Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning
Neuroleadership Pioneer, Friederike Fabritius on “Achieving Peak Performance”

Neuroleadership Pioneer, Friederike Fabritius on “Achieving Peak Performance”

October 22, 2019

This is episode #27 with a Pioneer in the field of Neuroleadership and author of the book, The Leading Brain, Friederike Fabritius,[i] all the way from Dusseldorf, Germany. You can watch the interview on YouTube here.

Welcome to the “Neuroscience Meets SEL” podcast, my name is Andrea Samadi, a former educator who has been fascinated with understanding the science behind high performance strategies in schools, sports and the workplace for the past 20 years. Today we have an inspiring speaker who I’ve been following for the past 3 years.

FRIEDERIKE FABRITIUS, MS, is a neuroscientist and pioneer in the field of neuroleadership. She trained at the Max Planck Institute for Brain Research and is an alumna of McKinsey & Company (helping organizations to create change).  Friederike delivers brain-based leadership programs to Fortune 500 executives and organizations around the globe to transform how they think, innovate, and navigate change. Her book The Leading Brain: Neuroscience Hacks to Work Smarter, Better, Happier has been translated into several languages and has received numerous awards. Her most recent presentation this year was at Talks at Google[ii]  where she describes the recipe for achieving peak performance.

Welcome Friederike! I am beyond excited to be speaking with you today. A warm welcome today as you join us here in Arizona, USA all the way from Germany!

I wanted to let the listeners know that I recorded an episode yesterday[iii]  “Simple Strategies for Avoiding the Pitfalls of the 3 Parts of the Brain” so that today we could dive a bit deeper with our time together.  If you are listening now and have not heard that episode, be sure to go back and listen to episode #26 as an overview for today.

Q1: I first found you on YouTube when I was searching for a way to understand how our neurotransmitters work in peak performance. I found this video where you explained neuroleadership[iv]  just beautifully to top executives in Barcelona, Spain and how we can create peak performance[v] or that flow state we all seek for those high levels of achievement.  Can you explain what we need to do to get into peak performance/flow state whether we are an employee looking for improved results in the workplace, an athlete in the field, or a student in the classroom? 

Q2: What does flow look and feel like? What can we do to stay in this flow state longer to experience that increased productivity you mention in your book where productivity increases by fivefold?[vi] What is guaranteed to throw us out of flow—so that we don’t do that?

Q3: On our podcast here “The Neuroscience of SEL” we have spoken a lot about self-awareness and understanding our self so we can make the changes needed for improved results. Can you explain why some people need to be challenged in order to perform at their very best, while others need to have less challenge and less stress to do their best work, and what do these people look like in an organization so people listening can recognize what type of person they are on that performance/stress scale?

Q4: We know that the PFC is important for executive functions (like logical thinking, decision-making, or planning) and it’s the part of our brain that determines our level of success in life and with our careers. What strategies do you personally do to strengthen this part of your brain to operate at its best for these high levels of performance?

Q5: What do you think are the next most important parts of the brain for anyone to understand specifically for those who are looking to take new actions or create new habits to achieve higher levels of performance?

Q6: What about mindfulness and meditation? In your book, you mention that “mindfulness has been shown to physically change several regions of the brain in as little as 8 weeks.” Can you explain what parts of the brain mindfulness improves and how this could help people improve their results in life and at work

Q7: In your book, you mention 2 examples of people who didn’t rely on their conscious thinking brain, but they used their unconscious brain to increase the speed, efficiency and accuracy of their performance. The first example was with Sully Sullenberger’s quick thinking with his emergency landing of that plane in the Hudson River and the other was with Wayne Gretzky, who used his unique “hockey sense” to “skate where the puck will be, not where it is.” Can you explain the parts of the brain that are responsible for this gut-instinct or “expert intuition?” and maybe the difference between expert intuition vs just our wishful thinking? 

Q8: I could ask you so many more questions but will stick to just one more. It’s about inhibition or the strategy we often use to hide or hold back our real thoughts or feelings about someone or a situation instead of just dealing with them openly with transparency. Can you explain why inhibition is a bad idea, what happens to the brain when we are doing this, what happens to our productivity and a better strategy for people to embrace and acknowledge their thoughts and feelings rather than hide or ignore them?

Q9: Is there anything that you think is important that I might have missed to help listeners implement some hacks for peak performance that will help them to work smarter, better, and happier?

Dr. Freiderike Fabritius it’s been such a pleasure getting to know you. I seriously could have asked you another 10 questions as I found your book fascinating! I love how it offers practical tips and short cuts that anyone can understand and then apply for improved results.  The end of chapter summary section was also very helpful for a review of everything covered.  For those who would like to learn more about your work they can find your book “The Leading Brain” on Amazon, or Barnes and Noble.[vii]  What’s the best way for someone to reach you?

Learn more through your website at , or find you on Linkedin (with your name) and Twitter and Instagram @fabulous_brain



[ii] Friederike Fabritius: "Fun, Fear, and Focus: The Neurochemical Recipe for Achieving Peak Performance" | Talks at Google Published Jan.15, 2019

[iii]EPISODE 26 “Strategies for Overcoming the Pitfalls of the 3 Parts of Your Brain”

[iv] Freiderike Fabritius “Neuroleadership: A New Approach” YouTube Published Dec. 11th, 2016

[v]Friederike Fabritius –“The Leading Brain: Neuroscience hacks to work smarter, better, happier”  Published Sept. 29, 2019

[vi] Friedrike Fabritius “The Leading Brain: Neuroscience Hacks to Work Smarter, Better, Happier” (Feb.21, 2017) (page 108)

[vii]Friedrike Fabritius “The Leading Brain: Neuroscience Hacks to Work Smarter, Better, Happier” (Feb.21, 2017)

Simple Strategies for Overcoming the Pitfalls of the 3 Parts of Your Brain

Simple Strategies for Overcoming the Pitfalls of the 3 Parts of Your Brain

October 21, 2019

This episode focuses on understanding the three main parts of your brain and I had to write this lesson and record this prior to the next podcast tomorrow with Dr. Friederike Fabritius as many of my questions to her will rely on the understanding of these three parts of the brain so I thought it was important to record this first.  Let’s take a closer look at the human brain, so that the insights Dr. Fabritus will share tomorrow, will have more of an impact.

The human brain is the most complex organ in the body. Parts of the brain communicate with each other and enable us to enjoy food, communicate, and feel emotions; the brain shapes our entire world and all of our experiences. Understanding how to harness the power that exists within your own body is the key to unlocking the code that controls your results and future. What this future looks like is up to you. 

Once you have an understanding of how your brain works, and you have some strategies to overcome the pitfalls associated with the three main parts of your brain, you can set yourself up for a razor’s edge advantage over someone else who might not be paying attention to the largest and most complex organ in the human body.  To be honest, I was not paying attention to this part of the body until just a few years ago. No one had ever asked me what I was doing for my brain health—not until I started researching in the area of neuroscience did I know these strategies existed. So, don’t worry if this is new to you. We all start at this place.

There are three parts of the brain that I think everyone should understand, whether you are five years old, or 55 years old, we can all understand the basics of how our brain operates for improved results.

Understanding the Reptilian Brain: The Ancient Instinctual Brain also known as The Hindbrain 

The brain stem (imagine this part at the top of your spine on the back of your neck) is the oldest part of the brain and is often referred to as the reptilian brain.[i] This is where vital body functions such as heartbeat, respiration, body temperature, and digestion are all monitored and controlled. The brain stem also holds the reticular activating system (RAS), which is responsible for the brain’s alertness—regardless of whether we’re asleep or awake.

This part of the brain functions to keep us alive and safe and works closely with the entire body as well as the limbic system to create our emotional state of mind. The brain stem does not work alone. It is linked to the limbic system above it (in the middle of the brain) to assist, for example, in creating both our fighting states when we feel anger and our fleeing states when we feel fear.[ii] 

This Ancient Instinctual Brain Controls Our-

  • Sensory motor functions (how our body runs)


  • Survival instinct of fight, flight, freeze, faint[iii]

When we understand that we can't help the fact that when we feel fear with something, consciously or unconsciously, our Reptilian Brain reacts on its own with the urge to fight, flight, or freeze.

  • FIGHT- is when we react instead of responding to a situation (those times when we let our emotions take control)
  • FLIGHT- is when we run away
  • FREEZE- is when we stay frozen and don't even try

To overcome the pitfalls of the Reptilian Brain, we just need to learn strategies for overcoming our fears that are natural, and instinctual, coming from the part of our brain that was designed to keep us alive. Those who are longtime meditators speak of the ability to take the time to respond to a situation rather than reacting but if you are looking for a quick fix, try these simple strategies.[iv]

S-STOP whatever you are doing

T-TAKE deep belly breaths to bring more oxygen to your brain

O-OBSERVE and think “how am I feeling right now in the moment?” Can you name the emotion? When you can name the emotion, science has proven that soothing neurotransmitters are released to calm you down.[v]

P- PROCEED with whatever you are doing with a new awareness. 

Our next guest Dr. Friederike Fabritius,[vi] talks about this strategy in her book, The Leading Brain: Neuroscience Hacks to Work Smarter, Better, Happier.[vii]

She also dives into the importance of adding a sense of fun and fear to your work since fun will add the neurotransmitter dopamine that will help you to retain information better and boost your performance, while just the right amount of fear when you try new things, and push your boundaries will release noradrenaline, a positive hormone that’s released when you have a challenge. Adding fun and fear will prevent boredom and drive you towards focus where the brain will release acetyl choline during this time of focused attention to help us to achieve flow or these high levels of peak performance that we all seek.[viii]

Understanding the Second Part of the Brain: The Limbic System

Above the brain stem and below the cerebellum (in the midbrain imagine this part of the brain in the middle) is a collection of structures about the size of a lemon, referred to as the limbic system and sometimes called the mammalian brain or Midbrain. Most of the structures in the limbic system are duplicated in each hemisphere. This area is also responsible for “regulating internal chemical order .”[ix] 

The Limbic Brain or The Emotional Brain Controls Our-

  • Feelings/emotions


  • Motivations


  • The brain’s reward circuit


  • Memory, and our


  • Immune system

This part of the brain responds really well with motivation and rewards and since it’s the seat of our emotions, this part of the brain will take over ALL the other parts of the brain because our emotional Limbic Brain always wins.[x]

In this part of our brain we all have a REWARD and a THREAT system. Most of us work well when we can see the reward for what we are working on. Our brain will release dopamine as we check off our to-do list items and make progress towards our goals. When we are working in a reward state, we will be happy, in a good mood, high performing and achieving our goals. This state is where we should all aim to spend our time as we will be the most productive.

But when we are in a threat system, our brain will release cortisol and our prefrontal cortex will shut down, making us unable to work as we go into the fight, flight, freeze state.  Some people do work well with an element of threat to motivate them, (like when you have a deadline for something you are working on)  but too much threat can cause too much stress and lead to eventual burn-out.[xi]

To overcome the pitfalls of the Emotional Limbic System:

  1. Find ways to make the work you do fun so that dopamine (the neurotransmitter that helps us to feel pleasure and satisfaction) will be released and will help you to see rewards and will motivate you to move towards them.
  2. Laugh more because dopamine (this pleasure and satisfaction chemical) is released with laughter. Always keep that funny person on your team who makes everyone laugh. They will help boost the dopamine of your entire team, making everyone motivated towards their goals.
  3. Find ways to keep things new since the brain loves novelty. Remember—we don’t pay attention to boring things.[xii]
  4. Always push your boundaries and challenge yourself to prevent boredom. The brain will release the positive neurotransmitter noradrenaline that will increase alertness and energy.


OTHER IMPORTANT PARTS OF THE LIMBIC SYSTEM that I think are important to know about.

The thalamus is the first part of the brain to receive sensory information (except smell) coming from the outside world.

The hippocampus plays a crucial role in converting short-term memory to long-term memory. 

The amygdala plays an important role with emotions, especially fear.

The anterior cingulate connects attention, emotion, social function, and pain perception.[xiii]

The Basal Ganglia is an important part of the brain connected to the cortex, thalamus and brainstem and is connected to procedural learning, habit learning, cognition and emotion. Stay tuned for the next episode to understand the power associated with this part of your brain.

Finally, Understanding the Third Part of the Brain:

The Neocortex/The Decision-Making Brain also called our Forebrain where our Prefrontal Cortex Lives.

The neocortex is the “outer bark of the brain”[xiv]  that consists of folded gray matter and resembles a walnut. (Imagine this part of the brain as being folded over the midbrain and connecting all parts together). It is divided into areas that control specific functions that “ultimately are about making maps of various things—from perceptions of the outside world to ideas about the brain and well-being .”[xv]

The Genius, Decision-Making part of the brain is the newest part of the brain (think of it this way—the brain develops from back to front—the oldest part with our brain stem and the newest is the front of our brain) and it tells us to be LOGICAL and REASONABLE with everyone. This part of the brain controls our

  • Thinking and reflecting


  • Perceiving and remembering


  • Reasoning and planning


  • Language development


  • Multiple intelligences, and our


  • Awareness and self-awareness


This is the part of our brain that determines the level of success we will see in our careers. It’s also the part of our brain that reacts when we are tired, or when someone pushes our buttons, we can lose control of the Decision-Making Brain and do or say things are not in our normal character.

It is reassuring to know why we lose control, and how to repair our relationships with those around us when this occurs by addressing it, and stepping back, and then taking some time out before coming back to regain composure.

To overcome the pitfalls of the Decision-Making Brain we can:

  1. Get plenty of sleep and exercise so that we keep our prefrontal cortex operating at its best.
  2. Remember that when we drink alcohol, it will interfere with our decision-making brain and too much alcohol can lead to poor judgment, and even impair your memory.[xvi]
  3. You can take brain supplements to help you to achieve more focus and alertness.[xvii] I follow Dr. Daniel Amen’s[xviii] work and have learned what my brain type is so that I can be sure to be taking the right supplements for my brain type[xix] and follow the best nutritional plan for brain health.

When we can find strategies to keep our brain working at its best, we will perform at our best. I hope these strategies and an understanding of the 3 parts of your brain help you to achieve higher levels of achievement. I’m excited to speak with Dr. Friederike Fabritius tomorrow morning and will dive deeper into the neuroscience of leadership and high performance. See you next tomorrow.


Andrea Samadi Level Up: A Brain-Based Strategy to Skyrocket Student Success and Achievement (2015 Wheatmark, Tucson, AZ).

(Lesson 2: Use Your Brain Wisely)


[i] David D’Sousa, How the Brain Learns, 3rd Ed. Page 18 (Corwin Press, Thousand Oaks, CA, 2006).

[ii] Dr . Daniel J . Siegel, “Brain Insights and Well-Being,” Inspire to Rewire, Psychology Today,  January 7, 2015

[iii] ibid

[iv] Friederike Fabritius, “Take Charge of our Emotions” Published Dec. 10, 2016

[v] Dan Siegel “Name it to Tame it” YouTube Published Dec. 8th, 2014

[vi]Friederike Fabritius: "Fun, Fear, and Focus: The Neurochemical Recipe for Achieving Peak Performance" | Talks at Google Published Jan.15, 2019

[vii] The Leading Brain by Friederike Fabritius (TarcherPerigee; Reprint edition February 20, 2018).

[viii] Friederike Fabritius: Dopamine, Acetylcholine, and Focused Attention

[ix] Dr . Joe Dispenza, “TedTalks with Dr . Joe Dispenza,” TED video, 17:50 posted        February  8, 2013

[x] Friederike Fabritius “Why the Limbic System Always Wins” YouTube Published

[xi] Friederike Fabritius Prefrontal Cortex, Limbic System and Performance YouTube PublishedOct. 26, 2016

[xii] John Medina, Brain Rule #4

[xiii] Dr . Daniel J . Siegel, “Brain Insights and Well-Being,” Inspire to Rewire, Psychology Today,  January 7, 2015

[xiv] ibid

[xv] ibid

[xvi]Alcohol Memory Blackouts and the Brain

[xvii]12 Prescriptions for Creating a Healthy Brain and Life by Dr. Daniel Amen Jan. 15, 2018



Mindfulness and Meditation Expert, Mick Neustadt on “How Meditation and Mindfulness Changes Your Life.”

Mindfulness and Meditation Expert, Mick Neustadt on “How Meditation and Mindfulness Changes Your Life.”

October 17, 2019

Welcome back to the "Neuroscience Meets SEL" Podcast episode #25 this is Andrea Samadi. This interview will also be available on YouTube. Today we have Mick Neustadt, a retreat teacher at Inward Bound Mindfulness Education,[i] a company that holds in depth mindfulness programs for teens, young adults and parents. Their programs that teach the skills we have been talking about on this podcast like self-awareness, compassion, ethical decision-making, hold retreats across the US, Canada and United Kingdom.

Mick is a long-time mindfulness and meditation practitioner and clinical social worker. As a result of 20 years of personal practice Mick has experienced the profound benefits of mindfulness. He realizes that we have a great capacity to connect deeply with our full selves and others. Through dedicated practice we can transform the way that we relate to ourselves, those closest to us, and the world. With his rich background as a therapist, former schoolteacher and coach, Mick brings a wide range of skills and dedication to helping young people on their journey of self-exploration. Since 2011 he has formally taught mindfulness to teens in schools, on retreats and weekly groups.

Welcome Mick, thank you for taking the time out of your day to share more about mindfulness, meditation and the philopophy of iBme.

Q1: Can you define what “mindfulness” is since this term is used so often these days. Everyone seems to have an idea or thought about what mindfulness programs are.

Q2: Can you explain why mindfulness is so important for young people (and adults) to develop especially these days where anxiety and depression are at an all-time high?

Q3: How does your retreat work compared to someone using an app like Calm or a guided meditation? Can you explain a bit about your process? (I can see a calendar on your website.)[ii] Can you explain how your retreats work?

Q4: Can you explain what the research[iii] says about mindfulness programs? What are the long-term effects of the retreat practice of meditation and mindfulness? 3 months after the retreat, what did the participants notice? And also, would someone receive similar benefits if they just started their own mindfulness practice at home?

Q5: I have heard Jon Kabat Zinn who I know has worked with your organization mention that “the real meditation is with how we live our lives.”[iv] –meaning how we change from being stressed, rushed, to being calmer and more present. What parting thoughts would you like to leave us with about how to get started with a meditation program in our daily lives (perhaps from a parent point of view, student, or someone in the workplace) so anyone can learn how to go from knowing to doing, and reap of the benefits of a mindfulness program.

Thank you so much Mick for sharing your extensive knowledge in this field. If anyone wants to learn more about you and the programs at iBMe, they can go to What’s the best way for them to reach you?



[iii] mpacts-of-iBme-Research.pdf

[iv] Jon Kabat Zinn “From Doing to Being” YouTube published Feb. 16, 2016.

Former Superintendent, Dr. Jeff Rose, of Fulton Co Schools (GA) on Leadership, Innovation and the Future

Former Superintendent, Dr. Jeff Rose, of Fulton Co Schools (GA) on Leadership, Innovation and the Future

October 10, 2019

Welcome back to the “Neuroscience Meets SEL Podcast” episode #24 this is Andrea Samadi. This interview will also be available on YouTube.

Our very special guest today, Dr. Jeff Rose, is the founder of Leading Ed Solutions[i], a community of school superintendents and leaders providing solutions, strategy and support so that no one has to lead alone. His successful podcast, Leading Education[ii] focuses on innovative conversations surrounding the most important topics that our modern schools face that are relevant to anyone who wants to lead in education and beyond. The topics he tackles are applicable to any leadership position, providing the most up to date ideas and strategies around these enormous concepts that require new ways of thinking for improvement and change. 

Jeff has a proven track record of innovation and an unrelenting focus on student achievement. He’s the former Superintendent of Fulton County Schools (which is Atlanta, Georgia’s 4th largest school district) responsible for the leadership, administration and management of over 96,000 students, 105 schools, 14,000 employees and a $1.1 billion general fund budget. During his 23 years in education, he has served as a classroom teacher, principal and a director of school improvement.  

Welcome Jeff. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast today to share what you are doing to support educational leadership.

Jeff, I love your work and your podcast inspired me to get moving on mine over the summer. I want to dive into some questions to hear your perspective on a few of the topics that I thought were the most relevant in our schools and communities today.

Q1:  I’ve heard you describe education as “the perfect mess” because when you are working, you will have challenges, and everyone has an opinion about these challenges. I’ve also heard this as it relates to business. When you are taking action, things will go wrong and it can all feel like a mess. When you are doing nothing, you won’t have problems to solve, but also won’t have any impact for change. What led you to launch your company, Leading Ed solutions and tackle some of the most challenging problems education has seen in the past few decades to impact change and when did you first think about starting this idea?

Q2: There are so many important concepts that you speak about—I love hearing your point of view— but one concept stuck out to me from the earlier episodes when you spoke about how lonely leadership is, when you first felt being lonely at the top and how you got used to this feeling. Unless someone is walking in the shoes of a school superintendent, administrator, or District leader, (or even equate this to those who lead in the corporate world) I know it could be easy to make up what others think your job entails and say things like “Oh, it must be nice….with their xyz assumption.” Hearing your perspective on what leadership is like for those who are given this responsibility is important for anyone who must learn to lead themselves. (We all have heard that to be a good leader is to be a good follower).[iii] Was this why you launched your podcast to give more insight to bridge this gap that exists between school leadership, schools and the community and shed some light with what this leadership role really entails?

Q3: You mention that one of the biggest concerns you hear from parents and the community is the rise in student anxiety these days (episode 4)[iv] and I’m seeing it here in my local community in Chandler, Arizona, USA where this time last year we hit 31child/teen suicides in 15 months.[v] This issue is a huge concern and goes on past the pressure to perform academically in the K-12 system to higher education. (I just heard another podcast by Jay Shetty where he interviewed Laurie Santos[vi] who created the most popular course at Yale to combat this issue when she saw how stressed her students were to perform academically at the beginning of their University career.) Your interview with David Smith and Cathy Murphy from The Summit Counselling Center[vii]  really opened my eyes to the fact that we do need to involve the community to bring more awareness and discussion around mental health issues for today’s students.

What do you think is a good call to action for parents to begin this dialogue to support their child’s mental health in addition to their own?

What about our schools? It still feels like this is a topic is not easy for some people to speak openly about. When I first heard of this rise in suicides in my area I had posters created (inspired by a teen in one of my presentations, who was shocked at the statistics in the US compared to Canada—this was a HS student in Toronto—he stood up and said “how is it that we know what to do when we are on fire—we stop, drop and roll, but we don’t know what to do when someone is struggling mentally or emotionally—at all?” The whole room full of District leaders gasped at his observation.)[viii] So we created posters with a call to action for how to recognize the signs and symptoms of a young person struggling with anxiety, and what number to call if they need additional help—but I still felt the awkwardness around the topic as if schools would be happy to not talk about it at all. How can we change this?

How do you see community and faith-based organizations forming stronger relationships with our schools? I know you cover this extensively with a 2-part episode,[ix] but what would be some first steps for a successful school/community partnership?

Q4: You covered the widely discussed topic of School Safety and Social Media on episode 19[x] from the end of August. I have always felt that social media and the advancements of technology are where all of the problems begin for our students—because we just didn’t have these problems when we were growing up because we didn’t have the internet—and these challenges create stress for our teachers and parents and make me question about should I or shouldn’t I buy a phone for my kids? Then I listened to this episode and it made me shift my thinking when I heard your guest from talk about their company’s technology and how they have created an algorithm that has avoided 16 credible school shooting threats. I have heard of similar alerts with credit monitoring, but never thought about this technology moving into the schools. Can you share how you came across this technology and how you see this system supporting our schools in the future?  How can we shift people’s perspective to show that technology can solve some of these problems we are seeing with social media, rather than just be the cause of them?

Q5: What would be some parting thoughts with your experience in the past few decades leading in education to impact long-lasting and sustainable change in today’s schools? What is your vision for Leading Ed Solutions?

Jeff is holding an event for Superintendents in Scottsdale, AZ next month. Here are more details. If anyone is interested in learning more, please contact him directly

Learn more here

Thank you so much for your time, thoughts and ideas today Jeff and for being so accessible for this conversation. If there are school superintendents listening, what criteria are you looking for to join your inner circle?  If anyone is interested in contacting you, is the best way through your website They can also find you on LinkedIn and @DrJeffRose on Twitter.  Thank you.



[ii] Leading Education with Jeff Rose Podcast on iTunes

[iii] Research: To be a good leader, start by being a good follower by Kim Peters August 6, 2018








Understanding the Difference Between Your Mind and Brain

Understanding the Difference Between Your Mind and Brain

October 2, 2019

If I were to ask you what are the qualities that you most want for your children, students, employees, or even for yourself so that you can reach those optimal levels of health, well-being and happiness, (no matter what part of the world you are listening from),  the answer would probably sound something like this.  “I want to them to develop a healthy mind, to pursue excellence, to have the skills needed to excel independently, to have compassion and empathy for others, to acquire the skills needed in this ever-changing world, or to adopt the mindset of lifelong learning that’s needed to thrive not just survive in this world” –something along those lines that focuses on developing the minds of our next generation with social and emotional skills.

In order to bridge this gap between knowing and actually implementing these skills, we must first of all have a clear understanding of what they are. If social and emotional skills are skills that we could say are of the developed mind, and we are moving into cognitive skills of the brain, it leads us to question what is the difference between the mind and the brain before we continue further? Once we have a clear definition of each of these, it’s much easier to continue to develop and implement these strategies needed for improved results. Have you ever thought about what your mind is? What about your brain? And how are they different?

Dr. Dan Siegel, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine and the founding co-director of the Mindful Awareness Research Center at UCLA, (who I’m so excited to share will be coming on the podcast later next month) has spent a considerable amount of time defining the mind.[i] He was shocked when he first started to study the mind and began surveying mental health professionals around the world who should know about the mind that “95% of them had never even been given a lecture on the mind, and probably couldn’t even tell you what the definition of the mind was”[ii] so he wondered how can we expect  to develop it, without this understanding? He explores the concept of the mind in his book, Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation[iii] where he proves that you can define what a healthy mind is, not just describe it. His book allows that Mindsight “is the potent skill that is the basis for both emotional and social intelligence.”[iv] He explains that psychology means the study of the mind and behavior and elaborates that “when a parent senses the inner mental life of their child, (their mind) their child does really well in life. This ability to see the mind actually changes the structure of their brain. It’s called neural integration.”[v] Siegel further explains that when we can adopt this practice of “seeing the inner-life” or the minds of our students, children, friends or family members, it makes a considerable difference in the results and well-being that they achieve. Even developing our own practice of being more mindfully present of our own inner mind can “change the ends of the chromosomes in your cells”[vi] proving that what you do with your mind, makes a difference for the health of your body and your relationships.

Dan Siegel explains that a neuroscientist would define the mind “as the activity of the brain”[vii] but he could not settle on this definition as a therapist since this would mean our brain would control everything that we do. He came up with a definition in the mid-1990s that made the most sense  to him and his colleagues and it was that the mind “is an embodied and relational process—since it’s in the body and it’s in our relationships with one another—that regulates the flow of energy and information.”[viii]  This definition really got me thinking. I probably listened to it for a good week.

It got me thinking about the flow of energy and information and how it comes into our body through our senses, and what we do with this information to cause the results in our life. One of my first mentors studied the mind intensively and came up with a picture diagram that he called the stickperson[ix] that originated from the work of the late Dr. Thurman Fleet from San Antonio, Texas, who was the founder of Concept Therapy. Dr. Fleet’s diagram of the mind included the conscious mind that included how we perceive the outside world with our five senses, our (sight, touch, taste, hearing and smell) which is how we take in information from the outside world, along with the six higher faculties of our mind, our (perception, reasoning, will, memory, imagination and intuition) that give us a deeper perspective of the information we receive. The diagram also shows the sub-conscious (or non-conscious mind as it is more commonly called today) where information comes in automatically, and the fact that what we think about with our mind, shows up with our thoughts, feelings and actions, and causes the results in our life as our conditions, circumstances and environment change based on the actions that we take.[x]  Dr. Fleet’s diagram shows how important it is that we understand how our mind operates in order to reach our highest levels of potential.

In our last interview with the Founding Director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and author of the book Permission to Feel,[xi] Marc Brackett reminded us that “people don’t lose their jobs because of a lack of ability in the cognitive areas, it’s usually because of social skills—someone who just doesn’t fit into the organization for some reason, or who can’t seem to get along with the team.”[xii]  Developing these social skills of the mind is what we all want. These are the universal skills that we want for ourselves and for others and it’s interesting that it’s taken so long for our schools to put an emphasis on developing the minds of our next generation of students.

The benefits of learning these skills does take time to be seen, but the research is evident.  Casel (the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning) has clear research that proves that implementing these SEL skills will improve students’ academic abilities. Casel’s meta-analysis of 213 studies involving 270,000+ students showed that “SEL interventions that address CASEL’s five core competencies (that we have covered in our social and emotional track) increased students’ academic performance by 11 percentile points, compared to students who did not participate in such SEL programs. Students also showed improved classroom behavior, an increased ability to manage stress and depression, and better attitudes about themselves, others, and school.[xiii]   

The research also showed that we as parents, educators, coaches and counselors must first of all practice these concepts ourselves, before we teach others because if we haven’t developed a practice ourselves, our students will pick up on the lack of authenticity and won’t take the concept seriously either.

Marc Brackett also shared with us that the social and emotional competencies were harder to learn and implement than the cognitive strategies. He reminded us in episode 22 that “we can’t be sure that once we have learned a strategy (for example like one for improving our mindset) that we will then be able to implement that strategy while under stress whereas memorization of our times tables, a cognitive skill, is much easier to learn, use and remember.”[xiv] It’s a lifelong commitment to understanding ourselves, our emotions and continuing to apply the strategies to regulate us. We should refer back to the strategies in the social and emotional lessons to be sure that we are continuing to “sharpen the saw”[xv] and implementing these ideas for continual improved results. 

Once we have a solid practice for developing our social and emotional mindset, (understanding ourselves and our emotions) it makes sense to move onto the cognitive strategies which are the processes of thinking and include the ability to focus and pay attention, set goals, plan and organize, persevere and problem solve.[xvi] 

If cognition is the realm of thinking, then metacognition involves thinking about our thinking, reflecting on your own thinking process and the ability to monitor and manage your learning. This is where we must begin to create a plan to improve what we would like to learn.  It is possible to learn anything with the right study habits, the ability to practice and refine the skills needed, with a positive growth mindset, we can create those “Aha Moments” of learning that come when we persist through something we are working on.

What Slows Down Our Learning?

Stress and anxiety make it difficult for learning to occur. When you feel threatened or anxious, the brain releases chemicals like adrenaline and cortisol. These chemicals quickly alter the way that you think, feel and behave and shut down the oldest part of the brain that are designed to keep us safe when we feel stress. It’s smart to learn quick and simple relaxation strategies that you can use immediately when you feel stressed or anxious. Taking some deep, long breaths can fuel your brain for focused attention and learning and prevent your emotions from taking control. If you are looking for a longer term solution, research does show that those who consistently practice mindfulness and mediation strategies, decrease the size of the amygdala, (the part of the brain that highjacks our emotions) and improves our ability to handle stressful situations so that we possess more equanimity, a mental calmness, composure and evenness of temper, especially during difficult situations.

What Strengthens Our Brain and Cognition?

When you are curious and interested, you will be ready to put in the effort needed to work hard and concentrate on new information. You must also be happy and relaxed in order to consolidate this new information. In his book Words Can Change Your Brain[xvii], Mark Robert Waldman outlines his brain-scan research suggesting that “the strategies incorporated in mindfulness could strengthen the neural circuits associated with empathy, compassion and moral decision making .”[xviii] This demonstrates just how powerful it can be to stop and think . Incorporating mindfulness into your daily routine can enable you to be more observant, creative, and ready to see the opportunity within your daily obstacles and challenges.

Here are Three Tips to Strengthen Your Brain and Cognition That You Can Implement Immediately:

  1. Take brief relaxation breaks to maintain focus and improve your ability to problem solve. We must find a way to relax our brain and body. It’s during these “resting states” that remarkable activity takes place, allowing the brain to creatively solve problems. Dr. Srini Pillay, an Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, wrote a book about the importance of this resting period in his book, Tinker, Dabble, Doodle, Try: Unlock the Power of the Unfocused Mind.[xix] In this book Pillay explains that too much focus depletes your brain of glucose and depletes you. Be mindful of ways to eliminate decision fatigue and allow those times for your mind to become unfocused. He shared that Einstein discovered his Theory of Relativity by using his intuition, and then used logic to explain it. Unfocused time can take you to places and insights where focus cannot.
  2. Improve the circuits of your brain by learning to look within for answers. In his book, “Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation” Dr . Siegel shares that teachers introduced to “mindsight or the ability to focus on the inner life of their student or child” teach with the brain in mind and are reaching students in deeper and more lasting ways .”[xx] The research shows that developing the ability to make sense of your own life and past experiences, translates into the development of your students and children. Dr. Siegel is an expert on Attachment Research and discusses the fact that having Mindsight ourselves, will help develop securely attached children who will learn resilience.
  3. Create a plan for persistence. If your first plan does not succeed, what will you try next. Map out strategies for your plan b and be ready to pivot or try something new if the first plan fails. Those who fail, often attribute their failure to lack of inspiration, ability, talent or lack of time, but most often it’s due to insufficient application of strategies towards a goal and lack of persistence.


I hope you have found these tips and further study of the mind vs the brain to be helpful as we move into the cognitive track and dive deeper into how we can use our brain to facilitate and improve our ability to learn and create lasting results. I’m excited to speak with Dr. Siegel the start of November. His work has inspired a lot of my early research into the brain and there’s no one like him who can explain such complex concepts in a way that anyone can understand them.  I look forward to bringing in new experts to inspire new ways of thinking around the power and purpose of our brain in our cognitive track.  See you next time. 


Integrating Social, Emotional and Academic Development (SEAD) March 2019 The Aspen Institute

“How to Reach the Aha Moment of Learning” Diagram adapted by Andrea Samadi with permission


[i] Dr. Dan Siegel Defines The Mind Published Feb. 11, 2010 on YouTube

[ii] TEDx Sunset Park Dr. Dan Siegel “What is the Mind?” YouTube Published July 4, 2012

[iii] Mindsight: The New Science of Transformation Dr. Dan Siegel

[iv] Mindsight: The New Science of Transformation Dr. Dan Siegel

[v] TEDx Sunset Park Dr. Dan Siegel “What is the Mind?” YouTube Published July 4, 2012

[vi] TEDx Sunset Park Dr. Dan Siegel “What is the Mind?” YouTube Published July 4, 2012

[vii] Dr. Dan Siegel Defines The Mind Published Feb. 11, 2010 on YouTube

[viii] Dr. Dan Siegel Defines The Mind Published Feb. 11, 2010 on YouTube

[ix] How Your Mind Works Proctor Gallagher Institute, idea originally from Dr. Thurman Fleet

[x] How Your Mind Works Proctor Gallagher Institute, idea originally from Dr. Thurman Fleet

[xi] Marc Brackett “Permission to Feel”

[xii] Marc Brackett on the Importance of Emotional Intelligence

[xiii] The Impact of SEL

[xiv] EPISODE #22 Interview with Marc Brackett, Founding Director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence

[xv] Sharpen the Saw 7th Habit of Highly Effective People Stephen Covey

[xvi] Integrating Social, Emotional and Academic Development (SEAD) March 2019 The Aspen Institute

[xvii] Andrew Newburg M .D . and Mark Robert Waldman, “Words Can Change Your Brain,” (The Penguin Group, New York, New York) Page 12

[xviii] Andrew Newburg M .D . and Mark Robert Waldman, “Words Can Change Your Brain,” (The Penguin Group, New York, New York) Page 12

[xix] Dr. Srini Pillay Tinker, Dabble, Doodle, Try: Unlock the Power of the Unfocused Mind

[xx] Dan Siegel, Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation, (New York: Bantam, 2010) Kindle Edition Location 133


Podbean App

Play this podcast on Podbean App