Changing your Mind in the River of Integration

(This is a post in the Choosing Change series inspired by the work of Dr. Dan Siegel, UCLA)

The River of Integration is a metaphor conceptualized by Dr. Dan Siegel (from his book Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation, 2010), that describes how we as humans could travel successfully on “the river of life,” due to our work to achieve functional, adaptive, stable and “the best use of our energy” outcomes.

By identifying, integrating then choosing to live by our “Agape-oriented values,” we position ourselves to accomplish our personal and relational goals and objectives versus getting bogged down in thoughts, feelings and behavioral processes that are aligned with Chaos, Rigidity and other character defects or maladaptive and characterological behaviors.

So in wanting to keep this post short and sweet, here are five things I wanted to share about the River of Integration.


(Artwork by Dr. Arnie Kozak –

Five things you’ll want to know about the River of Integration

1. Being “centered” when you’re in the River of Integration as well as your successful navigation toward your personal and relational goals is heavily dependent upon you integrating or giving your brain flexible, adaptive, coherent and stable options (or any other Agape-oriented values) to draw upon to guide, inform and assist you on your journey.

Think about it, the next time you have a conflict with another person, try to integrate and apply values like kindness, consideration, and compassion (they work better) versus sarcasm, being cold or belligerent.

2. Having awareness, insight and knowledge about which of your maladaptive schema(s) are triggered (like Failure, Unrelenting Standards, Subjugation, Shame, Defective, Vulnerable to Harm, etc.) provides you with the opportunity to change your thinking, feeling and behavior by immediately utilizing your Agape-oriented values (like Acceptance, Cooperation, Honor, Gentleness, etc.) to prevent you from getting stranded or shipwrecked on the shores of Chaos or Rigidity.

In order to change, replace or eliminate unhealthy thinking and subsequent unhelpful behaviors, you’ll want to know what unhealthy thought process(es) are being triggered inside of you, that lead you subtlety or drastically toward the shoreline of Chaos or Rigid behaviors. Giving yourself the gift of Awareness, and paying attention to your feelings and thoughts will reward you with productive outcomes when you reflect on, then do the “next right thing” that the situation and your values have determined.

3. Integrating Agape-oriented values into your day-to-day actions serves multiple purposes:

a. They help you to be internally aware of your thoughts and feelings so you can accurately “read and report” what your internal thermometer reading is, and they…

b. …Give your brain more resources to draw upon to help you to emotionally regulate yourself, because after you’re calmer, your logical left hemisphere helps your activated right hemisphere (but primarily “lower and survival-oriented” parts of your mind-brain system) to make better decisions for you and others involved,…

c. …Which helps to increase what Dr. Siegel calls your “Window of Tolerance,” because patience is a virtue highly sought after, and is very useful and necessary when your situation calls for you to demonstrate…

d. …Greater “Response Flexibility” (again, Dr. Siegel), which is really helpful when you need to stay in your “68° – 72° range” of Agape-oriented behaviors, which helps you to resolve conflict with those you love!

e. Dr. Siegel identified values connected to the acronym “COHERENCE,” which when demonstrated provide you with the ability to be flexible, adaptive, coherent, use your “brain energy” effectively, and they facilitate internal and interpersonal stability.

COHERENCE stands for: Connection, Openness, Harmony, Engagement, Receptivity, Emergence (being open to seeing things differently), Noesis (intuitive knowledge) Compassion and Empathy.

4. Cruise ships have baggage weight limits, and your journey and ability to stay centered and afloat on the River of Integration will be better served with fewer “rocks of resentment.” Packing, using then becoming proficient with more “bio-psycho-social-spiritual” tools that help you to be mindful, strategic, intentional, deliberate and wise with your actions will help you to establish new patterns of behavior that suggest a positive transformation is occurring in your life.

Think about it: Wouldn’t you rather use your energy to sit, talk, “brainstorm,” strategize then implement solutions for yourself and with others versus arguing, criticizing, demeaning, denigrating or character-assassinating your partner? Which is more empowering?

5. Finally, remember that the consistent practice of your Agape-oriented values will serve as a compass, map, rudder, oar, flotation device, lantern, flare, fluid/food to rehydrate and replenish your body and brain, and even function as uploaded podcasts or entertainment to your system’s hard drive to help make your life journey more doable and enjoyable.

Have you planned and packed adequately to stay in the midst of the River of Integration, and thereby avoid unnecessary experiences with all that accompanies the character defects of Chaos and Rigidity?

Even though we all drift toward the shores of Chaos and Rigidity, and sometimes travel in the wrong direction when our boat hits the shore, we don’t have to stay stuck in turmoil or worse, create hardness in our person or with our actions.  

We can choose to get back to work, which means getting back in the boat, identifying and integrating then using our Agape-oriented values to realign our thinking and decision-making ability, then row consistently into the right direction as demonstrated by our application of behaviors that make sense to us and others.  All aboard? Let’s go!

I wish you safe traveling mercy in the River of Integration!

Make sure you read Changing your Mind with the practice of LoveWorks, which is a companion to this post and to Choosing Change #11: Building Character and Building People!

Dr. Ken McGill

TeleHealth/Video counseling sessions are available for those who prefer to meet online – Dr. McGill

Businesswoman presses button psychological counseling online on virtual screens. technology, internet and networking concept.

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