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Cleaning up your Mental Mess by Dr Caroline Leaf

Reviewed by Karen Wilson

The workings of the human mind and the brain (Dr Leaf explains the distinction) make fascinating and complex subject matter. The author of Cleaning up your Mental Mess tells us that people are not totally at the mercy of their thoughts, and that anxiety, stress, trauma, and toxic thinking can be addressed with some mind management techniques. In her words, “events and circumstances can’t be controlled”; however, “we can control our reactions”.

Throughout the book Dr Leaf highlights the neuroplasticity of the brain – how it changes in response to positive or negative thought patterns that also impact our physical health. Her solution for “mental mess” is a five-step learning process she has dubbed ‘the Neurocycle’, which is designed to make you more aware of your thinking/feeling/choosing around an issue, reflect on it, write it down, reconceptualize, and take action steps to implement your new thinking.

According to Dr Leaf’s extensive research, her Neurocycle needs to be practised consistently for at least 63 days (the widely held belief that it takes 21 days to form a habit doesn’t apply here!) to produce real change. She claims that toxic stress and anxiety can be reduced by up to 81% using her five-step Neurocycle and, since your mental landscape is not static, suggests that the ideal approach would be to make this an ongoing lifestyle. She also refers to an app (not free), which she developed to complement the book.

The book is divided into two parts, with the first half focusing on clinical research data that may prove heavy-going for readers who don’t want to learn about the finer points of alpha and beta brain waves or the effects of unmanaged stress on blood measures and chromosomes. This forms the foundation for the Neurocycle that she elaborates on in Part 2. Her writing is inclined to be a little repetitive.

Dr Caroline Leaf is a US-based communication pathologist and neuroscientist who has done research in her field for over 30 years. Her book is available in our Chartered client library for short-term loan.

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