Detoxing your brain

A few years ago I was privileged to be at a conference where Dr Caroline Leaf was speaking. Dr Leaf is a cognitive neuroscientist. She has an amazing online programme called the 21-day Brain Detox™, which is designed to help us rewire our brains, positively affecting the way we think and act.

“The 21 Day Brain Detox Plan™ is an online daily guide that takes only 7-10 minutes of your time each day. I will walk you through each of the 21 days, guiding you and coaching you to a toxic-free mind.

Every moment of every day you are changing your brain with your thoughts in a positive or negative direction. Every time you think and choose, you cause structural change in your brain. Your thoughts impact your spirit, soul and body.

By controlling the direction of your mind, you control the direction of your life.”

The detox programme is based on a five-step programme. Dr Leaf talks about it taking as little as 10 minutes. On average I would probably spend closer to 30 minutes, sometimes more, depending on what I am working on.

The first step is the Gather step. This is where you become aware of the thoughts entering your mind. We are encouraged to become aware of what we are allowing in to our minds and not to let any thought go unchecked.

“The ability to quieten your mind, focus your attention on the present issue, capture your thoughts and dismiss the distractions that come your way is an excellent and powerful way that God has placed within you that is natural and necessary. Natural because it is wired into the design of the brain, allowing the brain to capture and discipline chaotic rogue thoughts; necessary because it calms our spirits so we can tune in and listen to God. Then we change our connection with God from uninvolved and independent to involved and dependent.”

The second step is Focused Reflection. This is where we focus in on just a single toxic thought with the goal of understanding what that toxic thought is doing in our life. When a thought moves into the conscious mind, it becomes plastic and malleable which means it can be changed.

“The frontal lobe enables us in a sense to stand outside ourselves and observe our own thinking. We can observe our thoughts and actions and make decisions about them. Suddenly biblical principles such as “bringing all thoughts into captivity”, “renewing your mind”, “casting all your cares”, and “being anxious for nothing” become less difficult when we realise God has given us the equipment to do these things”.

The Gather step brings the thought into consciousness and the Focused Reflection step starts the change process of breaking down the toxic thought so you can replace it with a healthy replacement thought. This step involves deep thought that leads to saying to yourself, “this is not who I am, that is who I have become”; “if I wired it in through my choices, I can wire it out with my choices”.

“Neurons that don’t get enough signal (the rehearsing of the negative event) will start firing apart, wiring apart, pulling apart and destroying the emotion attached to the trauma. In addition, certain chemicals like oxytocin (bonds and remoulds chemicals), dopamine (increases focus and attention), and serotonin (increases feelings of peace and happiness), all start flowing around the traumatic thoughts, weakening them even more. This all helps to disconnect and desynchronise the neutrons; if they stop firing together, they will no longer wire together. This leads to wiping out or popping those connections and rebuilding new ones”.

The third step is Journaling the previous steps.

The fourth step is Revisit and requires reading over what you have written and asking the Holy Spirit how and what to change. Write down what the Holy Spirit says. This step is about finding solutions to the issue you are working on.

“The world tells us the mind is what the brain does but God tells us that the brain will do what the mind tells it to do. And when your spirit under the leading of the Holy Spirit controls your soul, then the gold standard of thinking is achieved. This is a very different perspective from the traditional view, which tells us we are machines that just need parts changed and chemicals added.”

The Active Reach is the final step. An Active Reach is an action you do during the day in response to the toxic thought you are working on. The Active Reach should be done each time the toxic thought comes up. Examples of Active Reaches are:
– Memorize scripture like “God shall meet all my needs…” and you replace the worry with this each time you find your mind doing a “what if” worry.
– Cultivate a strong awareness of saying to yourself each time you worry something like: “I don’t need to worry, that’s causing inflammation in my brain and making me worse”.
– Smile each time you feel yourself worry and imagine yourself looking into God’s eyes as He carries you.

I have used this programme for probably two years now and I love it. When I am not using it to detox something specifically, I do a variation of it where, using the five steps, I do a general review of the day before. This yields some pretty amazing insights and revelations. The increased awareness I get from working through this helps me to head into each day with peace, purpose and direction. For me, this meditation practice is the best way for me to start the day.


switch on your brain

You can also read about the 21 Day Brain Detox in Dr Leaf’s book, Switch on your Brain . This book is excellent and filled with lots of great information (quotes above taken from the book) however when it comes to doing the detox, I personally found the online programme better than following the book instructions. The online daily programme  takes you through the whole 21 days and for me that made it easier to commit to. The other great thing is the pricing of this is only US$29 for the year.

I would love to hear if anyone is already using this or if you try it.

12 thoughts on “Detoxing your brain

  1. Hi Jacquie,
    I have this book also. The first time I saw Dr Leaf speak on Christian TV last year, I was riveted by her message. Such an encouraging realisation that we can totally re-wire our brain. I stopped short of the 21 day plan but am hoping to re-read and see if I can follow it. From reading the exercises I did think that they would take more than the 10mins or so mentioned (which I see you have confirmed). Thanks for bringing it to our attention and for reminding me about this excellent resource.


  2. Thank you for sharing. This is so interesting. I’ve read other books in an effort to “re-wire” my brain and have even tried affirmations right before bed and once I wake up but nothing has seemed to stick long term quite yet. I’m going to get this book and look into the online program. Thanks again for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It was good re-reading this post and coming against Dr Caroline Leaf’s phrase “the gold standard of thinking”. A beautiful way to look at renewing the mind. I don’t recall seeing this in the book. Am due for a re-read of it.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Its funny you should say that about re-reading it because I was thinking that myself just the other day. The principals I learned doing the 21 day detox have continued to shape my practices and I am really grateful for the way she teaches.


  5. I just started the 21 day detox but I was confused and didn’t hear the part about replacing the negative thoughts on day 1 The active reach part made me feel like I just needed to be made aware of the thoughts 7 times in a day


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