We can go three weeks without food, three days without water, three minutes without oxygen, but we can’t even go for three seconds without thinking.

Spring is here (it is the first of April, 2021)! Spring cleaning time is here as well.

Spring cleaning isn’t just about sorting through things and getting rid of clutter. For me it is also the time of the year to cleanup the mess in my head… and getting rid of a cluttered mind.

In Caroline Leaf’s book “Cleaning up your mental mess” she suggests to do just that in the Five steps of the Neurocycle. She writes: “If our minds are messy, we mess up our lifestyles, and when our lifestyles are messed up, our mental and physical health suffer.
The 5 Steps are a way to harness our thinking power—any task that requires thinking can use a neurocycle, which means everything can use a neurocycle because we are always thinking!

Caroline Leaf

Mind Management

  • Mind-management is a skill that needs to be learned and constantly upgraded as we grow from childhood into adulthood. For every new experience we need a new set of mind-management tools.
  • There’s no secret quick fix or uniform formula to healing and happiness.
  • Feeling guilty because you “failed to think positively enough,” “didn’t have enough faith,” or didn’t reach some “ideal” is damaging to your psyche and your physical body.
  • For the first time in decades, the trend of people living longer, has been reversed due to lifestyle-related diseases. Yes, we are in control of our lifestyle choices, but it doesn’t seem like we are doing a very good job at this!
  • Everything in our society seems to convey the message of “now!” It’s almost as if we’ve entered an era where we have sacrificed the processing of knowledge for the gathering of data.
  • We can’t control the events and circumstances of life but we can learn to control our reactions, which help us deal with and manage the many challenges we face.

The last one could have been a statement Epictetus the Stoic made.

  • The way we use our minds helps us go from just hearing good advice to living a good life.
  • We all have to learn how to catch and edit our thoughts and reactions before they trigger toxic chain reactions and become ingrained neural networks, a.k.a. bad habits.
  • As we think, the brain literally changes in hundreds of thousands of ways, on cellular, molecular, chemical, genetic, and structural levels—the key is that you can direct this process!
  • Any brain, at any age, and no matter what has happened to it, can be made to function at a higher level because of the nature of neuroplasticity.

The 5 Step Neurocycle

Say you’re treated really badly by someone you trust. Now the old you would have immediately sent some nasty texts, perhaps a few good riddance one-liners, and then cried and swore at any living thing that crossed your path. But the new, mind-managed, quantum superhero you instead goes immediately through the different phases of mind-management, the 5 Steps of the Neurocycle:

  1. Gather. Read, listen, and watch what you are thinking and how you are feeling. Remind yourself that this person often uses their actions and words as a cry for help and this is a sign that they’re trying to make sense of what is happening to them, but they don’t know how to correctly verbalize their needs or pain. It can be helpful to remember that often how people treat you is a projection of their own turmoil and state of mind. Embrace and accept the fact that you feel hurt or frustrated; don’t suppress your emotions or feel guilty for them. But recognize that these emotions will pass. They don’t have to define your next actions or thoughts.
  2. Reflect. Ask, answer, discuss this with yourself. Try to find the deeper meaning behind their words and actions. What are they going through? How are they hurting? What’s making them react in this way? Don’t absorb their negative energy and make it part of you or part of your brain. Stop, stand outside of yourself, and choose to objectify the situation.
  3. Write. Journal and organize your thoughts. Put what you’re going through down in your journal or the notes section on your laptop or smartphone, whatever works for you. This will help you organize your thoughts, which will release the emotional sting of your pain—get it out of your body instead of keeping it in. Write what they said and your response, or how you would like to respond.
  4. Recheck. Reanalyze and examine what you have written down. Talk to someone else to get a wider perspective on the situation and your planned response.
  5. Active Reach. Apply what you have learned in some tangible way. Once you’ve calmed down, reach out in love and ask them what you can do. Even if this just means listening to them as they express their emotions.

The foundational principles of the mind-management tool, the Neurocycle, are embracing, processing, and reconceptualizing, and the 5 Steps are your “surgical instruments” for doing so.

  • Step 1 (Gather) involves embracing the toxic thought, habit, or trauma (cutting open with the scalpel).
  • Steps 2 and 3 (Reflect and Write) are the processing steps (performing the surgery).
  • Steps 4 and 5 (Recheck and Active Reach) are the reconceptualizing steps (closing up and healing).

Embracing means acknowledging, facing, accepting, and willingly and mindfully gathering awareness of the emotional and physical warning signals your brain and body send you.

Processing is the “mental autopsy” part of the mental surgery. It entails deep, intentional, and focused thinking, which forces the conscious mind and nonconscious mind to connect.

Reconceptualizing means redesigning the thinking, feeling, and choosing behind the thought by learning from the lessons of the past. When you reconceptualize a thought, you’re examining the information, emotions, and choices that led to that thought. In doing this, you’re looking at what happened or what you were thinking from a new angle, another perspective that makes it manageable, so that you no longer feel crippled by pain—the level of your emotional distress changes.

The Mind

  • Your mind is not your brain, just as you are not your brain.
  • When you think, you will feel, and when you think and feel, you will choose. These three aspects always work together. This is the mind-in-action.
  • A thought itself is the concept, the big idea. Thoughts have memories, like trees have branches. There are three types of memories in a thought: information, emotions, and physical sensations.
  • Thoughts are located in three different places: in your brain, in the cells of your body, and in your mind.
  • During the day you think, feel, and choose to build new thoughts into your mind and brain; at night you think, feel, and choose to sort out the thoughts you have built during the day, which provides the content for dreams.
  • Self-regulation is the overarching catalyst of successful mind-management—and is your brain’s favorite exercise! When we don’t self-regulate, we will suffer mentally and physically.
  • Whatever we think about the most, grows, because we are giving it energy.
  • The mind is divided into the conscious mind (fully aware when you are awake), the nonconscious mind (works 24/7), and the subconscious mind (just-aware level).
  • We don’t need to be held captive to our thoughts; instead, we can “capture” our thoughts.
  • Whatever you experience in your mind, will also be experienced in your brain and body. The toxic energy from toxic thoughts accumulates if it isn’t dealt with, and will eventually explode, affecting the way we think, feel, and choose in a volcanic and uncontrolled way.
  • Dealing with our toxic thoughts and traumas means that all this swirling, chaotic, toxic energy needs to be transferred from the negative thought to the reconceptualized, healthy thought to restore balance and coherence to the mind.

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