Do you ever feel isolated and alone?
In these crazy times when we’re more technologically connected than ever, many of us can’t help but feel separated and somewhat detached.
It may feel like it’s us versus the world, and unfortunately, social media and the internet don’t seem to be helping.
To help us rise above the madness of today’s world, we’re here with Dr. Caroline Leaf.
Dr. Leaf is a communication pathologist and cognitive neuroscientist with a Masters and PhD in Communication Pathology specializing in cognitive and metacognitive neuropsychology.
On with this show with Dr. Caroline Leaf, we’re chatting about:
- How to shift from a threat mindset to an opportunity mindset
- Risks associated with loneliness and isolation
- What to do about toxic stress
- The placebo effect and how to use it to your advantage
- And tons more…
Let’s go hang out with Dr. Leaf.
Dr. Caroline Leaf: The Brain, Mind, Body Connection
Abel: Dr. Caroline Leaf is a communication pathologist and cognitive neuroscientist.
Since the early ’80s, she has researched the mind-brain connection, the nature of mental health, and the formation of memory.
She was one of the first in her field to study how the brain can change, which is also known as neuroplasticity, with dedicated mind input.
Dr. Leaf, thank you so very much for joining us.
Thank you. I’m so thrilled to be with you.
Abel: For the geeks like me out there, neuroplasticity is a very exciting thing. So why don’t we start right there?
For the people who aren’t familiar with it, what is neuroplasticity and why is it so encouraging?
Well, it’s really encouraging, Abel, because it shows that, yes, the brain can change.
Back in the ’80s, when I was doing my initial research, we were actually trained that your brain couldn’t change, that once your brain’s fixed, that’s it. You’ve got to just deal with it.
It was at that time that I thought, “No, this cannot be true because we instinctively know that we influence ourselves just by the way we think and our state of mind.”
And working with patients with traumatic brain injuries and various neurological issues, I saw that the ones who were more determined and really deliberate about their work, they would change.
So I started a series of research studies, and they started showing that, as you use your mind in a very deliberate way, you can change behavioral function, your cognition, your intelligence, your social-emotional function, and just about everything about how you function.
We had CT scans then, but it was only in the mid-’90s that MRI was basically developed, and that showed us how the brain could respond to the mind.
So, from that brain technology, we started getting an insight into the fact that, as you think, you change the structure of your brain. That’s so powerful.
As you think, you change the structure of your brain. @DrCarolineLeaf Click To Tweet
Neuroplasticity is the ability that we have with our mind to change our brain. Which means that the mind is separate from the brain. But the mind works through the brain, and the brain responds to the mind.
And neuroplasticity is how we use our mind to change the structure of our brain in different directions. And it keeps changing.
The brain can’t change itself. The brain is changed by what you’re thinking, feeling, choosing, and what you’re eating.
The Problem with Reductionism
Abel: Isn’t that incredible? As an undergrad, I studied brain science, and if I learned one thing, it was that scientists understand very little about the brain, the mind, and how any of this works.
I did four MRIs myself to make extra money in college. I would join some of these studies. It was interesting to run some and then be on the other side and participate in them, as well.
But, to your point, reading through your book, it was very refreshing to not have this kind of reductionist view of how we work, right?
Could you delve into that a little bit more?
Sure. I’m so glad that there’s a like-minded person, because we do live in an era of neuro-reductionism, where everything is brought back down to the physical.
And you’re told you are your brain and you are your genes, and you can’t change anything. That’s based on a philosophy that started around about 350 years ago.
Basically, Newton’s laws and the scientific method was born, and classical physics was born. And just, in simple language, it’s a focus on the physical.
So, if you can’t see it, touch it, feel it, hear it, it doesn’t count. And that brought in an era of a lot of advances in science.
But also, we went backwards in terms of human development. And we see that peaking about 50 years ago.
And now in our current environment, we see the results of that quite dramatically, in terms of how we view ourselves as humans.
Because it’s taken reductionism, and neurocentrism will focus too much on the brain, and ignoring the mind.
The dominant part of us has taken away that kind of like our power, and our responsibility for who we are.
So everything’s now a disease. If you’re sad, it’s a disease. If you are raped and you feel sad, it’s a disease.
If you’re obese because you’ve actually been eating junk food for 20 years, you now have a disease.
Everything is brought down to what we call a biomedical approach, where the mind has been corralled by the medical profession. And they’re not trained in mind, they’re trained in body.
The biomedical model is perfect for the physical, it’s great for medicine, but those rules don’t apply to mind.
And so, we see that playing out in the current environment.
What I work on is, I’m a mind specialist. I’ve spent 30 years studying the mind-brain connection. And when you say people don’t really understand the brain and the mind, you’re totally correct.
There’s so few people that really understand the mind because the mind is approached from this brain point of view, where your mind is seen as the firing of the neurons and they generate energy.
And if they fire hard or fast enough, they generate a bit of, mind as kind of a mistake, and then freewill is an illusion, and you have broken brains.
That kind of dominant philosophy has come through, and it’s really peaked now.
And I’m sure you’ve read this text, and I mentioned it in my book, that between 2014 and 2015 the federal data was released, and it’s been confirmed that the trend of people living longer has been reversed.
And then look collectively at the obesity epidemic and look collectively at how people are using psychotropic medications for mind issues.
All that sort of combined way of mismanagement of mind with this very reductionistic approach has resulted in people dying much younger than what they should, from preventable lifestyle diseases.
And I know you approach it from the food side and I approach it from the mind side, but you can’t do mind without food and you can’t do food without mind, because they’re integral to each other.
You can’t do mind without food, and you can’t do food without mind, because they’re integral to each other. Click To Tweet
Abel: Exactly. And all the conditions that you mentioned, eventually you come back to the mind anyway.
Unless you’re literally born without a limb or something like that. Most of these issues, especially that we’re facing today in the developed world, are these problems that could be solved or at least prevented with mental intervention, with nothing that even involves the 3D physical world.
Exactly. You’re totally right. Because if you think about it, if you use your mind all the time—whether you like it or not, you’re always thinking.
Whether you like it or not, you’re always thinking. @DrCarolineLeaf Click To Tweet
You think 24/7. At nighttime, you’re sorting out your thinking, you have this housekeeping like process going on. But during the day, you’re actually thinking to build thoughts.
Like right now, you’re thinking. When you eat, you’re thinking. When you walk, you’re thinking. You never stop thinking.
And when you think, you always feel, and when you feel, you always choose.
I always explain that to people, that those few things go together. You think, you feel, you choose.
And that’s a triad, it’s always together. As you think, feel, and choose, that’s your mind in action.
And you’re doing that all day long, from the time you wake up, and in your sleep. So that’s 24/7.
And this thinking, feeling, and choosing is changing the structure of your brain. This thinking, feeling, and choosing builds thoughts, and those thoughts precede your words and your actions.
When you choose to grab that fast food instead of thinking about taking the time to have a healthy meal that’s sustainable and so on, you know that it’s all coming from what have you done with your mind.
And, Abel, I’m sure you know about this, being in the world of eating, that up to 90% of eating is controlled by your mind.
Your mind drives your digestive system.
For example, people can be eating a really healthy farm-to-table meal, but if they’re feeling jealous, toxic, worked up, rushed, or whatever, that influences how the pancreas, for example, secretes neuropeptides to be able to get the food to be absorbed into the body.
People don’t realize that.
The nutrition you would gain from that really healthy food, most of it is being eliminated just by your mindset.
So the mindset behind a meal is a massive component.
Abel: The mind’s effect over hunger is such an interesting one, as well.
If you ask most people if they’re hungry or not, they could eat. Sure, they could eat almost any time.
But if they’re about to walk up on stage, all of a sudden, it’s a different scenario.
Just act this out in your mind. You’re about to speak for 100 people, you don’t know what you’re going to say and you’re about to walk up on stage, all of that kind of goes, “I’m not hungry anymore,” you know what I mean?
Exercise can do that, as well. Any sort of state change can help you realize the difference between this craving that doesn’t even really come from you, or just comes from habits, compared to something that you really want to do and enact in your life.
Like you mentioned, 90% of this eating happens and a lot of it is automatic. People don’t even realize how many of these behaviors are just done without any conscious intervention, or even intention.
People are just kind of slogging along, trying to keep up, instead of saying, “This is what I want to do with my life,” or even “This is what I want to eat for dinner tonight.”
Exactly. It’s a really good way that you’ve explained it there.
A large portion of the research that I’ve done over the last 30 years, and that I’m actually doing clinical trials on right now, we’re doing a whole series of clinical trials this year on helping people deal with anxiety and depression.
Abel: Oh, wow.
Stuff with ART drugs. Going through and helping people to realize it’s your mind, your involvement in community, eating healthy food, and all that kind of thing.
And related to a non-conscious concept, one of the things I developed and researched was a theory on how the non-conscious and the conscious mind work.
Very often, we think that we’re doing things automatically, which we are. Well, why are we doing them automatically?
If we look at the actual research, we see that between 90% – 99% is non-physical. So that is our mind.
Our minds are thinking, feeling, choosing—mind in action. That’s the biggest part of us.
And as you think, feel and choose, you build these thoughts. And as you think more and more about those thoughts, they become automated or habits.
And that takes around about 63 days, not 21 like everyone thinks.
Abel: 63? Wow.
Yeah, 63 days to form a habit.
Here’s a typical scenario of how people fall into bad habits with eating.
You’re driving to work, and as you drive you’d probably find that you drive past 20 or 30 different takeout places selling junk food, and you see all the billboards. And maybe you’re listening to podcasts and in between are these adverts for junk food. And then on your phone there’s more adverts coming up, as well as while you’re watching TV shows later that day.
If you think of it, over a period of 63 days, three months or nine weeks, you are constantly being exposed to junk food advertising.
And so, seeing it over and over, you’re paying attention to it, you’re thinking, feeling in response to the information, without even realizing that you are focusing on it.
So you’re choosing, your genetic action happens, and you actually build the junk food thoughts into your brain.
And because you keep seeing it, you become habituated. Now junk food is now a habit, literally built into your brain. You’ve got that junk food scenario.
So now you’re hurrying, you’re in a rush, you’re collecting your kids from school, or you’re in-between office meetings, and you’re rushing here or there.
So what do people do?
“Oh, I’m hungry.”
And then one of those thoughts pops from the non-conscious to the conscious mind, and without regulating it, they respond, “I’m hungry. Oh, I like that.”
They’ve eaten it before, which reinforces that memory, and they go and grab the quick fast, eat it in the car on the way to wherever.
And they keep reinforcing. So they’re getting to this pattern, which is unconscious. But actually, what’s happening is you consciously built it and then it became a habit.
So, even though you’re not consciously aware, it’s still driving your activity.
So what we have to do is become very self-regulated, and that’s a huge part of what I teach.
You need to be very self-regulated and your brain is basically structured for that.
Our mind-brain connection is very structured for self-regulation.
We function at our most optimal intelligence when we are regulating our thinking, feeling, and choosing.
So, when we are hungry, we should ask ourselves, “Ok, I’m hungry. Why am I hungry? When did I last eat? What should I eat? And am I in a rush?”
And I touch on a lot of this stuff briefly in Think, Learn, Succeed, and I have another book called Think and Eat Yourself Smart where I talk about these concepts in a lot of depth, in terms of what should you do when you’re eating.
If you’re in this rush, and this junk food thing pops in your mind and you are hungry, and you want to grab something, that’s when you’ve got to be very careful.
“Ok, what’s popping in my mind?” And then self-regulate.
“Ok, so I’m going to go now, and grab the junk food.”
No, you’re not going to grab the junk food. Because you’ve taken the time, maybe, to read why that junk food is actually going to increase your chance of fatty liver disease.
Or it could be contributing to your weight gain, or your lethargy, or whatever it may be that you’re experiencing.
And it’s better now to go and get a healthy alternative. It requires a bit of time and effort, but it’s a change of mindset.
That’s the whole mindset thing.
We’ve got to be aware of what we’ve put into our non-conscious mind. @DrCarolineLeaf Click To Tweet
And then the habits we’ve built over the 63 days of comfort eating or stress eating, or some people will respond to toxic stress by not eating.
And then when they do eat, they binge eat. So the body’s metabolism is kinda messed up.
There’s so much mind stuff involved in health, because your mind is physically, directly controlling your body.
From Community to Quick-Fix
Abel: Going back hundreds or thousands of years, I can’t imagine our ancestors being such basket cases about what to eat, throughout the day or whenever really, unless they were literally starving.
Almost all of these problems that we’re experiencing seem brought on by the time or the culture. What are we fighting against? What’s happening to us? Why is this happening now?
Yeah, you’re so right. The way we’ve changed the whole eating thing.
First of all, eating is not sufficiently a community thing.
Eating is such an interactive community event, and we are social animals, we’re social creatures, we are designed for that connection.
For our ancestors, it was such a big effort to get food that they got it collectively, they prepared it collectively, and they enjoyed it collectively.
And it was really such an honoring thing to be able to have nutrition.
With the advent of fast food and the hurry sickness syndrome, and rush, rush, rush, and I’m-too-busy-to-cook-a-meal mentality that’s been unconsciously—it’s basically advertising propaganda.
“You’re too busy to cook, don’t worry, we’ll give you the instant food.”
Which began in the ’50s and has accelerated in this culture, to the state where we just think it’s the norm.
Kids think that fast food grows on trees.
I mean, that’s an exaggeration, but some kids don’t even know where bread comes from, and they’re kinda stuck.
They don’t know what an ancient grain is, or what a root vegetable is.
So, it’s definitely a sign of our times, of this quick-fix mentality, the technological age. Everything is quick, quick, quick.
And there’s nothing wrong with technology, there’s nothing wrong with getting things done and being busy. I’m an advocate for that.
But there are certain things that you just can’t do in a quick fix, and that’s anything to do with mind and body.
With the mind and the body there are no quick fixes. There’s no quick pill to make you thin, and there’s no quick fix this.
With the mind and the body there are no quick fixes. @DrCarolineLeaf Click To Tweet
It takes time to change your mind, to change your eating habits, to change the impact that it’s going to have on your body.
It’s the same with anything. If you’re depressed, that’s not an illness. That is a symptom that your body is out of equilibrium, and that there’s something going on, there’s a root cause.
And if you ask yourself enough why questions, you’re going to get to the point where you’ll find the root of that. Which may be a trauma, and it may be that you are comfort eating for the trauma.
So you’ve got this combination of, you’ve got the trauma, it’s un-dealt with, but you’re also eating junk food. which is messing up your hormones and messing up how your brain functions, and causing atrophy of neurons in your brain, which causes foggy thinking.
And so you get this very negative feedback.
Then the quick-fix mentality of this current culture is to go get a pill for that, which isn’t going to solve it.
Being told you have a disease gives you a kind of an excuse, “Oh, well, I have a disease of obesity,” or “I have a disease of depression.”
It gives you an excuse not to dig deeper.
And for a time, it’s almost like, ok, you kind of feel relieved.
“Wow, that’s why. I have an answer.”
But, at the end of the day, it’s hard work being alive. It’s hard work dealing with the vagaries of life. It’s hard work, but we’re designed to do it in community.
It’s hard work being alive… but we’re designed to do it in community. @DrCarolineLeaf Click To Tweet
So that comes back to the community aspect.
Our culture has moved away from community. Our culture’s moved into quick fix.
So when you have an isolated, quick-fix, reductionistic environment, where everything is about the physical, you lose a huge part of humanity.
We’ve almost forgotten how to be human again, and I think that’s a huge part of why we see so many problems today.
Abel: I’m going to share a quote from your book because I think it goes right to that point. And it just struck me when I read it.
“We now have the world at our fingertips, yet, paradoxically, more and more of us live solitary, futile lives.”
Solitary, futile lives. That sounds like such a bummer, but it hits it. That’s what people are struggling with right now, is what it feels like.
Exactly. And you’re quite right, America is one of the most individualistic societies. I don’t know if you are aware of that.
The teenagers in the United States are one of the loneliest groups of teenagers in the world.
You think of this very advanced country with all of its technology, and being the leader, and all that kind of stuff. And yet, we are one of the unhappiest nations, highest in taking medications, and lonely.
Isolation is such a major issue.
There’s so much research pouring out almost daily, showing how isolation can literally cause your body to shut down.
It causes feelings of depression and anxiety. We survive on connection with each other.
It’s actually killing people.Your mortality rates increase by 50% when you are isolated
Your mortality rates increase by 50% when you are isolated. @DrCarolineLeaf Click To Tweet
There was a study done at Berkeley not that long ago, where they asked the question, “If we were consciously and deliberately trying to improve our happiness on a daily basis, what would we do?”
This is just the summarized version of the study.
They asked that question to a group of Americans, and then to people in Russia, Japan and Taiwan.
And the ones in the United States, the answer was, “Ok, well, I’m going to take some time for myself. I’m going to get a massage.”
So the response was me, me, me focused.
The ones in Japan, Thailand and Russia, they immediately said, “Ok, well, look, I’m going to take time every day to get happier. I’m going to spend more time with people. I’m going to get out there in the community, community mindset, support mindset, I’m going to support other people.”
And there was a dramatic difference in happiness levels, and reducing that reduction of depression, and all kinds of stuff, in the community mindset.
We’re not designed for isolation.
Isolation distorts our perception and there’s a lot of evidence that people in isolation will either become overweight or they will starve because they don’t eat. People react in two ways to that kind of toxic stress.
And your body breaks down, your body literally breaks down. Your genome literally starts collapsing without the stimulation of deep, meaningful connections.
Abel: That’s also an example of almost like passive mind over body, right?
The act of not doing something is mind over body, and making you sick because you’re not having that natural connection. There are so many examples of that.
I love that you said that it’s almost passive. So often people think, “Well, if I don’t do anything, I’m not doing anything.”
But that’s a choice. You choose not to do anything.
We need to recognize the power of choice. The power of responsibility. And we’re not denying the fact that people do have responses, reactions to medications that can cause weight gain.
We’re not denying that depression, anxiety and these things are very, very real, but they’re not illnesses. They are responses. They are lifestyle issues that are preventable.
And we need, as a community, to jump in and have compassion and listen and help each other.
I mean, there are studies showing that people have dealt with eating disorders very successfully, purely just through the love and support of community, you know.
Isolation just doesn’t cut it at all.
Harnessing the Placebo Effect
Abel: Right. But with aspects of the mind kind of working against us, sometimes Western medicine is quick to throw away the placebo effect.
Because they don’t understand it or don’t want to, but could you maybe delve into the power of harnessing whatever the placebo effect may be?
Absolutely. As you know, you get placebo and nocebo, which are basically mind effects.
So if you expect something to be working or good, it changes how your brain releases neurotransmitters, that changes the chemistry of the brain.
It changes the electromagnetic fields, changes the quantum energy, and every single one of your cells of your body respond differently.
It activates genetic switches that increase your resilience.
There’s a phenomenal physical response to the placebo effect, and it’s in every single human connection. As well as any kind of luck from medication, which has always got a huge placebo effect—as high as 30% to 40%.
So, for example, in these clinical trials that we do now, it’s a mind intervention. They’re limited, but it’s a self-regulated trial. It’s something the participants drive themselves. And just the mere fact that they’re in a study, we’re going to account for the placebo effect up to 40%.
So, in other words, what the placebo tells you is that our mind is influencing how we are responding to something.
Most therapy intervention counseling—anything where you are going to a doctor, any kind of interaction with another human—will immediately have the placebo effect in bold.
When they do trials on different types of therapies, they talk about, if you don’t account for placebo, you’re losing a 40% effect—40% bias. Up to 40% to 70% bias in your research.
And what that essentially means is that the reason why therapies work is often not because of the technique, it’s because of the fact that there’s human connection.
Someone’s actually listening to me, someone’s actually telling me something.
And that’s how, in terms of clinical trials as well with medications, there is always that placebo effect of, “Ok. Well, this is the problem, and this is the pull to fix the problem.”
Because we’ve been so trained in our society and our culture that this is what happens.
And there’s some great… I mean, the antibiotic really does get rid of the bacteria, and there’s some incredible medication.
But even with the incredible medications out there, the placebo effect plays such a huge role.
There was a super interesting study done at Baylor that you might have heard of. This knee surgeon, had an experimental group and a control group.
The experimental group went through, obviously, the whole procedure, the whole knee surgery procedure.
And then the experimental group didn’t have the surgery, but they were still put under anesthetic. They were still wheeled into the surgery, he still spoke and picked up the instruments as though he was doing surgery, but he didn’t actually do any cutting.
The whole thing was simulated. So one group actually had the physical surgery, the other group did not.
And post-surgery, the results were exactly the same.
The non-surgery group, it was all placebo. They couldn’t believe it.
That’s the whole point. It’s double blind, which means that the patients didn’t know who was and who wasn’t getting the surgery.
But they couldn’t believe it—the patients who took the bandages off, but no surgery was done.
So that’s the power of placebo. And it’s something we need to harness.
Nocebo is the same thing, but in the negative—if you have negative expectations.
I talk about the placebo in terms of the expectation mindset. And in my book you quoted a moment ago, I talk about the expectation mindset and how expectation has a huge amount to do with placebo and nocebo.
Expectation is how we’re seeing something from the view of our experience. And so, what we’ve read, what we’ve heard, our belief systems, what we’ve been exposed to in our culture, we develop a mindset.
And then based on whatever you’ve read about something, when you’re going to maybe get a surgery, or you’re taking a tablet for something, or you’re doing a new diet or something, you don’t come to that empty.
You come to that situation with you and all your you-ness, plus all your experience. And that influences how you’re going to benefit from or not benefit from that situation.
So you go in with an expectation. For example, “I’m going to do the Wild Diet. I’ve seen net results, looking at your webpage.”
And then there’s an expectation that they’re going to lose weight. They’re coming into your diet plan already with an expectation.
But having read the information about your diet—I’m just using it as an example—they’ve actually wired that into their brain.
So by the time they actually start your diet, the placebo has been building and is in full effect.
Because of the expectancy and the information, they’ve created an expectancy, which is the placebo effect. And they’ve wired that in their brain.
They’ve actually already have networks in their brain primed to improve their physical health.
And that’s a great asset that we have, as humans, to help us to achieve end results.
Abel: Yeah, to your point, there have been a few folks who I’ve been in touch with, and I’ve had on the show in the past, who have been extremely competitive natural bodybuilders.
And they’ve been able to—the men, anyway—get down to a body fat of 3% or 5%, which is unnaturally low.
Yeah, that low is probably not good for your brain. That’s probably dangerous.
Abel: Right. And it’s not necessarily a good thing. But I asked them, because I’m curious, how do you actually get there, logistically, or what have you? And I’ve helped some people get down there, too.
But the number one thing they say is, “I visualize myself at that 3% or 5% (or whatever they’re going for) and it’s almost like everything else falls into place if the power of my visualization is good enough.”
The first time I heard that, I’m like, “What are you talking about?” Like, how could that possibly work?
But they said that basically maintaining that image every day in their mind and working towards it allows your body to somehow fill in the gaps and get there.
Absolutely. Well, you’ve spoken about these two concepts. You’ve spoken about the visualization.
The concept of visualization is not just goal-pro, it’s not just goal-focused. It’s process-focus. Because they said they’re getting there.
When people talk about goals, I always say, “Forget the goals. Get the vision, focus on the process, and be able to adapt.”
Because you’re going to have to adapt. You have a certain vision you’re going for, but you’re going to have to be able to adapt.
The process is so important with that inner vision, and these guys are doing that differently.
The other thing is that they are self-regulating. They are using their mind to self-regulate how they are actually going through that process.
People say, “How do you control your mind? How do you control your mind to lose the weight, to get that depression under control, to deal with the toxic trauma, to deal with the stresses of life, the busyness of work? Balancing all the things that we have to do, living in this crazy culture?”
I’ve worked with patients for years in extreme situations, like really the worst of the worst of the worst.
I’ve gone into the township areas in South Africa and worked with people that had been raped and abused, AIDS victims, victims of the terrible Apartheid system, the results of racism, and really extreme circumstances.
For 30 years, I have really worked with very challenging parts of humanity. Not people who’ve got little problems, but people who are dealing with a multiplicity of big issues. Definitely, it was education.
And I say this to say the following, that I had to find a way of understanding how you could use your mind to create this neuroplasticity in the brain.
To get your body and your brain to align with your mind and to get some kind of good correlation occurring between them.
Because you can have a really good mindset, and a really good desire and goal and vision, but how do you get to that?
We don’t want that 3% body fat, definitely, but how did they get to that?
So I developed a five-step process, and I actually talk about that in Think, Learn, Succeed as well.
I use that five-step process in terms of building the brain and in terms of detoxing the brain.
It’s essentially five steps that help you understand how to regulate yourself, because we, as humans, are able to stand back and observe our own thinking, feeling, and choosing.
And as we observe our own thinking, feeling and choosing, we then control our reactions.
So we’re not just being reactive in a chaotic way, we’re being very deliberate and intentional about our reactions.
And as we do that, we then control the process of moving towards managing things.
When we control our mind correctly, we’re also more flexible.
Because people can have a goal and not get it, and then fall apart because they don’t get that goal.
Part of managing your mind is building in tremendous amount of possibilities. I talk about that being a possibility mindset.
So in Think, Learn, Succeed, I share my five-step process to help people understand how to control the mind, how to build memory, as well as how to blend that with a different mindset.
So they kind of all go together. And I also show how this takes time, like I mentioned earlier on.
Those guys aren’t going to get to that point in five minutes, no athlete does.
Dealing with anything, we know it takes time, we know that. But when you’re doing it, we expect it to happen fast.
So we’ve got a conflict in our expectations.
We are trained to think in a quick fix mentality, but our instincts tell us it takes time.
And I find that conflict is causing people to become almost immobilized in being able to move forward, and getting totally frustrated in their goals.
So I try and help people to understand that things take time, and there is no quick fix, and you have to have this expectation.
To help, we’ve actually brought this up in an app form, as well, called the Switch. We’re developing all these add-on to help different sports arenas, and vets, and depression.
So we’ve got a basic core one that’s coming up very soon, just to show people the power of their mind. Because I find that self-regulation is core.
To come back, those 3% body fat guys, they are self-regulating. That’s exactly what they are doing on a moment-by-moment basis.
They’re drawing on the placebo, they’re drawing on all of those things, but it’s the mind control. You cannot do that without mind control.
I’m sure you’re aware, Abel, of how 9 out of 10 people will put the weight back on. And the research shows, because they’ll do the exercise, they’ll do the great diet, they’ll get into great routines, but they put the weight back on.
And I think you address this a bit in your work—it’s because they haven’t got the mind right.
If you don’t address why you had the weight issue in the first place, or why you’re comfort eating, why you’re grabbing the wrong fats. Why?
If you don’t address that, you may lose the weight, but you’re not going to have sustainable weight change.
So there’s a huge amount of mind stuff behind it. Well, everything’s driven by mind.
How to Manage Your Mind in the Real World
Abel: Yeah. Well, in these current times, it seems that technology has almost been weaponized, and this whole economy is about stealing our attention.
So very few people have the space, I guess, in their lives. I don’t want to say the time, but they haven’t made the space to take that step back, and then get a control of it again.
So what do we do?
You know, because we all do live in the real world. And we all get notifications and text messages and updates on every single machine that you can turn off, and all this other stuff.
Abel: So how do you manage your mind when we’re living in the real world?
I love that question. I mean, just sitting where I am now, there are three computers in front of me and there’s two phones and there’s an iPad.
You know, that’s just in one of our office rooms. And I love the technology, we all do. We’re in the information age.
What we have to understand is that we’re so connected that we’re disconnected, number one. We’ve got to discuss this isolation thing.
And the other thing is we need to recognize that technology, when it’s misused, changes the way that we think. And we can mismanage our mind.
So this five-step process teaches you how to actually organize your mind in a way to achieve goals and to achieve processes.
When we have chaos in our mind, we are going to automatically change the structure of the brain, change the functioning of the brain.
So one of the things that I address is, number one, we need to build our brain daily. If we’re going to have mental health, healthy body weight, etcetera, we have to build our brain.
Our brains are structured to have knowledge added.
So, in our technological age, we have the advantage of having access to knowledge. But what we’re not doing is thinking about that knowledge.
So we gather the knowledge and we build… you know, like when you build a puzzle, you kinda sort the pieces, and then you build the puzzle. It’s a process, it takes time.
What we’re doing is we’re becoming excellent at just gathering the puzzle pieces, gathering the puzzle pieces, but we’re not taking the time to build the puzzle. And that is not thinking things through.
We’re designed to think, to understand.
In fact, today, I just released a podcast on this exact thing, on the importance of taking the time to think, to understand.
Your brain cannot handle a constant bombardment. It merges with the environments because of neuroplasticity.
The simplest way to understand this is we have internal networks in our brain, and those internal networks are almost like cogs of a wheel.
Even though our brain is very complex, the power of energy, of thinking, feeling, and choosing is almost too much for the physical brain.
So our physical brain needs time to rest. You need to switch off to the external and switch onto the internal.
And there are two major ways that you do that.
You need to take time to build your brain—don’t just scan the headlines, don’t just scan the articles.
Select 2 articles. Don’t try and read 50 blog posts or listen to 20 podcasts.
Choose your favorite podcast of the day, listen to that podcast.
Choose your favorite article maybe related to that podcast, and take time to listen to the podcast and then read some content around that podcast. And ask, answer and discuss.
In other words, build the puzzle.
That builds the brain and creates such a lot of health in the brain.
Otherwise, all the networks of the brain start misfiring, and we build up toxic waste because our neurons are waiting, on prime, to grow. And all these little quantum neurobiological computers are trying to grow, and they don’t grow.
So there’s stimulation, but then they don’t grow, so they collapse.
So we’re building these things, but then we don’t use them so they become toxic waste.
The other thing is we need to detox our brain, which is getting rid of the toxic thoughts.
And so I would put all my patients onto a double-pronged approach. Same five steps.
One, building your brain, and you should spend at least 2 hours a day building your brain. Listen to a podcast, read an article.
Don’t just let all the Twitter feed go through. Select from the Twitter feed, find one or two things that you actually take the time to read.
So that’s building the brain.
And then detoxing the brain, you should spend around 7 to 15 minutes a day.
The reason only such a short time is because you’re dealing with heavy, emotional toxic stuff, so you don’t want to get caught up in that.
And that’s what I’ve designed in that Switch app, and I put that in the book, as well.
And all my materials cover how to build the brain and detox the brain, to keep the mind clean so that your brain doesn’t collapse.
A great simple tip that is part of this building the brain and detoxing the brain, we can all think, “Ok, build the brain.” I’ve explained how, detox the brain, five steps, the techniques are there.
The other thing is we can do something that’s so simple and it takes one 15-minute block of time in the day.
It’s just 10 to 15 minutes where you just close your eyes and you switch off to the external and you switch onto the internal, and you daydream.
Imagine. The power of imagination allows the brain to rest, allows the brain to detox and increases your creative imaginative power.
It releases all kinds of great neurochemicals, activates the intelligence in the brain, etcetera.
And it gives your brain a rest, which is so needed.
If you keep pushing your brain, every time you’re on a break, you grab your phone and you scroll through Instagram, you’re never giving your brain a break.
A constant bombardment of that information will create toxic waste.
That can lead to anxiety, depression, psychotic breaks, which are not diseases. They are the result of not managing, giving yourself that space and time.
So it’s not that difficult. It’s just that people aren’t shown how to.
It’s a matter of how do I use my space?
People are spending about eight and a half hours a day, I’m sure you know, on mindless social media.
People are spending about 8.5 hours a day on mindless social media. @DrCarolineLeaf Click To Tweet
Turn that eight and a half hours into something constructive, and see the difference.
Abel: Or even 15 minutes.
Freaky Future of Brain Computer Interfaces
Abel: Let’s look toward the future a little bit, because it gets freaky. I’d be really interested in your thinking around brain-computer interfaces, and all the companies that are racing towards that as if it’s the next holy grail.
What’s your take on putting computers in our brains?
It’s so typical. Look, first of all, it’s a reductionistic approach completely.
And the scientists that really understand this, they pretty much laugh at AI.
So artificial intelligence is great in terms of advancing computers, we need quantum computers, that is the next wave.
Having more robotically-controlled things, that’s okay. I mean, that’s just technology advancing, and it’s going to happen. That’s a good thing.
The objective of artificial intelligence is to try to get a computer to do what the human brain can do.
And some of the greatest leaders in the field who initially started out in that field, one of them runs a Blue Brain Project, which is one of the biggest brain research projects in the world, actually a contemporary of mine.
And 30 years ago, Henry Markram basically said that within 12 years he’d have AI built.
After 30 years, he said that was the biggest mistake he’d made—I’m just summarizing.
He basically said in a thousand times a thousand times a thousand years, we still wouldn’t even be able to simulate even a thought in the human brain, because one thought in a rat brain is an infinite universe.
What are the multiplicity of thoughts in a human brain?
And then that’s just one brain. What about the uniqueness of man?
That’s on the sort of more spiritual, philosophical side. It’s an impossible task in terms of simulating.
The other side is that the calculations they’ve done are completely wrong. They are basing AI on a speed that is only the speed of one neuron firing.
They’re not looking at the quantum nature of the brain, which is 10 to the 27, which is sort of an infinite number.
They think it’s a 10 to the 16, so they’re aiming to develop to get a computer to fire at the speed which is literally only one neuron.
And one neuron—you have 100 billion. And you have a whole bunch of other stuff, and you have the quantum.
I mean, we only understand about 5% of how the brain functions. So, that’s way ahead of themselves.
I always tell people, “Stop worrying about it. Enjoy the technology that comes out of it, because we’re going to get some great computers and great technology, and so on.”
But in terms of it taking over human function, that will never happen. Impossible.
Abel: I love that response.
It’s just great. So we’ve got to learn how to adapt and manage technology, not let technology manage us, and not get caught up in reductionism.
It’s total and utter reductionism. It’s like when MRIs came out, that was, “Ah.”
And it’s still like that now, the neurobiological approach, where I just say, “Ok, well, that part of your brain produces that emotion?”
You can’t do that. Yale just brought out a study, there is no normal brain.
Every single brain is different, because it’s used differently. @DrCarolineLeaf Click To Tweet
You’re different than me. I use my brain differently than you.
Even though we have the same structure, there’s no way that we could have the same brain. We have to consider that.
Abel: Sure. And then even when you look at what’s coming out now about the intelligence of other animals compared to brain size, like you look at the brain of a dolphin or you look at a whale, or you look at a crow.
And a lot of these animals are so much smarter and even have these sixth or seventh senses, that since we can’t see them, they don’t exist, right?
Exactly. Absolutely. I mean, the mouse, when they did the Human Genome Project, they were shocked that we have as many genes as a mouse.
So it’s like we got to relook at how we are. It’s not about the hardware. It’s a fact that the mind is utilizing that hardware, and the brain is responding.
But if you say you are your brain, then AI becomes very threatening.
But if you realize that you are not your brain, but your mind works through your brain, and your brain responds, and you’re this hugely complex individual, unlike any other person, then it’s a much safer space, it’s much less stressful.
It’s very stressful, the other. Reductionism is very stressful.
Abel: Yes, indeed.
It can create a lot of toxic stress.
Abel: It can be helpful and somewhat liberating to say, “I don’t know. We don’t know.” You know? That can be a good thing.
Exactly, that’s being human.
Where to Find Dr. Caroline Leaf
Abel: So we’re just about out of time, Dr. Leaf, but before we go, could you please tell us where we can find your book, what you’re working on, and anything else you’d like to mention?
Thank you. Well, drleaf.com is my website, and you can pretty much find everything there. My social media handle is DrCarolineLeaf on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, and you can get access to my podcasts and my clinical trials, and my YouTube show, and everything there.
We also have a podcast on iTunes, and wherever you get podcasts you can find us there.
My books are all on my store, you can find them in any bookshop. And then we’ve got the Switch app coming out in the next few weeks, and that’s on the webpage.
And then we’re also doing clinical trials, which we’re very excited about.
We’ve done the first one and we’re doing another series of four. We’re working on a non-pharmacological intervention for anxiety and depression, showing that mental health is not on the rise, but the mismanagement of mental health is on the rise, that we all battle with mental health.
It’s not a disease, it is something we all battle with, and we all need to help each other.
So it’s demystifying and taking the fear mongering out of something that’s actually a human thing. Going against medicalizing misery, and helping people to realize how powerful they are.
Abel: Well, Dr. Leaf, thank you so much. I think your work is needed more than ever, it seems. So we really appreciate having you on the show.
Thank you so much. I’ve enjoyed being on the show, and thank you for your great work, too.
Before You Go…
Here’s a note that just came in from Russell. He says:
Hey, Abel. After reading The Wild Diet last winter, I’ve given up simple sugars with the exception of IPAs and simple carbs and have been eating a lot of whole foods and grass-fed and organic meats, eggs, butter, and healthy fats from nut, seeds, and avocados. I also intermittent fast from dinner until my midday meal.
Even though I’ve always been very active mountain biking and hitting the gym, I was developing quite the dad bod while trying to keep up with not only my own IPA habit, but my kid’s ice cream and cookie habit. I started eating the way you recommend last February, lost 10 pounds within a few weeks and then another 10 pounds over the next few months and have been maintaining that way ever since.
I’m down a couple of inches in the waist and I’m at 9% body fat. I listen to all your podcast. They really help keep the fire stoked. I can’t thank you enough for being my enabler. – Russell
Wow, Russell, 9% body fat, not too bad. That’s probably lower than me right now. That’s fantastic.
To all of you who have sent in notes, thank you so much. They go straight to my heart. I really appreciate hearing from you.
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What did you think of this interview with Dr. Caroline Leaf? Drop a comment below to share your thoughts!