Top Brain Expert Shares Three Trainable Skills for a Healthy, Happy Brain

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This week I had the pleasure of interview the world-renowned psychiatrist and brain expert, Dr. Dan Siegel.

Three Mind States

He shared the three elements to a healthy brain: Focused Attention, Open Awareness and Kind intention. Part of a new book he has coming out, called Aware.

Here’s my interpretation of these three mind states.

Focused Attention

Focus! I think you know what it means. If you’re reading this, and your attention is able to stay here, you’re focused. You’re in the moment and you’re able to direct your attention to where you wish it to be.

You also have the ability to move the focus of your attention. Want to try an experiment? Move your attention away from this screen to the wall or window. Notice the different colours. How does that feel? What do you notice?

You’ve used the skill of moving your focused attention. As Dan would say: "Where attention goes, neural firing flows, and neural connection grows."

So as you practice directing and moving your attention conscious again and again, the better your brain gets at moving your attention from one place to another.

Open Awareness

This is a beautiful state of mind. In this state, you’re open to whatever comes into your awareness. So while you’re reading this, you’d also be able to notice your bodily posture, the other sounds in the room, your breathing, a fleeting thought. You can’t focus your attention on one thing in this state - it’s more of an open, receptive way of being.

Again, there are specific areas of your brain responsible for this kind of awareness. In this state of mind, you’re open to all sorts of different possibilities rather than being caught up in one state of mind. Open awareness gives you flexibility and choice. You notice other people rather than being caught up in one focus.

Kind Intention

I’m glad Dan included this, as this is why I use the term Kindfulness so often.

Intention is everything. What’s your intention in reading this blog?

Your intention could be to learn skills to develop yourself to help others, or your intention can be to find ways to criticise my work. The same action of reading, but the intention behind it is so different.

Reflect more deeply on your intention in reading this. Do you want to learn ways to be more kinder and caring towards yourself, so you can better serve others? Or do you feel inferior and are looking for ways to improve and fix yourself perhaps? Or if you’re honest, maybe you don’t even know why you’re reading this - you just find yourself here. Or maybe it’s just for fun!

Kindfulness Develops a Healthy Way of Being

For me, being kindful (aware and kind) is my deepest intention. Of course I’m not perfect at being kindful, but that’s what’s most important. Kindful to myself and others. Why? Three reasons:

  1. Being kindful to myself and others connects me with myself and others. I become part of a bigger whole. I go from me to we. Caring feels so good to both the giver and the receiver. And has scientifically-proven benefits too.

  2. Being kindful - kind and mindful - is a very healthy body and mind state to be in. Perhaps the most resilient of them all. I can thereby better serve others.

  3. Being kindful gives my life clarity and meaning. Many researchers say how a meaningful life is a happy life.

Perhaps this resonates with you. If so, you too can make being kindful your deepest intention and a way of life!

Here’s a talk I gave on Kindfulness in Berlin a while back, for you to enjoy to finish:

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