My guest this week is Dr. Caroline Leaf, a communication pathologist and cognitive neuroscientist with a Masters and Ph.D. in Communication Pathology. Since the early 1980s, Dr. Leaf has researched the mind-brain connection, the nature of mental health, and the formation of memory. During her years in clinical practice and work with thousands of underprivileged teachers and students in her home country of South Africa and in the US, she developed her theory of how we think, build memory, and learn, into tools and processes that have transformed the lives of hundreds of thousands of individuals with Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), learning disabilities, ADHD, autism, and even issues like anxiety and depression. Dr. Leaf is the bestselling author of multiple books, including her newest release, Cleaning Up Your Mental Mess. She is currently conducting clinical trials using the 5-step program she developed to further demonstrate the effectiveness of mind-directed techniques to help relieve problems such as anxiety, depression, and intrusive thoughts.
In this episode, Dr. Leaf and I discuss how to change your brain by changing your mind through mind-directed techniques taught in her new book, Cleaning Up Your Mental Mess. Dr. Leaf shares with the audience how her techniques like “Neurocycling” and “Brain-building” can be used to relieve mental health problems such as anxiety and depression and to improve developmental and learning disabilities. To learn more about Dr. Caroline Leaf click here.
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- Neuroplasticity – the ability of the brain to reorganize and change itself in both structure and function
- The brain cannot change itself, if you are alive you are doing the changing and your brain is doing the responding
- Neuroplasticity was not accepted until MRI technology came around in the 90s and was able to visually show the brain changing
- You can change your brain!
Difference Between The Brain and The Mind
- Brain and body are physical
- They are 1% of who you are as a person
- When you are alive, the brain works, when you die, it disintegrates – there is something keeping the brain and body constantly working
- Collectively made of 37-100 trillion cells and respond to everything you hear
- Your brain is a receiver, a responder, and a storer
- Mind is nonphysical
- It is 99% of who you are
- It is a gravitational field where we think, feel and choose
- It is also capable of being directed, which allows us to mind-manage
- Mind-manage: you can control and direct the neuroplasticity through self-regulation
- Dr. Leaf shows the steps on how to do this in her new book, Cleaning Up Your Mental Mess
What is Neurocycling?
- You can use the ‘Neurocycle’ process no matter what your age or background is
- If you are alive and human, you are using your mind!
- Neurocycle: teaches you how to use your mind
- Everything is controlled by your directive
- How to tap into your inner wisdom (everyone has it!) and use it to fix the mess – ie. whatever you are battling with in your mind that is causing toxicity
- Studies indicate that the length of telomeres shows an indication of biological age
- By the end of Dr. Leaf’s 9-week study, telomere function and size were improved in all participants
- Dr. Leaf says it takes around 9 weeks to change a behavior, not the commonly referred to 21 days
Where to learn more about Dr. Caroline Leaf …
Episode Intro … 00:00:30
Neuroplasticity … 00:10:00
Difference Between The Brain and The Mind … 00:12:00
Brain Building … 00:26:40
What is Neurocycling? … 00:30:30
Episode Wrap Up … 00:43:00
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Hi everyone, welcome to the show, I am Dr. Nicole, and on today’s episode, we’re talking about how we can use strategies to strengthen brain function, even when a person is experiencing significant challenges or has been given one or more developmental or mental health diagnoses. Often when adults or children are experiencing brain-based challenges, the focus is on getting a label and then engaging in some kind of traditional therapy and/or taking medication. But research shows that there are very simple and practical ways that we can teach people to harness the power of their mind to shift their learning, mood, anxiety and behavior. So here to talk with us about her specific methods and research in this area is Dr. Caroline Leaf. Let me tell you a little bit about her.
Dr. Caroline Leaf is a communication pathologist and cognitive neuroscientist with a Masters and PhD in Communication Pathology. Since the early 1980s she has researched the mind-brain connection, the nature of mental health, and the formation of memory. During her years in clinical practice and her work with thousands of underprivileged teachers and students in her home country of South Africa and in the US, she developed her theory of how we think, build memory, and learn, into tools and processes that have transformed the lives of hundreds of thousands of individuals with Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), learning disabilities, ADHD, autism, and even issues like anxiety and depression. Dr. Leaf is also the bestselling author of multiple books, including her newest release, Cleaning Up Your Mental Mess. Dr. Leaf is currently conducting clinical trials using the 5-step program she developed to further demonstrate the effectiveness of mind-directed techniques to help relieve problems such as anxiety, depression and intrusive thoughts. Dr. Leaf, welcome to the show. Such an honor to have you here.
Dr. Caroline Leaf:
Thank you so much, it’s so great to see you again and to be talking to you about something that’s close to both of our hearts.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Absolutely. And I had the opportunity to be on your show last year and it was such a wonderful conversation and I’m really excited to have my listeners be able to get to know you and your amazing work because there really are not a lot of people who have been doing this type of work for as long as you have and with the clinical research piece of it too. So I’d love to start by actually having you tell a bit of your story of how you got into working with children and adults with these kinds of challenges.
Dr. Caroline Leaf:
Well, it started in the early days as a student, I actually did a really interesting combination of degrees that they don’t even offer anymore. It was an experimental degree where they mixed medicine and neuroscience and neuropsychology and communication pathology and all kinds of stuff. So they took 7 years, squashed it into 4 and the objective was to try and get people trying to be able to help people with all those things you’ve just described, which the different disciplines were not doing as well because they weren’t integrating. So they had this idea to integrate and it’s a brilliant idea and I wish they continued it, and I wish they did it in a more decent time period, because essentially what happened is they had to stop the degree after only 60 of us qualified because it took 7 day a week. We literally were in class and in clinic and in hospitals 7 days a week. Most people just dropped out of the course], but I was one of the privileged ones who finished all the way through. At the time, I hated it. There were days I hated it because of the pressure. I always thought I’m telling that story because it transformed me. It changed — I was going into neurosurgery and I chose this, I was debating between the two and I did the premed and everything and I said okay, I’ll go into that direction.
I will never regret it because the way it opened my mind to understand mind, because it’s an area that’s just not researched. You so clearly said at the beginning that, and it was really good that you made that statement, there isn’t much research in this kind of field. There are 115 years of research in mind or brain research, but people were looking more at the impact on the brain and the body, and I’ve done a lot of that reproach too and in my book, cleaning up the mental mess, I’ve summarized my latest clinical trials in there and we can discuss little bits and pieces, but in terms of mind, what it is, how it’s not the brain and what the relationship is, and what thoughts are, what memories are, and they’re not the same thing either and with emotions put into the picture, how much control do we have? That’s what I’ve been investigating in clinical trials and in clinical practice for all these years. I don’t work in a lab, I never have. I’ve always worked in real world situations, which I think is more authentic and you get more accurate research, and also with different environments. So form war-torn Rwanda to apartheid South Africa to very poor, impoverished communities, to very wealthy communities, and CEOs to school children, I’ve tried to work with a cross-section of the population to understand what mind is and the big question is do we have any kind of control? And the answer to that is yes.
So that was what really spurred this direction of research. In one of my neuroscience lectures, one of the lectures was saying — I will never forget, saying along the lines of “The brain can’t change, because I studied back in the 80’s for four decades now, which is a long time. At that stage, the going theory was that the brain couldn’t change. I remember saying, but how can it not change? Because it’s impossible. We’re changing as humans and growing. So it was a whole discussion, I had a whole group of the scientists that were teaching us, some of them saying “That’s a ridiculous question” and others saying, “I’ve actually done a TED Talk on this.” That is a question we are pursuing, so I decided to pursue it with people with traumatic brain injury at that point. I decided to start my research there because I thought if I can show people with severely damaged brains can actually, through mind-directed techniques and systems and self-regulation and mind management can change how they function on a cognitive social-emotional receptor level and show that the brain is actually changing, and they only had CT scans then. MRIs and FMRIs only came after the 90s, we were talking about something.
So I was one of the first to do neuroplasticity research in my field and it was so interesting to watch the trajectory over the last 38 years of how the narrative has changed, how we’ve moved to a biomedical model, how even our professors back in the 80s predicted that the whole labeling of ADD and ADHD is going to create such a problem in 30 years. I’ll never forget one of my professors saying that you’ve got to keep away from this labeling and putting that into a mental health illness diagnosis versus seeing the whole picture and looking at the whole integrated life, the whole story, the whole context. That couldn’t have been more true. You and I both know. We’re sitting now in an era where a child who is battling to learn is seen to have a mental diagnosis and an illness. You only validate the battles with an illness, a diagnosis, which the labeling has been shown scientifically to actually make things worse and we’re sitting in it with a problem now where people actually are worse off than they were, yet we are more advanced technologically and medically, but mind-wise, we’ve gone backwards. And between 1996 — and I talk about it in my book, there is a population study where they started picking up on this in the mid 90s. By the time we hit the mid 2000s, it was very evident that instead of us living longer and being more proficient in our minds, we were actually, that trend had reversed. So instead of live to be longer, people are dying between the ages of 24 and 65. People are dying 8-25 years younger than they should from preventable lifestyle issues. So all of this combined has motivated me to carry on researching and studying and working to help understand what mind is and how we can — it’s preventable, if we can change brain damage and learning disability, which is what I saw, and facilitate this process and get people to manage trauma and that kind of thing. We need to pursue that avenue, so that’s the avenue I’ve pursued and I’m happy to present very positive results in that kind of thing, and here we go. That’s where I am today, and putting that into a simple version for the layperson.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Right, absolutely. There are so many things that come to mind that I want to ask you based on that, but I want to hone in on something that I think is so key that you talked about, which is this idea of neuroplasticity, the fact that we now clearly understand that the brain can grow new connections, can learn, can change throughout the entire lifestyle, which as you said, was a new idea back when you were in school. What’s so striking to me is we know that to be true now. So in this era where we recognize that neuroplasticity, that that’s a thing, that brains can continue to change and to form new connections. At the same time as we understand that, in the field of mental health, we have gone back the other way of getting so focused on diagnosis, label, and once you have this label, this is what it is and this is a lifelong thing. It’s just so interesting to me as you talk about that to just really formulate in my mind, we’ve got this crossing over effect. On the one hand, we have this amazing neuroplasticity research that says there is limitless potential for kids and adults with these kinds of diagnoses, conditions, to grow and change. And at the same time, we’re so hyper-focused on diagnosing them and labeling them with something that we tell them is a fixed part of who they are. It’s really something, isn’t it?
Dr. Caroline Leaf:
It’s a paradox. It’s a complete and utter contradiction. And it’s even the way they do the research. I was talking about this in another interview today as well about how they do the research. They’ll take kids or adults mind things. So there will be an exercise to do or a comment to make or discussion where they’ll show pictures, getting them to use their mind. Then they use the FMRI or whatever technology to see the response. And then they say, “Oh, the brain makes you do that.” But they first got the person to do it, the brain is just measuring the response. And as you said, with neuroplasticity too, in the 80’s the brain couldn’t change, so they thought. And I was in the 80’s doing my research. That was some of — this neuroscientist said to me, “That’s a ridiculous questions.” I said “Watch me. Give me the worst situation.” He said, “Take TBI”. Traumatic brain injury. And that’s what I did. I took people through this system. They were written off as vegetables, literally, and got them to pass school and get degrees. And not just one. Some of them became top criminologists in a country where they were written off by the education system. I can tell you a thousand stories and ore.
So we’ve got to recognize that neuroplasticity, which was only accepted in the — It was discovered in the 80’s and there were about 50 of us scientists who were working concurrently on neuroplasticity. By the mid 90’s it was accepted with the FMRI technology where you can see the movement in the brain. But now, yes, it is accepted and two, if your brain is always changing, which it is, and it’s being changed by something, which is your mind, so we should discuss the mind-brain difference. That means that if the mind is always changing, and the mind is always changing the brain, which is neuroplasticity, the brain cannot change itself. If you’re dead, your brain does nothing. You’re alive, you are doing the changing. Your brain is doing the responding, and it responds by changing. That is happening all day long and all night long. Then the question that I’ve been asking, which is what I’ve been researching is: If that’s the case, can we direct the mind to direct the change? And the answer is yes. That’s what my book, Cleaning Up Your Mental Mess is. It’s kind of a summary of 38 years of research, even though this is my 19th book, it’s the most succinct way of understanding with the clinical trials summarized in a way that anyone can understand it. I’ve taken science and I’ve said “This is what it means for you.” So it’s super simple. But it gives you a way to discuss some of the findings because it’s so encouraging to see that when you do this, this is what’s actually happening in your brain, even if you don’t feel it yet, because our conscious mind always lags behind our non-conscious mind and our body. To know that when we do change our mind, we will change our brain, we will change our body. We can change our cognitive, social and emotional behavior.
I showed with this research that you can get up to 81% control over anxiety and depression. You can improve cognitive and social and emotional functioning by 35-75%. I mean these are phenomenal percentages that are significant. So this is a skill that we need to learn and teach to our kids from a very, very young age. Mind is malleable. Brain is malleable, let’s teach how to train minds right from youth.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
So great. And I want to delve into, next, the difference between the brain and the mind and then I want to get into the research. What I want to touch on for all of you as parents who are listening, who maybe have a child who has been diagnosed with something like Autism Spectrum Disorder or a related neurodevelopmental issue, a traumatic brain injury or something like that, unfortunately, many people in the field of working with those types of kids what still a very outdated view of the brain and especially in the realm of autism, those of you are autism parents, I want you to hear this, there is still the very damaging myth that is perpetuated out there that there is a window of opportunity when your child is young, that if you do not get them talking and doing all of these things within that window of time, it’s not going to happen. And I think there’s no one better than Dr. Leaf to have here to just really reiterate for all of you that if that’s something you’ve been told, “Put your child in 40 hour a week behavioral therapy because if you don’t get those skills in this window, the window is going to close,” It’s just absolutely not true. It is not based on facts and it really denies a decades long history of what we know related to neuroplasticity. I just want to be so clear because I still, in 2021 have parents coming into the clinic who have been told that!
Dr. Caroline Leaf:
It’s just insane. When I was practicing, I kept practicing for 25 years and I haven’t practiced the last few years because I’ve been doing this. I lost quite a few years now, but I still am in the field, I do research everyday, I’m training and consulting all the time, I’m in this world all the time, and it’s mystifying that you can say on one hand that your brain is changing and they just say to parents your brain is fixed. That whole thing that your brain only develops to a certain point is absolute nonsense. Your brain never stops growing. Intelligence is unlimited. You are as intelligent as you want to be. And autism, a lot of the techniques that they developed after the 80’s, from the 80’s to now have been quite destructive in that they have been based on this very limited view which contradicts neuroplasticity as you’ve said, so much. Some of the conditioned techniques where they force the kids to do it, you’ve got to be so careful of that because you’ve got to really understand what you’re dealing with. And I worked with autistic kids for years, and adults, and in schools and trained teachers in things, and like you, I know what I’m talking about. Back in the 50’s they had a better treatment plan for autism than they have now. Obviously not everything was better, but they had a better philosophy and even though they didn’t think the brain could change, there was a philosophy of you can always train a person to learn because they didn’t understand the mind-brain connection that well in the 50’s. So I wanted to reiterate with the family that — I have personally worked with thousands of people over the years in schools and in my private practice in South Africa and in schools in this country and around the world. I’ve worked across the globe.
I’ve worked with kids with severe learning disabilities, with severe autism, and we have seen phenomenal change when you train your mind to train your brain, we’ve got to make sure we make that distinction. There’s a whole section in the book Cleaning Up Your Mental Mess on building your brain. And the principles there are, okay, it’s not the full therapeutic plan, but it’s the basic principles that you can apply. And I am bringing out more books for kids with more detail, and you and I have been talking at some point, doing some stuff together which we will in the future. But I have the scientific and clinical evidence of when you direct your mind and teach your kids how to direct your mind, you can transform the way that the child functions on a social, cognitive, emotional level. So I just want to reinforce and reiterate.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
I just think it’s so important because so many families and parents get so demoralized, and then when we can share with them, no actually that’s not true and there is limitless potential through giving your children experiences and opportunities to develop, it changes.
Dr. Caroline Leaf:
All the way through.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Let’s talk about this difference between the brain and the mind, because I know some people are going, “Wait, what? Those are two different things?” It’s an important part of understanding, this is a really important part of your work, so just explain for people how to understand the difference.
Dr. Caroline Leaf:
Absolutely, and it’s one of the most important places to start. So thank you for asking me that question. I’ll describe the props I’m holding up for those who can see, but also if they go to my podcast, they’ll see the same props, I use them all the time. So I’m holding a brain in my hand, and I’ve also got another model of the brain and the body. So if you can visualize a brain, for those of you who are listening by audio, or just look at your own body. Look at the physical. That’s 1% of who you are. The physical that we can touch and understand, neuroscience understanding the brain, the neurobiology and biology and neurophysiology, all those studies are helping us to understand a lot about the biological aspects. When you start talking about things like epigenetics and neuropsychology and neurobiology, you’re starting to get into a little bit of the connection between the two.
Brain and body are physical, mind is nonphysical. That’s your first step in understanding. Brain and body are physical and they’re 1% of who you are as a person. You’re alive, so this thing works. When you’re dead, this thing disintegrates. So there is something that’s keeping the brain and body constantly working. The brain and body are collectively made of 37-100 trillion cells. Every single cell is responding to what you’re hearing at the moment. So every cell, all 37-100 trillion organize themselves into your brain, your heart, your lungs, every part of your body. So that means even your skin is responding to what you’re hearing. The DNA of every part of you. So everything you’re hearing now at speeds of 400 actions per second are converting to your mind, which is the 99%. There is basically a gravitational field, you use things like electromagnetic and quantum physics and a combination of different physics to understand it and try to explain it, but everything you are processing, what I’m saying and what I’m hearing and what Nicole is saying and what you’re hearing from both of us through your mind to the 99%.
So that’s kind of what grabs it. Then you think, feel and choose in this gravitational field and then you push that through your brain. So your brain is a receiver and a responder and a restorer. So it receives what you are thinking, feeling and choosing about what you’ve heard or seen, then it makes the brain then respond. So it receives it then it responds. How? Chemically, neurochemically, electromagnetically, and genetically and so on. As soon as you get the genetic response, that’s when — genetic means it makes something. When genes switch on, they make things. What they make are little amino acids to make proteins. So think of your mind, you’re listening to me. You think. Your mind is processing, it pushes its energy through the brain and the brain responds in this very physical way. Chemical, electromagnetically, and genetically. As soon as the genetic switches are switched on, it makes the proteins. So those proteins group together into little branches and my words are vibrations in those branches. They’re made of proteins. It’s physical structure. You are actually converting my words into your protein tree-like structures in your brain, which are thoughts at 400 billion actions per second as we listen.
So you, by now, have grown a thought tree of this information that has roots and a tree trunk and little branches and is probably up to two hundred roots and branches. The roots are, as you started speaking it, as I am giving information, the tree trunk is your perspective and then the branches are how you are interpreting your response, your emotional and behavioral response to what you are hearing me say. So you grow this thought tree and these lots of branches because I’m saying lots of stuff. So all the 200 or 400 or whatever branches and however many are grown by the end of this session, in the roots and the branches of the tree, those are memories. So like a tree is made of branches, thoughts are made of memories and you are growing thoughts, and they are physical things made of protein with chemicals and vibrations and all this fancy stuff, and they’re in your brain and that’s neuroplasticity. |
By you growing, converting what you experience through your mind into your brain, you are using your mind to direct neuroplasticity. And there is the keyword: Direct neuroplasticity. Through understanding what your mind is, you can control your mind to direct the neuroplasticity. So how does that apply on multiple levels? Well for a child who has got a learning issue of whatever type, you can actually teach a child how to directly and intentionally control their mind. So that means you can sort of control how the thoughts are building into the brain, so that obviously applies to learning. All the skills that are needed for success in learning, etc, etc. It also goes to the emotional component because we’re emotional beings, as we know. So we’ve got to also deal with the emotional side to the traumas and all of that kind of stuff, depression, anxiety, etc, etc. So all of that can be directed and controlled by the mind. So the mind, in summary, is 99% of who you are. It’s this gravitational field. And psychologically we want words for mind: Mind is how you think, how you feel and how you choose. So those three always go together: You’re always thinking, you’re always feeling, you’re always choosing. So you’re thinking, feeling, choosing at 400 billion actions per second, the words I’m saying, and you’re building them into trees in your brain and that’s neuroplasticity. That’s what you’re capable of doing.
And you’re also capable of directing the process. So if it is not directed it becomes messy. And if it’s directed, it becomes cleaning up your mental mess, and that’s why I’ve called this Cleaning Up Your Mental Mess, because we make a mental mess, all of us, if you’re human, it’s common to humanity. It’s not that some people do and some don’t. I do it. Nicole does it. Everyone does it. The difference is that when you mind-manage, when you know how to do this, to control your mind, to direct the neuroplasticity, which is mind management through self-regulation. Through the researched system that I’ve developed, you actually direct the process. So the system I’ve developed is not replacing therapy, any therapies whether it’s a therapy for trauma or a therapy for learning. It’s enhancing it. It’s the delivery system of how you actually can make your mind and brain work together. So it’s the basic core first step to make your mind work and into that, you can put whatever techniques, systems, whatever you want. It’s just that if you put it in this format of these five steps, you are going to be successful in directing the neuroplasticity of your brain. So mind, 99%, think, feel, choose, the non-physical gravitational field, brain and body physical. They’re separate but inseparable. And they work together. The mind drives the brain, the brain responds to the mind. So that’s core in this process, and you control the whole thing.
So you, what are you? You are mind. You’ve got two minds. You’ve got the you mind, which is the wisdom mind, we are wired for love, we talk about that, Nobel prize-winning physicists talk about being wired for love. That means that the brain hasn’t got any structures or even down to the proteins and subatomic level, we don’t have anything in our brain or body for toxicity, for battling with anything, any anxiety, depression, etc. Therefore, our survival instinct is to fix that. So when something goes wrong in terms of having an adverse experience, and we build that into the brain as a toxic experience, the proteins don’t fold correctly. When you make the proteins, the genetic expression, they don’t fold correctly, so you make these toxic thoughts. Let’s say that a child is battling to learn, in a learning disability, we don’t fully understand what learning disabilities are, nor do we really understand what autism is. There are lots of theories out there. But what we do know is that things can go wrong in the womb. We do get genetic mutations and that kind of thing but no one has really pinpointed it, and it’s never just one thing. It’s always a combination. Whatever it is, while we find out what it is, what’s more important is to teach the skills of mind to a child who has a learning disability, to a child who has autism, to an adult who has those too, all of us that battle with thoughts and fears and anxieties because as you manage your mind, you improve brain health and you improve brain resilience. And the stronger your brain becomes, the more you can then deal with the issues. So for example, when I practiced, I would never just dive straight into dealing with the problem. I would identify as best as possible, but I would first teach a child or an adult how to brain build. I’d first build the brain, teach them how to use their mind to build the brain, to build resilience in the brain, and that’s the first chapter in the second part of the book, where I teach about the concept of the neurocycle, which is the system for getting your mind to change your brain.
So the neurocycle is a system of self-regulated mind management that you use, that is the mind stuff that you do to change your mind to fix your brain. So the first application is brain building. That is putting information into your brain. Because the more you grow your brain, the more effectively you function. So for example, this morning, you and your kids, all of you woke up with thousands, maybe millions, we’re not quite sure, of new baby nerve cells, called neurogenesis. And the daily ones that you get are designed for a very specific purpose. They are designed to be incorporated into the networks that you build during the day. So they’re there to sort of whatever experiences you have from the time you open your eyes to the time you go to sleep because all of that is being converted into thoughts in your brain. So you get given a batch of new nerve cells in the morning, and those are kind of incorporated as a strengthening format, and then you grow new ones on top of that. So the little tree branch, if you imagine a tree, they just keep growing. But they kind of grow into this space. If you brain build, you will use it very effectively and you’ll wire brain health and strength into the brain.
And if you don’t use them, they become toxic waste by the time you go to sleep, which then causes sleep issues, and cumulatively over time can lead to depression and anxiety and that kind of thing as well. So the first thing you need to do is clean the brain and prepare the brain and build brain resilience. So brain building is a vital skill and the easiest way for brain building is to use it — so many people are homeschooling now, learning the school subjects. So how to learn, how to — which is what I did with my ADHD kids, and I hate that label, we trained to teach the kids that battle with learning. That’s a much more inclusive and non-judgmental and non-labeling way. You’re battling to learn. Everyone battles to learn and everyone can learn how to learn. So the brain-building section can help you to help your children to learn their school work, and at the same time, they’re building their brains. So you’re taking advantage of that system. And as adults, you can use it too, I strongly recommend it. I did a lot of family therapy, so the kids and the parents brain build, because we should all be brain building. Like you clean your teeth everyday, you should brain build everyday for an hour or two a day, which is very, very important. That just builds your skill. And that’s one of the uses. We can talk about the other applications and the neuropsychology, however you want to unpack it.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
So many great things there, so much wonderful information. Really, probably most people hearing for the first time about the connection between — I think of the mind as a meaning maker, right. The brain takes in these things, but it’s the mind that really makes sense of our experience and then directs everything that happens as a result of that. When you talk about these brain building experiences and how learning and school-based activities can be one of the vehicles for that, I think lots of engaged activities during the day can be a vehicle for that, right? Even if your child is not in an academic setting, anything that we might engage ourselves and our children, any kind of meaningful task or activity during the day is an opportunity for that brain building.
Dr. Caroline Leaf:
Absolutely. You can do it all day long. The concept of NeuroCycling — as a scientist, I developed this concept nearly four decades ago, and then as a good scientist, you constantly check, what did I do right? What did I do wrong? What’s new in the field? How can I advance this? And that’s what I’ve been doing for all these years. So the clinical trials that I present in the book Cleaning Up Your Mental Mess, the first part, are an accumulation of the latest, most updated version. So the Neurocycle is the name that I have given this process that you can learn and learn to apply no matter what your age, my youngest patient was a 3 year old, my oldest was an 82 year old. I’ve had people across the world that have just read my books and are using it. Every single age, walk of life, culture, etc, etc. So if you are alive and a human, it doesn’t matter who you are, what age you are, where you live: You are using your mind. So this neurocycle teaches you how to use your mind, which is what you use when you wake up, to choose your clothes, to eat your food, to do your exercise, it directs your digestive system, your heart function, your discussion with your teacher, your friend, your dog, your cat, playing with your friends. Everything is controlled. My argument is, if your brain is always changing, your brain is always changing, we need to direct it. So the neurocycle teaches you how to do that, and the applications, the benefits are phenomenal. So I don’t know if you want to talk a little bit about the research, then maybe we can give a practical example or something.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
I’d love for you to talk about what that neurocycle is, the research with it and then let’s give an example of what that looks like, because I think people are absolutely intrigued. What would that look like to do that for myself or with a child?
Dr. Caroline Leaf:
Let’s start with the big picture. The big picture is that the mind is 99%. It’s how you think, feel and choose, you never stop thinking, feeling and choosing. During the day, you think, feel and choose and you build thoughts into your brain. It’ll send it to every side of the body. At night time, you’re still thinking and feeling and choosing, your mind is still working, but it works differently and it’s now doing housekeeping, so it’s regenerating for the next day. So the mind then has got this conscious mind now when you’re awake, but our non-conscious mind is always operating. So a non-conscious mind is like this gigantic infinite forest of trees, with each tree being every experience you’ve ever had. So millions of trillions of experiences right from the womb until now, and we keep adding more. So we’ve got all these trees, think of different sized-trees, little ones of recent experience and really big ones that were very established from ages ago. Most of them are green, but in between you’ve got these little dark clusters which are our toxic experiences and wrong choices and bad habits and traumas and that’s kind of what a person’s mind looks like and it’s reflected in those gravitational fields as these forces, and in the brain, it’s physical protein trees, and in the body it affects the DNA. So that’s a lot of science to handle in that moment, but you direct that whole process which is really amazing.
So what I developed in the neurocycle was sure, this was all great stuff, but I can’t go giving that to some child who is 5. What do I tell them? So I was forced to sort of simplify, and I also chose to work with people that had been told, “Okay, the window of time is closed, so we can’t do anything for you”, and they were just written off as behavioral issues. So I said okay, that’s who I wanted in my practice because they weren’t being helped, they were just kind of written off. So that’s who I worked with. I did a lot of my work with people that had been kind of written off by the medical and the paramedical and the therapeutic profession, which is really sad, and had become major behavioral issues because gosh, you’re a human. You know you’ve got that, your gut, every human inside knows that you have wisdom. You may not label it wisdom, but each and everyone of you knows there’s something you can do that no one else can do. It’s just a knowing, it’s a survival thing. As the scientists say, we’re wired for love. We have an optimism bias, we have this inner wisdom.
An example of that would be, let’s say that you have an Aha moment. That’s when you suddenly click, that’s actually an example of your inner wisdom. Or someone comes to you and they ask you a question or they give you a problem and you give them this amazing solution, and they say, “Wow, that’s incredible.” You’ve just tapped into your inner wisdom. So everyone has that. Every human has that. So the neurocycle teaches you how to tap into that wisdom and use it to actually — that wise mind to fix the messy mind, then fix the messy brain and body. And that’s kind of the feedback loop that’s being set up. So to set the stage, my most recent research, which as I said is in the book, we did what we call a random controlled trial, which is very efficient, very good science.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
The gold standard in scientific studies.
Dr. Caroline Leaf:
Gold standard, we had all the best external statisticians, so I’m not telling you stuff that’s just woo-woo or pop-culture or self-help industry stuff: This is hardcore science that has been really cross-evaluated and cross-tested and all our results were — we quadruple checked everything with teams of scientists. So essentially, I’m presenting very high standard science to you. So we had an experimental group and a control group. What that means is that the experimental group came in with their issues, and so did the control group and they all got tested, they all got their psychological testing. The most important testing was narrative: What’s your story? Who are you? What’s your context? What are you battling with? Why do you think you’re battling? Tell me about your life. That’s the most important part because you’re not just a label.
Depression is not an it. Anxiety is not an it. Learning disabilities is not an it. It’s simply a symptom of something that’s going on and we’ve got to find out what’s going on. There may be elements of neurology, there are definitely elements of nurture, there are definitely elements of life experiences. All of that in the pot, produces what’s happening, the communication that you’re having. So we look at your communication and we track it back. The neurocycle is doing that, it’s helping you to look at your communication and track back. So with that philosophy in mind, we also looked inside the brain, we QEEG, which is a really good way of looking at the energetic response of the brain, the different wave frequencies. And again, it’s very closely linked to the connections in the brain and blood flow and all the stuff that your brain needs to work properly, and that the two sides are working together and so on. And then we also looked at people’s DNA.
So we looked specifically at something called telomere. So if you think of Jurassic Park and the DNA ladder, and you pull out the chromosome, it looks like an X and if you put your fingers in an X, you’ve got fingernails, your fingernails are telomeres. We looked at telomeres. Why? Because telomeres, very new research, very recent research, very solid, but they’re seen as a proxy for how you manage your mind. So if you’re learning well and you’re building your brain and you’re managing your emotions and you’re accepting — they’re going to be healthy and they’re going to be… But if not, they shorten, they’re not healthy, etc, etc. So what we wanted to see was: Did anything change? So at the beginning of the study, our subjects were depressed, anxious, worried, all different traumas, battling with learning, a whole selection of stuff. Looking in their brain, it was a mess. Depressed, everything that could go wrong was going wrong. When you have short telomeres, telomeres tell you the health of every cell if your body. you have 37 to 100 trillion cells. So if your telomeres are not working properly and they’re short, and they’re just not healthy, they can’t do what they’re supposed to do, that means that your cell health is bad, which means your biological age is going to be affected. So that means your organs have an age, then you have your own age. So if you say, for example, 30, but you have shortened telomeres, you could have an older body biologically.
So we saw that with our subjects. We saw that in our experimental and control subjects they had, because of all of the stress and trauma and unmanaged mental mess that the telomeres were short, and some people were in their 30’s but they had bodies of a 65 year old sickly person. So you’re 30 and you have a 65 year old sickly body, you can have a child of 10 that may have the body of a 40 year old who is sick or something like that. We showed that with mind management, no drugs, no diet — even though diet is very important and I’ve written books about that, I wanted to just test mind management because mind management goes to diet anyway, and in this book I’ve got how you can build eating habits, exercise habits, all those lifestyle habits that will also lengthen telomeres, lengthen lives, increase mind-brain health, etc. In all of the experimental group, the telomere length significantly increased, which meant that the biological age improved, which meant that the health improved. So if they were 30 with a 65 year old body, by the end of the study, they were 30 with a 30 year old body, which is phenomenal. The study was 9 weeks long, and the reason for that is because it doesn’t take 21 days to change behavior like we’ve been taught. It takes 63. In the region of 9 weeks. And although we’re taught it in schools, I would always arrange in cycles of 3 weeks, 3 sets of 3 weeks. So if you want to really create learning that’s established, as a parent, bear this in mind as well, you’re not going to develop full learning patterns unless you work in cycles of 3 weeks. The first 3 weeks is where you actually build the thought with the memories, but it takes the next 6 weeks to actually turn it into long term memory that will impact behavior change. So you can write a test or an exam in that 3 week period, but for it to actually be able to be applied in your life, that you can actually use it so you don’t have to relearn for the next exam, or if you are a doctor, you don’t forget it after 3 weeks. You need the extra 6 weeks. So it takes 9 weeks for behavior change or habit formation, which produces behavior change to happen. So all of that is built into the second half of the book, exactly how to use the neurocycle daily over 9 weeks. Everything there is taught. I also have an app called the Neurocycle App, which has got literally therapy. It’s this stuff, but it’s not me, audio, video, and then with lots of programs, like how to use a neurocycle for your children and all those kinds of things. We’ve got a book coming out for kids called NeuroCycling and that kind of stuff. In the meantime, this is a great place to start because it’s easy enough for you to learn how to use that you can use for yourself and you can start teaching your kids.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
I just wanted to spotlight how amazing those results are and how it emphasizes the brain-body connection too, that when we do things with the mind that then change the brain, that has a profound impact on every part of the body as well, which is something that a lot of people don’t understand, really, is how interconnected the brain and the body are.
Dr. Caroline Leaf:
Exactly. Thank you for emphasizing that. And that really is because it’s very hopeful to know that if you do this with your child and with yourself, this is going to change in your brain. You are going to the exact thing that we saw happening with our experimental subjects who did the neurocycle, who did the mind management, who developed the skill. It was sustainable. In 6 months, it was still sustainable. So it’s going to make the changes because your non-conscious mind, which is the one that is always awake, that I spoke about, the biggest one, the big, huge forest, that non-conscious mind, the brain and your body know what’s happening and experience change before you consciously experience it. Your conscious mind is always a little delayed. So we can often be learning something and feel like we’re not getting anywhere but the changes are happening in your brain and your body. So that’s one of the reasons I have also put this research in is to coach people to not give up, because the changes are happening. The science is there. You may not feel it yet, and it will also often feel worse if you’re working on something like depression: Depression and anxiety are not illnesses. They are warning signals that something is going on. So if I hold up a toxic tree, which is this black, wiry-looking tree — for those of you who can’t see this, think of a forest with dark trees. If your roots, the origin story, what happened, what the cause was, the tree trunk is the perspective and the branches would be the behaviors and the emotions and so on, and that’s generating warning signals. So this would generate warning signals, this toxic tree of depression or anxiety or psychotic breaks, depending on how severe it is. If it’s like a really severe, repeated trauma, abuse, you probably could be having psychotic breaks and disassociation and all those scary things. But those are not illnesses. Those are symptoms or warning signals that we need to pay attention to and find out what’s going on and that’s what the neurocycle does. It takes you through the process of deconstructing and reconstructing. As soon as you are away and you face it, it can get worse before it gets better. That will happen. It’s called the treatment effect. That’s very often the case with teaching a child learning skills. Even a child with so-called autism and the symptoms of battling in that way and it’s very real, it’s not that it doesn’t exist, it’s just that it’s not so fixed like we’ve been told. It’s just not quite as — you know everything is autistic or asperger’s or something now, it’s become sort of let’s dump everything into it, it’s a catchphrase. Even that, it’s going to take time to change, but those are warning signals that you need to find out, okay, let’s search for how we can reconceptualize things in order to create learning. And anyone can learn how to learn, you’ve just got to teach them.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
I think that’s such a powerful message for parents to hear, that any person of any age can learn and improve how their mind and their brain are functioning when they have the right experiences and the right guidance and tools to direct that process. I know there is so much more we can get into about this, including the specific ways that you use the neurocycle process you developed that helps not only our kids, but also ourselves as parents. I also know that we need to wrap up due to time constraints. I want to make sure as we wrap up here that people know where they can get the new book and where they can find out more about you and your work, because I know people are going to want to investigate this further.
Dr. Caroline Leaf:
Absolutely. Thank you for giving me the chance to share about this. In terms of children, if you learn the system for yourself, you can at this stage, just adapt it down to a child’s level, and the brain building is a great place to start. That’s what I would do with all my patients. The first thing I would do is brain building, then I go into the trauma work and all the hard stuff. We will be having our children’s versions coming out. If people go to drleaf.com and sign up for the newsletter and follow me on Instagram, @DrCarolineLeaf on all the social media platforms, I’m on Facebook and Twitter, all the normal ones, and Clubhouse and everything. You can get all that information there. The book is available at anywhere books are sold. You can either access it through Dr. Caroline Leaf and they’ll take you to wherever you buy books from, or cleaningupyourmentalmess.com and wherever books are sold.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
We will put the links with the show notes for all of you so you can easily access those things and I look forward to continued conversation about applying this to kids and the new resources you are coming out with. Amazing conversation, amazing information, thank you so much for impending time with us today.
Dr. Caroline Leaf:
Thank you so much, it’s been a wonderful discussion, as always, we can talk for hours. I feel like we just touched the tip of the iceberg, but thank you for a wonderful discussion, I really enjoyed it.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Thank you for being here, and thanks to all of you for listening, we will see you back here next week for our next episode of The Better Behavior Show.