Mindsight and Mindfulness: How to integrate these two practices into your life

I first learned the concept of “Effort and Surrender” in yoga teacher training at the start of this year. I was immediately drawn in and intrigued by this c​omplimentary contradiction a​nd have been reflecting and integrating this into my life ever since. I found truth in this for my breath; inhale is the effort, exhale is the surrender. I have also found this supportive in how I pursue the things I want in life; action and experience is the effort, while letting-go, accepting the present moment for what it is, and embracing and loving who I am, is the surrender. Two seemingly unrelated concepts (effort versus surrender), yet when brought together create a beautiful, balanced, and unique way to approach living, striving, and thriving.

What has become clear to me is the equal importance and power of these two concepts working in harmony. In regards to gaining clarity and direction in oneself, I perceive e​ffort​ as mindsight, and surrender​as mindfulness. Let me explain.

In the book ‘Mindsight’ by Daniel J. Siegal, he describes Mindsight as,

“...a kind of focused attention that allows us to see the internal workings of our own minds. It helps us to be aware of our mental processes without being swept away by them, enables us to get ourselves off the autopilot of ingrained behaviours and habitual responses, and moves us beyond the reactive emotional loops we all have a tendency to get trapped in.”

So what does this mean?

Mindsight is the act of taking a step back to observe and notice what you are feeling, what your reactions and impulses are directing you towards, and what meaning you are projecting into this reality. It is you standing on the balcony, observing without judgment and sticking to the “brass tacks” of what the moment presents. It is you saying... “wait a second, what am I noticing here? and, what do I really want?”

Our brains are fascinating, vast and intricate. So much so that they are almost incomprehensible; logical yet mystical, straight forward but oh-so complicated. One of my favourite sayings is “where your mind goes, energy flows,” and as I learn and experience more I see why this speaks volumes when striving to live with intention. Siegal refers to this in a different way; “[h]ow we focus our attention shapes the structure of the brain.”

Everything you do in life can be broken down into habits. Habits of thought, habits of actions, habits of speech, and the ultimate - habitual (emotional) reactions. We are constantly forming new habits, whether we realize it or not. The key to mindsight is to utilize conscious effort, repetition, novelty, and/or emotional arousal, to form new neural pathways that will take over the old pathways and become the new path of least resistance. We can be in the driver-seat of our own life and literally re-shape our brains to react and create habits that serve who we truly want to be.
Traumatic experiences (extreme emotional arousal) or limiting beliefs (based on experience in the past or taking the word of a “wise elder” without feeling and experiencing for ourselves) can create an overly sensitized reactivity loop in the limbic area (aka “fight or flight”). We know that higher levels (or a constant flow) of cortisol is toxic for the body and brain. Mindsight allows us to step away from this reactive loop and recruit the higher functioning areas of our cortex to “override” this limbic system. How? In comes Mindfulness.

So what is Mindfulness? Siegal says,

“Mindfulness is a way of intentionally paying attention to the present moment without being swept up by judgments or thoughts.”

So, basically, Mindfulness creates a sense of receptivity and openness to the current moment without attachment. It allows us to be open to whatever the moment presents, with an open heart and an open mind. Siegal says:

“Openness implies that we are receptive to whatever comes to our awareness and don’t cling to preconceived ideas about how things “should” be. We let go of expectations and receive things as they are, rather than trying to make them be what we want them to be. Openness enables us to sense things clearly. It gives is the power to recognize restrictive judgments and release our minds from their grip.”

There it is: mindsight and mindfulness. Two wings of the same bird. Effort (mindsight) to create direction, to bring presence and clarity into each moment, to understand your brain and who you truly are, and surrender (mindfulness), that reminder to exhale, to embrace and love who you are, where you are, and trust that you can handle whatever the next moment brings into your awareness.

Now that you have an idea of what these two concepts are and why they are pivotal in taking charge of your own life, what’s next? How do we actually integrate these and put them into practice?

In order to retrain your brain into adopting a new vocabulary, a new perspective on life, or new habits of thought and action, you must repeat it, play with it, talk about it, reflect on it, write about it, and surround yourself with other people who strive to live in this mindful and intentional way.

This is only scratching the surface of what it means to live an intentional and purposeful life. Take some time to reflect on how these concepts are landing in your body. What do you notice? What are you curious about? What do you need to let go of to make space for mindsight and mindfulness? What do you need to embrace to remind you of the energy you want to bring into your life today? Write it down. Set reminders in your phone to take 5 deep mindful breaths throughout your day. Notice when you are feeling anxious and allow yourself a few minutes to talk yourself through it; what  am I feeling? what am I making it mean? what am I becoming more aware of? what am I learning? what do I really want?

Mindsight is the effort; that view from the balcony, detached from the ‘waves’, yet observing, noticing, and feeling with curiosity (and not judgement). Mindfulness is the surrender, the exhale, the moments of peace and contentment despite the storm or distractions of daily life.

This all takes conscious and mindful energy at first, but after a week it will bring insights and awareness into your reality that will surprise, entertain, and comfort you. After a few weeks it won’t take energy, it becomes your new normal, your new reaction, your new way of living, your new perspective on how to show up as your best self.

So do yourself a favour and commit to setting up reminders around your home, in your phone, or in your most-looked-at-notebooks.


If you are curious to hear more, feel free to reach out to me at marinmccue@gmail.com or follow me on Instagram for daily motivation @ malymc13