in two weeks, on Friday, July 25.  I’ve got to bear down on completing my book, so I’m moving to a new schedule to blog every other Friday.

Next Friday July 18,  I’ll send you current news from Dan Siegel.


Kathy’s news blogs expand on her book “DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME: The Silent Epidemic of Attachment Disorder—How I accidentally regressed myself back to infancy and healed it all.” Watch for the continuing series each Friday, as she explores her journey of recovery by learning the hard way about Attachment Disorder in adults, adult Attachment Theory, and the Adult Attachment Interview.


Daniel J. Siegel, MD, http://www.drdansiegel.com is clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine on the faculty of the Center for Culture, Brain, and Development and founding co-director of the Mindful Awareness Research Center.  He is a Distinguished Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association and Executive Director of the Mindsight Institute. He is also Founding Editor for the Norton Professional Series on Interpersonal Neurobiology which contains over three dozen textbooks.

FN1   Siegel, Daniel J., MD, “How Mindfulness Can Change the Wiring of Our Brains,” National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine (NICABM), www.nicabm.com; 2010 Webcast and my first NICABM webinar, downloaded March 31, 2011. Rebroadcast October 11, 2011.  http://www.nicabm.com/nicabmblog/meditation-medication/ and http://www.nicabm.com/mindfulness-2011-new/

FN2  Siegel, Daniel J., MD, “Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation,” Bantam Books, 2010

Must-read interview:
Siegel, Daniel J., MD, “Early childhood and the developing brain,” on “All in the Mind,” ABC Radio National, Radio Australia, June 24, 2006 at: www.abc.net.au/rn/allinthemind/stories/2006/1664985.htm

Books by Dan Siegel:
–”The Developing Mind: How Relationships and the Brain Interact to Shape Who We Are,” (Guilford, 1999). How attachment in infancy and childhood creates the brain and the mind.
–”Healing Trauma: Attachment, Mind, Body, and Brain,” Marion F Solomon, Daniel J Siegel, editors,  New York, NY:  W.W. Norton and Company;  2003.   357pg  Reviewed by Hilary Le Page, MBBS at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2553232/
–”The Mindful Brain: Reflection and Attunement in the Cultivation of Well-Being,” (Norton, 2007)
–”The Mindful Therapist: A Clinician’s Guide to Mindsight and Neural Integration,” (Norton, 2010)
–”Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation,” (Bantam, 2010)
–”Parenting from the Inside Out: How a Deeper Self-Understanding Can Help You Raise Children Who Thrive,” (Tarcher/Penguin, 2003) with Mary Hartzell
–”The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind,” (Random House, 2011) with Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D
–”Brainstorm: Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain,”  (Tarcher, 2013)

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