✔ A Deep Dive into Dr. Caroline Leaf's 5 Scientifically Proven Steps to Clean Up Our Mental Mess, So We Can Help Ourselves, Others and Our Children (Preparing for Dr. Leaf's NEW Book Coming Out August 8th).
✔ What to Expect in the 63 Day Neurocycle (from her APP) from Andrea's Experience of Breaking Down Her Own Toxic Thoughts.
✔ How This Scientifically Proven Process Breaks Down a Toxic Thought, and Reconceptualizes It into Something Healthy and Manageable.
✔ An Overview of the 5 Steps You Will Use to Manage Your Mind.
✔ What Tools and Strategies Stanford Professor Dr. Andrew Huberman suggests for improving anxiety and stress in our lives.
✔ Andrea's Thoughts on implementing these strategies for improved mental and physical health, with tools to create balance on a daily basis.
Welcome back to The Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast, where we connect the science-based evidence behind social and emotional learning (that’s finally being taught in our schools today) and emotional intelligence training (used in our modern workplaces) for improved well-being, achievement, productivity and results—using what I saw as the missing link (since we weren’t taught this when we were growing up in school), the application of practical neuroscience. I’m Andrea Samadi, an author, and an educator with a passion for learning and launched this podcast 5 years ago with the goal of bringing ALL the leading experts together (in one place) to uncover the most current research that would back up how the brain learns best, taking us ALL to new, and often unimaginable heights.
As we have now hit more than halfway through this year, I want to look back to where we started in January. We opened up January 2023 and SEASON 9 with an episode that focused on “prioritizing our mental and physical health, improving self-awareness and resiliency”[i] with a quote from Julie Smith, and her book Why Has Nobody Told Me This Before?
She said “To me, working on maximizing our mental health is no different to working on our physical health.”
Today, we are going to show just how true Julie Smith’s concept of being mindful of our physical AND mental health is, and look at some strategies that we can all use immediately, for difficult times, so that we ALL keep our mental health at the forefront, with ideas for how we can use our mind to become resilient to stress.
For today’s episode #299, we are going back to the Basics, and reviewing EP #106[ii], from February 2021, where we covered a review of Dr. Caroline Leaf’s Neurocycle APP[iii] (that’s scientifically designed to help manage and reduce anxiety, depression and mental ill-health by 81%) along with her book, Cleaning Up Your Mental Mess, that we covered when we interviewed Dr. Leaf on a BONUS EPISODE[iv] back in 2021. I continue to release her episode every year, as her 5 STEP process to identifying, and breaking up toxic thoughts is unlike anything I’ve ever seen or tried myself. If anyone ever asks me “what do you recommend for getting rid of those ruminating thoughts, those worries, stresses or anxieties” that ALL of us feel at some point in our life, I always send over Dr. Leaf’s interview, and let them know about her APP that’s now called The Neurocycle APP, based on applying these 5 steps.
Why Am I Revisiting Our Mental Health Now?
After our last EP #298 with my friend and Neurocoach, Grace Reynolds[v], I mentioned that my girls were struggling with going back to school, and my youngest in particular, with a new school, no friends there, and an entirely new routine. I tried some of Grace’s strategies with her to help bring her brain back to calm, but I quickly realized that I needed more help for her.
I thought back to Dr. Leaf’s episode, and wished she has steps for me to follow that I could walk my 12 year old through, so I went back to the Neurocycle APP on my phone, and thought that it might be a good time for me to revisit the 5 STEPS that she suggests can clean up ANY mental mess, helping us to manage thoughts that make us anxious, or depressed, and eliminate ANY toxic thoughts, showing us how to take control of them, manage them, and break them down so that they don’t have any control over us. We’ve all got these thoughts in our head, whether it’s work worries, financial worries, family worries, I’m sure everyone can write down a bunch of CRAP they need to get out of their head. It’s really quite an experience and I thought I’m definitely past due for cleaning up my own mental mess.
I opened up my APP that I haven’t used since the last time I had a problem I wanted to eliminate, and right there on the home page was an alert about Dr. Leaf’s new book, coming out in days, called How to Help Your Child Clean Up Their Mental Mess: A Guide to Building Resilience and Managing Mental Health[vi]which covers scientifically-proven steps to help children ages 3-10 overcome unhealthy thinking habits and manage their mental health. My wish was granted. In days, I’ll have her new book, (it’s coming out August 8th) and I’ll share anything NEW she covers with how to help our children with their worries, keeping their minds peaceful, but until then, I’ve started a NEW 63-day Cycle, which is what Dr. Leaf recommends for eliminating ANY toxic thought that you have, anything that you know is taking away from your peace of mind, to see how I could work on my current worries, and be a stronger version of myself for my family. When we can understand the 5 steps ourselves as parents, or teachers, and role model the way with our thoughts and behaviors, it’s the first step towards showing our kids that there is nothing wrong with anxiety. It’s not a bad thing. It’s a signal to show us that we need to do something differently.
Dr. Leaf said that she uses this system herself, and it’s the way she manages her mind. If you look at Dr. Leaf you might think she looks somewhere in her 40s with her age, but it you follow her work, she goes back in time with her research, and shares she is around age 60. When we can manage our stress from the inside out, it does show up on the outside. She shares “I truly believe that mental mess is something we all experience often,” and that it isn’t something we should be ashamed of. This is my profession, and I still have to clean up my mind daily. The events and circumstances of life aren’t going anywhere; people make a lot of decisions every day that affect us all, suffering of some sort for you and your loved ones is inevitable. That said, I wholeheartedly believe that although the events and circumstances can’t be controlled, we can control our reactions to these events and circumstances. This is mind-management in action!”
So for today’s EP #299, I want to revisit my REVIEW of Dr. Leaf’s 5 STEPS for Managing Our Mental Mess, and prepare for her NEW book coming out How to Help Your Child Clean Up Their Mental Mess: A Guide to Building Resilience and Managing Mental Health.[vii] This book is on pre-order right now, coming out August 8th. If you do pre-order a copy, go to her website and register your order, and you will receive some bonuses, like a video that will prepare your kids for going back to school. This is JUST what I needed last week. I’ve pre-ordered my copy and highly suggest you look at her new book, if you are like me, with young children, noticing the effects of stress, and anxiety on their developing brains. I hope you find this episode helpful, as I’ll share NEW strategies that go much deeper than what we’ve ever done before with cleaning up our minds, with Dr. Leaf’s 5 Step Approach to reducing our own anxiety, and improve our own self-regulation. Finally, we will look at strategies that Stanford Professor and neuroscientist Dr. Andrew Huberman suggests we do in addition to Dr. Leaf’s 5 steps, to make sure we are taking ALL the steps we can to increase our resilience to stress. Finally, once we’ve mastered these steps ourselves, we can role model the way for others in our life, like, our children, so they can do the same.
CLEANING UP OUR MENTAL MESS IN 5 STEPS
Today, in order to go deeper into the 5 steps than I covered in my first review of Dr. Leaf’s program[viii] back in 2021, I’m going to offer insights from actually doing the FULL 63 days (which Dr. Leaf calls a Neurocycle) three times. I did one full cycle to eliminate, and better manage a problem that I’d say was once my biggest fear, and it’s not at all anymore now that I look at my notes, and then use the APP to understand something about myself on a deeper level, more than any counseling that I’ve ever paid for, attended, and done the work for. What happens with this 63 day Neurocycle process is that once we identify a problem we want to “clean up” from our mind, we’ll go through these 5 steps every day, for 63 days, and in this process, we conceptualize whatever it is that gives us an emotional charge. It never goes away, but whatever it is that brings you worry and anxiety, over time, will lose its energy and power over you, so that in essence are able to control your thoughts, keeping them healthy, instead of them controlling you, and bringing you dis-ease.
Dr. Leaf’s Neurocycle app, costs $14.99USD/month which is much less than any time I’ve actually paid a mental health expert for assistance. I’m not paid to endorse Dr. Leaf, I just interviewed her, and fully believe in her process. You can go through the steps in her APP, or even watch the steps herself from her YouTube channel[ix].
NOTE: Remember, I am not a medical doctor, and if you are struggling with your mental health, please do consult with a medical doctor. On this episode I’m not offering medical advice, but am sharing the results I’ve personally obtained from using the 5 STEP approach that Dr. Leaf suggests, from my point of view, in her book, Cleaning Up Your Mental Mess and using her Neurocycle APP. My hope is that it can help others, who might find themselves stuck, with some NEW ideas and strategies that I’ve used myself to access peace of mind, during times of high stress in my own life, with the goal that next, I’ll be able to help my family to use these stress reduction strategies in their life, or for anyone who might be listening, and want to try them out for themselves.
63 DAYS TO BREAK DOWN A TOXIC THOUGHT
The whole idea is that Dr. Leaf, from her years of research, suggests it takes 63 days to get rid of, and completely break down and eliminate a toxic thought. Day 1-21 you identify the thought you want to work on, (you’ll know which one gives you the most emotional charge when you write out all of your worries) and you’ll go through the 5 steps every day to deconstruct the thought, and reconstruct it into something you understand and can manage. Day 22-42 you go through the 5 steps only, growing new thoughts around the toxic one, and Day 42-63 you finally break the “cycle” and form NEW thoughts, that support the future you want to see. It sounds pretty simple and straight forward, but I’ve got to share that it’s a bit messy.
CLEANING UP OUR MENTAL MESS IN 63 DAYS
In our interview, she held up a dead, rotten looking tree, showing us that this is what our toxic thoughts look like, (in our mind) and I’m not one consciously think negative thoughts, knowing how damaging they are to our brain and results, but this image took it all to a new level for me with this dead tree. Anytime we are stuck ruminating on something negative, (either consciously-when we will know we are going down the wrong path, or even unconsciously, like what happened to me when I noticed feeling this sinking feeling in my stomach that something just wasn’t right in our world) the dead tree is a good visual to think of. How on the earth could we possibly expect to build positive results with negative thoughts floating through our minds, causing negative feelings, actions and results? These negative thoughts further impact our conditions, circumstances and even our future environments. It’s not something I want personally, or for anyone else, so when I noticed I was beginning to worry, and feel anxious with some things happening with our girls, that are a normal part of them growing up, and I knew these worries were beginning to impact my behavior, (I was more snippier than usual with them) I knew it was time for me to start a NEW 63 day Neurocycle and nip these worries in the bud, before they grew into something more difficult to control. I knew it was time to clean up my own Mental Mess.
I’m on DAY 4/63 of the program now, and since this is my 4th time running through a 63-day cycle, I wanted to share my thoughts along the way, to help others who might be thinking about beginning this process. I’ll link some resources in the show notes resource section of where to begin. I highly suggest watching the interview I did with Dr. Leaf on EPISODE #106[x] to get some background information of this 5-step process, and even her interview with podcaster Ed Mylett[xi] who brings some humor to the 5-step process from a guy’s point of view. The Neurocycle APP puts everything into practice and brings the 5-steps to life.
Here’s My Experience of Using the APP to Clean Up My Mental Mess
INTRO TO THE APP:
I opened up the APP, and 63 days feels like a long way away, but if you can break down the journey into stages (1-21 where you identify what issue you want to DETOX from your mind and begin to deconstruct it, and then reconstruct it into something healthier, 22-42 where you practice the 5 steps and reinforce new, healthy thoughts, and finally days 42-63 where you break the cycle of negative thinking and find FREEDOM in your mind) where you notice you’ll be able to manage your thoughts, and life, so much better. You go from having doubts, worries, and fears, to understanding, and eventually to FREEDOM and peace of mind.
Here’s how I felt throughout my 63 days.
DAY 1: I felt anxious, with a problem I wanted to solve immediately. It was difficult to focus on my work, as the problem was on my mind. Dr. Leaf’s dead toxic tree was enough of a visual for me to want to change my toxic thoughts, and get them out of my head. I also felt an anxious feeling in my stomach, and knew I wasn’t my best self.
DAY 2: The first part is all about brainstorming what’s on our mind. If I thought about the CRAP BOARD I talked about in our previous EPISODE, it’s here we list out all of Conflicts, Resistances, Anxieties and Problems on a piece of paper. I did this myself, and actually did it with my daughter, to pinpoint what was stressing her out so much. Pinpointing what’s bothering you the MOST is eye-opening, as you look at other things that cross your mind, and put them on the back-burner, so to speak. Now we are going to pick the one that’s the most pressing. I’ve now identified the ONE thought I’ll work on for 63 days. Most of us will be able to list a whole bunch of things that are on our mind, taking up space. You’ll want to pick just ONE. At this point I already know how I feel when this problem comes across my mind, and I’ve started to apply strategies to calm my mind when I feel stressed out about it. The work of deconstructing this problem has begun.
DAY 3: Now I’ve learned to pause and breathe when stressed with a strategy Dr. Leaf calls THINK/FEEL and CHOOSE. With time, this self-regulation strategy becomes automatic and when I THINK and FEEL something that makes me uneasy, I have the ability to CHOOSE how I respond or react to it, listening closely to what she says are “warning signals” in my body. Alpha waves increase as I dig deeper into my mind, and gain understanding in this process. I’m very clear with the emotions I feel, the behaviors I choose, and I’m using my own mind to gain some perspective of what this all means to me, and what are the root causes of it all.
DAY 6: I’m beginning to change my perspective of the toxic thought, getting closure to it all, as I’m beginning to see where it came from in the first place.
DAY 7: I can actually gather some insight, understanding and feel empowered as I’ve broken up a toxic thought with my own mind. After 7 days I can say I felt hope, or empowerment and had created a vision for the future I wanted as the toxic thought is now being restructured in my brain and turned into something useful. I’m thinking of her dead tree coming alive a bit.
DAY 14: Dr. Leaf mentions is a BENCHMARK DAY as you might experience what she says is like a “mastery mirage” or that “Oh, I’ve got this feeling” and you want to stop here. DON’T STOP, or you’ll undo all of the work you’ve done up to this point, and you’ll need to start over at day 1. The toxic thought isn’t dead just yet. Keep going, learning, thinking and reflecting. It’s here you might need an accountability partner to keep going, but find some way to take this process seriously and keep moving, and doing the “mental” work to break free from whatever it is that’s bothering you. I just wrote down what day I was on in my notebook out of 63 days, showing me that I wasn’t finished yet.
DAY 14-16: Somewhere around here I felt persistence, resilience, strength and power about the thought that was once toxic and troubling. I can look back to Day 1 and remember how I felt, knowing this process does work. I know that I’m nowhere near where I was 2 weeks ago with this toxic thought.
DAY 20: I can now see the BIG PICTURE and the future that was bright as the toxic thought no longer bothers me. This is an incredible experience to get to and know that we used our own mind to clean itself.
DAY 21-24: Were the most powerful. I won’t write here why, you’ll have to do the work and see for yourself, but it was here that came deep understanding, healing and strength that would change me forever.
DAY 25-63: Was a process of going through the 5 STEPS daily, and reconceptualizing the toxic every day until you build it into something else that’s healthier.
I did cover in the 5 STEPS in our REVIEW of Dr. Leaf’s Book[xii], but here they are again here:
IMAGE CREDIT: Dr. Caroline Leaf's 5 STEPS for Cleaning Up Your Mental Mess in her Neurocycle APP.
STEP 1: Gather Awareness (of what’s bothering you). We’ve all heard of the importance of knowing our emotions, or when we name what’s bothering us, or when we name it, we can tame it[iv]. What about those worries that we name, and they don’t go away? This is where I used the Neurocycle APP and this is something I will continue to use to clean up my own mental mess, cleaning up those bigger worries that I know are impacting my results.
STEP 2: Reflect and Analyze: Answer, Ask and Discuss Some Questions to Find the Root Cause of Your Emotions or What’s Bothering You.
This is how we pull thoughts from our non-conscious mind to our conscious mind, where it becomes weaker. It’s no longer suppressed but acknowledged. Use your mind to ask yourself questions, and it will be interesting to see what comes up. This process takes time, reflection and daily effort. Our emotions are unique signals to learn how to cope with challenges, but over time, negative ones will damage our brain with consistent worry. We want to find our way to growing the positive emotions, and weakening the negative ones. Since I’m on my 4th time doing this process, I can say that the ROOT CAUSE of ALL my worries, are pretty much the same issue. This activity will increase your self-awareness.
STEP 3: Write out what you discover from step 2. Begin to capture what’s bothering you and see if you can come up with root causes, or why you think this worry is on your mind. Learn to write in pictures, add color, shapes. Learn how to write in a metacog formula[v] digging into your nonconscious mind, bringing what’s buried in there, to your conscious mind for you to deal with it. It’s here you will create self-regulation strategies to turn your worries into something that no longer holds you back.
STEP 4: Recheck and Edit What You Have Written Down. Re-read what you have written and see what comes up. Can you add more to your answer to help make more sense of it? Dig deeper, look for patterns, triggers and keep looking for the root cause of the problem. As you gain more understanding of what’s bothering you, you are now what Dr. Leaf says is called “conceptualizing” the toxic thought into something you can manage.
STEP 5: Practice and Apply Through Active Reach. Look at what you have written and see if you can come up with an action statement to practice what you have learned from your introspection. You will read out your daily Aha Moment 7x a day to remind yourself what you are re-shaping. This last step is something positive and motivating to remind you of your NEW awareness around this thought. The APP even has a reminder that will pop up on your phone to help you to consolidate this new thought into your mind in this process. It will make you smile when you are going about your busy day, long after you’ve done this work.
It’s here you’ll notice a shift in energy about the problem. I started to see mine differently here looking at it from a distance.
DIVE DEEPER INTO YOUR RESULTS
The Neurocycle APP has this NEW feature that measures how well you are managing your mind. You can click on the RESULTS tab and see a score for your Autonomy, Awareness, Toxic Thoughts and Isolation, Toxic Stress, Barriers and Challenges, Empowerment and Life Satisfaction based on answering questions after each day of using the app. This score will help you to dive deeper into your mental health and see where there is room for improvement along the way.
Now that I know how to identify and change my own toxic thinking, I’d like to teach this process to my girls, so they can keep their minds free and clear of their mental mess. Dr. Leaf’s book for kids comes out August 8th (next Tuesday) so reviewing her 5 STEPS will be helping for ANYONE who wants to apply these steps themselves and then help others to do the same.
Before I review this episode with some additional strategies, I do have to say that going through these 5 steps isn’t going to be easy. I’m in my 4th cycle of 63 days, and in the very beginning, when you are writing down something that make you uneasy (a toxic thought) it will make you FEEL uneasy. The work is real, and so are the emotions that you will be breaking down. I had to find strategies to help me to center myself, and get out of the fight/flight part of my anxious brain, to the rest and digest parasympathetic side. There’s no way around a problem, Dr. Leaf says the only way is “through” and I’ll have to agree. When doing these 5 steps, find ways to incorporate self-care into your day. Be good to yourself.
To make sure I was putting my mind in the BEST frame for doing this deep work, I looked at what other strategies we could use to help calm our mind as we are cleaning up our Mental Mess, and I found a list from Dr. Andrew Huberman’s podcast.
On Dr. Huberman’s EPISODE on “Tools for Managing Stress and Anxiety[xiii]” he suggests:
What Does Dr. Huberman Suggest?
1. BREATHING: Practice the physiological sigh[xiv] by consciously engaging in a double inhale followed by a long exhale to regulate heart rate and induce relaxation.
Incorporate deliberate breathing techniques, such as longer and more vigorous exhales, to regulate heart rate and activate the parasympathetic nervous system. Dr. Leaf incorporates breathing into her Neurocycle steps, helping us to prime our brain for learning. I saw the importance of taking deep breaths when I interviewed Rohan Dixit and his Lief Therapeutics[xv] wearable HRV device. This device, that connected to my stomach with sensors, taught me to breathe and in turn, lower my HRV.
2. SUPPLEMENTS: Explore non-prescription compounds like melatonin, L-theanine, and ashwagandha for potential stress modulation. While I’m not anti-alcohol, I do have a new awareness of the damaging impact of this toxin on our brain, since Dr. Huberman’s episode where he covers this in depth[xvi], I’ve been drinking HOP WTR[xvii] to help calm my nerves as an alternative to alcohol, especially when I need my mind clear and focused, or while learning new information. When life needs your full awareness, I highly suggest finding a healthy substitute that will help you to continue to build brain health in this process. I find this drink to be relaxing, and it does still relieve stress, probably as it contains Ashwagandha that’s best known for its stress relieving properties.
3. PRIORITIZE SLEEP[xviii]AND MAINTAIN OPTIMAL HEART RATE VARIABILITY (HRV) for overall health. I’ve been working on this area for a long time now, (since 2019) and finally seeing improvements[xix]. It’s a process, involving many factors (physical and mental health) and optimizing all areas of health come one step at a time. You can see from my WHOOP (wearable tracker) data that my sleep performance struggles to reach the 70% mark (the suggest number for sufficient sleep) unless I’m on vacation. This is mostly due to the fact that I prioritize early morning works outs, for the benefits I receive there, so sleep is always my work in progress. Finding the balance we need with our physical and mental health is a process.
We’ve covered improving HRV on a few episodes, and I’ve been watching this number like a hawk for the past year. This past month, I’ve finally seen a huge jump in HRV scores that I attribute mostly to the Qualia Senolytics[xx] supplement that I started to use after interview Dr. Greg Kelly from Neurohacker Collective, and drinking more Hop Wtr. In February of this year, my HRV was averaging around 65 ms, and now it’s averaging 84 ms, a 30% increase since February which is a huge jump that could go even higher if only I could get consistent sleep at night.
These are my experiences for improving sleep and HRV, and know there are many other suggested strategies that we’ll keep our eye on and cover in the future.
4. BUILD RESILIENCE: Engage in activities that raise the stress threshold, such as cold showers or intense exercise, while learning to calm the mind. This is a new practice for me and does come in handy when you travel to a place with no hot water once you’ve mastered cold water immersion.
To conclude and review this week’s Brian Fact Friday, of a deeper dive into Dr. Carolyn Leaf’s Cleaning Up Your Mental Mess Book and Neurocycle APP, I highly suggest that if you have something you want to work through, something that’s on your mind bothering you, and distracting you from being your best self, read Dr. Leaf’s How To Clean Up Your Mental Mess book, and grab her Neurocycle APP, even if it’s just for a few months to go through one 63 day cycle. You can always quit the APP, and come back to it at a later date, like I did.
Then fine tune your mindset and resilience practice with Dr. Huberman’s tips for managing stress and anxiety. You don’t have to do it all at once, and you can see from what I’m measuring that balancing our mental and physical health will always be a “work in progress”, especially cleaning up our mental mess, so we can be the best version of ourselves, inspiring others to do the same.
Since stress, anxiety and depression are at an all-time high in the world today, and if we as parents, teachers and coaches can equip ourselves with evidence-based strategies that work, we will be building a stronger, more resilient future for our next generation. Neurohacker Collective just posted this week that “people with higher baseline vagal tone (from practices like breath work, cold exposure, exercise, meditation, taking probiotics, laughter, singing and relaxation exercises) have shown higher levels of subjective well-being, and positive emotions (better self-regulation and self-control).”
With that, I’ll close out this episode, and see you next week, with EPISODE 300 with a surprise guest, my Mom, who will join my husband, Majid Samadi, and I, to cover some mindset success strategies that she’s used over the years, many that we have discussed on the podcast.