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The Melanie Avalon Biohacking Podcast Episode #212 - Dr. Caroline Leaf

Dr. Caroline Leaf is a communication pathologist, audiologist, clinical 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.

During her years in clinical practice and her work with thousands of underprivileged teachers and students in her home country of South Africa and in the USA, she developed her theory (called the Geodesic Information Processing theory) of how we think, build memory, and learn, into tools and processes that have transformed the lives of hundreds of thousands of individuals with Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), learning disabilities (ADD, ADHD), autism, dementias and mental ill-health issues like anxiety and depression. She has helped hundreds of thousands of students and adults learn how to use their mind to detox and grow their brain to succeed in every area of their lives, including school, university, and the workplace.



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The Melanie Avalon Biohacking Podcast Episode #38 - Connie Zack
The Science Of Sauna: Heat Shock Proteins, Heart Health, Chronic Pain, Detox, Weight Loss, Immunity, Traditional Vs. Infrared, And More!

How to Help Your Child Clean Up Their Mental Mess: A Guide to Building Resilience and Managing Mental Health

Cleaning Up Your Mental Mess: 5 Simple, Scientifically Proven Steps to Reduce Anxiety, Stress, and Toxic Thinking 

Think And Eat Yourself Smart: A Neuroscientific Approach To A Sharper Mind And Healthier Life 

how much of our memories are real?

reconceptualizing memories

false memories

the connection between the conscious and unconscious

mind Management

toxic thoughts

issues with cognitive behavioral therapy


Neurocycle | Brain Detox App

impacts on our brain and body from toxic thoughts

prolactin, Telomeres, and stress

the evolution of empathy in children


self regulation

parental guilt

The 5 Steps Of Neurocycle

working around resistance


Melanie Avalon: Hi, friends. Welcome back to the show. I am so incredibly excited about the conversation that I am about to have. I've been looking forward to this conversation for quite a while. And it is with a repeat guest. I'm here with Dr. Caroline Leaf. She has actually been on the show twice before. And for listeners, she was actually one of the very first guests on this show, like episode, I think two or three, way back in the day, which is really an honor. And then I had her on maybe a year or so after that. And now here we are now for her newest book, which is so exciting. So, it is called How to Help Your Child Clean Up Their Mental Mess. And as listeners know [chuckles] so I don't have kids, I don't know that I ever will have kids. I guess never say never, but we shall see. But in any case, I was really curious, approaching the book, how I would experience it as somebody without kids and what I would learn about children and also what I would see about how this applies to my audience. 

And hands down, friends, I honestly think this should be required reading for parents everywhere. Like, we should just instill a law because you will learn so much about how to really optimize your child's life when it comes to taking charge of their own thoughts and perceptions of the world and anything they might experience, like anxiety or depression, trauma, sleep issues, all the things. And then it's not just kids, I kind of feel like this is a sneaky way to change the adults as well, because everything in it really applies to adults, like I said, as well. So, I really just cannot recommend this book enough. And what's super cool, I just got this in the mail. If you do have kids, if you are going that route, there's a super cute coloring book and a Brain-ee, which we can talk about, a little plush toy that you can buy as well. It's just so cute. Yeah, Dr. Leaf, I have so many questions for you, but thank you so much for being here.

Dr. Caroline Leaf: Oh, thank you. That was such a beautiful introduction and I appreciate that and so kind of you. And I can't believe that I was the second guest back, what three, four years ago. That's very special. So, thank you for having me back three times. I'm very, very honored and it's lovely to chat with you. Always love chatting with you. 

Melanie Avalon: Same. No, I am just so honored. So, for listeners, a lot of them are probably familiar with your work, but for those who are not, Dr. Leaf is a communication pathologist, an audiologist, a clinical and cognitive neuroscientist with a Masters and PhD in Communication Pathology and a BSc in Logopedics. And she specializes in cognitive and metacognitive neuropsychology and this woman is everywhere. She has so many best-selling books. She's a renowned speaker. She's been on TV, the media, all the things. And I know [laughs] you have to go for a book signing right after this, so we can just get into it. But to start things off, so I actually have a sort of unconventional question because we'll dive into the book and the Neurocycle and the steps that you have and how you work with children. A theme that goes throughout the book is this idea of reconceptualizing our thoughts and our memories.

I mean, we can talk more about that, but this idea of memories and reconceptualizing them. I recently have been going down the rabbit hole of the Mandela Effect, [laughs] which for listeners who are not familiar, is basically this idea of mass false memories in the population, assuming you don't believe theories about it being actual changes in reality, which that would be a whole another topic. The point of all of this for me is and an example of the Mandela Effect, for example, is if you remember Chick-fil-A being spelled C-H-I-C or C-H-I-C-K or C-H-I-K that is not correct. Or if you remember Berenstain Bears being spelled E-I-N at the end, that is also not correct. So, it's these mass memories that people have that they say are not real. So that was a big lead up. My question is, I've been thinking a lot about memory. So, memory in general for anybody, how much of it is real? 

Dr. Caroline Leaf: Such a good question. I love how you set things up, Melanie. I just have to give you a little bit of a punt there. Just the way you set things up and you said something earlier on, and I promise I'm coming back to your question. You said that such raw, beautiful honesty about you not a parent, and you were fascinated with how you were going to approach this book. That was such a great comment, and I'm glad you said that because it is like a book for parents helping their child clean up their mental medicine. And you got the vision that I had projected. So, thank you for doing that.

Yeah, this book is for parents, for kids, but I'm telling you, this is going to help parents help themselves, inner child work and everything. So, it's really the easiest way to understand how memory forms basically. So, all my work has focused, and I still do research, as I know you're well aware, and published scientific journals. And we've got a big study underway at the moment that is on the time it takes to form memories into habits and so on.

So, in a nutshell, memory is basically data that will cluster together to form networks that we call thoughts. So, a thought is actually made up of a memory in the same way that a tree is made of roots and branches. So, if you think of a tree structure and you think of the roots and the trunk of the branches, the roots and the branches would be the memories, the data, and it's a dynamic force. So, you can keep adding more memories to the roots and then that gets interpreted through the branches by the unique way you think, fill and choose, and then grows more branches. So, it's very dynamic and organic and can change and it's in flex all the time. 

So, when something's actually happened to you as you're going through life's experiences, which is literally all the time, as you open your eyes in the morning, you're building life into memory networks called thoughts into your mind, brain, body network, all three places you're doing that all day long. And then at nighttime, your mind sorts out those memories that you have built in that they are grouped into those clusters. So, memory is constantly being adjusted according to new experiences, but the core thing that you've experienced is there. So, our stories never go away. Once you've experienced something, it's there with you forever. Whatever forever is, which is another whole question that I know you'd be very interested to explore. So, it's always there but you can change what it looks like inside your mind, brain and body connection, which is your psycho and neurobiological network, and therefore you can change how it plays out into your future. These memories that we have that cluster into thoughts are very powerful and have a lot of energy, and they pretty much drive how we function as humans. And if we can look at the impact of the drive and we can stay driving in that direction, or we can adjust the drive and make it healthier, less healthy, whatever, we've got options. We can do a lot that we want with our memories, but the core memory tends to remain. It just shifts and changes and become as we have more experience. Does that answer your question? Or I can go into more detail. I don't know how sciency you want to go. 

Melanie Avalon: I've heard that every time you retell a story or rethink about a memory, you reconceptualize it and change it. Is that accurate? 

Dr. Caroline Leaf: It does. So, your core memory will always be there. So, for example, let's say that this is at the peak of my mind, because someone just actually asked me this question in a previous interview. Their child saw some really scary pictures of Chucky or whatever it is, that Chucky whatever that at Universal Studios. And this child was just like, literally just seven and it gave this child nightmares. And so, she was actually asking me, how can that, over time, those memories change? And the reconceptualization is really key here, Melanie. Because reconceptualization means it's been redesigned, it's been deconstructed and reconstructed, so that child will always know that they saw that picture. But the impact of that picture, unless managed, was unmanaged initially because the mom didn't know what was going on. But the mom read the signals, which was lack of sleep and nightmares and other behavioral issues that were starting to show up and emotional issues that were starting to show up. And then once they did, they accused the Neurocycle and they retraced the whole thing and found it was this picture, then they had to do the reconceptualization. So, yes, to your question, memories do change.

Another example, let's say that something triggers you from the past and that memory comes up and you don't deal with it, but you just let it flash through your mind. And I should say memories. Because what is actually activated is the thought tree that contains lots of memories because every experience is never just one piece of data. It's a lot of stuff that clusters together. So, when a thought with all of its embedded, memories is triggered, it comes into the conscious mind. As soon as we are consciously aware of something, the actual protein structure that the memories are made of inside the brain and the changes inside of our body that happen in the cytoskeleton of the actual cells and the changes in the gravitational and electromagnetic fields of the mind, all of those become vulnerable or open to change.

So, if you just think about that trigger and you just focus on the negative aspects, for example, and just how bad it makes you feel or whatever, and you don't do something about it, the fact that you have had it activated. The fact that you've focused on it, whatever you think about is going to grow. And the fact that you didn't try and reconceptualize it. You pretty much just embedded yourself inside that memory in terms of those cluster of memories, in terms of just kind of reliving things or thinking it through, you end up making it stronger. So, it never stays the same. It always gets changed. Either you're going to start the reconceptualization process where you're making it more manageable or if it's a healthy thought, you're growing that so it increases your resilience. Or you are ignoring it and choosing not to change, but the mere fact that you've paid it attention and allow yourself to ruminate, you've just made it stronger. So, it goes back different and stronger and more toxic than before or it goes back reconceptualized, so it never stays the same. It's the same kind of idea, but the strength and the impact, that's what's always changing. 

Melanie Avalon: Okay, got you. Okay, I have some more questions from that, but just one last question about these false memories. So, what's happening when it's a completely seemingly false memory? Like with the Mandela Effect, people remembering this movie called Shazam from the 1980s that didn't exist, what's happening there like a completely false creation. 

Dr. Caroline Leaf: A lot of-- and this is I'm going to answer this kind of philosophically as well. So, up to 95% in that region a large proportion of what we absorb through our mind and wire into these memory networks as thought trees in our brain and mind and body, we're not aware of, that's huge. So, in other words, we are absorbing our environment, the politics, the conversations, the attitudes, the things we look at consciously and nonconsciously. So nonconsciously, we are like sponges and that goes into the network and our nonconscious mind is scanning those networks to find whatever's destructive for us. So, we've got this-- our mind, brain and body network is on our side. It's always on survival side. And anything that's toxic disrupts the entire neurophysiology of the brain and body and increases your vulnerability to disease and therefore your survival. So, the whole way that we work is for survival. Often in times we're wired for love on an electromagnetic, gravitational, quantum, chemical, biological, atomic, every level, we're wired for survival, okay. So, because of this fact that we are absorbing the environment, there's always a zeitgeist. I love that word because it shows the-- yeah, it's a great way of absorbing what's going on in the environment. And it's made up of a lot of factors, but because we all connected, there's an energy that's going between us.

Nothing weird, this is pure science and it's people that have won Nobel Prizes in mathematics, some of the people that I follow that are like leaders in the world and Big Bang Theory and Nobel physicists and so on, they will talk about the fact that we are connected through energy basically. I mean, energy is what keeps us alive. It's what keeps our heart pumping and our brain working and enables us to have this conversation and so on. So that energy connects us. So therefore, when there's a zeitgeist, a certain sort of thing that's being absorbed, if I'm absorbing 95%, you're pretty much absorbing a similar 95% because we're in the same time period. And yes, you don't live in the same state, but we are being exposed to very similar stuff and then there's the additional stuff of what we're being exposed to. So, the point being is that whatever's going around will go into the collective memory. Whatever's being thrown out there goes into the collective memory, then it goes into us. And we uniquely process that. So, if we haven't kind of dealt with it, something then will trigger some situation, maybe some political event or something that you read in the media will trigger something or a conversation will be had and that triggers these things and that's how you think you sort, it triggers these collective-type memories. 

So, it's kind of like how myths are burst as well, because people think it takes 21 days to form a habit, but it doesn't. It takes at least 60, somewhere between 59 and 66. And I'm doing another big research project on that at the moment. It's kind of very interesting. So, in other words, if we persistently over time have got lots of exposure to these things that wires into our networks and it feels like it's true because it's in this nonconscious-- That's why you have to question everything and be curious about everything and get factual accuracy on everything. So yes, myths will-- at the 21 days--. It was a neurosurgeon back in the 60s who knows from surgery that people heal in cycles of more or less three weeks with stem cells and all that kind of stuff. And that's a fact biologically. And so, he just adapted that said, "Oh, well, that must be how the mind works and how habits form." And that just became part of the zeitgeist. I mean, it started and just grew like a wildfire. And so that's where we get these collective concepts that grow and we absorb them without even knowing that we're absorbing them. And then it comes out as these collective memories. I don't know if that makes sense. 

Melanie Avalon: So, the collective memory, it actually exists. 

Dr. Caroline Leaf: It does because and it's a lot, there's not just one. So, the energy that surround us, we have our own biofield and that's what-- basically it starts from the beginning. Our mind is this energy field. Without your mind, your brain just disintegrates. You're dead basically, your body just disintegrates. So, the thing that's keeping you alive is your mind. And your mind is this very complex concept that has two parts to it. One is a very physicsy-type thing, which is gravitational fields and electromagnetic forces and auditory sound waves and quantum waves and all this fancy stuff. And that's what drives the physiology of the body. It's what keeps our heart pumping and helping us, as how we make cells 800,000 to a million every second. And what is making our telomeres work, which are the ends of chromosomes and all this kind of stuff, that heart pumping or lungs working, that's your mind. Your mind is this energy force. And we all have our own unique energy force that drives us. So, when we did that mind, we don't know where it goes, but it goes somewhere. 

And that's unique to each person, but we live within everyone else's-- everyone else that's alive and who ever lived. And I don't know how, that's not my field of research, but basically let's talk about people that are alive, we are all generating energy out and affecting each other. And a very simple example is if someone's upset you and you try and hide it, other people can pick up that you're upset even though you might be smiling and pretending everything's fine or someone walks in the door and they're smiling but you can sense something's wrong. That's what we're talking about here. We are literally from whatever we're thinking about. Those thought trees in our networks, in our psycho neurobiological networks are generating energy outwards. And so, there're a lot of energy fields crossing over and then there's the collapsing of consciousness and all these things, and then unconsciousness, like we're getting down some heavy philosophical scientific pathways here. But there's an energy force that's out there with all these humans interacting and it's very complex. 

Melanie Avalon: This is so fascinating. The connection between-- because you mentioned it now when you talk about in the book, but the role of the nonconscious, the subconscious, and the conscious and you talk about how the information and the memories can go from the nonconscious to the subconscious to the conscious. I was wondering that relationship, is it push or pull? And what I mean is, does the nonconscious and the triggers that you spoke of, does it push it into the conscious or does the conscious go in and pull out those memories from the nonconscious or is it both? 

Dr. Caroline Leaf: What you want to do is you want to train it to be both. So, the way that we function as humans, that mind that we spoke about, the mind which is all those fields and everything and it's our aliveness. The other part of mind that I admitted to say in the previous question's answer, sorry, was that the mind is also the psychological thing of being able to think, feel, and choose. So, it's got a physics component and then it's got this psychological component of how we think, feel, and choose. And that's how we show up in life. It enables us to be humans and experience life. So, when we are awake, we are conscious and we are consciously aware of our surroundings and that's actually only 10% of what's happening, though the other 95% is the nonconscious, that's the biggest part of us that never goes to sleep, that's awake 24/7, that operates at speeds of 10 to the 27, which is beyond what we can even comprehend as humans and it's probably faster. 

It is all of this incredible driving energy force that's scanning our mind, brain, body networks and that is like a gigantic the easiest way to understand it, just think of a gigantic forest that seems to just go on infinitely. And every experience that we've ever had from a certain sort of like literally just before birth to whatever age you're at now, is transformed by the mind into these networks inside of your mind, brain, body memory network. So, thinking of a forest because I mentioned trees is an easy way to picture that. And if you imagine the middle of the forest is this network of beautiful trees and that's what we call our wise mind. So, our nonconscious is comprised of this wise mind that is like our inner wisdom, which all of us have. And you can even pick this up in kids. And an example of that would be if someone asks you for your advice, you can give them great advice. It's kind of harder to give ourselves advice than it is to give someone else. We can always see solutions to other people's problems. That's what I'm talking about. This wisdom thing we have got it. The mind is-- on the outside of the nonconscious mind is this forest. And the outside of the wisdom part are lots of trees too. But they're different sizes and they're different colors and there's some toxic ones in between. So, think of little black clusters to try to paint a nice picture for everyone to imagine this. And essentially what's happening is that the nonconscious mind is this forest being searched or there's like this wind blowing through the forest looking for anything that's disrupting and then it pushes that through the subconscious, which is a portal. 

Think of it like a bridge between the forest, almost think of this forest being in like a bubble and there's a level above the forest, like a ceiling or something. And there's a doorway and that would be your subconscious. Your subconscious doesn't hold anything. It's a portal that transfers and people often think the subconscious is where things are happening and the unconscious is where things drive us programs that's incorrect. The nonconscious is a very, very active dynamic where every experience happened is stored and that's our driving force. And the nonconscious has the ability to monitor what's driving us and to advise us when something's not good. [chuckles] And when something is good, it also advises us to focus on that. And if it's bad, advises us to focus on that in order to deconstruct it. So how does it do that? It sends messages through the subconscious, which is this doorway or portal into the conscious mind. So, the conscious mind then receives it and the conscious mind is much, much, much slower because it has a different role, which is to deliberately and intentionally pay attention to what's coming in and what's coming up to the nonconscious to be able to make good decisions. Because whatever you focus on is going to grow and be put back into the nonconscious and then become one of your drivers. 

So, we can actually control that process. Because if we think, I don't want that idea inside my network because I don't want to think like that, you can actually stop that. You can stop building that in your brain, mind, body network. You can also say, "Oh gosh, I've been thinking like that. Because of that, I can actually change that." You can rewire that. And it's that kind of deliberate intentional thinking that is conscious that then opens the portal or the doorway of the subconscious to then you can get easier access to the nonconscious. You're kind of like you're tuning into the nonconscious and hearing the message. The nonconscious tries to get our attention through our emotions and our bodily sensations and our behaviors and our perceptions. That's how the nonconscious tries to catch our attention. And so, a huge part of what I teach and what I've done research on all these years and what I did in therapy was to help people to see what is the nonconscious trying to make you aware of? How are you showing up? And then once you can recognize how you're showing up and you can learn to, which is pretty much this whole thing is active ingredient is self-regulation.

This whole concept I'm talking about is basically mind management. Managing your mind, managing your messy mind. When we start focusing on those signals, where have those signals come from? They've come from the nonconscious mind doing the scan, nonconscious mind 24/7 is constantly scanning. When you go to bed at night, it's scanning again and it's preparing you for the next day. And that's why we have dreams and all that kind of stuff. And so, it's trying to catch your attention and it sends it through the subconscious into the conscious mind through signals. And so, all the work that I do is looking at helping people to recognize the signals and then to deconstruct those signals and reconstruct them. If they are toxic signals disruptive to your functioning in whichever way or if they are constructive signals that they're building your resilience and your intelligence and so on, then you focus on those to grow them even bigger. And that's kind of translated into real life that is dealing, if I've got some bad habits or if I've got some traumas, if I've got some little things that irritate me and I'm getting kind of sucked into this irritation. 

Those are things you want to pay attention to because they're very disruptive to the psychoneurobiological network, activate the immune system. Who doesn't see any difference between a physical threat like a COVID virus and a psychological threat like a trauma or a bad habit, a toxic pattern that we've developed. So therefore, our immune system will be activated by a psychological experience as well as a physical thing. So, bearing that in mind, if we don't deal with our stuff and we don't catch those toxic habits, too much time on social media, getting influenced by that and dealing with our childhood traumas and dealing and adult traumas, whatever traumas can come at any stage of our life, not needing those day-to-day irritations build. If we don't do that, we're creating very messy energy inside our mind, brain, body network that activates this immune response and it makes your brain, mind, and body work much harder. So, we always want to listen to the signals from the nonconscious because it's protecting us, if that makes sense. It's a long answer. 

Melanie Avalon: I love it. [laughs] And for listeners so basically, all of this is in the book. And then it's also told in a way with an applicable program that you can deal with your kids to teach all of this to them as well. Question about the toxic thoughts. Can you define a little bit more what qualifies something as toxic. And what I mean by that is because just upfront, I'm thinking, "Okay, toxic must be things that are like negative emotions or fear based or things like that." But then I'm also thinking, "Don't we want to maintain that to actually keep us safe for actual, real threats?" So, what determines what actually is toxic? 

Dr. Caroline Leaf: Absolutely. It's an excellent question. And just by the way, you mentioned that the stuff's in the book, it's nothing as complex as what I'm saying. It's very simplistically written in the book. If you want more complex, my previous book, Cleaning Up a Mental Mess, has got it in a little bit more detail, but also still not as complex. So, for the children, it's very simple. There's a simple chapter on the mind, brain, body connection where I explain this very simplistically. And I have little boxes in the book, gray boxes. And that's how you would explain these concepts to your children. My youngest patients were as young as two and my kids have grown up with this. I have four adult children now. So, the languaging of how to explain these complex concepts to children, I've put that in the book as well, very simple. And children are also a lot more insightful than we give them credit for. They're insightful. They can see things. They like authenticity. They can read body language.

They may not have all the verbal skills and they may not understand why things are being done, but they're very insightful. So, you can't gloss over stuff with kids, it's really important that we give them the tools to understand the stories that are going on in their lives and to talk about the stories. So, the system that I've developed, called the Neurocycle, which we'll talk about, I know Melanie already mentioned, is the system of how you do all this fancy stuff. We've been talking about how you find the signals and how you make them do all this fancy thing in the nonconscious mind and change them and change the trees and all that stuff. So, I just wanted to emphasize that. So, in terms of toxic, I know toxic's is got a lot of connotations, doesn't it, Melanie? Especially in the world of wellness. So, it's probably even better to say maybe the word disruptive is better. And so, what we need to understand is that a thought is a cluster of memories, which I mentioned earlier. And memories are comprised of all kinds of stuff. It's data and behaviors and perceptions and emotions. 

So, it's basically a cluster of events of that things that happen. So, if you think of the roots of a tree, so let's say now this conversation is becoming a thought in everyone's brain. Our words and the questions you're asking me, and the answers are the root system that's forming, it's growing as we're talking at very very fast speeds. The tree trunk is how each person that's listening is uniquely processing, what I'm saying through their unique way that they think, feel and choose. No one processes it in the same way. And the branches are the result of how you uniquely think, feel and choose this information that you're hearing. And then collectively, the roots, trunk and trees influence how drive and influence how you show up. These trees are growing in the nonconscious and they're going to move through the conscious mind into the subconscious, into the conscious mind when activated. 

Now, let's say that this is a good discussion. So, we're growing a healthy thought because it's constructive, it's going to help you with your mental health, it's going to help you if you have children. It's helping you understand yourself better. By the end of the discussion, you're going to understand more about tools and so on. So, it's a healthy-- this is a constructive thought that is actually going to grow you as a person. A destructive thought would be anything along the lines of a day-to-day irritation to a bad sort of and I hate to say the word bad, but a habit that's disruptive, like getting stuck on social media, whatever you think about the most grows, growing a tree around. I'm only acceptable if I look like X and you're not dealing with that, then you look at the world through that view, or everyone's gossiping about me, everyone's talking about me, I'm such a bad person. And being very suspicious and just thinking about that would sort of be in the middle range of toxicity. And then your extreme sort of the extreme range where toxic thought is something like physical abuse, sexual abuse, war, trauma, racism, things that happen to you that had nothing to do with you, they've happened to you and they extreme violence and that kind of thing. Airplane crashes, car, all the things that are the terrible things that happen in life. 

So, if you think of this on a scale of one to 10, your least toxic thoughts would be your ones, twos and threes being the day-to-day struggles of life and frustrations and irritations of traffic and maybe your electricity going off or someone just-- your partner irritating you or whatever, something breaking, whatever. So, to the four, five, sixes and sevens been more along the lines of maybe you got reactive in a relationship about something that your partner does and you don't control it. So, it actually grows into a habit and you keep responding like that in that same way, and it starts creating conflict in your relationship. So that's now something that you didn't control and it grew into something and got stabilized as a habit over a period of time. And the time it takes to build a habit takes least 59 to 66 days. And then the eight, nines and 10s would be those things that happen to us that are extreme trauma, physical or sexual abuse, war trauma, racism and those kinds of things. So that's kind of the range of toxic thoughts. What we should be careful of doing is what is the language of the biomedical model, which is that your bad thoughts are bad and they are toxic or whatever, and they symptoms of a brain disease or they're symptoms of a chemical imbalance and they need to be eliminated. 

The language of cognitive behavior therapy and there're some brilliant techniques with cognitive behavior therapy. So, I'm not knocking the techniques and when they use it the right place in the right time, then they can be very helpful. If they use it the wrong place, they don't do it and it hits the Band-Aid on the wound. And if anything, they can actually make you worse. Cognitive behavior therapy type techniques will say, "Well, that's the bad way of thinking. This is the better way of thinking. That doesn't sound bad at all. It's a very good idea. But the problem is that you can't just replace it. That's bad. That's a well-worn pathway. We're now going to practice a new pathway and we're just going to focus on this." So, every time you think of that, you're going to focus on this. Now, there is a bit of logic in that, that new thought that you're building you're trying to make it stronger than the old thought. The problem is that you're building two parallel thoughts next to each other and you're trying to make and they're in competition and that's not the right way of doing it. What you want to do is you want to go into the toxic issue that's disruptive and you want to deconstruct and reconstruct it and heal it at the roots. So, the way we explain this to kids is that, I mean, I have pictures, I have a cartoon. You already mentioned the Brain-ee character in the coloring book. I created a cartoon, actually, 25 years ago Melanie, I don't know if you know this with a Disney artist and used it in a book that I published in South Africa. And then I resurrected Brain-ee and got an artist to draw so cute--. I got an artist to draw. 

We've got 150, I think renditions of Brain-ee and Brain-ee walks the mental health journey with you. And he's the superhero. And he has a superpower called the Neurocycle. And what he does is, it's his little brain. It's a plush toy with this cute little Brain-ee head and this cute little body. And the whole idea is to show kids that you aren't your brain. You actually can change your brain, which is neuroplasticity. You're actually empowered and when you know how to manage your mind, you're managing your brain. So, there's a lot of subtle messaging in that that they don't feel hopeless and helpless because our current biomedical model is making people feel very-- the research shows and patient survivors show that it makes people feel hopeless. I've got a brain disease or I've got a chemical imbalance, which is not even accurate scientifically. Anyway, our brain does get affected for sure and gets damaged if you don't deal with stuff, and we've got to deal with that. But the cause isn't in the imbalanced chemical. The cause is in what have you gone through or what are you going through on that scale of 1 to 10? 

To tell a child who's been consumed with social media for days and days, weeks and weeks and beyond the nine-week period of looking at her friends at school or the perfect body image at school or something like that and on social media 24/7 and thinking, "Well, I have no value unless I look like that." That's a very strong imprinted wired in toxic thought that's very disruptive to the brain and the body. Those proteins aren't folded correctly. So, you can explain this to a child by saying, let's look in the garden. Look at all it as you're going down the streets and driving, look at that beautiful big green tree. That's a happy thought. That's like when you had that great birthday party or you had that great conversation or this lovely thing happened over Christmas time or whatever, and then you maybe see another tree that's kind of spindly and doesn't look that great and leaves are falling off and it kind of looks dead and old, but it's very much alive. That would be an example of a toxic tree.

Now, in the book I have Brain-ee going up to the different types of trees and the healthy trees and kids get this, two- and three-year-olds will understand. You hold up Brain-ee and you show the pictures and when you're sad and your brother steals your toy and that made you cry, that's made that kind of tree in your brain, but you want to make it like that tree. So, it's that kind of languaging that is totally scientific but very simple languaging. I even have a developmental table in the book that shows you what you can more or less expect from a child between the ages of three to five, five to seven, and seven through ten. Because this particular book goes through the ages two to three years of age, up to 10 years of age. So, three to ten and then my other work is basically from 11 onwards that you can use. And Melanie, we've also got the app, which I know you know about the Neurocycle app, and we're putting a parent add on into the app, so there'll be scenarios to help your child. Like if your child's scared of first day experiences like going back to school, there'll be a whole Neurocycle guiding you through how to help your child and that kind of thing, which aligns totally with what I've got in the book with a whole lot of extra worked out Neurocycles to help you.

So basically, the thought tree, the toxic thoughts are the toxic trees that are proteins, if you want to get scientific, that are misfolded. And the energy inside the proteins, which is actually memory. Memory is vibrations inside of proteins and they grow together to form branches, but they're all disrupted so it's kind of chaotic. So, think of maybe like little mini tsunamis inside these little contained areas and that disrupts everything around it and it forces and changes the shape of the protein. And so, it's like all and it's not healthy. That's why it's a toxic-looking tree. And then your immune system of your brain will start sending out immune factors to fight that. And that's what I was saying earlier on, that your immune system of your brain and body doesn't distinguish between psychological threats and physical threats, it sees them in the same way. And if we don't eliminate the source, which is that deconstruction-reconstruction process so let me take the word eliminate out. If we don't deconstruct and reconstruct and fix up that experience to make it into one that's not disruptive, then your brain is constantly under stress, your body's constantly under stress. 

And then over time, that changes the health of your cells, which over time will increase your vulnerability to disease by a huge percent. And so, we've shown in our research that if you teach mind management to children and adults that you can increase a person's biological health by up to literally one of our subjects in one of our clinical trials, gained 35 years of biological health in nine weeks just through mind management. So that's how there is an impact on our brain and our body from toxic thoughts, but we got to manage them. And obviously, if it's a one, two, and three toxic thought, that's not going to have quite the same damage to your brain and body as a seven, anything higher. And that's what's so important we deal with our stuff.

Melanie Avalon: We'll put links for listeners in the show notes to the prior books and the app and all the things. For measuring the 35 years, was that like a blood test or was it measuring telomeres or how did you measure that?

Dr. Caroline Leaf: Telomeres. So, the research that we do with my team, the most important thing is we look at the person's narrative, the story, who are you? What's going on in your life? What's happening? Most important, we want to describe not diagnose. In our current biomedical model, it's very much symptom diagnosis and aim at treatment that works beautifully for the physical brain and body, but doesn't work well when it comes to issues of life. We have to be much broader. So, we look at the narrative, we look at psychological measures and self-regulation measures. I have a validation scale that's been validated, which means that you can look at how a person is self-regulating. The less self-regulated we are, the less managed our mind is and the more messy we become. Messy mind, messy brain, messy body, messy life. You can always fix up the mess, so it can be a mess, but fix up the mess. 

So, then we also look at the brain. I use QEEG because we look at the frequencies in the brain, which is very accurate because you get a lot of-- in terms of how the brain is responding to the current moment and you can get a pattern average over time, but it gives you millions of bits of information per second on an energy level, which is very accurate. And then we look at as well at the body. So, we look at things like obviously the obvious ones, cortisol, ACTH. We even look at things like prolactin, which is a hormone that is in males and females, generally associated with women that are breastfeeding, but it's also in males. But there's very interesting research showing that it's linked to how we manage our stress levels. So, there's an ideal range based on whether you've male or female, whether you are-- whatever age you're at. And based on that, we see from the research that if it goes out of that range, which then it's a problem, and it's very often knocked out of that range if we don't manage our mind. So, scale of 1 to 10, those toxic thoughts, if we don't manage them, it affects our prolactin as well. And all these other ACTH, DHEA we looked at a lot of different things and then we also looked at telomeres. And telomeres are the ends of chromosomes and chromosomes unwind into DNA. And telomeres are very involved in your cellular renewal, cellular turnover, and we are always making new cells.

We make 800,000 to a million somewhere in that region every second. So pretty much our body is constantly, over time, renewing itself. But we see that the quality of those cells is based on the quality of the telomere, which is like if you imagine making an X with your two fingers, chromosomes look like X's, then your fingernails would be the telomeres. And telomeres are activated by something called telomerase. And telomerase is very, very influenced by your mental state. So, the telomeres, they do get shorter over time. So, as you get older, naturally the telomeres will shorten. And when telomeres shorten, then you're not as strong and healthy. And that's part of the aging process. Longevity is a real thing. You can age in a much better quality way, so you can influence how you age and the quality of your telomeres. And the biggest factor there is we've thought for years it was pretty much diet and exercise. Those play a big role, but mind plays an even bigger role. So, Elissa Epel, I'm sure you've heard of her, she and Elizabeth Blackburn are the leaders when it comes to telomere research and they actually reached out. Elissa Epel reached out to me because of her research, I decided to include it in my research and to see because generally they didn't think telomeres could change. 

Not they, but the world of science didn't think that telomeres could change in under five years. But telomerase, an enzyme that activates it changes very quickly. So, most research was done on telomerase and then some people, Elissa Epel and Co started looking at telomeres and found that they could change in shorter periods of time with things like meditation and so on. So, I started doing research and we found that with mind management using the system called the Neurocycle that I've developed, that you can actually statistically significantly increase the length and influence the decreasing length when you use mind management. So, we found with our subjects that use the Neurocycle and that the case of that 35-year gain that was one of the subjects in the clinical study. And this particular study that I'm talking about and the stuff that I'm talking about is in my other book Cleaning Up Your Mental Mess, which you actually interviewed me about in the last podcast. And I referenced the same research but very simplistically in the children's book-- a parent's book, I should say, for children. 

But essentially this one person at the beginning of the study was in the mid-30s and everything, the brain, psychological brain and all the biological tests, evaluations showed that she had a body of a sickly 65-year-old, pretty much had given up on life. It actually was suicidal when she entered the study and had done everything, had every diagnosis, polypharmacy, was just so tired and within 21 days, her life had transformed. She'd been very badly abused as a child and she'd suppressed all these years and she actually felt worse at day 21, but it was a different worst. She said she feels worse. She's grieving now because she suddenly realizes that the Neurocycle opened up her mind, her nonconscious mind, subconscious to allow the trauma to come through to the conscious mind. And that was she was grieving for what had happened which she had suppressed all those years. But the suppression had basically played havoc with her health and all of her biological readings were terrible. 

Like, she literally had a body of a sickly 65-year-old and within nine weeks her telomere lens, all of her biological readings, everything had restored back to the correct levels for her age. So, it was literally if you look at biological aging, which is the age of your cells versus chronological, which is your actual age, you want them to be as close to each other as possible, preferably your biological age younger, like mine is I think nearly 12 years younger than my chronological age. But you definitely don't want your biological age older than your chronological age. And this person started with almost 35-year older chronological age. And then that went close to the actual age by the nine weeks into the study. So obviously, we're replicating with other subjects too. We're replicating that we're doing more research on that, but we've got a lot of people now interested to see and take this research a little further. That's what you're doing with your kids if you come at it on a proactive level. Throughout our life, we have to manage our mind. Your mind drives you 24/7, so we need to manage our mind 24/7. 

We need to go to bed managing our mind. We need to be managing our mind otherwise we get into this overwhelmed burnout, can't cope. And when our mind's messy, we don't see things clearly, as we all know. And that can accelerate into quite severe brokenness in our minds, which can lead to all kinds of things-- signals shooting out at us like a really broken traumatized mind. You can hear voices and there's a lot of psychosis. And those are not illnesses. Those are just signals of a very, very, very broken mind that completely disrupts functioning. So, we don't want to reach those levels. We want to be able to harness this in and work through it. And that's pretty much what the Neurocycle is doing. And we want to be proactive about this. So, we want to start not just fixing up on the back end, but we want to be proactively teaching children from as young as we possibly can how to be able to recognize that when I feel this way, I'm not broken. It's okay to be a mess. There is a way of getting through this. I have the tools to tell my narrative. Even that two-year-old who does have the linguistic skills that can pick up Brain-ee and that's a signal to mom that there's something wrong. If you're following the systems, Brain-ee becomes the tool of your mental health journey and that kind of stuff. So that's what I've tried to be proactive from both angles, not just coming from the one back end, but from the front end as well. 

Melanie Avalon: This is so incredible. I know listeners are really going to love hearing all of that about the chronological and biological aging. And I did want to mention for listeners, there's a really awesome section in the book about labels with children. And so, if your child has been labeled with something like ADHD, there's just a whole dive into that and how to use the Neurocycle to deal with labels. So, question about, because you were mentioning how much a two-year-old understands, a profound change I've had since reading your book is I literally view children differently now. When I watch them interact with the world, I see them now through a different lens that they're understanding and grasping more. And I thought it was so cool how you talk about how their nonconscious is developing faster than their conscious. And so that's why they use things like fantasy and stories to interact with the world and explain the world and give their perspective. 

It's just so fascinating. I had a question about all of that because you have a big section on identity and the role of empathy and how it relates to bullying. And I'm so fascinated by empathy. And I was wondering because you talk about how kids have empathy much younger than we thought they did originally, I was wondering what's the evolution of empathy in children, and specifically the two different types of empathy. So, like a child or an adult. So, like, seeing something painful, like physically painful, for example, and feeling the physical pain of that versus seeing somebody who looks sad. So, you have to come up with a whole story in your head about why they're sad. So, like a more evolved version of empathy. What is the evolution of empathy like for children?

Dr. Caroline Leaf: I love the fact that it's helped you look at children differently. It does, doesn't it, when you dive in and you see what we're capable of and how great it is to be able to grow this resilience in these kids and teach them these things. So, empathy is one of those key ways that you can combat bullying. So, in terms of the evolution of empathy, empathy is a word that is used a lot and it's kind of thrown around a lot as well, and it should be, but it's essentially just being able to tune into others and to try to identify with others and what they're going through. And it's not assuming that you understand what they're going through because you can never fully, even partially understand another person's experience. And it's really critical as parents that we recognize that because what may seem to you like, "Oh, that's not so bad for them," "it is so bad." And parents have such an incredible influence on children in terms of we might say, "Oh, you said this, "and that is like, it can crush them, and we didn't mean to crush them, but it activated. 

They so tuned into you and you tuned into them, but the empathy is growing and it's incredibly sensitive, and children are always very, very sensitive to the parents and the caregivers in their life and vice versa. And it grows through into adulthood and evolves and becomes deep and deeper. And obviously as you mature, we can start seeing that, "Oh, well, they didn't mean that and you can start bringing more curiosity and things into the scenario." But right from, very young children are very aware. Right from I mean, there's some experiments that I stand corrected, but I think it was at four months already, they can pick up that a child is able to see another person's pain and see another person's-- that something's not right. And I mean, how they do these experiments is incredible, but from 18 months it's very, very clear, if not even sooner, that if someone hurts himself or the dog hurts himself or something like that, they're aware of that and they're tuning into others pains. Like young children can see a mother or father or whatever being sad and will go up and touch their face or something like that. So, it's that key ability to tune into another person. And bullying is, I mean, I use it and I talk about it in the book that it's a key way because someone who's bullying someone, for example, is they've been bullied. 

No one shows up for no reason in the way that they show up. So bullying is a behavior. We show up with signals. We show up with our emotional signals, our behavioral signals, our perspective signals, and our bodily sensation signals. Bullying is a behavioral signal. A signal gives you information, so it doesn't make the bullying right. But what it does tell you is that the bullying is coming from somewhere. A way to combat bullying is through empathy. Because then you empathize and think, "Okay, well, maybe that other person, it doesn't make it right. And I do need to protect myself and get the protection that I need from the bullying." But to look at that person differently, that the way you feel being bullied by that person, you can be sure that they are feeling that exact same thing and they're having an experience and it's building into a toxic tree and that toxic tree with all those vibrations generates an energy that feels absolutely overwhelming. And either person-- there's many different ways that people respond to that. Some will bully with that explosion of energy, some will withdraw, some will break things, some will get angry. There're different ways that-- they affect concentration. 

It's just so different for everyone. But to help someone process bullying to see that that other person is bullying. You know what we've also done just in terms of the series, what we're doing is we're also bringing out a series of storybooks. And the very first one is Brain-ee gets into a situation with another Brain-ee character called Loby, who's a bully and it turns out that his father bullied him. And we've got this whole quantum universe. And so, we're writing stories now that will go along with this whole kit that help to understand how to apply your superpower. And it's all in story form and it's all very engaging, but everything is huge in that. So, it's understanding also you want them to have their own point of view. So, another thing is in the evolution is, if you as a parent are having a bad day and you using the Neurocycle, the best way to help your child with their mental health is for you to help yourself with your own mental health and for you to be honest and open and obviously age level appropriate, detail appropriate. But if you are having a bad day, if someone has said something to you and it's thrown you off and you try and hide it. They are so insightful, kids no matter what age they are, whether they two or whether they 22, they will see something is off and they honor and respect authenticity.

As humans, we love authenticity. Kids are especially tuned into authenticity. They're also very tuned in to read body language. So, you might think you're hiding things, but your face, the way you move your body, they pick that up and they respond to modeling. So therefore, empathy is very well developed. There's a great way of developing empathy in a child is by you have this phone call, let's say, for example, or you come in from a bad day at work or something and maybe you walk in and you're just trying to hide it, but you can't. And you're just not full of the same bubbly energy or whatever it is. Whoever you are, you're different and you think you're hiding it. But your kids look at you and if you don't say something, they may keep quiet, depending on your relationship, depending on the child. Or they may say, "What's wrong, Mommy?" Or something like that or whatever. And if you say, "Nothing. I'm fine." That's not authentic. They know something's wrong, so they will think you're hiding something from them, which is not good because identity and everything gets challenged. So, it's far better to say, "Oh, thank you for noticing. I do feel very sad. I feel like my heart's beating really fast. I don't feel like doing much at the moment. I don't feel very excited. And today is just not going very well." I've done all four signals. I've identified my behaviors, body sensations, emotions, and perspective in a short little explanation. 

And then that's the first step of the Neurocycle. And then you could go into saying the next step is called reflection. And I'll come back and resummarize the five steps if you want after I've explained this quickly. And the next step is to then reflect and to say, "Why am I feeling like this?" I'm feeling like this because I had this really really difficult phone call with someone that I really care about. And then the third step is to get that out of your brain and to open up that subconscious portal and you do that by writing all over the page. So, it's not journaling. It's like a mind dump where you just put words and phrases and whatever comes to mind, draw pictures, draw squiggles and whatever all over a page. So, it's great to have a little corner somewhere in your home that you can call a Neurocycle corner and in that you have a little cushion or a chair or something beautiful and maybe a little toybox with art supplies and Brain-ee and the book. And when you go, like, make your way over as you're talking to your kids and go sit there and so that's the signal to them that, "Okay, I'm messy. It's okay to be messy." This is how I'm managing it. You're teaching them it's okay to be a mess. We don't have to pathologize and medicalize misery. It's normal part of humanity. We're going to better for it. We're going to develop our empathy, etc." And you go over to that and you start going through this process of the Neurocycle and I'll explain the rest of it in a moment that is generating this empathy. You are generating literally a field that is going to activate their natural empathy. They're going to see you, they're going to connect with you, they're going to collaborate with you, they are tuning into you and so on. Does that make sense? 

Melanie Avalon: That's just so awesome that parents can use their own struggles as an opportunity to teach children or cultivate their empathy. That's a great reframe.

Dr. Caroline Leaf: Yeah, it really does. You can help them cultivate, so they start learning that other people have emotions and I can actually help them and they love that, children naturally respond so well to that. We all like to help each other. They recognize feelings in themselves and others and they start being able to name them. It's all these kinds of things. They can start learning to regulate their own emotional responses. So, the demonstration aspect is fantastic in terms of developing empathy and so on and it evolves from childhood all the way through adulthood and we can actually help it evolve quicker. The more we self-teach, self-regulation, the better. So, I often say Melanie that the mind management is what we're trying to do. We're trying to manage our minds because our minds basically put the networks together and influence how we drive ourselves. So, we want to manage our minds and managing our minds means that there's self-regulation. So initially with a young child you're co-regulating, eventually getting them to self-regulate and then with each new behavior that you're helping them to learn in this process you're developing things like empathy.

So, the active ingredient of mind management would be the self-regulation. And in the system to make all this happen is called the Neurocycle. So, the Neurocycle is literally a system. It's not a new technique, it's not a new therapy, it doesn't replace meditation and mindfulness and CBT and affirmations and all the fantastic wisdom that's out there in terms of things we can use to help with our mental health. It's simply the system within which-- that you organize system within which you put those in the right places that they actually do create changes in your network, therefore do create the changes in what drives you and that they actually become useful because you don't want to make changes that you can't use. You want to make changes that you can use. And so, the Neurocycle done correctly over time allows you to make those changes. 

Melanie Avalon: Yeah. I loved that paradigm shift I had reading the book about these techniques you just touched on like meditation and breath work and movement, and them being tools and you have a section on brain preparation and this idea also of an emergency kit-type thing. But then the system, like the Neurocycle is the actual entire system to change things and to function through. One other question, as far as children being exposed in the first place to potential events and situations that can ultimately create these, "toxic thoughts or dysfunctional thoughts." How do you feel about you call it helicopter parenting versus safety net parenting?

Dr. Caroline Leaf: It's so important. That little section in the book on that as well. So, with our momfluencic and Instagram social media world that we live in and even before social media, there was a big sort of move and I think it was the 90s, I'm just going to call it momfluences. The sort of perfect parenting has kind of evolved. There's been a lot of emphasis on what it means to be a perfect parent. And I think the pressure has literally devolved into the potential to helicopter parent, which is to hover over your kids and they don't get enough time to be curious and have unstructured play. And the intentions are great. They are to protect your child. And especially with all the scary things that are happening and with access to technology and all this increasing mental health crisis, it's really scary being a parent in this day and age. So, you want to do as much as you can to protect your child and if possible, wrap them in bubble wrap. But that does not help them, because that doesn't build resilience, that actually makes them weaker. It can breed entitlement. It'll create the opposite of empathy. And the opposite of empathy, we now sort of into border on things like narcissism entitlement and that doesn't bode well for future relationships. And when things do happen and they get knocked sideways, which will happen in life, it's inevitable. they don't know how to get up. 

We've got to teach our kids how to fall and get up. So, a helicopter parenting is very much one of trying to do everything for your child, assume you know how they think, trying to anticipate everything, trying to make everything as smooth as possible. And as I said, the intentions are absolutely honorable. As a parent myself, I understand that. But that's not going to help your child. At the end of the day, it actually will mask our natural resilience, our wired for love nature is resilient and the resilience is activated through hard work of going through the knocks of life. It's very much like if you go and have a surgery, you've got to be cut up to be healed, so you go through the pain first. If you're training to be an athlete, you go through a lot of pain first. So that principle we get when it comes to things like surgery and sport or learning a musical instrument, somehow when it comes to the mind, there's a disconnect and we need to allow our children to work through the process of experiencing the pain. And so therefore, it's better to be a safety net parent. And I use that analogy because it's very different to the hovering analogy.

Dr. Caroline Leaf: So, you think of an acrobat in a circus and they could climb up to different levels and think of a really, really, really tall pole with maybe about 10 or 20 different levels where they could stop off and on. And then one is pretty close to the safety net and one is really far from the safety net. And they're going to do all these acrobatic things like swing on a swing or get caught. Someone else catches them and they jump from, whatever, all these amazing things that they do, maybe they walk a tightrope. So, these represent the challenges of life. And what we want our kids is to be allowed to climb that ladder and get onto that level that they're on and to jump onto that swing and fall and you're there to catch them. But you have moved from getting up there with them, putting a safety harness on them, jumping on there with them, doing the swinging with them. So that pretty much didn't do anything. You're going away from you-- on the ground and you are holding up a safety net and you're going to let them go up on their own and to the first level first and so on and so on. And if they fall, they fall into the safety net and that looks like you saying, "Okay, that was really hard. I understand that." This is I mean-- I don't understand exactly what you're going through because it's your experience. But I'm here, I want to understand, I want to try and help you. Let's talk through and you'd go through the Neurocycle to help them learn from the experience.

And this is where the whole concept, as you mentioned earlier, theme of reconceptualization goes through the book, is that you're getting them to learn how to solve problems and that's a skill that you build over time, initially very coregulated. And then eventually they're on the top rung where they are falling. The fall might be much further and much harder. And this is generally as the child gets older and older and reaches adolescence and even early adulthood. That's even more important that you lower the safety net further and further as they climb higher and higher into the experiences of life. It's incredibly important to be careful that you don't coregulate too much with your adult children. And what's the other-- we create codependency that happens a lot if we have a helicopter parent, you've still got to let them fall and crash. Sometimes they're going to crash really badly because they're falling from a very big height, but there always is a safety net facilitating. And facilitating sometimes may look very harsh and its boundaries. It's creating boundaries. It's all of that language that we use. It's very much in that vein and encouraging curiosity. You're a facilitator. You don't assume to understand the experiences. You assume to try and explore and help them, be curious about the experiences and offer wisdom at the right place. The recheck, the fourth step is where we offer our wisdom as parents and adults. Now, I've thrown out a word which I didn't explain earlier, so maybe we should dive into what the Neurocycle is.

Melanie Avalon: Sure. 

Dr. Caroline Leaf: Does that answer your question, though? Did I answer? 

Melanie Avalon: Oh, yeah. No, it did. It definitely did. Yes. I'm intimidated by, I think that's, again going back to me and having children or not, I think one of the things that intimidates me the most is that perfect parent culture that existed. It's very overwhelming as far as standards.

Dr. Caroline Leaf: It's very overwhelming. Yeah. It's standards and it's very much like the diet culture, the body image culture, the whole--

Melanie Avalon: Yeah, its similar.

Dr. Caroline Leaf: Yeah, it's fallen into that kind of bracket, and it's unfortunate because there's some really, really good information out there, but you can feel so-- I mean, I know with my own four children that are adults now, but when they were at school, I'm a working mom. I always have been. I've been a researcher my entire life. I'm a better mother for doing what I do. I would not be a good-- and I have nothing against stay-at-home moms. That's a choice you make. Whatever choice you make, you need to make sure that you're making it because it's what you as a mom need as a human. Forget being a mom for a moment what you need as a human, because if you're satisfying who you are, it's the oxygen mass principle. You're going to be a better mom. But, oh, my gosh, I came into so much fire, Melanie, for not being there 24/7 and not attending absolutely everything and being at the PTA mom and all that. I didn't do any of that stuff. I was always there for my kids, but they had to learn to cope and to deal with things and whatever. 

So, yeah, it's very intimidating, and it can be and that's why I try to encourage parents that messy parenting is, we mess, it's okay to be a mess as a human. It's okay to be a messy parent. It's okay to make mistakes. It's okay to do all those things. Just learn how to manage it. And that way you can have so much more compassion for yourself. So, the Neurocycle is kind of like flying a plane. [chuckles] So, kind of the easiest way to explain it. So, the overarching concept of the Neurocycle is that it is how you can rewire the psychoneurobiological network, how you rewire the mind, brain and body network. Why do I need to rewire networks because those are the things that drive me. Okay, that's what we've been saying so far in this discussion. Those are the things that come through from the nonconscious to the conscious mind, those networks. So, we want to try and find the networks by recognizing the signals. And then you want to go and deconstruct and reconstruct those signals, those networks. Those networks are tree-like structures made of roots and branches, as I've mentioned, which is all the memory. They look like trees in the brain. They look like changes in what we call the microtubules, which are the cells of the body. That's the skeleton of the cells of the body. That's where our memories are stored in our cells as well. 

That's why memories cluster together into the brain and the body and that's why our experiences are embodied. And then in the mind it's a gravitational field, electromagnetic field and all that stuff. So, all that science is very complex. And so therefore, in order for us to grow something in our brain and experience, in order for us to get to change it if we need to, requires a very specific process. So, the Neurocycle is the process for basically how we do that. And as I said, "You can fit all kinds of things into it." So, what I found with my research, doing all this psychoneurobiological research and clinical application over these almost 38 years now, is that we go through very distinct phases in rewiring our drivers that are in our network. And the first thing we do have to do is prepare the brain. And you mentioned the brain preparation, there's a whole chapter on that. Brain preparation includes things as Melanie already mentioned, like breathing and meditation and mindful awareness, and things like let's name five things we can see and four things we can smell. And all those kinds of activities that are almost distracting in a good sense and that help to calm down the neurophysiology, the chemicals and the energy waves and all that kind of stuff which can get very riled up when something is happening or has happened or we triggered or whatever. 

So, we always start with brain preparation. You don't have to make it long. You'll see in my book and in my app that you can do these in like a few minutes or two. So, you can count five things that you see and four things that you smell and so on. You can do that in under a minute. You can do a breathing exercise like breath in for three and very forcefully out for seven, which pushes oxygen and blood flow to the front of your brain, helping you to think more clearly. So, three in, seven out is 10 seconds. So, the brain preparation doesn't have to take long. But if you do need long, if your child or you are very worked up, then you want to decompress more so you can do slightly longer. And I've got examples of the quick ones and the more decompression-type activities. But the point is prepare the brain. Otherwise, it's very hard to do good, deliberate, intentional flying the plane stuff. So, let's think of quickly flying the plane. A pilot, when they've just about to take off, they have first do a check they prepare with their pilot, the copilot, the engineer, the checklist. There's a whole planned and guided sequence that they go through to prepare to fly that plane. And so, the brain preparation is that equivalent. Then the pilot takes off. 

The first step of the Neurocycle is called gather awareness. And that's the equivalent of taking off very planned, very guided, very organized, following instructions from the tower. It's not just some random, I'll just do any old thing and take off. It's very, very specific, the whole flying process. And so is the "gather awareness." What do you gather awareness of? You gather awareness of how you're showing up the four signals that I've been mentioning throughout. And so, you basically gather awareness of what are my emotions, bodily sensations, behaviors and perspectives those four are always linked. You can't just prepare your brain. You can't just gather awareness. You also can't just gather awareness of one thing. We're very good at saying, "Let's talk about our feelings." This is a day and age of let's talk about our feelings. Everyone's talking about their feelings now. That's great. And most books in Target and all over the place for kids, let's talk about our feelings, circles at school. Let's talk about our feelings, fantastic. But if you just talk about your feelings, you're going to crash because you bring things up that you haven't managed. So, it's like the pilot's taken off. If the pilot doesn't know how to fly the plane, the pilot's going to crash. So, once we've gathered awareness of our feelings, you've got to also find, like the pilot's got to fly, these various rules which he's got to follow basically, you have emotions never live alone.

You have to find the behaviors, the bodily sensations and the perspectives. And it's very specifically laid out in the book for how to do this with kids as young as two and three all the way through 10. And then it's very clearly laid out for older people in the other book for adolescents and adults. And you do it age appropriate. Like you're not going to tell a child of two what is the emotion you're feeling. You're going to pick up Brain-ee or something and say, "Oh, I see Brain-ee is really sad today. And I wonder why Brain-ee so sad." And I see, "Oh, Brain-ee is got a sore tummy." Okay, emotions, bodily sensation and "Brain-ee is kicking the chair." I don't know why Brain-ee is kicking the chair, behavior. Perspective, "Brain-ee really seems very like he does not at all happy about life today." Well, "Brain-ee is very upset about life today." So, it's outlook. So, you use emotion words to describe it, but it's outlook in that moment or that day or whatever, I've just done-- That's how you do it with a young child. So that's taking off. 

Then you got to fly the plane. So, steps two, three, and four are reflect, write, and recheck. And those three steps are flying the plane. I'm going to explain each of them briefly in a moment. Then once the pilot's flown the plane, very organized, very deliberate on a pathway. If they move slightly off the pathway it's picked up by the tower, they get radioed. If they don't do this over, it's all very organized. Your brain, mind, and body network respond to organization. So, if you haphazardly do a bit of meditation, a bit of why statement, a bit of an affirmation, they're not going to achieve the goal. The more organized the better, otherwise you crash, and keep crashing. And then that in itself is very frustrating and it can lead you down the negative pathway. So, the reflect is the second step that's flying the plane and it's the why? Why is Brain-ee feeling like this? Why is Brain-ee doing these kicking in the chair and so on. It's getting more detail about those emotions and the four signals. Then you're going to write that all down. And as I mentioned earlier, it's not in a journal, it's all over the place. And the reason for all over the place that stimulates the brain, mind, body connection differently and gives you more insight and pulls things up that you didn't think were there. With a young child who can't write can be dramatizing and drawing squiggles. So, it's very good to have a designated area that I've already mentioned when I gave the adult example in your house where you maybe have painted a wall with chalk paint or something, or you have an art supply, a big journal or something, a big blank page that you can draw on. And the whole idea here is the more messy the better.

Then the fourth step is to now make sense of what's come up. So, if a bunch of-- there's like a whole lot of pictures and if your child's not writing yet, they may tell you something and you write that down or they demonstrate it and you may draw that picture and they add to the picture and then you write a word. Even if they're not literate, it's very good to teach them reading and understand the word-picture association and that kind of stuff. So, you build a lot of skills. It's also very collaborative, very good for deep meaningful relationships. So, you're creating-- there're just so many things that are being achieved by the whole process. The recheck step is now making sense of what's written there, looking at everything and seeing the patterns, the triggers, what's going on. So that picture of the example of the child earlier on with the picture, you'd give it the signals, you'd reflect on that. Why would give you more details on those four signals. Then they would write it down and that's where they would maybe draw pictures of scary faces. And as they're drawing, things will come up and maybe what shows up, which is, oh gosh, they saw this picture. The parent didn't know they saw this picture. They've seen other pictures, at a friend's house they saw something else. There're a few things, and they think this causes that and that evil person is going to come under their bed as they do this, whatever. There's a scenario that's built in their mind, and the third step starts to bring that up. 

So, the fourth step is for you to say, help them speak about that. And then to help them to reconceptualize it, to say, "Okay, this is what's happened, what we're going to do about it." This is why you can't sleep. This is not real. This is real. This is why this is scary. Let's see why it's scary. Let's not make it not scary, that kind of stuff. And then the active reach is those four steps accumulate into a little action. What can we do to help you? So maybe tonight when you go to sleep, you're going to draw before you go to sleep or even now, let's draw a picture of what you rather want to think about. So, every time the scary picture comes up, which is not so scary anymore, because as soon as you talk about things, you get power over them, you can then think of the happy picture that you've drawn or the happy picture that you chose. Maybe you cut out a picture or there's a happy photo or something like that. And you practice during the day. You practice every time there's a bad thought, "Mommy, I'm having a bad thought." Then you can go grab Brain-ee and squeeze Brain-ee or just think of that picture in your mind or whatever. So, you're practicing reconceptualizing.

So essentially what the child is doing through this whole preparation in five steps from the taking off to the landing of the plane is they are driving the energy through the brain and rewiring the networks, weakening the toxic ones, changing the root system. You're not pulling the tree out because you cannot change what's happened. It's happened, never goes away. It's there forever. But you can change what it looks like. This is that whole question at the beginning. Can you change memories? So, you actively and deliberately changing the memories. With children, what we do is and this is all in the book with examples and images, and cartoons, so you can use the cartoons to teach children this as well, is we talk about that's the sad tree that didn't make you happy.

As we do these steps, what we're doing is we're going right down and we're going to dig the sand off around the roots and we see, "Oh, my goodness, look at that part of the root is so rotten." There's a good little healthy part that side. But this is why the tree looks like this. And that root is then the ugly picture in the scenario that we've created and the scary picture and the other scary pictures and the conversation, the video that they watched at someone else's house that you didn't know they watched and no one explained it to them. So, they've formed all these-- and this has been building up over the last few weeks. And that's all the rotten roots that comes out through this process. And then you can say, "Oh, as you've going through the recheck, you're actually putting plant food on the root and you're making the root healthy again so that now the tree can grow up healthy." Now that ugly part of the tree is tiny, tiny little branch poking out and you've got this beautiful big green tree. So, you remember how you were, but now you're different. And so that's kind of the idea that's forming this complex stuff. ou can teach in this very simple way to children. 

Melanie Avalon: So amazing. Just one very last quick question. Does it matter how receptive the child is to implementing all of this? And what I mean is, I imagine it might vary. Like some children might be all in and some children in the beginning might show some resistance. Will it work either way, like a bottom-up type approach of implementing it or will some kids just not engage in--? 

Dr. Caroline Leaf: Brilliant question. So, I've worked with so many different types of children over the years. I've done a lot of family therapy. I've had my own four kids. And absolutely the children engage differently with this. The best way is some children will just run with it. Like the story of a good child in the trauma section of the book where I explain I don't know if you remember reading that story Melanie. Tim, yeah, very sad story, but ends up very happily. This child observed his mom changing. He had been very abused as a young child from the age of three months. And the adoptee, stepmom, I mean, that was everything you can imagine this child could do, labeled with his behaviors and everything, not sleeping and so on. It was really, really bad. But to cope, his mom just happened to learn about the Neurocycle because she happened to be on my research team one of the projects I was doing. And she was listening and thought, "Oh, I'm going to try this for myself." She tried it out and then feed back to me about six weeks later and said, "This has been changed our life." So, I said, "What?" And then proceeded to tell me the story. So, I did full interviews and they gave me permission to include obviously we've changed names and to protect identity and so on. But the point is that he saw his mom doing it. She didn't directly do with him. She saw the changes in his stepmom and her reactivity and she was just happy at that whole authentic thing. She was trying to hide things from Tim and trying to pretend she could cope. But meanwhile she was falling apart from the pressure of what she was going through. And this child saw and he said, "Teach me that. I want to learn the Neurocycle." 

So, the children's book wasn't out yet. This was going back almost to 18 months now. He learned it basically from an adult level and she obviously helped him understand the concepts. And I couldn't believe it when I interviewed this child of eight. Like this child sat, I sat with my jaw hanging open about how this child explained the Neurocycle back to me. So, I mean, this is an example. Then he taught his big sister, who was 11, and she took a bit longer to get the hang of it and didn't want to learn from the stepmom, but learned from the brother. So, the eight-year-old taught the 11-year-old. So, there's definitely going to be differences. And I have a whole chapter on the timing and on ideas for engagement and that sort of thing. The thing is to roll with your kids. But the number one way to get engagement is for you to do it yourself. When you stop saying things like "go to your room when they aggravate you" and you say, "I'm sorry, I was in a bad mood." I had this happen and then you work through the whole Neurocycle like I've described, when you're authentic and honest and you don't sort of shout at them to go and do something that would-- whatever the messy parenting side of things, which you've all done. So don't feel guilty. I've done it too. 

When we demonstrate on ourselves, that's when we impact our children and that's when they would engage. So, of my four kids, I had the skeptical ones who would watch. When they're young, it's easy to engage kids, very, very easy to engage kids. It's as they get older that they can get a bit more, which is good. I mean, they're questioning, you want that to happen. It's a normal part of growing up. But if you carry on using it, their curiosity is piqued and they see that that actually works. And then you'll engage them more. So, your model is very important. 

Melanie Avalon: Awesome. Well, thank you so much. This has been so incredible. I just can't wait for parents everywhere to read this and implement it with their children. And like I said, "It'll change them as well." So, I cannot thank you enough. And the last question I ask every single guest on this show and you might remember it from before, probably not that you do so many episodes, but it's just because I realize more and more each day how important mindset is. So, what is something that you're grateful for?

Dr. Caroline Leaf: Oh, I'm so grateful to have had this opportunity to study the mind, brain, body connection. It's been my life's work. It's consumed me and it gives me so much joy to see that we can do this. It's made me so engaged in life that I can do this research and give this back to my own children, myself, my kids, and the world. So, I really mean that. That's really made me very excited.

Melanie Avalon: I love it. Well, that's completely what you're doing, and I am just so overwhelmingly grateful. We'll put links to everything in the show notes and I think you had mentioned or in the intake form that we could do a signed book giveaway. So, is that okay that we do that? 

Dr. Caroline Leaf: Absolutely. That's no problem. 

Melanie Avalon: Perfect. So, for listeners, just go to the Instagram Friday announcement post for this episode and comment something that you learned or something that resonated with you from the show or why you would like to get how to help your child clean up their mental mess to enter for a signed book giveaway. So, thank you so much, Dr. Leaf. This was amazing. I can't wait to have you on next time for your next book. 

Dr. Caroline Leaf: Thank you so much, Melanie. Thank you for asking such lovely, deep questions. I always enjoy talking to you. We always seem to get into such interesting, deep stuff. So, thank you so much. 

Melanie Avalon: Likewise. Thank you. Have a good rest of your day. 

Dr. Caroline Leaf: Thank you so much.

Melanie Avalon: Bye.

Dr. Caroline Leaf: Bye.

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