Teaching individuals to observe their own minds and stay attuned to their inner workings is one of the most important skills I teach as a mental health therapist. Our lives often slip into autopilot, as highlighted in a 2010 Harvard study suggesting the average person spends nearly half their day on autopilot, their thoughts adrift. Curiously, the more we operate on autopilot without attention or awareness, the less content we tend to feel.

It makes sense that we go about our days on autopilot as our brains prefer automating routines to conserve energy. It’s a gift in many ways, enabling us to function effortlessly in familiar settings. Yet, if we move about our lives entirely in this automatic mode, we lose touch with the present and it becomes challenging to cultivate awareness. Without this awareness, connecting with ourselves or nurturing healthy relationships becomes difficult, and our pursuit of happiness is hindered.

Mindfulness, the practice of purposeful presence, offers us more than just happiness; it aids us in moments of struggle. Consider a scenario where a morning meltdown unfolds—my child in distress, and my own frustrations bubbling up. Amidst this chaos, awareness granted me a crucial pause—a moment to observe the situation and my emotional response. This space allowed for a different, more thoughtful reaction, steering away from automatic, reactive behaviors.

Understanding the distinction between the mind and the brain is important. According to psychiatrist Dan Siegel, the mind is an embodied and relational process that regulates energy and information flow throughout our body. Remarkably, our minds can influence our brain’s structure through experiences. Positive experiences, like offering kindness instead of criticism (if taken in with awareness) can rewire our brains, fostering growth and self-regulation.

Siegel terms this ability to perceive the mind of the self and others “Mindsight.” It is powerful tool for understanding ourselves and our inner worlds with more clarity and it helps us to integrate our brain and enhances our ability to relate to others.

Developing mindsight isn’t an instant transformation but a gradual process. Starting with mindful exercises and exploring our emotional landscape, we can chart a path toward deeper self-awareness. It’s a journey where curiosity, openness, and acceptance pave the way for personal growth and more harmonious relationships.

Practical strategies, like the Wheel of Awareness or BASIC (Behavior, Affect, Sensation, Images, Cognitions), offer structured approaches to cultivate mindfulness and awareness. However, the initial stages might feel overwhelming or disconcerting, a common response when diving into one’s inner world. Grounding techniques and seeking support through therapy or community can ease this transition. The STOP method—Stop, Take a breath, Observe, Proceed mindfully—serves as a powerful tool in moments of stress or overwhelm. It allows us to pause, observe our thoughts and emotions, and proceed with intentionality. You can learn more about these in the podcast linked to this blog entry.

Exploring awareness and mindsight isn’t just a personal endeavor but an opportunity to foster these skills in our children. Reflecting their inner worlds back to them, helping them navigate emotions and thoughts, contributes to their mindsight development.

Remember, this journey toward greater awareness isn’t about achieving perfection but about embracing the process of self-discovery and growth. It’s about carving out moments to observe, to reflect, and to respond consciously in order to know ourselves better, to improve our self and emotional regulation, to improve our mental health, and to improve our relationships.


Guided Meditation (Dan Sigel)- Wheel of Awareness

Dan Sigel Books – I especially recommend The Whole Brained Child, No Drama Discipline, and Parenting From the Inside Out for parenting books

Brené Brown’s list of feeling words

NVC List of Feelings/Needs

Mindfulness Meditations