is malleable, and we can, by conscious effort, change our patterns of thought
and the structures in our brains. These changes can lead to improved thinking,
joy, and physical
Leaf considers how to take advantage of our brains ability to adapt,
neuroplasticity, in her book Switch on
The first, and longer, part of the book is devoted to making the case
that the brain can be changed and that people can change their brains
intentionally. People are not biological automata. They can control how they
react to the situations they encounter, even if they can’t control those
situations. Therefore, they can control the types and intensities of emotions
attached to memories, and the patterns of thoughts they form. They do not have
to default to toxic thinking (leading to stress, bad health and poor decision
making), but can choose healthy thinking.
The central scientific notion that Leaf appeals to is neuroplasticity.
She also finds support for her views in other related science, especially
related to the structure and functioning of the brain (her appeals to quantum
physics strike me as much weaker).
Leaf has a particular religious
view as well, and frequently appeals to the Bible. I think
it is fair to say that Leaf comes from a particular religious point of view
relating to the power and nature of faith, one in which she is comfortable
ending her prologue with a quote from Peace Pilgrim.
and scripture are in agreement in Leaf’s presentation. Both come across to me
as being cherry-picked. Admittedly, this is a self-help book, not a scientific
text. The potential damage of being over-selective with scripture is more
troubling, though I don’t think Leaf twists them nearly as much as others I’ve
The blunt conclusion of the first part is “mind over matter.” Leaf
keeps this to the narrow notion that we can choose our reactions and therefore
can alter structures in our brains that encode and manage memories and thought
patterns. Of course, these have consequences in our health, happiness, and
success in life.
The second part of the book is devoted to a five-step process to weaken
toxic thoughts and implant and strengthen healthy thoughts. It begins with
awareness of your own thoughts and feelings. This is followed by deep thinking
and reflection on those thoughts, especially toxic thoughts you want to weaken
and alternative thoughts you want to strengthen. Writing is used to aid this
process. After writing your thoughts, you review them with an intention of
finding solutions, new ways of thinking, and ways to reinforce those new
thoughts in action. Finally, you take action by saying and doing things that
reinforce the new thoughts.
This process has analogs in other psychology
literature. Cultivating awareness is encouraged by proponent of the mind-body
connection. Awareness and reflection both relate to forms of meditation. Even
the 21-day length of the program (based on the amount of time it takes to form
new structures in the brain) is in keeping with other literature on making new
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