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How To Use Intention To Rewire Your Brain, with Dr. Caroline Leaf

Dr Daniel Amen and Tana Amen BSN RN On The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast

Brain health issues have been skyrocketing during the pandemic, so it’s more important than ever that people take control to keep themselves safe. In this first episode of a series with “Switch on Your Brain” author Dr. Caroline Leaf, she and the Amens discuss how neuroplasticity allows you to make changes to way you feel and act through the process of intention.

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Dr. Daniel Amen:
Welcome to the Brain Warrior's Way podcast. I'm Dr. Daniel Amen.
Tana Amen:
And I'm Tana amen. In our podcast, we provide you with the tools you need to become a warrior for the health of your brain and body.
Dr. Daniel Amen:
The Brain Warrior's Way podcast is brought to you by Amen Clinics, where we have been transforming lives for 30 years using tools like brain SPECT imaging to personalize treatment to your brain. For more information, visit www.amenclinics.com.
Tana Amen:
The Brain Warrior's Way podcast is also brought to you by BrainMD, where we produce the highest quality nutraceuticals to support the health of your brain and body. To learn more, go to www.brainmd.com.
Dr. Daniel Amen:
Welcome everyone. We are here with our friend, Dr. Caroline Leaf, who's a communication pathologist and cognitive neuroscientist. She specializes in cognitive and metacognitive neuropsychology. We're going to talk about what that is. She was one of the first in her field to study how the brain can change neuroplasticity with directed mind input. It sounds like change your brain, change your life. I love that.
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 United States, she developed her theory called 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, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, CTE, learning disabilities, ADHD, autism, dementias, and mental illnesses like anxiety and depression.
She's helped 100s of 1000s of students and adults learn how to you use their minds to take back control of their mental health. Dr. Leaf is the bestselling author of Switch On Your Brain, which is just an amazing book. Think, Learn, Succeed, Think and Eat Yourself Smart and many more. She teaches at academic, medical and neuroscience conferences, churches, and to various audiences around the world. And today we're going to talk a little bit about Dr. Leaf's background, and also around COVID-19 and her perspective on how to stay healthy in a pandemic and how to prevent really the next pandemic, which is a mental health pandemic. Welcome Caroline.
Dr. Caroline Leaf:
Thank you.
Tana Amen:
[inaudible 00:02:57]. So good to have you.
Dr. Caroline Leaf:
Oh, I'm so honored. Thank you so much. I'm a big fan. So it's wonderful to be talking to you.
Dr. Daniel Amen:
So as a communication pathologist, you really took this a big step forward on going after how you can literally change your brain. Tell us how you got interested in this?
Dr. Caroline Leaf:
Well, it started in the 80s when I was initially doing my research. And I remember saying to one of my professors who was giving us this whole lecture in neuroscience or traumatic brain injury. And you'd probably remember those days, Daniel, in the 80s when we were told that the brain couldn't change. And I said, "Well, something's wrong here because we all keep changing and growing and we respond to life. So logically there's a misfit here."
And I remember saying to my professors, "You know what, I believe that if we direct our mind, we can change our brain. I don't believe our brain is fixed." So instead of teaching my patients how to compensate, I wanted to rather teach them how to learn again and change their brain and improve mental health and all that kind of thing. And I remember them turning around to me except for two professors, turning around to me and saying, "That's a ridiculous question."
And I said, "Okay, well, let me prove it. So I took traumatic brain injury, which there was hardly any research on traumatic brain injury in the 80s. Most of it just said, "Well, once you've got a damaged brain, that's it." And you know that history. So I'm preaching to the choir here. So I basically decided I'm going to take an area of research that I know is a problem and I'm going to prove this on that particular group of people. So started doing research in the area, working with people that are the worst that I could find, people that had been in car accidents and in comas for over two weeks. And I mean, you know what the neurologist used to say in those days, more than eight hours in a coma and that's it, you are pretty much no hope.
And I started developing this very mind direct techniques, being very, not just mindful, but going beyond mindfulness. And mindfulness was very much part of it, but really directing how you think and feel and choose around building your brain. So I focused a lot around learning, academics, whatever the person needed, whatever the need was. So if I had a patient who was at school, I would take their schoolwork. If I had someone who was an executive, I would take whatever was relevant to them. Whatever was relevant to the person, that would be the material that we would focus on. And then I would teach them very mind directed techniques in order to be able to rebuild their brain.
Reconnect first and then I would work on the emotional traumas that would then come up. And I found that as I worked on building the brain, helping them to learn how to learn, literally rewiring their brain, growing the brain growing resilience, they were much stronger and more able to deal with the traumas that they were dealing with, the emotional things that started coming up. And we could deal with those in the same way.
So parallel to building brain techniques, I developed how to manage trauma and emotional trauma techniques. And then I took that out into the field. I was in South Africa at that time, and I worked for 25 years in the worst of the worst areas. So I was in the time when it was pre-apartheid, then the transition with Nelson Mandela and then the post apartheid era. So it was fascinating because I went into the areas that no white woman could come out of alive. You went in there, you were shot, you were murdered, you were raped. I could go in there. I had four kids, I'll be nine months pregnant. I could drive around on my own. No one touched me.
Because I could go anywhere, we would set up lectures hall, we would go to the local schools and the local community centers. We would have 1000s of people just packing in. And I would just teach them about their brain and their mind and how you can use your mind and your brain can change and how to manage this and how to learn. It was unbelievable. I did that three days a week for 25 years with people that were starving, hungry, traumatized. It was phenomenal.
We had one day, one young girl. I was teaching, there was thousands. And I was teaching one young girl, like literally crept to the front, they brought to the front to me and she was bleeding. So we thought it was her cycle, her menstrual cycle, but it wasn't, she had just been raped. And she had heard that Dr. Leaf, they used to call me the switch on your brain lady, Dr. Leaf was in town. She literally got up from that rape, came to the session and the teachers at the back recognized her and she wants to take her to the hospital. She wouldn't. She said she wants to see me.
They wrapped her in a blanket. They sat her my feet and she sat there for five hours. I can tell you a thousand stories like that, but it transformed my life. Post genocide I worked in Rwanda, working with those people. So I have seen, and I've also worked with execs and I've worked with every socioeconomic strata, but in the field. And what I was trying to understand was the power of the human mind. We have such resilience and such incredible ability. And our brain has to listen to our mind and we have to [inaudible 00:07:47] our brain, I mean at your field, I don't have to tell you that, but we've got so much more ability than what we realize. And the research just continued from there. And I still currently do clinical trials, working on this whole mind brain connection. So it's a quick walk through my history.
Dr. Daniel Amen:
So the early work you did, what were the things you saw that worked to help people switch on their brains? What were some of the early connections you made to develop the practice you have now?
Dr. Caroline Leaf:
The first thing that I found was to give people... In South Africa, the population I was working with, they recognize that if they got educated, they could change their life. So their need was to learn how to actually master knowledge. So I started off by studying the science of thought and understanding what is the thought? How do memories and thoughts work? How can you build memories? Can you build memories? Can you actually wire stuff into your brain and improve how you learn? Is IQ fixed? All those kinds of questions.
So what I was teaching them, was the results of that work, which was when you very intentionally direct how you learn, and you go through a very sequential process, anyone can learn how to learn. That's what I saw. So I taught them how to learn. I taught him how to take academic work. We would go into school rooms where they didn't have chalkboards. They had a chalkboard, the old fashioned chalkboards with chalk like this. We would take newsprint from the local newspapers and put them around the wall and they didn't have textbooks. They would have one maybe amongst a hundred. So we would then translate all the texts, the content they needed for whatever grade they were in or whatever level of university or whatever the college, whatever they were studying. And we would translate that into this five step process using the paper on the walls. And these kids would literally learn from there.
And so it was basically helping them to take a chunk of knowledge. Firstly, the big picture, let's say you were studying something like biology and you were studying a chapter, to get the big picture and then to break it down into chunks and to go through the process of building it up.
What we found that as they started learning how to learn and learn how to write an exam, which is such a basic skill or learn how to be more masterful in a work environment or something, or learn a new skill so they could work better in the environment. Then the trauma stuff started coming up. Then there was the next phase. We would always have a session where we would work on learning. And then we would take the same basic principles and work on emotional trauma. And it was all very directed. It was all very much capture those thoughts and don't let them go all over the place in terms of traumas, capture those thoughts and embrace them and process and reconceptualize them. With learning, it was focused on the detail of the information and slowly but surely build that into your brain through a very sequential process. That's what I would teach. Those are the very basic principles that I taught and that I have translated into different techniques now over the years.
And we've just done clinical trials last year. We did two clinical trials with my team, where we were looking at the advanced version of... Then I developed the Siri. And then over the 25 years, I developed and refined the technique. And then last year we did a clinical trial working with people with anxiety and depression, and just general traumas and so on and using the technique. And we found... We're actually analyzing the results now, which is very appropriate because who knew that COVID was going to happen. So it's been very interesting to see how, when we really direct our attention pretty much similar to your ants, when you direct your attention, when you control your mind, when you look after your brain. And we're coming at the same thing, but from two different angles basically.
Dr. Daniel Amen:
When we come back, I want us to talk about trauma. Because I mean, you're practicing in an area where there's a lot of trauma and now we're in the middle of a pandemic where there's again, a lot of trauma. When we come back, we're here with Dr. Caroline Leaf, author of a number of books, but the New York times bestselling Switch On Your Brain.
Tana Amen:
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Dr. Daniel Amen:
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