What Is Mindsight?

A few days ago a close friend emailed me, wanting to know how to translate mindsight into German. We exchanged several mails and came to the conclusion there was no comparable word in German. That’s not really surprising since mindsight is a relatively new word in English and not everyone here knows what it means.

To the best of my knowledge, the term was first used in 1999 by Daniel J. Siegel in his groundbreaking book, The Developing Mind—Toward a Neurobiology of Interpersonal Experience. Siegel then went on to deepen the concept in a later book called Mindsight—The New Science of Personal Transformation. After reading his books, I began using the term myself.

So what does mindsight mean to me? As we emailed back and forth, trying to find a good way to translate mindsight into German, one of the questions my friend asked me was how does mindsight differ from insight? If they were just synonyms, then it would be no problem to translate because the German word Einsicht and the English word insight are more or less equivalent. But mindsight is different.

We are all familiar with the experience of an insight popping into our minds as we try to understand something, for example, to understand how stars form or the way an internal combustion engine works. If we study an external object or process carefully and then take time to reflect upon the aspects that seem puzzling to us, we are often rewarded with one of those pleasurable little moments where a light bulb seems to go off. It’s that “aha” moment. We suddenly understand how something that seemed confusing or complex fits together. That’s an insight. But what then is mindsight?

I think of mindsight as the capacity to experience insights into the ways our minds function. It’s different from an insight into something external like a car engine, because I don’t have to empathize with the engine to understand it. But to understand the workings of a mind, I need to develop an attitude of acceptance and empathy. If that strikes you as odd, think of the way you react to someone who begins peppering you with questions about something you consider private. The more pressure the other exerts, the more obnoxious they seem and the more you close down to protect yourself. That’s the way minds work. To get past our ego defenses and to experience the deeper parts of ourselves we need an empathetic, accepting attitude.

This attitude helps us quiet and relax our minds. Agitated minds are opaque, like a muddy pool of water that has been stirred up. Only when we exercise patience and let the dirt settle does the water become clear enough for us to see the contours of the pool and the fish swimming about. Our minds are similar. When we develop an empathetic and relaxed attitude toward the contents of our minds, valuable insights appear. As we gain insight into how our minds work, we gain more ability to realize our potential and to transform our lives and our relationships for the better.  This is the power of mindsight.

Of course some people will disagree. They will argue that there is no need for empathy and acceptance to understand how minds work. For them, there is no real difference between understanding how a car engine works and how a person’s mind works. What’s your opinion?

© 2016 Greg Nees

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