Better Parents, Better Spouses, Better People

Welcome to the more than sound podcast. Daniel Goleman’s audio series, Wired To Connect, features is a collection of in depth conversations with some of the worlds leading thinkers. This episode of the podcast features an excerpt from Better Parents, Better Spouses, Better People, an insightful exploration in which Goleman and Dr. Daniel Siegel explain how our relationships shape our emotional habits- and the brain itself.


Daniel Goleman: Mindsight means what?

Daniel Siegel: Mindsight is a term I had to invent because in English we didn’t seem to have a word that embraced the idea of insight into your own mind and empathy for understanding another person’s mind. We just didn’t have one word so when I was writing a book called The Developing Mind I invented this word mindsight, meaning you see the mind.

DG: You know in my model of emotional intelligence there are four domains. The first and the fundamental is self-awareness, which is mindsight into your own mind. The second is using that to manage your emotional world or inner world well. The third is empathy or in your terms ­– mindsight for someone else. Then the fourth is putting that all together in effective relationships. So it’s interesting to me to see that we’re talking about the same territory here from slightly different angles.

DS: Absolutely, yeah. And I think the words we can find like the ones you’re talking about those four points or mindsight would embrace this incredibly important process that some families are’nt aware that is important for them to develop and the really exciting thing is that its never too late to develop mindsight. I work with people as old as in their nineties and they can learn this skill of mindsight.

DG: Well, what does it look like? Can you give an example of someone learning it?

DS: Sure. Well, this one particular person is a woman in her nineties who grew up in a home where no one really recognized her emotions they never addressed them. They didn’t have what’s called mental language or language that talked about the mind.

DG: When you say mental language, what kind of words are those?

DS: Well, for example: thoughts, feelings, attitudes, intentions. What are you believing? What are your hopes? What are your dreams? Those are all words, language that reflect the mind. So mental language means, does a family actually talk about the mind. A term I use is reflective dialogs. Do they get into a dialog with their children that reflects on the internal nature of our lives?

DG: Dan, what would such a dialog sound like?

DS: Well, it would be something like this, this ninety-year-old woman, let’s talk about her. If she had had this as a child, this is what it would have been like and this is actually what I said to her in our sessions. It would have been something like: You’re really hoping to be in the school play and I hope that your audition works out. She comes home, she’s very sad because she didn’t make it in the audition.

DG: This is something that happened to her?

DS: This is actually something that happened to her and a family with mindsight would say, “You’re really sad. How did the audition go?” And she would say, “Oh, I didn’t get it.” And they could say, “That’s really disappointing because you were really hoping to get the part and you didn’t get it and let’s talk about what you can do next time or let’s do something with your sadness.” Instead in her family, she would come home sad and she would be punished for not being more upbeat. She would be given chores to do because she was crying and they would say, “Stop crying.” So, everything was focused on behavior.

Now what’s interesting is that what we do as parents to focus the mind of our child on certain things like behavior verses mind plus behavior can determine the kind of perception that a child develops. So in her case, when I saw her for the first time in therapy as a ninety-one-year-old, She really didn’t have much vocabulary of the mind. She was a really good person focused on behaviors, had accomplished certain behavioral things had raised her children and interacts with her grandchildren about their behaviors so its not like she’s just not social but she’s only focused on the behavioral side of reality, the physical side of reality not the mental side of reality. So that’s what teaching her required was that in our sessions together I needed to talk to her about her mind and what’s interesting is we’re then entering the whole world of subjective experience, which raises lots of fascinating points of view about what’s the relationship between one’s inner world and what’s going on in the outer world. How’s the mind related to the brain? All these things, which actually came up in our sessions, and I can tell you by the end of the year of therapy, she had developed an awareness of her body that she didn’t have before. That is the subjective sensations inside. She developed a vocabulary of mental language to actually put words to her inner world which is actually a fundamental part of something called mindfulness. This ability to label and describe in words the inner life of your own mind. She really developed this at ninety-one-years of age.

DG: That’s astounding at ninety-one.