Review: Think, Learn, Succeed

My husband, Jared, watched a video some months ago in which Pastor Steven Furtick conducted an interview featuring Dr. Caroline Leaf who spoke about her 21-Day Brain Detox. Her program is meant to help people eliminate toxic thinking and retrain their brains. Dr. Leaf teaches that in three 21-day cycles, people can reprogram their brains to follow more positive thought patterns for happier, more successful living. 

Jared loved what he heard on the interview, which led him to start reading one of Dr. Leaf’s books and download her 21-Day Brain Detox app on his phone. He started following her program and benefited from it noticeably. Although he didn’t finish the book, Think, Learn, Succeed, he liked her Brain Detox program so much that he bought the book for me and asked me to read it. 

As is always the case between spouses, however, there are some things we just don’t see eye to eye on. This book was one of those things. 

I read the book because Jared spoke so highly of it and seemed to be finding it so helpful. It certainly made a difference in how he approached some of our differences. I had to trudge through the book, however, forcing it down in a manner not unlike my toddler eating his vegetables. 

Think, Learn, Succeed was lengthy and verbose. Dr. Leaf spends over two hundred pages on concepts that could have been more succinctly stated in fifty. She seemed to repeat the same general ideas in nearly every chapter. The bulk of the book promised that my life would be revolutionized, but the key information was relegated to a couple of brief closing chapters.  

Dr. Leaf also spent a great deal of time on the neuroscience behind her methods. It would have perhaps been understandable, if she had been providing case studies that prove her method works. Instead, she waxed eloquent on how the brain functions and why it functions that way. The information simply wasn’t necessary. It certainly didn’t help matters that Dr. Leaf’s information was not given in easily-understood terms. 

Another serious issue I had with her book was her dismissive attitude towards depression, mental illness, and grief. She never said anything directly dismissive or offensive, but the whole book insists that if you just follow these steps and retrain your brain, your life will be better. In essence, all you need to do is think positive thoughts!

I’ve struggled with clinical depression for some ten years, I’ve grieved the death of a sibling, and I’ve struggled with post-partum depression and some anxiety. Because of that history, Dr. Leaf’s simplistic, reductionist views really struck a nerve with me. I believe that there are times when we must allow ourselves to engage deeply with our pain and grief, in order to get through it. Forcing ourselves to think positive thoughts all the time will simply suppress the pain and hurt us more in the long run. I also believe that some people (myself, for example!) don’t have properly balanced brain chemistry, and without healthy brains, it can be difficult or impossible for those people to use the tools that Dr. Leaf preaches. 

With that said, Dr. Leaf did have some good points. Her emphasis on community, forgiveness, and flexibility as part of a healthy mindset rung true for me. Many of the tools and strategies she wrote about would be helpful for someone with good mental health or who had successfully treated mental illness. Her “metacogs” and information maps were especially appealing to me as effective ways to learn, study, or write. 

My favorite part of the book–perhaps the only section that I truly enjoyed–was the Gift Profile, in which she explains different types of learning and thinking and provides a test for readers to discover their own learning type. I’ve always loved tests that help me understand how I operate and how I interact with others. Jared and I took the Gift Profile test together, and our results shed some surprising insight on how we receive, process, and relate information. Some such insights have already improved the way we communicate with each other. 

Although the book was a dud for me, personally, some of Dr. Leaf’s insights and methods have value. Along with Jared’s glowing recommendation for her Brain Detox method, the nuggets of truth that I gleaned incline me to think more favorably of her than I otherwise would. Of course, Jared has only positive things to say about Dr. Leaf, so perhaps you will find yourself in Jared’s camp as a fan of Think, Learn, Succeed.

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