Professor of clinical psychiatry Daniel Siegel presents Mindfulness and Neural Integration at TEDxStudioCityED Conference (Transcript)
Listen to the MP3 Audio here: Mindfulness and Neural Integration by Daniel Siegel, MD at TEDxStudioCityED
Thank you. Good morning, that was beautiful.
You know, right before Fred Rogers died, his team had actually contacted me to try to present the case for why television should keep at the pace of Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood. And so we were about to plan that whole thing and then he passed away. But it was an amazing thing to think about the generations of people that have learned to understand their feelings, to make them mentionable and manageable.
What I’m going to talk to you today is about how schools can combine with technology in the way of promoting self-regulation. So I’m going to do this with no slides, but with one model of the brain. So if you reach under your chairs, glued underneath there you’ll find, if you reach in there, pull out your hand and take your hand model there, and put your thumb in the middle, and put your fingers over the top. And this is a very — my daughter never wants me to say this but — a handy model of the brain. And it’s oriented like this.
And we’re going to talk about the connection among three things. We’re going to talk about this brain that’s in your head, that has the face over here, and has a top of the brain, the lower parts of the brain. The part of the brain connected to the whole body comes through the spinal cord, in addition to some other ways.
And so this brain sits in your body — we’re going to talk about the brain and the body. We’re also going to talk about the mind, which is different from the brain. And we’re going to talk about the mind and its connection to the brain and the body.
Then we’re going to talk about the third thing, which is, we’re going to talk about relationships. So those three things we’re going to cover today: talking about relationships, the mind, and the brain.
When you really think about this for a while, you can come up with some fascinating ways where you can understand how, for example, Mr. Rogers’ television show experienced by a young child within a family setting could actually promote something called self-regulation. And so we’re going to have to talk about what is regulation, and we’re going to even have to address the question of what is the self.
So for me, whenever we use a word, we need to make sure we understand what we mean by it, so we have a shared understanding if we’re going to do something about it.
So, how did Mr. Rogers create the experience where kids can learn that feelings are mentionable and they’re manageable? How did he do that?
Well, when you think about how he did it, you come up with this really fundamental way that schools, in fact, can embrace the wisdom that Mr. Rogers had for all of us, and teach not only reading, writing, arithmetic — very important 3 Rs — but another 3 Rs I’m going to suggest to you, which are the core of my talk, which is reflection, first extra R, relationships, the next R, and the third one is resilience.
Because when you build a certain kind of approach to reflection, kids actually develop the capacity to mention their feelings and to then be able to manage them, exactly what Mr. Rogers said we ought to be able to do. And that’s the basis of emotional intelligence actually, and it’s the basis, as you’ll see in a moment, of social intelligence, because when you understand your own feelings and learn to manage them, you actually can understand other people. It’s actually incredible. So, this reflective ability is something schools can teach. That’s the next R.
What about relationships? Well, we’re going to see that this brain we’re going to get into in a moment has the capacity to make relationships work really well, and people actually thrive and feel good about themselves and good about others. So you develop kindness and compassion toward yourself — really an important place to start — and kindness and compassion toward others. So this R of relationships really looks at all the research on well-being and says, you know, “The number one factor whether you’re looking at mental health, physiologic health, medical health, longevity or happiness, the number one factor in all those studies is relationships.
How we have connections, positive connections with other people is the best predictor of all those things. In fact, if you study wisdom, you find that wisdom is based on having these positive relationships. And you probably have heard these amazing studies which show that when you are given, let’s say, 20 dollars, and you’re asked to either spend it on yourself or give it in the service of someone else, gift it to someone else, the circuits in your brain that show you did the right thing, these reward circuits driven by a transmitter called dopamine, they get active when you give to someone else, which goes along with the study that when you give in service of other people, you’re actually happier yourself.
So if you want to be happier, actually think about someone else. That’s the lesson from that. So relationships in schools can teach all of that. So that’s the relationship part.
And now the resilience we’re going to get into when we talk about the brain. But let’s take our hand model out and let’s look at it. Now I’m going to watch my watch because part of how I’m going to manage myself is time. So I think I’ve been going for, I would guess, 5 minutes, but I need my timer to tell me; there’s my timer right there. Beautiful. I guessed it right.
So we’re going to do this hand model of the brain, and I’m going to teach you all how to do this. And this is something that in schools that I work with, we teach kids, starting in kindergarten about this hand model of the brain. And you’re going to see that it can be very useful to do. And when kids get towards adolescence, their brain changes a lot, they really need to know about their brain.
So let’s take the hand model out. And put your thumb in the middle and curl your fingers over the top. So this is orientation of the brain. Let’s do the parts and let’s think about the question as we get into these brain parts. Why, if we’re talking about self-regulation, would we care about the parts of the brain? And what does a relationship have to do with the brain anyway? And if self-regulation is really a mental function, because the self is really a part of your mind, then is the mind just the brain, or is it something else?
So these are the kinds of things we need to really think deeply about. And in the world I work in, it’s called interpersonal neurobiology. We actually deeply dive into these scientific questions by combining all the fields of science that exist into one perspective. So it’s called interpersonal neurobiology. And the brain is a good place to start looking at this, because believe it or not, it’s actually the simplest of all that stuff. So let’s go through it.