Podcast: Dr. Caroline Leaf on Creating a Positive Community Mindset


As humans, we are wired for community. But isolation is reaching epidemic levels in our modern world. Dr. Caroline Leaf is a communication pathologist and cognitive neuroscientist. She has authored numerous books and travels the world as a speaker encouraging people to seek community to improve their mental health.

In this episode of the Leadercast Podcast, we spoke with Dr. Leaf about controlling our thoughts, the mind-brain connection, the importance of self-regulation and the power of a positive community mindset.


Dr. Leaf’s Background

As a communication pathologist, Dr. Leaf has a deep understanding of how the mind influences the brain. This particular field of study covers a wide range of subjects, including aiding those with communication or learning issues.  

On the neuroscience side, Dr. Leaf has studied the mind-brain connection. This includes the science behind how humans have control over their thoughts and how the brain physically responds to those thoughts.  

Dr. Leaf has used her degrees to help people understand that regardless of how unpredictable their life may be, they do have control over their response to their environment. She’s helping individuals become stronger in order for them to, in turn, build healthier communities. “You can control your reactions to the very unpredictable nature of life,” she says in the podcast. TWEET


Positive vs. Negative Communication

Realizing the level of control we have over our thoughts is the first step in understanding we can control our response to our environment. The pervasive message in today’s society is that we don’t have control over our brains. This idea that we are a victim to our biology takes away people’s autonomy, and is scientifically inaccurate; we have a tremendous amount of control if we choose to use it, and that starts with our communication.  

Communication involves words and sentences, but 50 percent of communication is nonverbal. Our nonverbal communication conveys the attitude behind what we are saying, and our words don’t always match our attitude. When our attitude is negative, but our words are positive, people can pick up on this inconsistency. It is always best to be consistent in choosing our words and attitude.


Integrity and Self-Regulation

We may have control over our thoughts, but most of us don’t know how to do it. As Dr. Leaf says in the episode, the reality is that we are able to think, feel and choose. Our thoughts are the nonphysical part of us; our mind in action. Our brains physically react to thoughts (in chemical and electromagnetic ways) by growing structures in our brains, and those become the root of our communication.

“As humans, we are able to literally monitor and self-regulate what we’re thinking, what we’re feeling and what we’re choosing,” says Dr. Leaf. TWEET

The amazing thing about humans is that we have the ability to self-regulate and choose what thoughts we entertain in our minds. We can stand back and observe our reactions.  We can choose to reframe a negative event into a positive one and respond differently in the future.

So how do we control our thoughts? The first step is to observe the way we think about ourselves and the world around us. It is a uniquely human ability.


Community Mindset

Even if we are able to self-regulate and observe our thoughts and feelings, the basic truth remains: Humans can’t operate in isolation. The biggest part of what Dr. Leaf calls a community mindset is that humans are designed for connection.

For example, the United States is a very individualistic culture. This contrasts with many other countries of the world such as Russia, China or Japan where people will flock to community when they need to reset and recharge. The U.S. tends to “do things for ourselves,” but studies are proving that is not making people happy.

Community plays a vital role in mental health. We are social animals, and time in community corresponds with very positive physical and mental benefits.

Dr. Leaf gives a wonderful example of a farmer in Cambodia who unfortunately lost his legs in a explosion. This man wanted to still farm his land, but became depressed when he realized he wasn’t physically able to any longer.  

His community rallied around him and discovered that he was depressed because he was isolated and no longer felt valuable. His community recognized that he was depressed, reached out and intervened. They purchased him a cow so that he could transition to a new type of farming and he soon felt like he was doing meaningful work again.


Practical Tips

Dr. Leaf shares two practical tips for everyday life to improve self-regulation efforts and overall mental health:

1. Be intentional. You can control your mind, and you are not a victim of your biology. Self-regulation means a deliberate effort to control what we spend our time thinking about.

2. Adopt a multiple perspective advantage. This means we have the ability to step back and observe our own thoughts. This is not a quickly learned skill, but the more you do it, the more you will improve.

How are you establishing community? Are you asking co-workers to lunch instead of working through your lunch break? Start to observe your thoughts and attitudes this week; you have more control over them than you think!

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This post is based on an episode of The Leadercast Podcast with Dr. Caroline Leaf, communication pathologist and cognitive neuroscientist. To find out more about Dr. Leaf, visit her website and join her at Leadercast Live 2019, taking place May 10 live in Duluth, Georgia, and broadcast to locations around the globe. To hear this episode, and many more like it, subscribe on iTunes, Spotify, Google Play or Stitcher.

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