A-Fest participant cleaning up his mental mess
Cleaning Up Your Mental Mess — A Neuroscientist Explains How

Cleaning Up Your Mental Mess — A Neuroscientist Explains How


Negative thoughts can be frustrating. Many of us push them away instead of healing them. Dr. Caroline Leaf explains how cleaning up your mental mess can help.

Are you okay?” seems like such a simple question. It’s either a “yes” or a “no.” But more often than not, it’s neither a “yes,” nor a “no.” It’s a cocktail of thoughts and emotions shaken up into a concoction of what neuroscientist Dr. Caroline Leaf calls, “mental mess.”

In her sit down with Vishen on The Mindvalley Podcast, she explains “mental mess” is when your mind is filled with toxic thoughts, depression, and anxiety aggravated by the current climate we live in.

And when negative thoughts and emotions linger in your mind too long, it can be detrimental to your wellbeing. A study done by the University of Reading found “the longer your brain holds on to a negative event, or stimuli, the unhappier you report being.”

So when your mind is filled to the brim of thoughts and emotions, how do you resist the urge to drown your sorrows?

To start off, it’s advisable to equip yourself with knowledge on why your mind makes a mess. And then, follow the five science-backed steps to help with cleaning up your mental mess.

Why Your Mind Makes A Mess

A-Fest participant and her mental mess

The pandemic, wars, and poverty are only a handful of things causing Americans stress. Then, there are social media trends, entertainment promoting violence, “canceling” culture, and a whole more that support our anxiety, depression, and stress rather than disabling them.

We’re all susceptible to “mental mess.”

However, when you allow yourself to regularly chug down those thoughts without cutting them off, then it can form a habit. And according to neuroscientist Dr. Joe Dispenza, when your thoughts become a habit, it creates “automatic programs in the brain and body.”

In an interview with Vishen, Dr. Dispenza explains, “95% of who we are is a state of unconscious or subconscious programs where we’ve done something so many times that the body now can actually do it automatically without the conscious mind.”

So when you’re occupied with other things or sleeping, your mind is constantly on the go.

That’s awesome when you pour happy thoughts into your mind.

Positive thoughts and emotions increase your serotonin, which helps stabilize your feelings of wellbeing and happiness. This “happiness hormone” also impacts your entire body by enabling brain cells and nervous system cells to communicate with each other. That’s why when you’re happy, you feel it in your whole body.

However, when you drown your mind in toxic thoughts, that’s when depression, anxiety, and stress enter the picture. 

Dr. Leaf suggests that instead of viewing them as illnesses, we should see them as warning signals.

There’s a huge body of research — of which mine is part of that — saying ‘no, don’t see those as mental illnesses. See those as warning signals.’ Embrace them. When you embrace the message, you’re actually going to find the messenger.

— Dr. Caroline Leaf, neuroscientist

And when you do so, cleaning up your mental mess will be easier, you’ll find yourself more resilient to your stress, and self-acceptance is a power you’ll embrace.

Cleaning Up Your Mental Mess

Dan Russo / Unsplash

Your thoughts are powerful. Believe it. And it’s possible to clean up your “mental mess” and rewire your brain to think positively.

What I see, for my neuroscientific research in my work clinic all these years, is that we can make that mess,” says Dr. Leaf.

As soon as we make that mess, if we embrace it, if we stand back and say, ‘Oh gosh, I did this. I did that. It’s okay. That’s not who I am. I’m showing up in this messy way because something’s triggered me. There’s a reason for this.’ You can go into that mode where you can literally observe your own mess.”

And once you’re able to observe and accept your mess, you can work out what the root cause is and why it triggered you.

Here are five steps you can take to start cleaning up your “mental mess”:

Step #1: Gather

When you’re conscious of things happening to you, be it emotional or physical, only then can you change it. That’s why it’s important to pay close attention to emotional and physical red flags. This includes emotions like anger, resentment, hopelessness, heart palpitations, headaches, and so on.

Step #2: Reflect

Ask, answer, and discuss the red flags you felt. Reflect on them.

Reflection helps bring things into perspective as well as helping you learn, grow, appreciate, and understand. It also shifts your focus from how you reacted to the thought that triggered the reaction, then to the perspective, and then to the root cause.

Step #3: Write

Vomit your brains out on paper, as Dr. Leaf would say. Writing not only helps organize your thoughts but also allows you to visualize them. So write down what you have gathered and reflected.

Step #4: Recheck

Consider this step as an editing process. Go over what you’ve written in Step #3. You’ll be able to evaluate your toxic thoughts and reactions to them and consider the new healthy thoughts you want to pick up instead. 

Step #5: Reach

This is where you practice what you’ve learned from the previous four steps. It’s meant to be something quick and simple to do. For example, it could be a statement saying, “I’m worried because this thing happened and now my heart’s fluttering. But it’s okay to feel like this. It’s normal.”

Dr. Leaf suggests practicing this every day for 21 days. You can find more about it and other practices in her book, Cleaning Up Your Mental Mess.

Awaken Your Mind

Kristina Mand-Lakhiani at Mindvalley U 2018 in Tallinn

Humans can go three weeks without food, three days without water, three minutes without air… But did you know we can’t even go three seconds without thinking?

Our mind is constantly on “go” mode, even when we’re sleeping.

With all the current events happening, it makes sense that we’re susceptible to drowning in our “mental mess.” 

Fortunately, science shows us that our minds are far superior than we give it credit for. We are able to clean up the mess (all OCDers rejoice!).

Our psycho neurobiology is designed to make a mess in an experimental way and then manage the mess (..) in order to grow,” says Dr. Leaf.

And growth is what Mindvalley is known for. As a Mindvalley Member, you have access to the greatest personal growth teachers around the world, like leading hypnotherapist, Paul McKenna, for example.

In his Everyday Bliss Quest at Mindvalley, you’ll learn how to:

  • Reprogram your mind to be resilient to stress
  • Rise above your fears and anxiety
  • Develop a mindset of hope and positivity
  • Stay calm and productive, even during chaos
  • Gain a healthier, more energetic, and more resilient mind

Toxic thoughts, depression, anxiety, and the like are negotiable. But your happiness and zest for life shouldn’t be.

So it’s time to clean up the mess, find peace from stress, and embrace your bliss every day.

Written by
Tatiana Azman