Dr. Caroline Leaf on the Power of the Mind


Communication pathologist and cognitive neuroscientist Dr. Caroline Leaf has studied the mind-brain connection for 30 years. In her research, she asserts that the mind and the brain are two very different things: The brain is part of our physical nature as human beings, and the mind is where we manage our emotions, intellect and choices.

“When you use your mind, you change your life,” said Caroline during her talk at Leadercast Live 2019. Understanding and harnessing the power of the mind can be the difference in success or failure—what we build in our minds becomes reality. “Whatever you think about the most will grow. If you build negativity, that’s what you will produce,” she says. When you deliberately start using your mind to change your brain, you will increase your functionality and productivity anywhere from 35-70 percent.

Top Takeaways From Caroline:

— By default, we are extrinsically driven, which is a problem. We should use our minds to key in on intrinsic motivation.
We must function as a community. When we connect and support each other, we give oxygen to our brains. We need to help build each other’s stress resilience through our interactions with each other.
We cannot disregard a person’s story. Each of us needs to process our own story because when we suppress our emotions, our bodies will begin to signal that something is off.


Good morning, everyone. So good to be here. That was an amazing talk you've just heard. And I am now going to give you 30 years of brain research all squished into 25 minutes. Ready? Okay, so here's the thing, the faster a person talks and the more information you get given, the more your brain has to work hard, so the more you increase your intelligence. So, therefore, the faster I talk, the more intelligent you become because you have to listen harder. That's a scientific fact. 

Okay, so to help you along, I've got lots of slides to help you to really understand and process the information I'm going to give you. As a cognitive neuroscientist, my focus for the past 30 years has been researching the mind-brain connection and how our mind is not our brain and how this whole thing works. 

So I began my early work back in South Africa, and in South Africa I worked in private practice for 25 years and did a lot of research for years. I still do research. I also worked in the then very poverty-stricken South Africa, the pre-apartheid and the transition to the post-apartheid era. So, I worked in extremely challenging socio-economic and political conditions. I worked with people of all ages. I also worked with people with very traumatic brain injuries and learning problems and emotional issues and trauma victims, etc.

So I had a very wide range of experience seeing the resilience of humanity. And what was really key for me in my research was showing people how, when you use your mind, you change your life. Your mind is key to everything. If you're not using your mind right, then nothing else in your life is going to go right. 

So, when we talk about mind, we need to talk about distinguishing between the mind and the brain. So, back in the '80s, I did some of the first research on neuroplasticity. Neuro means brain and plasticity means to change. And I showed that when you deliberately and intentionally use your mind, your life will change. Your brain will change and that will reflect into how you are managing your thinking, your emotions, your intellect. Everything about whatever you are doing will improve. 

Back in the '80s, we were told the brain couldn't change. So I was told it was a ridiculous question. And in fact, I decided to pursue that ridiculous question because I knew that when we change our mind, we will change how we function, and I proceeded to show that over the years of my research. 

And what I'm presenting to you today is a kind of collective overview of when you deliberately and intentionally self-regulate your mind, you will change your life in a direction that you are meant to be going in. You will release the internal success that is within you. And success is not something that can be defined by other people for you. Success is something that you define for yourself. And it's very unique and it's very individualistic, and no two people have the same success parameters. So, when we stop comparing ourselves to others and causing brain damage, we will start finding that intrinsically, we will start releasing the success. 

So, in my work, I need to show you and help you understand that you are not your brain. Have I just put you off breakfast or lunch or whatever is coming up? Okay. So you are not your brain. Researching this incredible organ for the past 30 years has been a fascinating task, but let me tell you that we can stare at that brain all day long, or take one out of your head and have a dripping blood off my hands, and no matter what we do, it's not going to do mind. That brain is part of your physical nature. Your brain and your body collectively are made up of 75 to 100 trillion cells. That is just your brain and your body together. 

Now, your brain isn't self-emergent, which means that your brain can't produce your mind. Your mind is separate from your brain. Mind and brain, two separate things but connected. 

Let's have a look at another slide that will help make more sense. As you're listening to me now, this is what is happening in your brain, but unique to each and every one of you. Your brain is responding to your mind. 

So what is your mind? Your mind is your ability to think and feel and choose. You do those three things together. As you think, you feel. As you think and feel, you choose. 

So, as you think, feel, and choose what you're doing right now as you're listening to me at 400 billion actions and faster per second, you are converting what you are seeing and what you're hearing into physical structures inside of the brain. What you are seeing on the screen of the day is the quantum energy that you are pouring through your brain as a result of your thinking, feeling, and choosing. 

So your mind, which is the thinking, feeling, choosing, is generating this quantum energy, which is moving through your mind. And the response you see on the screen is your unique response on a quantum level, electromagnetic level, and chemical level in your brain. 

These activities also generate a signal that goes down to the level of your genome, your DNA, and it switches on your genes, and then your genes make stuff that you need to keep alive. 

So, right now, you are turning my words into physical structures inside of your brain with your mind. With your mind, you are growing matter in your brain. With your mind, you're changing the structure of your brain. With your mind, you are creating matter. It is mind over matter and what you build really does matter. Because what you build becomes the root of what you say and what you do. 

So thoughts are real things. What you build with your mind are thoughts that you store in your brain physically, and they keep changing with your experiences. And you also store them in your non-physical part of you, which is your mind. So you build a double representation, memory in your mind and memory in your brain, and you control it. 

And whatever you build becomes the root of what you say and what you do. So, if you're building negativity, that's what you will produce. If you building toxicity, that's what you will produce. 

So, if you have a look at this next slide, you will see that this firing . . . and this is also inside the brain. You're looking at clusters of memories, clusters of thoughts that look like little trees in your brain. As you use your mind, you're thinking, feeling, and choosing. You're generating this energy through your brain. If you were dead, you wouldn't see this pulsing on the screen. So the pulsing on the screen is reflecting your thinking, feeling, and choosing, which you're in control of, and how it's actually moving through the brain and creating changes inside of the brain. 

If you look at the next slide, you'll see this even . . . it's dramatically slowed down, but this is a very close representation to what you are doing now as you're listening to me. So as you're listening, you're hearing sound waves. They're going in your ears. They're stimulating thinking, feeling, choosing. As you think, feel, and choose, you cause this cloud of quantum energy through your brain, you cause a response, an electromagnetic response, and that collapses all kinds of things in the brain. The collapse switches things on and you grow branches. So you are doing this right now.

And those branches are made up of billions of quantum neurobiological computers that you are building. You are actually building one quantum neurobiological computer is more powerful than all the computers on the planet. And you and your brain have billions . . . in fact, kabillions if there's such a word. And you are building them, and basically building them and they break down, and you build and you break down. And the information I'm sharing with you is being held as a vibration within that powerful little computer. 

And as you get more experience and as you go through life, so you add more information. You change. Things move. You get rid of some memories, and you build some extra ones, and you're constantly growing, constantly changing. There's an infinite amount of space in your brain. Your brain will not grow out of your ears. The more you think, the more it grows, but it grows in such a way that it's all interconnected. So whatever you think about the most will grow. 

Now, this is a very fundamental important point. Whatever you think about the most will grow. When you are thinking, feeling, and choosing, you are growing stuff in your brain. Your mind is separate from your brain. Your mind works through your brain. Your brain responds to your mind, your body responds to your mind, and you control the whole show. So our bodies are responding in the most phenomenal way. 

Now, what's this got to do with leadership? Absolutely everything. So just to make you feel even most intelligent, this is my theory. I'm just going to explain. Just look at the colors. All I developed . . . this is what scientists do. We develop theories. I'm a very practical scientist, so the big work I do is in the field with people, with real people, not with lab rats. Scientists develop theories and then they spend the rest of their life trying to understand what they've developed, which is pretty much what we've done and what I've done. And I've written many books and lots of different information. 

And essentially, what this is showing you is the mind-brain connection. So the green and the pink part represent your non-physical part of you. Your non-physical is your mind, the thinking, feeling, choosing thing. When you think, you feel. When you think and feel, you choose. Those three always go together. Mind in action, thinking, feeling, and choosing. 

So, as you think, and feel, and choose, that is the green and the purple part working. It's called your non-physical part of you. It's broken up into the non-conscious, which is the green part, which is operating 24/7 at quantum speeds, no present, past, and future, where all your memories are basically stored. Okay? 

The purple part is your conscious part that only works when you're awake, and hopefully that's all working at the moment. And it works at around about 2,000 actions per second. So green and purple is the non-physical part of you. We understand that through using quantum physics, and we understand the mind-brain connection through using neuroscience, psychoneuroimmunology, and all these fancy things. But essentially, what it's saying is that you've got this brilliant non-physical part of you that's made up of a non-conscious and conscious mind. And guess what? That is 99% of who you are. 

The blue part represents the physical . . . represents what you are saying and doing. So it represents the output of your thinking, feeling, and choosing. 

And the pink clouds down the bottom represent your brain's response. So your brain responds with all that action, that firing you saw, and then you're building these thoughts, which are real things inside your brain. 

So this is the mind-brain connection theory, and basically, as you think, feel, and choose, you are building stuff in your brain, and that produces what you say and what you do. And as you self-regulate, which you are designed to do . . . you are designed to self-regulate every 10 seconds. So what neuroscience shows is that you are designed to self-regulate, to be aware of your thinking, feeling, and choosing, so that you can have wisdom so that you don't become reactive, and develop chaotic, toxic thinking. And you can do that six times a minute. That is your design of your brain according to research in quantum physics and neuroscience. So you're pretty brilliant, but we've got to be intrinsically driven to release this brilliance.

So what I found from my . . . I've got thousands of graphs from my research, but this is a very simple one. And what I found is that when you look at an industry and organization and educational institution, whatever sort of institution, generally, change is very much like this. People will change, and Andy was just talking about change. People kind of go up and down, but they stay the same. 

Do you see where the graph just suddenly jumps up? When you deliberately and intentionally start using your mind to change your brain, when you start deliberately self-regulating your thinking, feeling, and choosing, when you do what Socrates said, live a self-examined life, as Socrates said, "The unexamined life is not worth living," when you do this deliberate, intentional thinking, which I teach all my techniques in books, etc., you will increase your functionality, your productivity, how you operate in wisdom by 35% to 75% minimum. It is an intrinsically driven thing. It is not a product to be achieved from outside. It is inside of you, and you release it with your mind.

When you are operating in that mode, you will be a successful leader in whatever industry you are. But until we manage our minds, we are going to have a problem. 

I'm currently studying research looking at non-pharmacological intervention for helping people with mental health, dealing with depression and anxiety, etc., which are not illnesses, which I'm going to speak about in a moment. So I'm still continuing my research if you want to know more, and see the results. 

I'm showing how with your mind you, you change your brain, you change your blood chemistry, you change your heart functioning, you change your immune functioning, you change your physical and you change your narrative. You change the narrative, the story of your life. You improve your function. Now, who doesn't want to naturally improve their functioning? 

What I'm telling you, ladies and gentlemen, is that you are intrinsically designed to release an improvement in your productivity or a continuing change in a positive direction of a minimum of 35% to 75% constantly. You're always growing, which is amazing.

But if we don't manage our mind, we are going to have a problem. The problem is that we're in a day and age where . . . and we've always been mismanaging our mind from the beginning of time. What are some of the things that lead to mismanagement of mind, and what happens if we mismanage our mind? 

Okay, so first of all, we are not designed to mismanage our mind. We're designed to manage our mind. And when we mismanage our mind, that is through toxic thinking, not dealing with trauma, not processing the events and circumstances of life, reacting in very ineffective ways, getting stuck in guilt condemnation, operating in toxic stress, all these rush, rush, rush, living under the directorate of time, all that kind of toxic stuff, and using technology incorrectly or eating incorrectly. When we do that, we are mismanaging our mind. So that's a big picture.

So, looking at some specific points, we're in a day and age now where we are very extrinsically driven. And what do I mean by that? It's great to have return on investment and productivity goals, etc., nothing wrong with that. But if it's just pure extrinsic, without dealing with what's on the inside of you, intrinsic, it's going to be a problem. 

What is intrinsic? It's what are you doing with your mind? You know, you can't control the events and circumstances during the course of the day, during the course of your life, but you can control your reactions. So to be intrinsically driven is to be self-regulated in your mind and use your mind to change the wiring that you build in your brain so that you can speak from that wiring, because you build thoughts into your brain. Wiring the thoughts in your brain, and that's what you say and do. You don't just randomly speak or do. What you say and do is something you've built in your head. So there's negativity coming out, chaotic thoughts coming up. 

Look at the next point over there. If we constantly live under this extrinsically driven, chaotic, toxic thinking, what we see is people's lives are shortened. So what we have found, just looking at those first two points I'm going to summarize, over the last 350 years ago, fast forward to 50 years ago, fast forward to 2014, between 2014 and 2015, we see that people are battling. 

When we don't manage our mind, when we don't deal with our mind and get our thinking, feeling, and choosing under control, what we will do is we will not process our stuff. We will not process the toxic trauma we will not process the stress. We will not process the toxic habits. We become driven by time, etc. 

And according to research, for the first time in decades, research released by the CDC and federal data between 2014 and 2015, that data that was released showed us that we literally are dying younger for the first time in decades. So the trend of people living longer has reversed.

That graph that you saw, the graph that I showed you earlier on . . . and I'm going to just jump back to that quickly. Okay, so this graph over here, this reverses when we don't manage our mind, when we are extrinsically driven instead of intrinsically driven, when we don't manage our mind, when we don't manage the chaotic and toxic thinking. We see that people are dying 15 to 25 years younger now in this advanced technological and medical advanced age than they were before.

We see that people are much more aware of mental health or managing their mental health, but we don't have sustainable scientifically developed or the tools that are being applied sufficiently enough. 

We have in the corporate environment, the education environment, the church environment, a pursuit extrinsically of things like happiness, that you can go and get happiness and put it inside you, that you can go and get calmness and put it inside of you. We aren't intrinsically driven. A neuro-centric approach tells you that you are your brain, that you don't have this non-physical mind, that your mind is a mistake. And this is what a neuro [reductionistic 00:18:12] or neuro-centric approach that doesn't see you as having this 99% mind. It doesn't consider the mind. 

There's a whole branch of science, a whole philosophy that has dominated for 350 years now, and peaked 50 years ago and peaked between 2014 and 2015, which says that you are your brain and you're pre-programmed and free will is an illusion. And all you have to do is get stuff externally and put it internally. And that does not work. And that thinking has now cumulatively resulted in people that are dying 15 to 25 years younger because they're not processing their stuff. 

We are also in a loneliness epidemic, and research shows that loneliness kills as many if not more people annually than obesity, cancer, etc. People are so connected that they are disconnected. So these are real issues that are affecting people.

We have a problem where people are not being encouraged to process this stuff. If people are depressed or anxious, or worried or having a panic attack, we are told that you have a disease. You go to a doctor, they label you, they don't care about your story, you get a label, you get a diagnosis, and you get a medication, a psychotropic medication. And those medications dampen your brain's emotions and damage the brain. So we have to be . . . 

Just a side note here, you can't just stop a psychotropic. You have to withdraw slowly, so don't just throw them away. I have lots of information about that on my site. 

But the point I'm making is that if you are your brain, if that's the view you adopt, which is a neuro-centric, reductionistic, materialistic view, and you ignore the mind, you will then just get labeled, put in a box, and reduced down to a label, which can tie you up in all kinds of negativity. 

If you look at the next thing, we cannot disregard a person's story, and that's what's happening with the current way of managing the mind. People's causes are not being looked at. If you've been abused or raped or been to war or seen people's bodies blown all over the place or been bullied or raped, we can't ignore that story. You have a story. You need to process your story. Research shows that when you suppress that story, it becomes a huge problem in how you as a human function. So, these are just a few things. 

When we suppress our emotions, when we don't process our toxic thoughts, we basically tune out of these signals. Our body will tell our mind when we are tuning out of . . . when we're getting into an imbalanced state. We need to have a balance between tension, which is the desire to achieve, as well as the recognition that that gets a little bit hard. You've got to stretch yourself. Like, now I'm giving you a lot of information, so a there's a good sense of tension. It stretches your brain. But we've got to realize that when we go over that tension level and our body starts heart pounding, adrenaline pumping, etc., we've got to make sure that we recognize what's happening there so that we actually tune in. 

So depression, anxiety, these are not illnesses. These are descriptions of an underlying something's going on in your life. So, if you've got these, which all of us experience, it's the human condition. Everyone goes through . . . these are normal. Depression, anxiety, psychotic breaks, obviously these are extreme versions. It's obviously on a scale, but these are not illnesses. These are signs that we need to deal with an underlying cause. 

Whether you're a leader, parent, whatever it is that you are doing in your life, you have to deal with your stuff, because that stuff is causing damage in your brain and damage in your mind because of the feedback loop between the mind and the brain. 

So the current model, which just says, "Label, diagnosis, suppress," doesn't get rid of the problem. It's still there. We have to process and we have to process in community. 

So we see there that we can't apply what we call a biomedical model to the mind. So I said earlier on you are 99% mind, which is thinking, feeling, choosing. That has its own set of rules. So we've got to manage our mind differently to how we manage the body. So, medicine's fantastic for the body. So if you've got insulin . . . if you have diabetes, you need insulin. If you've got a cardiovascular issue, you need to be diagnosed and get the medication. But we can't apply the rules that apply to the 1% of who you are as a human to the 99%. And that is what's happening. 

That's what I'm pretty much saying with the slide that you see up on the screen. That is a materialistic, reductionistic model that basically looks at you as a biological ultimatum. That approach has been dominant for 350 years, as I said, peaking around 2014, 2015. 

You can't keep doing that. If you keep doing that, there's going to be a problem. What is the problem? People are dying younger, 15 to 25 years younger than what they should. People are breaking down under stress. Meanwhile, you are very, very, very strong. 

Now, just a couple of quotes here. Among comparable countries, the US has the highest rate of death from mismanagement of mental health and substance abuse disorders. Research indicates that employers lose around 32 days annually due to reduced productivity for every depressed employee, which may cost employees as much as $44 billion annually, Harvard Business Review.

Dr. Joanna Moncrieff, a psychiatrist in London, says, "When we medicalize misery . . ." so you're battling at work. You feel miserable. When you medicalize that, when you have an extrinsic neuro-centric focus, it means the more or less understandable reactions to life's challenges become decontextualized and incorrectly transformed into an internal individual pathology. 

It sounds terrible to say you have a neuropsychiatric brain disease when you simply are under stress at work. There's a huge difference. And so what we're telling people is that they're sick, and what they are, is they need their story to be told. They need to be noticed and helped because we thrive in deep, meaningful connections. 

So what is the solution? I've got a new book out, "Think, Learn, Succeed." I've got plenty of books. I've got an app about to come out this week, helping to put these things into place, helping you to learn how to manage your mind. 

So what is the solution? We have to understand the mind-brain connection. We can no longer go and be dominated by the philosophy of "you are your brain." You're not your brains. It's not science. It's not evidence-based science. It's incorrect science. 

You are your mind, thinking, feeling, choosing moving through your brain. We need that knowledge and we need to be able to have applications that are scientifically based, that are evidence-based, that are mind-brained training, mind-directed neuroplasticity. In other words, in English, you need to know mental hygiene. You need to know how to manage your mind, mental self-care. 

So part of this is we need to understand our mindsets. Your mindset is a way that we set our mind. When your mind is set is your attitude. It's a state of mind. And I have researched 15 different mindsets, and I'm just going to tell you about one of them. And that is these mindsets need to literally be put on during the day, in the morning. They take 15 seconds to put on, but they will transform your life. 

When you adopt a thinker mindset . . . and I talk about these in depth in this book with activation tips and examples. But essentially, mindsets are states of mind. It's how you set your mind. You set your mind into deep thinking. When you think deeply, you give your brain a rest and you enable the network of your brain to function at an incredibly high level. 

Another one, when you have a possibilities mindset, it means that as you go through the day, you don't see things that you don't achieve, or you don't see things that go wrong, or you don't see failures as failures, but you see those as knowledge gained. So a possibilities mindset is, "Okay, well, this is my goal for the day, but now I haven't achieved it. I'm not going to freak out. I'm going to see this as more knowledge that I've gained, more evidence to help me through."

So these mindsets are essential clothing that we need to clothe ourselves in. Fifteen seconds in the morning that, literally, you could put these on to guide you through getting the right mindset for the day, which is an essential first step in mental health care. 

So as leaders . . . and I'm almost done. As leaders, what should we be doing? We need to become educated about the mind and the brain so you can educate. We need to focus on community. We function in deep, meaningful connections. When we connect with each other and support each other, we activate resilience buttons in the brain. 

We literally switch on genetic codes in the brain that enable us to be able to cope with the day, to help each other, to access wisdom. Otherwise, you block wisdom. Your blood vessels around your heart will constrict. You will have less blood flow into your brain and less oxygen in your brain, if you don't adopt the correct stress mindset, if you don't get the knowledge about understanding this mind-brain connection. 

We need to destigmatize anxiety and depression and stop seeing it as illnesses and start seeing it for what it is, a normal part of the human condition. We need to help build each other's team stress resilience through the interaction that we have with each other. 

There are various different mental self-care techniques that I teach in all materials. The biggest thing is to self-regulate your thinking, mental autopsy, which is analyzing every 10 seconds, I teach you how to do this, re-conceptualizing, etc., all these things. So, basically, we need to learn to tune into the signals of our body. 

In conclusion, we need to learn to use our mind, our thinking, feeling, and choosing, to tune into the signals of our body. This is all mental self-care. This is self-regulation. This is mental autopsy. 

We need to ask the why questions. Why am I feeling like this? We need to then evaluate . . . as you see over there, write these down to be going beyond mindfulness. We need to reflect on this information, and we need to edit this information, and we need to have an active constructive way forward. 

Now, this is a simple five-step process that is in my books. I'm releasing this app literally in a few days' time that walks you through this process. This is mental self-care. This is mental hygiene. This contains everything that I've just said literally in a nutshell, helping you to be able to process the power of your mind and take you into the next level.

  You cannot control the events and circumstances of your life, but you can control your reactions. And until you recognize the power of your mind to control your brain, you're going to always be controlled by the extrinsic. You are so powerful. You are so brilliant. You can control your reactions. You can use your mind to change your brain. It's in your control. Thank you so much.
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Dr. Caroline Leaf

Caroline holds a master’s and a Ph.D. in communication pathology and a bachelor’s in logopaedics, specializing in cognitive and metacognitive neuropsychology. Since the early 1980s, Caroline has researched the mind-brain connection, t...

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