June 8, 2022

E325: Cleaning your Mental Mess with Dr. Caroline Leaf | Mental Health Podcast

In this episode, we have an amazing guest – Doctor Caroline Leaf, who has played a massive role in my personal healing journey over the years, someone that has been a voice that has helped me get to where I am.
See show notes at: https://www.thinkunbrokenpodcast.com/e325-cleaning-your-mental-mess-with-dr-caroline-leaf-mental-health-podcast/#show-notes

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In this episode, we have an amazing guest – Doctor Caroline Leaf, who has played a massive role in my personal healing journey over the years, someone that has been a voice that has helped me get to where I am.

Doctor Caroline Leaf is a communication pathologist and cognitive neuroscientist with a Master's and Ph.D. in communication pathology and specializes in cognitive and metacognitive neuropsychology.

Doctor Leaf’s work about neuroplasticity, about understanding the brain and understanding how to fully take control of your life, learning that your identity is not your past, navigating your emotions, and most importantly, how to be okay in these moments when your life is a mess.

If you are listening to this episode. Go to our YouTube channel, just search Think Unbroken Podcast and watch this episode because Doctor Leaf will show us some visual examples of what is happening in your brain when we're looping into negative thought patterns and growing in the healing thought patterns.

Catch Up with Doctor Caroline!


Learn more about Doctor Caroline Leaf at: https://drleaf.com/

Learn more about Think Unbroken and Pre-Order my new book: Unbroken Man. Plus, learn more about the free coaching and other mental health programs. Click here: https://linktr.ee/michaelunbroken

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Michael: Hey! What's up, Unbroken Nation! Hope that you're doing well wherever you are in the world today. I'm very excited to be back with you with another episode with my guest Doctor Caroline Leaf. Dr. Leaf it is an absolute pleasure to have you here today, how are you, my friend?

Dr. Leaf: Oh! Thank you so much Michael. It's wonderful to be with you, I'm doing really great and very excited to have our conversation. You were telling me a little better actual backstory story and I've read back to you and an amazing, amazing story so, I'm excited to dive in and explore.

Michael: Well and thank you and a lot of this has been possible because of people like you, the understanding that I now been able to gain a neuroscience, understanding the power of the brain and really just kind of forcing myself into changing my life and that's kind of the crux of the show is I wanna be able to do that for other people. And so, I'm gonna come out just swinging and just go straight into this I would love if you would start by defining neuroplasticity for us?

Dr. Leaf: Well, that's a good place to start. So, neuroplasticity is the ability of the mind to change the brain so there's a very distinct difference here between mind and brain and I'm deal with what people call scientific journalism which we can dive into the moment. So, the mind is one thing the brain and body, another thing the mind and body interact together and neuroplasticity is the ability that we have the mind has to change the brain. So, the brain is never the same because we never the same from moment to moment, every single moment we're experiencing something new, something different and in that as we experience something new it's our mind that uses our brain and therefore brain changes. And neuroplasticity is one of those really interesting concepts because you're learning more, more about it but I was very fortunate to be one of the first in my field to even research this field in fact, some of the earliest research in the field of communication pathology on neuroplasticity because we were literally in the eighties told that the brain could not change; that was the going philosophy up until the mid-eighties that the brain could not change and even the late eighties. I remember sitting in one of my new neuroscience neurology lectures and one of my lectures who's telling us about I'm changing brain and if you've got a patient who's got a traumatic brain injury or the dementia or you know learning disabilities, so anything that where the brain had been damaged. Well, you just got to teach your patients to compensate so it was a very hopeless message it was one of well you know what they're just gonna have to kind of downsize they thinking about how they can manage life and I thought that was just not the right way because I know we grow humans, we all do instinctively if you know they've being improving and growing look at your own life story. I remember putting up my hand and challenging this professor and I mean it was great he said, okay listen, that's a ridiculous question in my opinion but please go and research so, I did and that began a thirty-eight-year journey which takes us to today we are sort of researching this concept of, can the mind change the brain? And I've done now nineteen, I'm busy with my nineteenth book I've done multiple clinical trials, we busy you've got full running currently and what I do is I look I have spent my career clinically; I've packed as a clinical mirror scientist as well for twenty-five years and I've been researching for thirty-eight years. And what I initially did was work with people with traumatic brain injuries, learning disabilities, autism, dementia the that kind of thing and showed that with directed mind input we can change the brain and that's basically neuroplasticity. The fact that the brain is not fixed and it never stays fixed and every time you get triggered from a past memory that comes up and it basically changes and even if we don't direct and control the change in the right direction so changes and that’s we call the plastic paradox that whether you like it or not you are changing and so is your brain body because when you change which is your mind, your brain a body changed.

So, my whole thesis and premise and research and theory and everything I've developed has been based on the fact that well if our mind is always changing in response to life and this changes the right of the body and collectively how we show up is an inter relationship between the brain, mind and the body therefore how do we manage this process. Do we have any power in changing what's happened to us? And in changing how we go forward life secret etcetera and I mean once again your steward classic evidence with neuroplasticity and action being driven in the right direction.

Michael: Yeah. And I think the direction is so much of right and I hear so frequently people say well, this is just who I am which in my opinion is one of the most dangerous things we could it and that used to be what I would say. What I'm curious about is as people are going through this it dawned on me probably within the last year like so much of what trauma is, it's not the abuse, it's not what happens, it's like the theft of identity and what I've discovered healing and coming through this process now working with so many people around the world it's like that's the thing we have to recapture but I fear Doctor Leaf that people are just quote unquote stuck and because of that stuck they can't seem to go into the doing. So, for those people like where are do you start when you're in this place like, I'm stuck, this is my identity, this is who I am?

Dr. Leaf: Now really glad I just started there Michael because it's a very really good point and what I believe a lot of the stuck come from is not understanding how to be rewire the brain and understanding things like what is the mind, what's doing the work we talk about getting through our stuff, what does that actually look like? You know, who's doing the getting to the stuff which part of us is doing that and that's when you start understanding those kinds of concepts it then gives you the power to get unstuck, you're getting empowered to change. So I've shown with my research when you start understanding the power of the mind and you know what can we cancel that statement because it's overused when you start understanding what it means to be alive what it means to think and feel and choose, when you understand that and when you understand how you can drive that, that you can actually control the messy of your life and then it's okay to be messy but this we just need to learn to manage that, that's when you become very empowered and I showed with no research that you can actually get things like the depression and anxiety which can be so incapacitating and which aren't illnesses they're warning signals but they are warning signals that incapacitating but you can get those under control by effect eighty one up to eighty one percent which is phenomenal without drugs. Any kind of fancy tricks just pure mind management and then that's where I have worked in for these years. So, yes, we get stuck without the understanding so, it begins with understanding what the mind is what the brain is I gave a brief explanation in the beginning and then it goes into how do we manage this process, how do we construct and reconstruct and what do we do. So, here’s a little model of a brain and it's most people think the mind and the brain are the same thing. People will talk about them and it's totally understandable because that's the language for the last forty years, language has been very much around the brain and the mind as though they the same thing. We also get so many messages through the media that the brain is producing the mind, the thoughts come from the brain and that's not totally accurate because if you did nothing happens with your brain just disintegrate.

So, there's a huge difference between you and I having conversation and the views and listeners and someone who's did because we are able to actually listen to each other and think and feel and choose which are the three actions of the mind, think, choose, feels and think, choose it's an ongoing four hundred operations per second cycling that helps you to actually process and experience like this discussion like everything you have in life and process that puts it into the brain so the minds reactive the mind you talk ability to think and choosing and we have this ability to interact with life, we take that through thinking feeling and choosing that's kind of the currency we put that into the brain as a structural change and that thing changes things a message to the body and that's why it's stored in the body and we can talk a bit about that with PTSD and complex PTSD. And then that combination of mind, brain, body then produces you, so it produces what you say, what you do, how you show up. So, we take back process and we look at okay, how am I showing that, I'm showing up stuck? I'm showing up stuck, I'm doing the same things, the same patterns, the same things over and over.

So, now we needed realized okay, we’ll let me look at that pattern object to be, let me stand back and observe myself and give myself grace and first say to myself, it's okay to be a mess, it's okay to be stuck, that's okay, that's how you're showing up, that’s not who you are, that's not your identity even though may feel like your identity, even though you may feel like you've been stuck for years and years and the same thing that you wanna say things like this is who I am. It's not actually who you are, it's who you are at the moment because of, is it because of this massive because of behind that know your childhood trauma was a massive, because of that you know produced your initial part of your life which then you know you got to point where you shifted and changed, so you thought you are reacting to life because when we have things happen to us, we try and cope. And sometimes it's just so painful for like you experienced that we wired toxic coping mechanisms into our brain.

So, in an experience is wired into the brain and toxic weight looks like there's wire treat all the pro teams mis folded and everything's all weird and wrong versus a healthy experience this discussion is that is a healthy thought that your growing, this would be a toxic thought and this impacts how you function and it's a coping make it's this the experiences in the roots like anything starts with a roots, grows this thing grows into your how you see yourself in this collection how you're showing up and it whatever this is whatever the story is which in your case was all that told me experience as a child showed up and it wouldn't have just been one it would have been multiple of these, showing up day in your emotions to behaviors, your body sensations because memory both in the brain and the body and also your perspective in life. That are signals that then impact your interaction with others relationships what you do etcetera, and when it's so painful those signals are or coping mechanisms that aren't always the most valuable and especially in the more painful it is the more, we try to suppress so medications, drugs, whatever alcohol you name it anything just to numb the pain but then being you hit point where you realize it's not working because this is still there the driving force is still there. What's very interesting Michael in terms of this whole process is that ninety up to ninety five percent of how you show up every day is based upon what has been built into your non conscious mind by your mind and your conscious mind inner in is the non-conscious inner a not unconscious that's when you sleep a locked out, non-conscious is a very, very active part of mind your biggest portable mind and it drives how you function. So, basically everything about every experience you've ever had has ninety five percent of that if not more has wired in through your non conscious mind into an unconscious mind and that's driving you. So, ninety five percent of how you show up every day being driven by stuff that you weren't even consciously aware of building inside of you only between one and five percent of how you show up is consciously focused on something like choosing to stick on Facebook for hours or TikTok for hours or read too much negative news or whatever the case may be. So, if we think about that that means that a lot of how we are showing up through the signals our attached to experience are found in the root these are impacting how we function. And what we have is an abilities as humans is to tune in to our signals in order to find what the signals are attached to in order to destabilize the neural networks take the energy and power and sting emotional sting out of these are tracking down to the cause. You don't try and find out why like to try and find out why; for example, a child is actually abused or why what happened to you happen and the people in your life that hurt you. You're never gonna understand because they come in your own trauma, you're gonna get very stuck trying to understand why someone did something but you do wanna understand okay the reason I'm back with the relationship, well the reason I'm in the state of just constantly feeling like, I'm panicking what can't sleep whatever if it's showing up in your life the patterns, this reason is because of what you've gone through and therefore I have just set to point where I'm comfortable with the uncomfortable, we are recognized okay this is what and this is my story and I need honor that but I don't need it to control me, it happened on this ninety five percent level there was obviously a level conscious awareness of that when it was happening and then this but you didn't consciously choose to have those experiences but you were conscious of it was doing to you but you don't always real realized the non-conscious impact of how these filter are into how we show up in life. So, we can start training ourselves and it's never too late to self-regulate through looking at our signals to track to the thought starting with the top part which is our interpretation of ourselves and identity of value systems how we think choose and see ourselves in relationships the rest of it where that comes from in that systematic process of going from the signal to the thought and working down the way down the tree you then are systematically weakening the neuro wiring in your brain, you're weakening the changing in your structural change in every side of your body and you are weakening the gravitational fields in the mind because the memories is also in the mind it's in three cases. This systematic work over time weakens all those fields and it doesn't take your story away because you what happened to happen to never goes away but notice how I'm moving it down and I don't have my small tree here but I'm a due to the point you can hardly see it as I work over time insist in the systematic way I rebuild the new healthy version. I can't change what's happened to me but I can change what's in me and that is mind management which involves the self-regulated process, which we can develop in us at part of our resilience that we have to develop and it starts with us really getting our ourselves permission first of all it's okay to be a mess, that's not who I am so, had negative no emotion as an illness, no emotion is bad, every motion is telling us something let me brace life signals in order to find the message in order to reconstruct into something that I can handle and that is a process over time. So, when you stop there then we can dive into a little bit into about the process I'm sure you'd like to unpack something of what I've seen.

Michael: Yeah, for sure. Well, I mean there's so many places that you can go in that because there's so much depth and scope about this process and the thing that came to mind is I heard this word you used it a couple of times you said control. One of the things that I fear so many people have come through traumatic backgrounds like me is they go I have no control over and my life is a disaster this is how God made me and I must suffer and I argue well that's not actually necessarily true. But one of the things in the lack of control is we seek to find it and unfortunately especially in this society we seek to find it through prescription medication, we seek to find it do things that are not actually to our betterment, through the vice, to the drugs, the sex, the alcohol the things of that nature. Where does control of your own mind really play a role in this?

Dr. Leaf: So, this is also you asking amazingly the good questions. The control is one of those words that being someone in and you can really relate to this and anyone who's listening who's been in a dark place and including and we've all got our stories. When you're in the depths of despair the last thing you feel like you have is control you know and that's often where support from others comes in but then there might be cases where you in a situation which I don't know your full story but just knowing working in years of two people, sometimes there is no support and so if you really are on your own and you can't really see things and in at that moment you do feel complete I mean a child is constantly being used to going to the most things, where's the control day and so that then is a child that will go into adulthood with most likely the coping mechanism to protect one oneself which is you know maybe they had to learn you find back as you say the pain with anything that takes away they pain and then interest into our current society where people stories are no longer really heard except a few environments like, the work I do, what you do etcetera, you go to into the traditional biomedical system of which know I've been part but not in differently obviously as a bit practicing coming from a different angle but the traditional system is one of okay, we'll tell me your symptoms and let's find you a diagnosis and let's give you a treatment, that works beautifully for cancer and diabetes and you know brain tumors and things like that.

When it comes to a complex childhood, where it's been excessive trauma just giving you a label and a medication is not going to fix a problem because you have a whole bunch of these in your head that make you feel overwhelmed and out of control. So, it is a slow process of educating and learning to dive deep retrospectively into your wires mind; the wires mind that in knowing that got you out to where you are now where you know are so in a state of wire mind Michael that you reach out and help others. And so, is a process of empowerment and it's a cyclic thing that happens over time and it can be multiple ways either someone comes in your life and actually starts helping you or you reach that rock bottom point and you managed to actually help yourself and pull out these different ways that will happen but hopefully most people reach.

And according to the research, three quarters of people will actually reach the point that you have where they've gone through complex tumor and we'll get through with lingering effects but those lingering effects do not have to be effects that live with you for the rest of your life because our current medical model messaging is okay or you are the depressed because of a broken brain; your brain is damaged and that's it for life so therefore put need medication to fix it. If you have diabetes, you need insulin, so type one diabetes so you get insulin restores it heals the body. If you have a pathogen like a virus like covid virus we now have antiviral that can start fighting it so we can find like that. When you have a toxic bunch of toxic experiences it's as real as the covid virus – covid virus has made a protein so is this experience it becomes a protein tree structure your brain. So, your immune system is going to factor this just as much as it would fight the covid virus so, this is very deep what I'm saying. Experiences from any stage of your life don't, I wish she go away things they are physical structural protein chemical changes inside of your brain that look like trees this is a thought tree that has lots of roots and branches which are memories. So, memories of the experiences coalesce into a thought structure, so this is a collection of a lot of data of what happened to source over there and the processing and interpretation the different parts what happened, how you've process that and coat anything to interpretation and how that shows up in your signals.

So, when this is dominating when look at last users, we do feel out control and the control comes back in as we realize that point and it's different for everyone and quite different as I mentioned sometimes it's a person that says somebody to read something. You know people have said they've been on a train and they've seen it sign in a subway or someone said something to them at a shop or they just one day just had, I don't know exactly what your revelation was but this is something that shifts and when you get back shift this instead of this there's a little bit of this and then you start coming up and what I've tried to do with my work is help people to do that climbing in a way that doesn't make them go back with an way of understanding because to rewire the networks to take the power out of this and make it small and rebuild healthy new thoughts where you still remember your story but no longer does it control you, you are controlling your story which is evidence in your life.

That's not gonna happen in one day or with a medication; the medication is not going to fix this, that you don't have a brain disease obviously your brain's affected you know I've got a ton of research in my latest book, I do explain this and had images and I show my clinical trials in a very simple way and I have a very simple way of explaining how to do all the stuff I'm telling you but essentially this is not going to, this is not that a cause the calls this in your brain's not the cause it the cause is what happened to you, this is the manifestation. So, the thing happens the mind experiences the experience that goes in the brain and the brain and body show up in a mist way obviously everything you have the mind needs to use the brain experience so, obviously you're going to fit it but it's not the cause, it is the response.

So, as we manage our causes as we identify structure, we concept the causes so we rewire the brain also circle go back to you one of your first questions which was neuroplasticity because of the neuroplasticity to the brain this work telling you will we focused our signals to the store to the root, we reconstruct etcetera daily fifteen to twenty-five, forty-five minutes a day over time and I'll tell you the time in the moment that is rewire the brain.

Neuroplasticity for trauma has which is the main focus and for anything building habits, breaking habits etcetera works in cycles of sixty-three days not twenty-one, not one, not five minutes. The medications like the cycle drugs they're not even medications actually drugs and they drugs said numb your pain or numb those feelings but they're not fixing anything, they're making structural changes in the brain that may make you feel better and may help you cope for a time but they're not going to solve the problem. You know, they may ease it for times that you can face and start dealing with issues but you need to know the side effects and sometimes the side effects are create more problems than what you actually need, now you got more problems brain change damage, problems on top of the original issues.

When it comes to sake traffic it's really important that you fully understand what you're getting into and that you ask your doctors for the document that they should be giving you of exactly what these are, how they work, their the addictive properties because they all addictive and how do withdraw with dual fix and to understand that when as you are going through a process of facing stuff it is painful and knowing that's not gonna help you, you've gotta go through the pain it's called the treatment you effect, you're going to get worse before you get better. I had some patients that let's start this process and this actually one of the stories in my book at make one of my patients in my clinical trial who at day one no identity to boost at long story we short by day twenty-one they were saying things like, I'm not depressed anymore, day one undepressed with the identity, life supporting apart everything you can imagine going wrong. During this work daily for fifteen to forty-five minutes and we can talk about in a minute what it is, by twenty one they were saying things to us when we bought back into the clinic to do the evaluations and saw on the brain blood narrowed everything they were saying I'm not depression, I am depressed because of it's a massive growth then they also said this but I feel more depressed and more anxious and I'm having panic attacks and I'm breathing but it's different. I'm actually feeling human emotions and those are very questions because they starting to see what the pain was from, they had suppressed childhood trauma in this particular cases person who gone to terrible childhood trauma managed to suppress it for all these years and kind of function that was falling apart and because these are volcanic eventually they will explode your life, if you've eventually these things will explode, you can suppress for certain amount of time but they will eventually explode and that's what it happened in as person's life.

And so, they sort of shifting by learning to get control back slowly in these cycles, they started seeing to increase the depression and grieving as an element of control because they said okay, I know I’m depressed because of I can see that what I went through so therefore I should be feeling the depressed that's a very normal human response to those terrible things that are went to childhood or whatever and grieving the loss time and I mean I'm sure you can relate to this Michael so that's growth. But in this society the minute you feel those oh, you sick, there's a disease coming back, you don't have a disease you trying to process life experiences and it will get worse before gets better but then it does start changing and this is why it's so important that you work to be beyond twenty one days so it wants to twenty one days, not twenty one days twenty one days does a major shift we'll bring things up and you'll start seeing the changes and you're start building and you way thinking and said etcetera. But if you don't push on for another forty-two days that new little thought is way too small to and to override this one.

You need the extra energy taken from this and put in so that this becomes nice and big and strong and I'm gonna put two next to each other. So, you can see it becomes nice and strong only when the new thought is nice and strong which takes another forty-two days totaling sixty-three, are you then going to remember your story but you're not gonna be functioning from your story you're gonna be functioning from the new way of thinking and that's that process brings control.

Michael: I love that and I love everything that you just said and there is some truth to this idea that you do have to suffer your way into health. And when I hit my rock bottom at twenty five years old, I was three hundred and fifty pounds, smoking two packs a day, drinking myself to sleep and you know, I put a gun in my mouth, I was done and it's amazing eleven almost twelve years later here I am having this conversation with you because I made a declaration of myself, I said what are you willing to do to have the life that you want to have? The answer ultimately became no excuses just results and what that meant to me in that moment was I'm gonna show up every single day, do the hard things, suffer unfortunately in the healing and be able to do that thing and becoming the hero of my own story. Dr. Leaf, I wanna push people to go and investigate your research in your books, I've have read them all, been a huge transformative process in my life just to consume your information for the sake of time and I wanna respect your time I know we can't go into depth but can you tell everyone where they can find you before I ask you my last question?

Dr. Leaf: Absolutely. drleaf.com my website my social media handles including TikTok a Caroline Leaf as well so normal platforms Instagram etcetera. I have a podcast called “Mental Mess” we teach you a lot of stuff and then my latest book is this one can you me miss and the app that I have is called neuro cycle which pretty much takes all these systems that have developed which you do daily over these cycles of time to help heal and rewire the brain, that's all put to my which we constantly adding and updating and that's available on actions to google play. I think that's a good start.

Michael: And of course, we'll put all the links in the show notes and I have consumed all of this information I can promise you it's been made transformative for me. My last question for you my friend, what does it mean to you to be unbroken?

Dr. Leaf: I love that question. For me, it's learning to recognize and accept that it's okay to be a mess, it's such a human thing that we have this messy part of our mind that's operating all day long because of our free will and that's how we experience life and be mess but in the messy accepting the message giving myself permission to be messy, I can then repair and grow and for me that's what Unbroken means it's been accepting giving myself the permission to be a mess and not seeing depression or anxiety or frustration anything that I do that stupid whatever as oh, that's the end of that you are in, just that's your harm showing up and this is how can manage it. So, mind management along with accepting the mess and then managing the mess is absolutely I do my stuff all the time, I mean I am living, I love this, I love the concept is called neurocycle the five states that are the system that you do every single day and I'm always in a six three day cycle and then I use it all day long because day today struggles so you can do the big stuff where you work on the big all day long and then you facing stuff all day long things happen all day long I use recycling in a quick version and these are I teach how to do it in the book and the app all and there has helped me Michael to be unbroken, I really practice what I preach.

Michael: I love it, thank you so much for being here my friend.

Unbroken Nation thank you so much for listening.

Please like, subscribe, comment, share.

Tell a friend.

And Until Next Time.

My friends, Be Unbroken.

I'll see you.

Dr. Caroline LeafProfile Photo

Dr. Caroline Leaf


Dr. Caroline Leaf is a communication pathologist and cognitive neuroscientist with a Masters and PhD in Communication Pathology and a BSc Logopaedics, specializing in cognitive and metacognitive neuropsychology. Since the early 1980s 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 (neuroplasticity) with directed mind input.

Dr. Leaf is also the bestselling author of Switch on Your Brain, Think Learn Succeed, Cleaning Up Your Mental Mess, and many more. She teaches at academic, medical and neuroscience conferences, and to various audiences around the world.

Dr. Leaf is currently conducting clinical trials using the 5-step program she developed while in private practice to further demonstrate the effectiveness of mind-directed techniques to help relieve mental ill-health problems such as anxiety, depression and intrusive thoughts. The primary aim of these trials is to make mental health care more affordable, applicable, and accessible worldwide, and to reduce the stigma around mental health.

Michael UnbrokenProfile Photo

Michael Unbroken


Michael is an entrepreneur, best-selling author, speaker, coach, and advocate for adult survivors of childhood trauma.