Mere Christians

Dr. Caroline Leaf (Cognitive Neuroscientist)

Episode Summary

How the “neurocycle” can help you take every thought captive

Episode Notes

Jordan Raynor sits down with Dr. Caroline Leaf, Cognitive Neuroscientist, to talk about a 5 step neurocycle that can help us live out Paul’s command to renew our mind and take every thought captive, the spirituality of science, and what we can learn about mental health from Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Links Mentioned:

Episode Transcription

[00:00:04] JR: Hey, everybody. Welcome to the Call to Mastery. I’m Jordan Raynor. This is a podcast for Christians who want to do their most exceptional work for the glory of God and the good of others. Every week, I bring you a conversation with a Christian who is pursuing world-class mastery of their craft. We talk about their path to mastery, their daily habits, and how their faith influences their work.


Today’s guest is the world renowned, Dr. Caroline Leaf. She’s a cognitive neuroscientist with a Master’s and PhD in Communication Pathology. Since the 1980s, Dr. Leaf has been leading scientific discovery in terms of the field of mental health, mental direction. She’s the author of the mammoth best-selling book, Switch on Your Brain and 18 others. We sat down and had a terrific conversation recently about her five-step neurocycle that can help us practically live out Paul’s command to renew our minds and to take every thought captive at work and at home. We talked about the spirituality of science and what we can learn about mental health from Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. You're going to love this conversation with Dr. Caroline Leaf.




[00:01:33] JR: Dr. Leaf, thank you so much for joining us.


[00:01:35] CL: Thank you. It’s great to meet you and I’m excited to talk to you.


[00:01:39] JR: Yeah. This should be fun. For those who are unfamiliar with your work, give us the short summary of the work you do today.


[00:01:46] CL: Okay. I’ve been in the field of mind brain research for nearly 38 years, so almost four decades. I initially started out working in South Africa, with people with extreme severe traumatic brain injuries, and learning disabilities, and Alzheimer’s, and autism, and severe trauma from like war and emotional and sexual abuse, that kind of stuff. I developed sort of doing research in the field of neuroplasticity back in the ’80s when they didn’t believe that the brain could change and I challenged that. I actually have a TED Talk about about this where I was told by my professors in the ’80s that it’s a ridiculous question and I had a couple of professors who didn’t think it was a ridiculous question, so I launched a career of basically sort of driving passion to understand mind, and brain, and the difference between the two, and what is thinking, and what are thoughts. And how do we think, feel and choose, and what is memory and can we control this, and what is our sense of agency and all that kind of stuff.


Basically, 38 years later, still in clinical research, this book, Cleaning Up Your Mental Mess is my 19th book and its summary of — I’ve got my science in my most recent clinical trials, but it’s basically the most updated research and clinical application, and simple, simple application of how you can use, how you can manage your mind and self-regulate on an ongoing basis. Which is essential and totally based in — based in science and scripture. I know we’re going to talk about it, but it’s pretty much — if you want a really simple summary, I teach you the science of how to renew mind, how to capture thoughts and renew mind and choose life basically. It’s the science behind that.


[00:03:29] JR: I love it. I do want to talk about that in a minute. But first, back in ’80s, I mean, neuroplasticity wasn’t a thing. You were one of the pioneers here and you said you had professor telling you, “Don’t ask these questions. These are silly questions.” What’s the general takeaway for that for us, regardless of vocation? What advice do you give to people based on the experience?


[00:03:51] CL: It’s really to recognize that none of us know everything and science — nothing about life is ever fixed. Everything is constantly in a state of growth and learning, so it’s really to understand that God is the source of all knowledge, which we know. Science comes from the word, sclera, which means knowledge, and we are in a constant process of discovering what technology is. We are actually all scientists, and we often think of science and we just think of brain science or physicists or something.


But whatever field you’re in, if you’re an entrepreneur, if you — I’m also an entrepreneur, I run my own business and create new things in my business. But I’m a scientist first and foremost in the field of brain science, but also scientists in terms of an entrepreneur. The point I’m making is that it’s constant growth. My most recent clinical trials, I’ve developed this system 38 years ago of how you can understand your mind, and theory of mind, and how you can manage your mind. In other words, all this renewing of mind capturing thoughts  stuff. But how it looked 38 years ago to now has changed a lot because of continued to learn new information.


The takeaway is that you never know all, and as soon as you think that, “Okay. This is it.” You’re going backwards. It’s to be constantly open to have a mindset of open possibilities, a possibilities mindset, and expectancy mindset, a mindset of, I can keep on learning and keep on changing. The other side is that, with a huge takeaway, that I don’t see failure or people telling you can’t do something as stopping me. I don’t even look at failure as failure. I look at it, “Well, that didn’t work, and what does work, and what have I learned from that that didn’t work?” I will deal with disappointment because it comes along with it. I don’t deny it. If I sit my heart on something and it doesn’t happen and I’ve worked my guts off literally to make it happen, and it doesn’t happen quite the way I predicted, I will own that disappointment. I don’t resent it, I don’t get upset about it. I would allow myself to be disappointed and I’ll go look for, what’s next? What is the lesson to be learned? What should I not be doing in the future, to whatever. That’s been my driving force, nothing stops me.


The key there, I don’t know if you heard – The key there is I do allow myself to experience the emotions that go along with something not working out. If you feel depressed, or anxious or — and that’s a huge part of my work, and we can dive into then, in terms of mental health. That is, that it’s very normal to be disappointed, or sad, or depresses, or anxious when something happens to you, or something in your business, or something huge like COVID or grief, loss of a loved one or so on. That we’ve got to stop saying it’s bad to have those emotions.


[00:06:46] JR: Interesting. This idea that like knowledge is not fixed, right? We don’t always — we’re never going to have all the answers. I think there’s something theologically interesting here. I think a lot of people assume that in eternity, we’ll know everything. We’ll get to heaven and have all the answers. But like, I don’t see any evidence for that in scripture. Because if that were true, we would be equal with God and we won’t be. Heaven is all about God’s glory, right? I think there’s something, I don’t know, like really interesting and motivating for me personally. It’s like, “I don’t want to know everything." I long for the day to where you and heaven will continue to unlock new mysteries, will continue to learn.” Have you ever thought about this?


[00:07:25] CL: Well, it’s just evident all around us, because I really think of the scripture when you’re speaking there of heaven at hand. I don’t kind of think that we’re going to go to a place, so we’re going to learn more. We’re going to be learning more and more all the time. We’re in that state of constant learning and that’s part of being human. That’s part of this incredible ability that we have been made in God’s image, where we can think, and feel, and choose. I mean, that’s powerful and that is totally — “I lay before you death and life, so choose life.” We’re not robots. It’s renew your mind, capture thoughts, all the indications are that you’re brilliant, and you can think, and feel, and choose made in God’s incredible wisdom.


It’s kind of experimental because you’re still learning and you’re not going to be able to control the events and circumstances, because that if you don’t control, but we can control our reactions and that’s a learning process. I see every moment of every day as an experiment, and an experiment in trying to grow in my humanity and in my wide full of nature. I don’t believe that either ends, that’s why we keep seeing changes in science. I mean, gosh, what I know about the brain now compared to 38 years ago, it’s like frosty different just in terms of — I mean, just like only two or three years ago did we learn that the brain got its own immune system. These are just, things that we though how memory was formed and everything, and it’s so exciting. It’s not threatening, it’s absolutely incredibly exciting.


[00:08:50] JR: Did you know from an early age that you wanted to be a scientist? Like what was that spark for you?


[00:08:55] CL: I think that, yeah, from an early age, I love the whole concept of brain, and I was going to be a doctor. I was going to go into neurosurgery. It was the most sort of obvious thing for me to do, because that seems to be where I’d get because I just love that that the side of understanding how we work. Then I realized when I got into medicine, I realized, actually, there was an opportunity to do another degree, which was a combination of medicine, and neuroscience, and linguistics and psychology. It was just, I thought, this is an angle that I haven’t considered and it’s got the combination of mind and brain, and it really grabbed my interest. At the time, when I went into it, I said, “Oh gosh! I’m going back into medicine. This is crazy.” You’re working seven days a, a seven-year degree crashed into four years. I’m thinking, “What am I doing?”


But I’m so grateful now because it really satisfied that hunger inside of me to understand mind. Because it’s really one area in science that is very, in my opinion, very neglected. They talk about mind being the hard question of science. Mind is often likened to consciousness. They talk about the mind and brain as one thing. This is in the current era, for about 40 years now. The minds and brain, they don’t’ see as separate, which they actually are, it’s impossible not to be in these hundreds of years of science proving that.


Then they also talked about consciousness being the hard illusive question of science, because science has become so biologically oriented, so physically oriented and that’s good, but you can’t have one if you don’t have the other. A lot of scientists become so physical to the exclusion of looking at the non-physical side, which we can address to things like quantum physics and the advanced versions of physics and that kind of stuff where you can start really getting into this.


All that area, that kind of thinking just grabbed my interest and I wanted to understand more, and it just drove me. I’ve been working with — getting into my field and specializing with traumatic brain injury was really because there was just no research being done on traumatic injury, because they believe the brain couldn’t change. That was all the challenge I needed to think, “Okay. Well, I just cannot see that.” The brain is different to the mind.”


[00:11:02] JR: You needed to be told this cannot be figured out, right?


[00:11:06] CL: Exactly. This whole thing of science, consciousness being the hard question of science and it’s bonded around like this — and philosophers talk about it, and these people sound like they’re so smart talking about it, and like streams of consciousness. It’s like real stuff. If you really listen to the hard-core scientists, consciousness is mind, it’s the spirit and the soul, and that really grabbed my interest. I don’t think it’s the hard question. I think it’s the most obvious question. That’s the question I ask myself 38 years ago, and I haven’t stopped. That’s what has driven all my work.


[00:11:39] JR: I love it. All right. I’m going to go downstairs later and talk to my six-year-old, my four-year-old about what I did today. How do I explain to my six-year-old the difference between the mind and the brain?


[00:11:50] CL: You could take a picture of the brain, and you could also show them that and you could also then say, “Look at your body in the mirror.” So you can look in the mirror and say, “This is you, You can see me, you can see you and inside your head, there’s a brain.” Then point to the picture of the brain and say, “That’s everything that we can see, and we can touch, and we can feel it.” But if you’re comfortable saying this, I would be comfortable. “If you die, your brain and body are going to go, but you’re still there. So what is you? You are mind. Mind is spirit and soul.” So your spirit has its own body. It’s easy to explain it in that term. Spirit and souls is a very hard concept.


But if you tell a child that you can think, you’re thinking that how do you feel about — take something like, what happened at school today or what do you feel about your best friend, or your dog? Take something that you know that they love and say, “What do you think about them?” And they’ll tell you something. “How do they make you feel? Then, what do you choose to do? Would you like to play with your dog now?” Then you’ve just exposed them to the mind in action, because you are thinking about something they love, and they’ve responded to what you asked them. That’s created the — they brought up the image of maybe their dog or best friend, so that’s thinking.


Then you’ve asked them to feel, which is, “How do you feel about that?” “I love them. They make me feel happy, and I don’t feel sad and we’re going to have fun.” Then, “What would you like to do now? Would you like to play with them? If you could do anything now with your dog or your best friend, what would you like to do?” Then you’re showing them choice. You’re showing them three things that’s mind. Mind is think, feel, choose. You’ve shown them, that you’ve taken them through an exercise of thinking, feeling and choosing, then you said, “Okay. You’ve been thinking, feeling and choosing and you’ve been doing that and your body is — your mouth is going and your eyes are flashing and your body is moving. But your body wasn’t doing that, you were doing that. Your body was responding.


Your mind is this thing all around you, that enables your brain and your body to work. Brain and body are just the small part of who you are and your mind is this force, or energy, or spirit, or however you want put in the words that would work for your own children that keep it alive. It’s a thing that keeps it alive.


[00:14:08] JR: I love that. You mentioned a few minutes ago, you just published your 19th book, Cleaning Up Your Mental Mess. How do you define mental mess? I want to make sure we’re on the same page of what we’re talking about. Define mental mess and help us understand how this is connected to our pursuit of masterful work vocationally?


[00:14:27] CL: Okay. If you are a human, which you are. If you’re alive, which you are. It means that you’re experiencing mental messes continually. A mental mess is essentially that we don’t know all the answers. Going back to the beginning of the conversation, we’re constantly in the state of growth and experimentation. In that process, as much as we would like to think that we know everything, we don’t and we’re learning. Therefore, as we wake up in the morning and we read our emails, and something upsets us, we may get thoroughly irritate and react and say something mean and nasty. Then feel guilty, and ashamed, and pretend we didn’t say it — or whatever. Then you get up, and you get into the day and you maybe get — that kind of upsets you so you’re maybe a little bit irritable with the family.


Then you’ve read something on Instagram and you get a bit of imposter syndrome. Then some of friend of your that has this incredible hold over you sends you an email and you find yourself compromising all the things you need to do to people please them because they aren’t really a friend and so on. I’ve painted a picture of maybe slightly extreme — if something great happens, you have this great conversation —


[00:15:35] JR: I don’t think that’s extreme. I don’t think that’s extreme.


[00:15:37] CL: It’s kind of normal.


[00:15:38] JR: Yeah, right.


[00:15:39] CL: Then you have those great conversation and you’re feeling wonderful. So you basically swum between a mental mess and you’ve just done what every human does. You are trying to manage and process through your think, feel, choose. Like we just used the example with a child with a dog or the best friend. Your mind is how you think, feel and choose. Your mind is thinking, feeling and choosing. Mind is spirit and soul.


We are made in God’s image. God is brilliant, as we know, so we’re brilliant and we have choice. We can think, feel and choose, and we are instructed very clearly to capture all thoughts and bring them into captivity. Which means you got to regulate them; you can’t capture what you’re not aware of. It’s not some thoughts, it’s all thoughts.


You’re always thinking, feeling and choosing. So we’re supposed to be always capturing our thoughts when we’re awake, when we’re conscious. We’re supposed to be constantly renewing them, which in essence means that, “Okay. Now, I get the email and I’m supposed to capture their thought of irritation. I’m irritated in response to, so I captured that and I don’t feel guilt. I recognized, like I’m irritated. Maybe I’ve got a reason, maybe I don’t, but I’m going to embrace it and I’m going to see, “Okay. Why am I feeling irritated?” Well, they say, this this and this was really unfair. I feel like a victim and I feel like I have to defend myself. So you go through this process, it’s a five-step — the concept are developed just the neurocycle with how you manage your mind in those moments.


Instead of it like just owning your day, and you’re just getting irritated and carrying that irritation over into everything and then creating a narrative in your head that the next time you see that person just to fix your relationship. Instead of that, you can actually manage your mind. You can capture that thought. You can renew it and you can actually say, “I don’t have the solution, but my fifth would be an action step of the neurocycle.” It’s five steps. Then it would be, “Okay. I’m feeling like this. I’m going to do this. I’m going to send them an email back and question this or I’m going to set up a phone call or something.” Then you go into the next thing. You kind of close it off, compartmentalize it, and move onto the next thing instead of it permeating your day.


That’s the kind of day-to-day stuff of how you would use mind management via the neurocycle. The neurocycle — neuro meaning brain and cycle if you know what that means, is how is the system I have developed over 38 years of heavy neuroscientific mind, brain research on and your psychological research, epigenetics, all those stuffs to work out what mind is and how do we control it. What’s the sense of agency? What does it mean to capture though and renew your mind? What does it mean to think, feel and choose life or death? What does it mean in the moment?


[00:18:14] JR: I’m so glad you brought this up, because you’ve quoted Paul a few times, right? 2nd Corinthians 10:5, Paul tells us to take every thought captive. I’ve always read that and thought, “Paul, that’s nice. I’d love to do that, but I have no idea how.” What I love about your book is this five-step neurocycle is one answer to that question. You’ve mentioned a couple of pieces of it. Walk us sequentially around that five-step neurocycle.


[00:18:45] CL: Absolutely. In my pursuit of understanding mind and brain and the difference, I had then had to understand that mind, then what are thoughts, then what are memories, and what are emotions and all these things that are totally bonded around in this day and age with mind, brain, thoughts, emotions. You and I both know; people throw these words around because we don’t really define them. We haven’t really defined them. It began with defining them, which then led into the neurocycle. Basically, I studied the science of mind and developed a theory. Out of that theory, grew the neurocycle which have refined over the years, then the clinical trials.


In this book, I’ve put in the first half of the book everything about mind, and thoughts and what they are and images. I’ve put in my clinical trials as well in the most simple version with like diagrams, and colored images and things to help you understand that if you don’t manage your mind, if you do choose to just like suppress issue or suppress the toxic trauma from the past, ignore the patterns in your life that are leading you to get stuck.


Rambling through the day not capturing your thoughts, but leaning your thoughts rambling along. Because your mind works with your brain and your body, that’s what energizes, it innovates, it’s a spread of life through your brain and body. The mess in your mind creates a mess in your body. I show that clinically as well with biomarkers, like you get increased inflammation, it affects your DNA, it affects your brain function and all that kind of stuff. As well as your actually functioning, your behaviors, and what you say, and what you do, and your emotions, and your intelligence, all that stuff.


Without capturing thoughts, which is — capturing thoughts and managing your mind is mind management. It’s not something that we have an option of doing. It’s something that we’re supposed to be doing because the scriptures are clear. Renewing is a present continuous. You’re supposed to be doing it all the time and you’re quite right. Where on earth does anyone teach how to do that? That’s where science comes in.


Bringing all thoughts into captivity brings us back to the question of, “Well, how many thoughts do I think in a day?” Scientists have tried to estimate and I’ve done my own calculation based on my research, and based on the people that I follow that really understand this field. We think feel, and choose and build thoughts around about 8,000 to 10,000, maybe more in a day. What that means is that right now, as you’re listening to me, you are all building the thought of this mind, brain stuff, this mental health, this whole concept. As you introduced me, you identify the name of the thoughts that we were going to be building. A thought is like a tree, and like a tree has many roots, and many branches, a thought has many roots and many branches. Those roots and the branches are memories.


Thought is made of memories. This is another distinction. Mind is not brain and thoughts are not memories. The mind and the brain work together. They’re separate but inseparable. The thought is a tree and it’s made of branches, so those branches are memories. Memories are what thoughts are made of. If you like have this thought now, would be this mind, brain stuff and everything I’m saying are the memories of the stuff, it’s the data and it’s the emotions that generates in you. If you think of what I am saying as the roots that you are growing right now, and then the tree trunk and the branches are your interpretation of what I’m saying. Because all of you will hear the same stuff, but you interpret it with your own unique angle. Based on your history and your context, all the memories you already have inside your existing thought trees, and your upbringing, and your view of life —


So you have a very strong Christian view versus someone who doesn’t believe in God will hear this very different. That’s just to kind of give you an example of how our views is influenced by — brain building of thoughts is influenced by our existing memories, and how they constantly can change and how we should be open to growth, which we’ve spoken about already.


[00:22:43] JR: You mentioned in the book that this is something that you continue to struggle with, like having to clean up your mind on a daily basis.


[00:22:51] CL: If you’re human, you do. No one’s exempted.


[00:22:52] JR: Yeah. Right. Even though you know this stuff. I love talking about habits and routines of high performance on the podcast. For you, what habits do you instill throughout your day-to-day work to help you kind of work through that five-step neurocycle and clean up your mental mess?


[00:23:10] CL: Essentially, I’ve trained myself and that’s what I’ve trained myself to capture thoughts, I’ve trained myself to live a life of renewing the mind. I mind manage all the time and I’m getting better and better every day. Instead of getting — if you have something that upsets you — let’s take the email example and it upsets you. Instead of that creating a mess for hours, or days even, and affecting a relationship, I will sort it out in a few minutes by using the neurocycle. I’ll get myself back on track. Things can throw me. I can have an acute trauma and I can get myself back on tract managing it in a few minutes through using the neurocycle. I have trained myself and also, the neurocycle you can use in the moment, because all the neurocycle is how you capture thought and you renew your mind. That’s what the five steps are. The more you do it, the more you will use it and the more self-regulated you become.


In order to capture your thought, and you build about, as I said about 8,000 and we have about another 12,000 coming up while we build the 8,000. There’s like 20,000 plus things going through your brain in any one day which is a lot going through your mind and your brain. There’s probably more, it’s probably close to 100,000. It’s different for different people in different times. But we are able to manage that if we listen to what science says, which is self-regulate. Which means that I need to train myself to stand back and observe my own thinking. I don’t just react; I observe my reactions. I’ve loved, I’ve trained myself and that’s what my book teaches people to do and what the neurocycle does. I’ve trained myself, and I’m still training and I’m getting better and better all the time.


As I react, I immediately observe my reaction and I will evaluate and go through the five steps to fix it up. Sometimes I don’t have time to fix up the whole thing because I’ve got to go and do a podcast, I’ve got to go and do a Zoom teaching while I’m traveling or I’ve got to get into business meeting or something like that, or we’re going for dinner with the family or something, so you can’t solve it on the spot. But I will never leave something. I’ll get it to a point where I can say, “Okay. I’m going to deal with it later. I’ll use the five steps quickly, then I’ll come back to it.”


If I’ve seen this affecting my life, so for example, there’s a certain way that I maybe responding to my husband, or to my kids, or to my colleagues and people that work for me. If I see that that’s impacting, that’s affecting how I am functioning, that it’s detracting from increasing my functionality or it’s affecting people negatively or whatever. If it’s something that’s making me — I’m finding myself ruminating or whatever patterns I notice.


I then make decisions. “Okay. That pattern is happening a lot. It’s affecting me. It’s affecting me in this and this way. I’m not going to do a 63-day cycle.” So then, I would take the five steps and I’m always doing a 63-day cycle because I’m always renewing the mind. Whatever pattern I identify, that pattern in my life has got a source and origin. There’s a reason why. I have no shame or condemnation. I see it as helpful. If there is any maybe despair or depression or anxiety, those are not illnesses, those are simply responses, warning signals that there’s something going on. I have trained myself to see it that way and also millions of people have trained and thousands of thousands in my private practice when I practiced —


I will sit down and I will dedicate 15 to 45 minutes daily for the first 21 days to identify, to deconstruct, and reconstruct that thought. To embrace process and we conceptualize it. Then from day 22 to day 63, I will practice the first step for a minute a day. It’s 42 minutes over 42 days. At the end of that time, I’ve spent 63 days to create a habit. You do not create a habit in 21 days. You would deconstruct and reconstruct a thought in that amount of time. But to make that thought strong enough to impact behavior change, that you stop that pattern, you have to spend another 42 days practicing using it. That’s the lifestyle that I live and that I teach the book, and I applied all the time. I am now going to the point and it’s going to get better. I’ve now got to the point that I can function incredibly high levels for long periods of time no matter what’s going on around me. It gives you a lot of mental peace, a lot of mental piece.


I have to say this very quickly. I get thousands of DMs and emails every month from cross-section of society, from all over the world. I see the most traumatized response questions from Christians and I have to say this, but from Christians who are so filled with guilt, condemnation and shame about what they’ve done wrong, and how they feel so guilty and why they’re still depressed when they believe in Jesus. I just see a lot of damage being done in the church by making people think, “Oh! I can’t express my feelings.” It’s like we’ve missed the boat, because we have to look at Jesus, the model of Jesus. Jesus models mental health management, mind management to a tee — if you look at the whole story of Jesus in the garden. I don’t know if you want me to dive into that.


[00:28:05] JR: Please do. Oh, my gosh! Yeah. I would love to hear you talk about that, because I do think this is an acute problem in the church. I hear it with Christian professionals all the time in our audience. I guess two questions, one, you touched on it but why do you think it’s so acute in the church and two, what is the model of Jesus in the garden?


[00:28:24] CL: The reason I believe it’s so acute is because we’ve adopted a Band-Aid approach to being human. That is, that as soon as you have any kind of adverse experience because you’re supposed to be filled with the spirit or whatever language you use, whatever Christian you use. I’m not mocking any of it. I’m just saying whatever language you use that is often used. “Well, I’ve got to be perfect. I haven’t said enough scriptures, I don’t have enough faith. I’m not believing God enough.”


[00:28:52] JR: It’s where it works based, right? It’s kind of the antithesis of the gospel. It’s like, “I have to do things to get peace rather than finding peace that’s been granted to me in Christ.”


[00:29:02] CL: “Exactly. It comes to the point of using God as a genie and scripture as a Band-Aid and prayers as a [inaudible 00:29:09] responsibility. Then the whole thing of, “Yeah. The devil made me do it and the devil is attacking me.” When I hear that my hackles rise and I just say, “Do you believe anything about what Jesus did and God and everything? Because that’s not what we — why are we giving energy across to something that’s defeated?” I won’t even go down that road. That’s like another whole — it’s just a way of not facing our issues.


That’s become — it’s almost pathological in a church in my opinion, because we are seeing such broken people that are not allowing themselves to express their brokenness. Even one is broken, the evidence is there. If you’re human, you’re broken. Because you’ve been shattered many times, in many different ways and you’re constantly having to rebuild the pieces and Jesus showed that in the garden so clearly.


We got to stop there. We’ve got to start allowing people to say, “I’m okay.” Four percent of the church talk about mental health. When they do, they say, “Go to the doctor. Get your diagnosis.” Mental health is seen as an illness like cancer, diabetes. There is no science behind that. When you’re battling with your mind, it’s because of something going on and you have to embrace that and process it, not go and label it. Labeling has led to the current situation that we’re in, that people are dying 8 to 25 years younger in the prime of their life, because they are not allowing themselves to process what they’re going through.


As I said earlier, your brain will recognize an issue that you’re suppressing, in the same way it could recognize COVID virus. The immune system of your brain is on high alert in trying to fight it, that’s why you have increased inflammation with trauma, and with suppressing thoughts or being constantly angry. There are millions of scriptures that will confirm that whatever emotion you’re experiencing that’s toxic will damage your brain and your body. There, we come to Jesus in the garden. Jesus first of all shows the principles of embrace process and re-conceptualize. Not current philosophy, which is, let the scripture and just use God as a genie. And think, “Okay. I’ve said 10 scriptures now and I can quote 50 scriptures, healing scripture, why aren’t I healed?” That’s never going to work for you, until you’ve actually done the work of getting in the garden, because you’ve got to get away.


Maybe that sickness is something you just have to accept and live with, but if that’s not the issues, the issues is, “What are you doing with your mind?” Because we live in a world where our bodies will let us down. This is just part and parcel — of the nature of chemicals, and aging and all these kinds of things, and bad diet and all that sort of stuff. But essentially, Jesus models that we got to embrace, so he gets in the garden. Jesus doesn’t avoid what Jesus got to do.


Now, hear this very carefully. Only Jesus can go to the cross, only you can carry your cross. No one can fix you. We live in an over-theraputized, over-counseled, over-coached world. The church world is one of the worst, where everyone is looking to coach someone else to fix their lives. We should stop a little bit and actually look at our own lives because you cannot fix anyone. You can only fix yourself. That is so scriptural and you’re going to read it if you go really search through the Bible. It’s you who chooses. It doesn’t say, go and get your dad to choose, your mom to choose or your therapist to choose. You have to make that decision.


We see like with addiction it’s considered a disease. It’s not a disease. Addiction is simply using something to hide the pain that you’re not dealing with, and 86% to 93% if addicts will come out —or people suffering from addiction or battling with addiction, I would say because it’s a symptom, will come out of that by choice. Therefore, we have to face our stuff, we have to embrace. Jesus got into the garden, willingly went in the garden to prepare — to face. There’s facing here, there’s an embracing, there’s a willingness to face the pain. In a society where we want quick fix, five steps, three scriptures, four praise, seven sermons, five conferences and now must be based — it doesn’t work like that. You’ve got to get in the garden on your knees and sweat blood. This is totally showing the mind about integration.


The first half of my book with the clinical trials, I show how your DNA can age. Your body can be older than your chronological age and you can be more sick and sickly if you don’t manage your mind. In other words, your cortisol levels and your glucose levels can shoot up. For example, I had an acute situation happen and I happened to be testing out glucose, continues glucose monitoring device, which is really great for like exercising and just mental and physical health and I’m going to be doing some research. So I happen to be testing it out. In that time, I had an acute situation that happened in our family and I happen to look at the monitor and my glucose levels had shot to 240, which is like heart attack range. Normally, I’m at somewhere between 84 and 96. If your glucose is up, your cortisol is up, your white blood cell counts up, your immune system is going crazy, your inflammation in your brain and so on and so on. I can go on for hours with biomarkers, everything —


I know that I was in a very, very vulnerable state at that moment. I neurocycled, I captured my thoughts, renewed my mind and I did it repeatedly over that time period that I was going through this acute trauma and my glucose levels within minutes dropped. Within minutes we’re back down. I was still upset and crying and everything but I was managing it. It doesn’t take the pain away but I was facing it, and I was dealing with it because you have to move forward. Jesus progresses through the garden and sweats blood. Physiologically, you can — if you are in a heightened state of distress, every single part of your body like I described will react. If your glucose levels are flying like mine did, and your cortisol levels, that means that you’re going to have incredible increase in your blood pressure, you could burst capillaries, you could sweat blood. Totally possible. Jesus sweated blood.


We see two major principles that are not being taught sufficiently in the church, nor in the psychiatric, current psychiatric moves, the way mental health is managed. That general sort of standard approach of treatment is not to embrace. It is to label, diagnose and medicate. To see it as an illness. Jesus is feeling totally depressed, anxious, frustrated, despair and I can’t say that with all reality, because it’s very clear that Jesus experienced what we as humans would experience. Therefore, we experience despair, anger, frustration, extreme anxiety, panic. Those are emotions that Jesus experienced because that was the model that Jesus was giving us.


[00:35:40] JR: Yeah. The word became flesh, right? We don’t have a high priest who cannot sympathize with their weaknesses. We take that for granted that Jesus became human.


[00:35:47] CL: We don’t even think what it means. We just think it’s some — I’ve had people say, “How can you say Jesus was a depressed?” and I say, “Of course, he was. Then don’t you believe that every experience — have you had depression? Yes, of course, you’re human. You’ve had depression.” Depression is simply a symptom of under — it’s not a disease, it’s just an emotion. It’s a warning signal. Every emotion you can list is what Jesus experienced in the garden. He embraced it to teach us that it’s hard, you’re going to sweat blood, you’re going to suffer physiologically, you’re going to get worse before you get better. I mean, Jesus got beaten after going through that. Also, beg for this to be taken away.


It’s okay to say, “I don’t like this. It sucks. It’s terrible. I hate this.” You can say that. You can and from the neuroscience and I show this in my book. That when you embrace in the way I’m describing, that Jesus did in the garden, when you say, “It sucks. Please take it away from me. I hate this. It’s terrible. I don’t want to go through this.” You don’t have to feel bad about that. You just shifted the power balance. You’ve just created — put your brain and body into a resilient state that you are stronger and more wiser, and more able to handle the upcoming situation.


Jesus modeling that shows us that those are steps to increase resilience. Is that, face the pain, embrace the pain, allow the physiological changes to happen. It’s natural. Your mind is working through your brain and body. It’s going to happen. Talk about it, express and get it out because then you shift the power balance. You’re getting the agency that you have as a human to be able to deal with it. It will get worst.


When people have trauma in their past and they’ve suppressed it for years, and they’re living in a state of anxiety, and it’s affecting relationship and then they start doing the work of neurocycling, and therapy and stuff to start getting this out, it gets so painful. People can break down, that’s why you have the support systems in place, which is exactly why Jesus turns to the disciples and said, “Hey, guys! Wake up.” He didn’t ask for Prozac, he didn’t ask for opioids, he didn’t say swap up” and I’m being facetious. But Jesus did not ask to get away. Jesus did not ask them to fix him, he did not ask them to like make this go away. He did not ask for that. Jesus simply said, “Will you be with me. Will you be with me for about an hour.” It was a support. We play in each other’s lives as support. Well, we do not play a Mr. Fix-it role.


As soon as you’re Mr. Fix-it, you are going to get frustrated and so as the person you’re trying to fix. That’s what I see as a massive problem in the church, 3% of the leadership. Actually, not just in the church, across all spheres; corporate, education, et cetera, in general, leaders do not talk about their mental health. Only 3% do. Meanwhile, 100% of people are battling with mental health. We may talk about that mental health is on the rise. I laugh. I said, “Please. It’s always been in the rise.” When I say one in four people are depressed, I say, “Please, 100% of people are depressed.” Since the beginning of time, people have battled, so we’ve got to stop that angle. We’ve got to come to the angle of what’s the narrative that we are all battling, so how do we manage it. Let’s stop trying to make it a physical illness. Let’s start trying to recognize that physical illnesses can result. But the issue is, a person has a story and the person has something they’re dealing with. How can we support them through the process?


Then it gets worse before it gets better. That’s the treatment effect and I saw that in my clinical trials. You get these peaks and my subjects would say that and my patients. “Gosh! This is worst. I’m feeling more anxious.” But they start shifting from saying, “I am depression. I am the wrong identity” to “Oh! I now know why I feel depression. This is terrible. I hate this, but I’m going to get through this.” That’s what Jesus models in the garden. Then he goes to the cross before getting beaten. Can it get any worse? But then Jesus rises with the wounds in his hand.


This is what I want to talk about the significance. When you embrace your stuff, and you take that toxic tree and you start seeing the signals of despair, and pain in your body, and behavioral symptoms, and your perspective being all negative and whatever it is. As warning signals that you embrace and you’re not threatened by them, you’re not scared of them. As you gather awareness of those, like Jesus did in the garden and you start reflecting on those, which is the second step of the neurocycle. The first step is to gather awareness. When you write that down, and when you re-check it, which is looking for the meaning and the antidotes, and the patterns, then when you have a little action to help you move forward. And you do that each day, you are actually going to by the day 21, you would have gone to the cross and risen again.


By day 21, you have your story re-conceptualized. That wound is your story, but you’ve now can live with it. You’ve now changed how the past plays out into your future. You’ve now got this new, beautiful tree that’s got these gold leaves, just wanted the analogy, that is the past story playing out into the future. It doesn’t excuse the abuse. The abuse that’s is always going to be wrong for that, but you have released yourself from that and you are now not letting that control you. You are taking that terrible thing that happened and you are deciding how you want that to work for you into your future. That’s reconceptualization. That’s rising with the wounds in your hands and that’s exactly what the process of the neurocycle teaches you to do.


[00:40:57] JR: I love that. Dr. Leaf, you’ve been at this almost 40 years. It’s incredible. You have so much passion for this topic. I’m curios if you see a connection between your faith and your ambition for this work. Is there a connection there for you?


[00:41:15] CL: As I mentioned earlier. I don’t see any difference between science and spirituality. I see God in science and I see some of my most deep spiritual experiences have been as I have done clinical research, and as I see someone respond and get that peace back or see someone who’s totally suicidal, and wanted to give up on life and suddenly fighting through that garden and going through the whole thing. Then seeing them come through it and starting to change from being not wanting to live, to wanting to live, or someone going through. That is for me, that’s such a connection. That’s what it’s all about.


[00:41:55] JR: That’s redemptive, right? You’re an agent of redemption and fixing what’s broken, right?


[00:42:02] CL: Yep. Pretty much. I see that that’s something in all of us. It’s not just — we probably get away from just the therapist, or the clinician, or the scientist doing that. You’re a human, you’ve got that ability and this is why the skill should be thought as young as two and three. My kids have learned this from day one. They’ve learned these principles as I’ve developed them. They’ve grown along in their knowledge along with me. This is trying to help people to realize that you don’t have to battle to see a doctor before you can live. You can learn how to live know in peace. You can take that — you can reconstruct that house you’re living into a place of peace. You can take that ugly, old house and bash it down and rebuild it into a place of piece and you can remember how you were. But you can live in that sense of peace.


That’s something that everyone can do, and that’s why I like what I do and that’s why I’ve written this book, is to really bring mental peace, to help people to recognize mental mess is okay as long as you manage it and it’s how you manage it.


[00:42:59] JR: I love it. Three quick questions before we wrap up every conversation. Number one. Other than your own books, which books do you recommend or gift most frequently to others?


[00:43:09] CL: Oh, gosh! I have so many. Because I love science, I have to be honest with you. It will always be along the lines of whatever is my most favorite sort of science books, and they do vary. Specially in the area of brain research, and mind, brain research, so, quite technical. But when it comes to fiction, Lord of the Rings is one of the ones that I recommend everyone reads, because first of all, C.S. Lewis was a South African, so maybe a little biased. But I mean, J. R. Tolkien, not C.S. Lewis, Tolkien. Also, he believed in God and even though there’s a lot of stuff — every storyteller has things that you may or may not agree with, but it does talk about the epic journey of life and how we got to carry our own ring. I think that’s one of my favorites. I watched that over and over with our family. I’ve been to all the places. For me, that’s very significant of the journey of life and this uniqueness.


[00:44:03] JR: That’s a great one. I’m curious, who you would like to hear in this podcast? Somebody who is a practicing Christian, is serious about their faith, but also really serious about the work they do in the world.


[00:44:14] CL: Dr. Daniel Amen is a good friend of man, and he’s fantastic. He’s a psychiatrist. We have the same philosophy.


[00:44:22] JR: I’ve read his stuff. Yeah.


[00:44:23] CL: He’s a great friend of mine. He’s great. I love his work.


[00:44:28] JR: Last question. You’re talking to an audience of Christians who want to do great work in service of others. What one piece of advice do you want to leave them with, Dr. Leaf?


[00:44:38] CL: I think this is going to be the most obvious. You need a neurocycle. Without renewing your mind, you can go to all the course, read all the books, but if you don’t get your thoughts on, if you don’t bring every though into captivity and train yourself to do it, and renew the mind. If your mind is a mess, everything else is a mess and then it’s all window dressing. Everything that you’re doing is window dressing. True change has to start with getting your mind, which is the source of everything into a state where you’re managing it. It’s never going to be under controller, but you can improve how you control, how you manage. That renewing of the mind, capturing all thoughts through the neurocycle is absolutely essential.


[00:45:13] JR: I love it. Dr. Leaf, I want to commend you and everyone else listening, for the important redemptive work you’re doing every day. Thank you for helping us be obedient to Paul’s commands, right? To renew our minds, to take very thought captive. Thank you for helping us understand how to do that practically.


Guys, the book is Cleaning Up Your Mental Mess. You can pick it wherever books are sold. Dr. Leaf, thanks again for joining us.


[00:45:37] CL: It’s my pleasure. Thank you.




[00:45:40] JR: You guys thought I was the fastest talker on your podcast feed. Nope. Dr. Leaf beat me. I loved that. I have to listen to it in half speed. But man, so much goodness, wisdom and data in science from Dr. Leaf. I love that she was able to join us.


Hey, if you’re enjoying the Call to Mastery, do me a favor. Go rate the podcast right now on Apple Podcast so that we can recruit more guests like Dr. Leaf and more listeners to this message and to this cause. Thank you guys so much for listening. I’ll see you next time.