Known for her provocative TEDx Talk, bestselling author and cognitive neuroscientist Dr. Caroline Leaf shares how our thoughts affect our brains — for better, or worse. Don’t miss a single episode of Dinner Conversations — subscribe below!


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Mark: Welcome to another episode of Dinner Conversations, and today, our guest that you’re sitting down and talking with is Dr. Caroline Leaf. And we first learned of her when Danny Gokey was here.

Andrew: That’s right. One of her books was a huge resource for Danny moving out of depression. And she talks a lot about mind over matter, that the brain and the mind, okay, get this, are not necessarily the same thing, that the mind, you have elements and options, you have choices you can make, no matter what the brain is telling you. That this is conditioned, and this one is more mobile. And she comes from a spiritual perspective. It sounds academic, but she makes it very relatable. She’s a South African woman and a beautiful accent, and I got to sit down with her while she was in Nashville for a speaking engagement. So I think a really incredible conversation, but what I’m remembering is our friend Patsy Clairmont said to me one time, “Your feelings are real, but they don’t always tell the truth.”

Mark: Oh!

Andrew: And I think that’s really the heart of what Dr. Caroline Leaf has to talk through with us today.

Mark: Well, I’m looking forward to this conversation, and we’ve got one seat left at the table, and it’s yours. Let’s join the conversation.

Andrew: So the first thing I really want to introduce our audience to, because I’m not sure that all of them have heard this term, in fact, I was just introduced to the term, neuroplasticity, maybe a couple years ago, and then, it’s come into the conversation more recently. So give me just an overview. I know you’ve been in the science of thought, your research and your studies have been on this mind-brain connection for years, but tell me, what does neuroplasticity mean?

Dr. Leaf: Okay, so neuroplasticity as a term came to be late 90s with the advent of the MRI and various different types of brain technology. So prior to that, it was around obviously but not as dominant until the technology came along. And what it basically means is neuro stands for brain and plastic means change, you know, it’s malleable. So it’s the concept of the brain can change, the brain’s not fixed. And it was a radical concept because up until, honestly, up till mid-90s, it was considered that the brain couldn’t change. And I did my initial research in the 80s, and I didn’t agree with that philosophy. I just thought it’s impossible because you could change your mind, obviously you change your behavior–

Andrew: Sure.

Dr. Leaf: Obviously your brain’s gotta change. So I challenged that very early on in the 80s, and I was actually told by a lot of professors that I was ridiculous, and brain researchers are ridiculous to say that your brain can change. And I said, “Well, let me take the worst situation and show you that if you use your mind, you’ll change your brain.” So, I worked with people with traumatic brain injury, which at that time, I worked with a lot of different, but I chose to do that initial research with people with traumatic brain injury because in the 80s, the brain, that kind of damage, was considered irreversible. So anyone with very traumatic brain damages, likely from a car accident, or something like that, they were considered, well, there’s not much you could do for them, so just teach them to compensate. And there was very little research being done to help them. So, I said, “Well, this is a really good case,” and it’s like a scenario where they absolutely are convinced nothing can change really, and worked with them, and I showed them that if you teach someone to use their mind in a very deliberate way the brain will change. Which, by implication, the mind and the brain are separate. And that worked. I showed over and over again that when you use your mind, your brain would change, and that’s neuroplasticity. So it’s considered some of the early work in neuroplasticity, the work that I did, and just to show you that with your mind, you can actually transform the structure of your brain and change the structure of your brain. Which is really nice to work.

Andrew: It’s fascinating, so you’re saying in the history of research and medicine around the brain, saying that it could not change, so this tradition was an idea of coping.

Dr. Leaf: Yes.

Andrew: Rather than actually…

Dr. Leaf: They called it compensation versus restoration. They didn’t believe people could restore original function. They believed you had to just give people ways around dealing with the issue. So that was very negative, and it came from a 350 dominant philosophy, on what we call materialism or reductionism. Which is focused on the physical. And where, it’s like the brain, what they focused on was that the brain produced the mind, the brain was everything, the mind didn’t exist, you couldn’t see it, so it wasn’t important, it was some sort of artifact of brain function. And free will doesn’t exist. And it’s still a very dominant philosophy today, which is very awkward. I mean not awkward, it’s very sad, because it creates a very negative impact on how people function. But that’s what I’ve countered, and a lot of researchers have countered, and there’s a big split in the world of science in terms of understanding this concept of neuroplasticity and how the mind can change the brain. So what you’ll find is that a lot of scientists that are still pro-the-brain-being-the-big-thing and the mind being the, they’ll call it promissory materialism. One day when we can prove that the mind is a physical thing, then maybe we’ll consider it. For now, it’s just the side effect. And those people will focus on saying things like, “The brain changes itself.” But the brain can’t change itself, because if you did, the brain can do absolutely nothing. So the factor that’s changing the brain is a person’s ability to think, and that’s confirmed by quantum physics, for example, which is considered the most accurate of sciences. So it’s a very interesting concept, neuroplasticity. It just gives us hope. All of that science just tells us that, really, we can change. When we change our mind, we change our brain, we change our life, really.

Andrew: Yeah, what I hear, and that is hope, exactly. When you said hope, I was just thinking, if the brain is the end-all, be-all, and there’s not this opportunity for us to change our behaviors, there’s kind of a mind over matter thing to some degree, then that’s, to me, a more despairing position to live as a human. You know, ’cause–

Dr. Leaf: Absolutely. I didn’t choose to have a brain, but I do have a brain. So, what you’re saying enlists a lot of hope. I still think there’s this association like, I love that you said this: Your mind controls your brain, your brain does not control

Both: you.

Andrew: So there’s still this, and you’ve spoken to this already some, but there’s still this direct association for a lot of people, just in language or that mind-brain, we’re talking about the same thing.

Dr. Leaf: Yes.

Andrew: Do you think these are two very different things, because if the mind is able to control the brain, so we’re not just a result of…

Dr. Leaf:  The firing of our neurons?

Andrew: Right.

Dr. Leaf: Which is basically what materialism, reductionism, they go together. Materialism is a reductionistic philosophy that basically says the physical, reduce down to the physical. That’s what reductionism means, so materialism means the focus on the physical. So when you have that concept, then they think the brain’s everything. Most people, when you mention brain, they think it’s mind, mind-brain. It’s been so ingrained as a culture that people don’t realize that they’re separate. So, we have a concept called interactive dualism, which falls under a philosophy of idealism, which all those fancy words simply mean that your mind and your brain work together, but they’re separate. Separate entities, and so your mind would be considered the non-physical part of you, so the spiritual part of you. And it’s got different components. And then you’ve got your physical, which is your brain and your body, which collectively are around about 75 to 100 trillion cells. So you’ve got this incredible brain and body, and then you’ve got this non-physical huge part of us as humanity. And then the mind works through the brain and needs the brain to be able to store the memories in and uses the brain to express. So we need the physical, so the mind needs the physical, the physical feeds back into the mind. So they’re separate but integrated and completely reliant on each other. So we have to pay attention to both. You can’t ignore the one because it will be at the expense of the other.

Andrew: And that’s nothing new, necessarily, to think about the connection mind-body-spirit.

Dr. Leaf: No, not at all, not from a Christian perspective.

Andrew: Right!

Dr. Leaf: Or a spiritual worldview, which is very much idealism. Which is very much, that’s completely normal, and also your Eastern mysticism, et cetera. Basically, most people… It’s just the hardcore scientific community that has got a very dominant materialistic philosophy. They’d still keep trying to stick around the… But the arguments are being flawed, literally being flawed as we speak, because the more they do the research, the more they’re reliant on a human actually doing something. So, you thinking right now, if we had to link you up to an MRI machine, or an fMRI, or SPECT technology, or EEG, whatever technology, we would see a response in your brain.

Andrew: We may see nothing.

Dr. Leaf: And I think we’ll see lots, all right. I know we’re going to see lots. But if you were dead, we wouldn’t see a response, and that’s the difference. And if we did see a response, it would be an artifact because there is no action in the brain, and there’s a lot of, so you know, that’s another whole…

Andrew: Sure.

Dr. Leaf: So the point here is that your brain responds to your mind. And what’s happened in this world is that we’ve had a tremendous focus on the physical first at the expense of the spiritual in terms of the scientific discoveries of how we function as humans. And it impacts at psychology and philosophy and education and medicine to the detriment of humanity. And we’ve seen that detriment playing out now in our current culture.

Andrew: How are you seeing that play out in your opinion?

Dr. Leaf: Well, people are dying. Yes, people are dying 15 to 25 years younger now in this advanced state of history from preventable lifestyle diseases, which is insane. So here we’re at our most advanced peak in terms of technology, medicine, developments, you know. It’s incredible what we are discovering and what has been discovered, but we’re at the worst. In the last 50 years, there’s been a reversal in the trend. So, for decades, people were living longer because of the advances in medicine and technology. But around about 2014, between 2014 and 2015, the trend reversed. So instead of people dying, living longer, the trend reversed, people are dying younger. And the trend has got worse, and they track it back to about 50 years ago when there was a major shift in philosophy, and that philosophy was how we manage our minds and how we eat. So those two things, which are–

Andrew: I knew you were gonna bring that up. (laughing)

Dr. Leaf: You knew. Which are two lifestyle factors, so when we talk about lifestyle, we’re talking about what people are doing with their mind. You know, it’s living, it’s life.

Andrew: Well, we have choice, and–

Dr. Leaf: Exactly, every moment that you’re awake you are using your mind, and when you’re asleep, you’re using your mind but differently. So as human beings, we are always thinking. So that’s the one effect if you don’t think correctly and manage your mind correctly, we’re going to have issues. And if we don’t feed our bodies, ’cause you can’t live without food correctly. Your body will get damaged. So that’s what they’re tracking it to. So there’s been a reversal in trends. So when you apply very materialistic physical, reductionistic principles, you’re gonna land up with what was predicted, which is with people dying younger than they should, reversal of trends. So we’ve gotta reverse that back again.

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Andrew: Talk about the food a little bit because, you know, on our show we have a lot of food. And it is typically farm-to-table.

Dr. Leaf: That’s good, that’s what you want, yeah.

Andrew: How do you make… What kind of adjustments are easy adjustments? You can talk some about the philosophy behind it, we can talk about even some of the specific detail of what is good and what is not, what our bodies can use, what our minds can use, what they cannot. But if you were just to break it down real quick, what are some easy options for people in our culture today in 2018 for eating lifestyle?

Dr. Leaf: Okay, well it’s actually quite a simple answer. It’s all got to do with your first question, which is neuroplasticity.

Andrew: Okay.

Dr. Leaf: So that the fact that your mind can change your brain. So we see mind as dominant, and it’s dominant in eating, too. So your mind, as I’ve explained how the mind changes the brain, your mind actually controls your digestive system. So the benefit that you get from any food is based 80 percent on your state of mind. So that’s why I have a book called Think and Eat Yourself Smart, where it’s thinking. I think eating is very, very cognitive. It’s very cognitive and meta-cognitive, which means that, in order for your body to digest, in order for all the parts of your digestive system to work, you have to be in a healthy frame of mind. So that’s a very big factor, so you could be eating the healthiest food, if you’re toxic, you’re going to not get the nutrients from that food. If you’re toxic in your mind and you’re eating toxic food, you’ve got a double-whammy. And this is what is contributing a lot to people’s lifestyle issues. Okay, that’s one thing. There’s one rule for eating. And that is eat real food, mindfully. See, so you eat real food, and then, what is real food? Real food is food that is not made in a factory. It’s food that’s grown without pesticides and herbicides. And, you know, farm-to-table, organic. Without all the hormones. Animals that are allowed to roam free, that kind of stuff. And that completely transforms how the food, the content of the nutrient value of the food. Also, whole, minimally processed, you know, it’s very logical, it’s eat in the most logical way possible. And not eat, if something’s in a package, and it says, they have to justify the food by fortified, this is added, that’s added, that’s added. You know, I think God did okay when he created this Earth and gave us–

Andrew: Sure.

Dr. Leaf: We don’t need to fix orange or fix apple or, you know, fix the cow that’s been walking and roaming in the pasture. Their body’s got the perfect balance of omega-6 or whatever it is that we need. So the principle’s very logical. So our mind has a huge role in the food choices we make, plays a huge role. So if you’re constantly watching food ads, reading all the food ads, which our culture’s consumed by them, but if you’re not careful, that will become part of your mental network. And then that influences your decisions. So, you’re hungry, so you just grab the first thing, ’cause of its recognition value, as opposed to thinking it through, and that’s why I say mindfully. You need to bring in the mindful component in terms of, one, am I making that food choice, is that healthy for me? Am I gonna bother to find out why it’s actually not healthy for me? What is it doing when I eat, if I have a soda, to my body? What is it actually doing? Am I actually, and then when I’m feeling bad. Is it because I’ve actually damaged my brain and my body from this? And you kind of throw your computer on the ground and expect it to work. And that’s what you’re doing when you eat bad food. So it’s a simple philosophy. It’s eat real food, mindfully. For example, if you are just that whole… If you’re bitter or unforgiving in the example I mentioned earlier, your pancreas is part of your digestive system, one of the parts, it has multiple parts. But it plays a very important role related to emotions and eating. And it secretes 20 different peptides that are required for assimilation of nutrients, as well as controlling whether you’re hungry or full. So when you eat toxic food, that whole process gets damaged. If you’re in a toxic mindset, that process gets damaged. And if the pancreas doesn’t work properly, the whole digestive system’s thrown out of sync. So this is just examples.

Andrew: So then you’re getting hungry at all times, or more frequently, or–

Dr. Leaf: And the wrong foods, so we need to think about the food we’re eating. We need to think about the emotional state we’re in when we’re eating. And that’s what I trained in Think and Eat Yourself Smart, to try and help people to actually bring that, to assimilate that. But people think, Oh, you know, well, I’ll just eat what I want and say grace, and it’ll change it. You know, God’s not a genie. I say to people. It doesn’t work like that. We have to take responsibility for our thought life, what we choose, what we choose to eat, what we choose to think about.

Andrew: Well, everything’s coming back to thoughtfulness. Which I–

Dr. Leaf: Absolutely!

Andrew: I love, the home I grew up in, I feel like was always like, “What are your options, what are your choices, you have a brain,” you know? And maybe my parents let me have a mind because I remember they were saying, in their mind, “You can pray about something, and there’s maybe within that a communion with God that’s important for a holistic aspect of living. But as far as the decisions I’m making every day, small decisions that have large outcomes. Let’s say, you know, you can help do that, et cetera.

Dr. Leaf: Absolutely! Thinking has got three elements to it. And thinking is you actually activate the process of responding to a signal, you start feeling emotions, and you make a choice. That’s the third part. So I always say, “Think, feel, choose.” And I explain that in The Perfect You book. I talk a lot about that there. So when you understand this three-part thing, you realize that, oh, I’m doing that all day long, I’m always reacting. And science shows us that you can control those reactions, that thinking, feeling, and choosing literally consciously every ten seconds. 

Andrew: Is that a sequence?

Dr. Leaf: A sequence, it happens all the time, so it’s happening very fast. And we can be consciously aware of that every ten seconds. We can train ourselves. We can train, which is phenomenal, but that’s the–

Andrew: And we don’t go crazy?

Dr. Leaf: Seeking after the fiction. No, because we’re actually doing it anyway.

Andrew: Okay.

Dr. Leaf: But we can tend to be reactive instead of proactive. So I’m shifting the thing, be proactive unless you, because you’re always thinking. You’re always feeling and you’re always choosing. Every moment, you’re thinking, feeling, and choosing right now. So it’s the quality of that. You can be proactive in the quality.

Andrew: Yeah, I wonder if that’s a little bit like in my counseling, there’s a element of forecasting based on my experience in the past, and my reactions–

Dr. Leaf: Absolutely

Andrew: Or my natural like, here’s my knee-jerk reaction, here’s what I’d like my reaction to be.

Dr. Leaf: Exactly. That’s exactly it because what’s happened in the past is part of your story. So then when you reconceptualize it, say, “Okay, well, this is where I’m at, this is the issue, this is the bad choice, this is the toxic results that’s pulled me down into that place of depression or anxiety,” which are simply adjectives for describing how you feel at that moment. They’re not diseases, they’re adjectives. And if you hang onto an adjective, it’s much easier because you can change your adjective. It’s simply a description. Whereas if it’s a disease, you feel helpless. So it’s hopeful to realize this is an adjective, a description, a big umbrella adjective of something that I have gone through, or a multitude of things that I’ve gone through. And if you can identify them over a process, you don’t ask why but you identify, to recognize them as triggers and you reconceptualize them. So you don’t forget about them, you don’t suppress them. They shape you, they’re part of your story, but you take them out of the Imperfect You zone into the Perfect You zone, now they’re your story. Or to quote Christianese, they’re now your testimony. Your trials become your testimony, to use words that people are familiar with.

Mark: Man, I’m enjoying this conversation. It makes me think about, I’ve always heard all my life, that we come from original sin. And I’ve always suspected that we really came from original virtue. And come to find out, a pastor recently pointed out to me that Genesis 1:3 is where the fall happens. But Genesis 1:1 is when God said, “It is good, it is good. It is good, it is good.” You started out good, you started out a winner. You beat 500 million others to the first race you had. You made it to the egg first! You were born a winner!

Andrew: You talking about sperm?

Mark: I don’t even know!

Andrew: I do agree though. I love that idea of original virtue. I first heard that from you.

Mark: Yes, original virtue.

Andrew: Because that is working, I think–

Mark: We were infected by sin. We come from God. We were originally virtuous. That’s what I think.

Andrew: And that gives us something to work towards, not to avoid. We don’t just have to avoid sin. We can work towards our virtuous self, which I believe is our reflection.

Mark: Found in Jesus!

Andrew: That’s right! So we’re gonna continue the conversation with Dr. Caroline Leaf, again talking about mind over matter and talking about this interesting concept of the Perfect You.

Andrew: I’ve got several more things to talk about, and most are to ask about The Perfect You, you know, that title, you’ve referenced that a couple times, moving from the Imperfect You zone to the Perfect You zone. That title’s intimidating at first. Like, when I first, and maybe that’s messages that have been implanted in us, like, I can’t be perfect, I am not perfect yet. I’m gonna set this up. At the same time, I have had a strongly held belief since I was a child that we are created good by our good Creator. And now you have this conversation of original sin versus original virtue, which you hear a lot about, and that can be a whole other theological conversation.

Dr. Leaf: Absolutely.

Andrew: But I tend to lean into the original virtue because I believe that gives us something to become rather than not to be.

Dr. Leaf: Exactly.

Andrew: You know? So maybe just explain a little bit the title The Perfect You because it feels daunting.

Dr. Leaf: You set that up really well. And I did that on purpose because I’m so tired of people saying, “I’m not perfect, you know,” as an excuse to continue that behavior. And it does become an excuse, where you can think, “Oh, well it’s,” you know, from a Christianese perspective, “It’s original sin, it’s there, it’s in my DNA,

Andrew: It’s how I was made.

Dr. Leaf: “I’m gonna keep myself down.” You know, there’s a hopelessness built in that’s very materialistic. It’s Christians becoming materialists and reducing God’s power in them to something that they feel that they can’t control. Meanwhile, if you look really at humanity, what we have, it’s structurally, let’s look at… Let me try and make this as simple as I can. Scientifically, as I mentioned earlier on, there isn’t anything physically inside of us that’s designed to handle anything that’s toxic. So anything that is not of a love nature, so fighting, anger, irritation, murder, all that bad stuff, from whatever gradient, the whole scale of bad, there’s nothing in us to handle that. There’s no wiring. We don’t have fear circuits. We don’t have irritation circuits. We don’t have alcohol circuits. We don’t have ADHD circuits. That’s nonsense that we’ve been sold as a general culture. And I say culture ’cause it’s a global cultural phenomenon. What we have is beautiful, perfect, physical natures that have the power of the mind that simply changes the physical nature. So the mind is where the power is residing to actually damage the physical nature. And so therefore, where does original sin come in? Every time you make a decision, you wire that physically into your brain. So, every thought is real, real, built on memory. They’re not just an ethereal thing. They are very real structural components made of protein and chemicals and neurotransmitters, and you build them. And you mentioned earlier on in the first question, or the second question, it’s that mind over matter thing. It totally is mind over matter. Your mind creates matter. So what you create does matter. Because when you are thinking, feeling, and choosing, as you choose, you cause your DNA to express. So, the thinking, feeling part is generating action in your brain, a signal. When you choose, that is like switching on the light. It causes genes to express, and they make stuff. And that stuff eventually becomes proteins, and eventually becomes structures in your brain that look like trees. And they hold the imprints in this quantum format inside little computers in your brain, of your thoughts. So your thoughts are held as quantum action inside proteins that are like little neurobiological computers. So what I’m going to here is a lot of detail of the physical nature of thoughts, that you build them. And they’re constantly changing, they’re constantly being redesigned by every moment that you think about those things. They are open to change, that’s neuroplasticity. So now we’re going full circle.

Andrew: Full circle, yeah.

Dr. Leaf: Okay, so, that’s the Perfect You nature. So we see from the fields of psycho-neuroimmunology and epigenetics and many different fields, we see a direct link between incorrect thinking and physical damage in the brain and the body, producing mind and physical issues. That there is so much science confirming that. It’s an absolutely accepted science.

Andrew: Sure.

Dr. Leaf: Now this passes through the generations. So, every thought that you think, undealt with or dealt with, passes through the DNA, so that little physical structure passes through the DNA, through the sperm and the ova to the next generation and the next generation and the next generation. So it either passes through dealt with or undealt with, but it passes through. So when you talk about original sin in the Christianese, in science we’re talking about the imprints that have come through our DNA. But they are asleep. So what you have inside of you when you’re born, is the propensity to act in certain ways because of the familial pattern, but it doesn’t mean you’re going to.

Andrew: So it’s like a clean slate…

Dr. Leaf: You have perfection.

Andrew: Okay.

Dr. Leaf: And on top of it, you have experience that’s come through the generations. Because we are leaving imprints as we move through generations. We imprint each other. God set us up as having entanglement, which is a quantum term for “we’re connected,” and we influence. In Him we live, move, and have our being, so that connection is built amongst humanity. So we connect, we affect each other. That’s why we need each other. That’s why you recognized deep down, you needed community when you were going through that, ’cause you knew that that was going to be one of the key factors in your healing. Every year, annually, more people die from loneliness than any other disease known to mankind.

Andrew: Like just their heart stops? Or because then they behave, they react in a–

Dr. Leaf: Loneliness, being alone. Loneliness, cutting people off. They might be with people but not connecting.

Andrew: And that literally–

Dr. Leaf: Lack of love, locking out love, et cetera, so that the whole, it’s… Loneliness has got a lot of different components, but it’s basically lack of love. So more people are dying from that than anything else. So the core thing here is what we need to understand is that we’re not designed for, we’re not wired for fear and all that stuff, we are wired for love. So our Perfect You nature, that’s our core. Stuff comes through from the generations, that’s your original sin. It’s a propensity, it’s not an actuality. So you decide–

Andrew: You have choice.

Dr. Leaf: You have choice. You could say, “Ooh gosh, my family’s like this, so I’m gonna be like this.” Just the fear, you may not even verbalize it. But you may have that anxious thought inside your head. And that anxious thought inside your head is sufficient to explode that in your brain and activate it.

Andrew: That feeds it, yeah.

Dr. Leaf: So it comes alive. This physical structure that’s asleep, like a cocoon. You know how butterfly is— Before it’s a butterfly, it’s in a cocoon?

Andrew: Mm-hm.

Dr. Leaf: Okay, that is how it comes through, cocooned. So you can either destroy that cocoon or you can activate and release, but it’s not a butterfly that comes out, it’s a distorted version of a butterfly. I just wanted to give that an adage or something. ‘Cause people think, Oh, well, if it’s come through, I have no control. You have absolute control over everything that has passed through generations. And that’s what we’re not taught.

Andrew: I mean, and there, you think about the, what is it, the sins of our forefathers, or whatever. It’s kind of alluding to what you’re saying, that there’s these imprints

Dr. Leaf: The sins of our forefathers ran through to the third and the fourth generation. But the scriptures also say we’re not responsible for our father’s sins.

Andrew: Yes.

Dr. Leaf: So that means that we are not gonna be held accountable for what your dad or your grandfather or grandmother or whatever did. But you’re accountable for what you do with that pattern.

Andrew: Which again, reiterates that we all have choice.

Dr. Leaf: Responsibility.

Andrew: Yes, which does then, which I think, culturally, so, it’s hard for me to even wrap my, there’s so many nuances culturally now, of how we think, how we encourage others and ourselves to behave and to respond. But I keep thinking then in our current culture that a little bit of, like, I feel like we’re diminishing ourselves as humans a bit.

Dr. Leaf: Oh, absolutely. We’ve lost our humanity to a certain extent.

Andrew: We’re not just mammals walking around. Like we are these unique individuals, which I believe is a very spiritual thing. And so I keep thinking that, it’s almost, it’s like in a culture that seems to prize choice, actually we have very little choice or would exercise it.

Dr. Leaf: We’re told we, we’re told we have very little choice. And that comes through from the 350-year dominant materialistic philosophy. It started back with Newton, and Newton never intended this to happen ’cause he was very much all about human choice. And classical physics and materialism, all that stuff that focuses on the physical, has turned us into biological, well, not turned us into, ’cause you’ll never remove that, but it says that we, basically indicates that we are like a robot, like a biological automaton, and that we have no choice, and it’s pre-programmed in our genes. And out of that comes the whole philosophy of how you should manage mind issues. So, we have our beautiful bodies, we have God giving us this phenomenal medicine to help us understand how to fix when things are broken. That works, it’s called the biomedical model. So we can use materialism and reductionism when it comes to the actual treatment of a physical ailment. But the cause behind the physical ailment cannot be treated in the same way as a biomedical model. So you can’t treat the physical means in the same way as you treat the mind. The mind and the body need two different treatments. They’re interactive, but they need two different treatments. So this whole cultural thing you’re speaking about now, if I see you as a robot, and you have depression, I’m gonna say to you, “You have a disease, and it’s in your genes, or there’s a neurobiologic.” There’s no science for that, there’s no science proving, even though you’re told that it’s a chemical imbalance, there’s absolutely zero science confirming that. Billions of dollars later, there’s absolutely no confirmation of that, and there never will be because it’s impossible because of the uniqueness of humanity and because depression is not a disease. Depression is an adjective. Anxiety is an adjective. Schizophrenia is an adjective. These are descriptions of people’s behaviors as a result of an issue that has been a reaction to life circumstances.

Andrew: But they may have had a propensity for, you’re saying, may be born with…

Dr. Leaf: Maybe a propensity, a propensity-

Andrew: Or they went through stuff.

Dr. Leaf: By still making sure, circumstantial things that, based on how we respond.

Andrew: Well, it is. I mean, this is how important our choice is.

Dr. Leaf: Well, it is, it is, and even if there’s so much of an intention, because you think of a child who’s abused or a young girl that’s trafficked, or something like that. They’re going to obviously have toxic issues in their brain. They’re going to have damage because they’re going through very abnormal situations, and they’re doing their best to cope, et cetera, but it’s frightening and terrible. Now that’s, you can’t blame them for that. They’re a victim, but they’ve got stuff in their brain that’s going to increase their vulnerability. To tell that person that they have a disease of depression is an insult to their humanity. What we need to recognize is, What’s your story? What happened, that you got to the place that you couldn’t get out of bed? What is your story? How can I connect with you as a human? How can I love you enough to help you feel that you’re not gonna be judged, that you can actually tell your story, and that, as humanity, we can love each other, to help each other face our issues, when we do that, we can then fix and change our choices. So you can’t change the past, but you can change the way that the past, the process of the past, plays out in your mind. See that?

Andrew: Yes.

Dr. Leaf: That’s reconceptualization.

Andrew: Yeah.

Dr. Leaf: You cannot change the past, but you can change the way that the process of the past plays out in your mind. And that brings healing into your brain and your body, and helps you to cope and puts you back in the Perfect You nature. So you’re using your Perfect You nature, which is this powerful part of us, to reconceptualize what’s happened and our bad decisions and our reactions. So we’re proactively redesigning how our life has played out up to this point.

Andrew: I’ve heard, one of the most empowering things for a human to know, that no matter what their circumstances are, they have options, choice.

Dr. Leaf: Oh, absolutely. 

Andrew: That that is the most empowering thing. So, to continue to realize that, what I hear is, again, we cannot change every one of our circumstances, we don’t choose, maybe, every one of our circumstances, but to choose how we respond and to choose how we move forward from circumstances, that’s completely our decision.

Dr. Leaf: Absolutely.

Andrew: And our opportunity

Dr. Leaf: Absolutely.

Andrew: And our responsibility.

Dr. Leaf: Absolutely. I always say that one of the things, people that know me have heard me say this a million times, that you cannot control the events and circumstances of your life, you can’t. ‘Cause they’re the result of other people’s choices. But you can control your reactions. And so in the moment, you may not be able to control, you know, your reaction in the moment will be self-defense, whatever that is. And obviously, if it’s a traumatic experience, it’s fear, et cetera. But there is a point where you can start learning how to control and change those. So you’ve got power over that, so that your past doesn’t own you.

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Mark: Yeah! So when we have our next conversation, you can have coffee with us. Let’s get back to the conversation.

Andrew: Let me ask you a quick question about–

Dr. Leaf: Quick question? You sure that anything I answer’s quick?

Andrew: Yeah, I know, I got two more. Okay, when I think back to growing up, I’m interested in kind of reflecting this in how we rear our children, or the messages we tell them, or how we help them help…

Both: Themselves.

Andrew: Right? Sometimes, with my, I was the youngest of three boys, and my mother’s a very practical woman, is not ruled by her emotions at all. I feel like she makes decisions. So she would probably sit down with us and go, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” But I would say she’d enlist a lot of what we’re talking about. Maybe it’s a little easier for her, more natural, and maybe she had more of the propensity for that than some negative things. But she was fine with encouraging me to ignore my brothers in certain things, just ignore them. Is that a way… I do feel I still do that as an adult. There’s times where I, instead of reacting to an intense feeling, like maybe I feel left out, maybe I feel like I don’t belong, maybe that’s even communicated to me, instead of responding immediately to that, I don’t know that I ignore it because I feel like I try to be a fairly self-aware person, but I may not respond to it right in that moment as a way of, I think, to maybe to keep hostility down or to keep from having a violent response or to check my anger or whatever. Is ignoring ever an option? (laughs)

Dr. Leaf: All you’re doing with ignoring is you’re still reacting.

Andrew: Okay.

Dr. Leaf: So, you’ve chosen, but you’ve done something that’s protective. So when you ignore, what you’re ignoring, is you’ve gotta define ignore. Ignore is not the same as suppress.

Andrew: Okay.

Dr. Leaf: Suppress wouldn’t help.

Andrew: Okay.

Dr. Leaf: Suppress if you don’t explode, you can’t avoid a situation forever in your life. You can’t pretend something didn’t happen to you. It’s happened. So if someone is being unkind or nasty or bullying or whatever, and you’re living under those conditions, when you ignore it, what you’re doing is protecting your spirit. So, it’s kind of like putting on a suit of armor and deflecting and not allowing it to go into you, and I think that’s what your mom was telling you, was that you mustn’t take what people say to you, the teasing, whatever it was, and take that into your spirit. Because, and that’s Christianese. Scientifically, you were thinking about it, you were feeling it, and you’re choosing, so therefore, you’re building a physical structure in your brain that said, “I’m feeling this fear, this anxiety, this worry, this is horrible.”

Andrew: Sure.

Dr. Leaf: This is terrible, whatever, you’re building that thing, and then you think about it. And whatever you think about grows. And when it grows, it gets energy, so then it becomes a dominant pattern of thinking. So that it blocks your ability to function. So your mom was telling you, don’t allow that to happen. She may not have known the scientific description, but that’s essentially what you’re doing when you ignore. So you’ve gotta have ignore in terms of, am I ignoring to protect? Am I recognizing and not allowing that to penetrate? Or am I ignoring in terms of suppressing?

Andrew: Sure, and to have an opportunity, with both my parents, there was always opportunities to talk about anything.

Dr. Leaf: That’s great.

Andrew: If you can say to a child, “Ignore”…

Dr. Leaf: Very important.

Andrew: Which, meaning deflect, but hey, we can talk about it. How’s that make you feel?

Dr. Leaf: Exactly.

Andrew: Okay, so all of this, I hear love feeds love, fear feeds fear. No wonder we have a culture of fear because seems we feed that. But when I think, okay, when I think in the Christianese, we often, again, we tend to diminish self-help, we tend to run the other way, so self-help is, we don’t wanna do things ourselves kinda thing, we have to just–

Dr. Leaf: Always been trained, we’ve been trained wrong.

Andrew: It’s just a message, right?

Dr. Leaf: Yeah.

Andrew: But what we’ve talked about with several different guests this season is that actually to better myself, to be more aware of myself, to strive for health in my mind, in my emotions, and in my body is actually to help better everyone else in my vicinity.

Dr. Leaf: Oh, absolutely.

Andrew: Is that true, how is that, you know?

Dr. Leaf: Oh yes, no, that’s a totally– Spiritually we know that, we’re designed for community, we’re designed to help each other. We’re designed to operate in love, you know, all those principles… Paul in Ephesians, in the first few chapters of Ephesians, Paul talks about our identity, so, the Perfect You. And then, from then on, from about chapter four onwards, Paul talks about what this looks like in community. So, scripturally, it’s totally instinctively we also know. Scientifically, absolutely, we have a principle called entanglement that I briefly mentioned in one of the answers earlier on, which is a principle in quantum physics. It’s the primary law of quantum physics, and it’s the law of relationship. Entanglement means relationship. So, in particles, on a scientific level, when particles are put into relationship with each other, you can separate them huge distances, and they still are connected. So if one does something, the other one does it at the same time. So there’s this across time and space gap that seems to disappear because of the nature of relationships. So we see that principle playing out in science, and we can translate that back into humanity. So, yeah.

Andrew: So science and spirituality is not disconnected by anyone.

Dr. Leaf: I don’t know why anyone ever said in the first place, we all acknowledge God created everything.

Andrew: Yeah, so he–

Dr. Leaf: Science simply tells us how it works.

Andrew: Right.

Dr. Leaf: It’s the most logical thing. I never understand that illogic. It’s almost as though sometimes the Christian world has completely taken the intelligence out of their functioning.

Andrew: Right.

Dr. Leaf: And turned into robots, quoting Christianese. And that may sound harsh, but if you think about what you’re saying, you would think differently and say things differently. You know what I’m saying? I’m talking–

Andrew: Oh, I agree, I just wanted you to say it! (laughing) No, I totally agree, yeah, it’s, in my mind, science only opens us up more to the beautiful mystery that is God, and the fact is, we’ll never get to the end of Him. You know, so it’s just more for us to discover and uncover. And, again, what I hear, bring back to the Perfect You, is to find our own, to discover, to uncover our Perfect You is really to engage in the world around us and helping everyone discover the Perfect You.

Dr. Leaf: Absolutely. 

Andrew: Thank you.

Dr. Leaf: Pleasure, thank you.

Andrew: Yeah! I love it, I could do this all day, I think we’re getting good at the time. (laughing)

Mark: Thank you, Dr. Caroline Leaf, for that incredible conversation.

Andrew: Yeah, I had a great conversation, so grateful, and we hope you’ll join us next time, right here on Dinner Conversations.

Mark: Turning the light on, one question at a time.

Mark: Now one time I was at the airport, and I passed the bookstore, and I saw that, The Perfect You, and I thought, someone has written my biography.

Andrew: I think the only way there would be a book titled The Perfect You that would be about you would be if it was an autobiography.

Mark: (groans) I got it. That means I wrote it, right?

Andrew: Yeah!

Mark: Well, we sure hope you’ve enjoyed this episode with Dr. Caroline Leaf.

Andrew: Yeah, she’s smart.

Mark: She’s very smart.

Andrew: You can find one of our favorite books of hers, The Perfect You, through our Amazon affiliate links in our episode description.

Mark: And if you wanna binge watch all of Season Two of Dinner Conversations, you can do that right now on Amazon Prime.

Andrew: So thanks for watching Dinner Conversations with

Mark: Mark Lowry.

Andrew: And Andrew Greer.

Mark: Right here, turning the light on!

Andrew: One question at a time.

Mark: Dinner Conversations is brought to you by Food for the Hungry, a relief and development organization serving those in need around the globe for more than 40 years.

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Watch Our Other Episodes:

S02, E01: A Change of Mind featuring Danny Gokey and Dr. Caroline Leaf
S02, E02: The Last Goodbye featuring Amy Grant
S02, E03: The Humanity of Billy & Ruth Graham featuring Will Graham and Gigi Graham
S02, E04: Life After Divorce featuring Crystal Lewis
S02, E05: Place in this World featuring Michael W. Smith and Ginny Owens
S02, E06: God Is In The Details featuring Kathie Lee Gifford and Rabbi Jason Sobel
S02, E07: Winning Takes Work featuring Scott Hamilton and Paula Trujillo