Ian Cleary

Pain & Neuroplasticity Lecture

“I believe the first step to beat chronic pain is to understand it.”

I was recently asked to speak on Chronic Pain as part of the UCOL Public Lecture Series.

The audio is not great but here is the lecture. It might stretch you but as I point out, that’s a good thing.

While the talk was not about my Lightning Process work, having an update on modern pain science helps explain the Lightning Process approach.


Are you ready for change?

Never confuse the failure of past approaches to the potential of future recovery.

Over the last 12 years I have worked with many people with a range of different conditions across all levels of severity and duration. From decades of illness, or being bed bound through to just getting a recent diagnosis or mild enough to  still able to push through with full time work. Some have even been able to hide their health experience from everyone but their closest friends.

So yeah. I’ve seen lots of people. Maybe even some one like you.

But what they all had in common is that none came to me as their first port of call. They came having tried many different things, having a long history of failures and yet went on to see massive change in their lives.

Weekly in consultation, I hear the comment “Ian, I’ve tried everything”. But it’s useful to remember – you haven’t.

Never confuse the failure of a past approaches to potential of future recovery. They are unrelated.

Ongoing failures might merely be a sign that a different approach could be useful. Many past failures might not even mean recovery is even hard or will take a long time. It might just be a sign that it’s time to take a radically different approach.

That’s what the Lightning Process is. It takes a radically different approach to change. A new approach means all your past failures can be irrelevant.

Are you ready for a different approach?

To be ready for the Lightning Process, people do need to be ready to dig deep and give 100%, to be ready to think differently about themselves, their condition and the role they can play in recovery. For some the biggest step is just shifting from ‘I can’t’ to ‘just maybe I can’.

So are you ready to begin the process of thinking differently?

Are you ready to see that ‘chronic’ does not necessarily mean broken or permanent?

Are you ready to challenge your understanding of what the problem even is? Are you ready to begin look at the powerful role the brain can play, and how historic and current stress can keep someone’s health stuck below optimal function.

This ability to be flexible with our thinking has changed the life of so many people – people that were often told there was nothing they could do but learn to manage better rather than actually get better.

Chronic Pain research is leading the way in helping us change our thinking. Over the last decade we have gone through a pain revolution where we have fundamentally changed the way we understand pain. The model of understanding has changed. Now, people who were told their problem was structural and they could at best merely learn to manage their pain, can take on board a more up-to-date understanding of pain and move from managing their pain to treating it. This applies to real chronic pain sufferers – fibromyalgia, CRPS, migraines, period pain, back pain, osteo-arthritis pain, pelvic pain, bulging or herniated discs who can learn to live full and active pain-free lives.

HOW? They became flexible in their thinking and changed their understanding of pain.

If you are suffering from chronic pain then I would recommend watching the short video below. It’s not about the Lightning Process. It’s about pain. This video is an award winning video put together by some of the top pain specialists in the world. People who almost certainly know more about pain than you. The information is up-to-date and accurate. As you listen to it, notice how you respond to it – excited, confused, angry, frustrated. If you are excited then you are demonstrating the flexibility of thinking that has changed the lives of millions of people. If you are frustrated, angry, confused, dismissive (listen out for the ‘yeah buts’ or the internal argument how your pain is different) then at least keep questioning whether your model of pain has worked for you (or the millions of people who are stuck in pain).

Question why some people do get well even though they got a rock solid diagnosis. Question why x-rays and MRI’s can not predict either the presence or the levels of pain. Question why doctors are now being told NOT to send back pain clients to get X-rays or MRI’s. Question why research shows medication is not the best practice for successful treatment of chronic pain. If osteo-arthritis pain is caused by ‘bone on bone’ structural issues why is exercise the best way to treat it?

Keep questioning until you feel better. By feel better I don’t mean find the answers that supports your current understanding of pain and you feel better about your belief that there is nothing you can do about you pain.  I mean keep questioning until you FEEL BETTER and are physically living a rich and active life.

Keep questioning.

While this post has focused on pain, the same applies to outdated models of fatigue, anxiety depression or trauma.

If you’ve tried everything and nothing works, or works for long, then maybe you are not broken, but the model you are working with is broken.

Maybe chronic fatigue is not ‘running out of energy’, maybe anxiety and depression are not a lack of a neurotransmitters. And maybe the doctor who said there is nothing you can do meant – “there is nothing I can do”. Maybe there IS something YOU can do.

The benefit of looking at a model of understanding that takes into account both the body and brain function, as well as the role of stress both past and present, emotions, beliefs and thought processes, is that it gives people more options to make changes.

Keep questioning.

If one of those questions is ‘What is the Lightning Process’ then I would recommend downloading the Lightning Process audiobook (HERE). It guides people through the concepts behind the training, and helps people question their current situation and question if they are ready to make massive changes in their lives.

If you have questions for me then simply make contact. You can email me HERE.

Play the video & notice how you respond. Stay curious and if you suffer from pain I hope you get excited.



Avoid or push through? Or….

Many people I work with are stuck with two choices. Avoid the things that trigger them (exercise, movement, food, light, touch, chemicals, people, noise etc) or push through and suffer the payback.

The Lightning Process offers a third alternative – retrain your brain and body to respond differently to the triggers.

This approach also moves people out of the ‘management model’ of care which has nothing to do with recovery.

Its aim is in the title – management.

Choose wisely

Not Broken…Just Stuck

Here’s a radical thought.  What if the way you are thinking about your condition became an obstacle for full recovery.

Would you be willing to begin to think about your condition differently?


What would it be like to begin to think about yourself as just stuck rather than broken.

What would it be like to think that you already have all the resources inside for making massive change in your life and health.

What would it be like to know that you are not missing anything, lacking anything, deficient in anything.  You just need to know how to change.

What would it be like to get back in the drivers seat of life.

What it be like to begin to look at the role the brain and chronic stress can play in physical health without thinking it means you’re crazy or the problem is ‘all in your head’.

What would it be like to think differently about the things you are experiencing – pain, tiredness, stress, fear, negativity, low motivation, frustration, sadness. To see these as normal AND essential human responses  ……  that can become ‘stuck’ states due to neuroplasticity.

What it be like to hear that brain science is really clear that while a brain can become stuck it also retains it’s capacity to change until the day we die.

What would it be like to think that the problem is not brokenness but stuckness.

What would that be like?

You probably know what it’s like to be told that your tests seem fine so we don’t really know what’s going on but we do know there is no cure and you just have to learn to live with it and manage it. Yet you know that people ARE getting well.

Is it time to begin to think differently about yourself, your health and your life?



You can learn more about the Lightning Process by reading the Introduction to the Lightning Process or downloading the Lightning Process Audiobook.

But be ready to begin to think differently……

Drop me an email and arrange a time to discuss your situation and the Lightning Process.

Read about other people’s experience HERE. As you read their successes, just know that each one of these people once thought the way you did, they felt broken, they were probably told there ‘is no cure’ and they would just have to learn to live with it or manage the best they can.

If others can you… can you?

What would it be like to be one of the success stories?

What’s your Yeah But?

If you search you will find lots of stories of people successfully recovering from ME/CFS, Fibromyalgia, CRPS, PTSD, anxiety or depression.

When people come across a success story from a person who once had what they are now suffering from there is often a very familiar response…….
There are thousands of endings to this statement.
Yeah but….. they weren’t as sick as me
Yeah but…..I’ve had it much longer
Yeah but…..theirs was all in their head. Mine is real.
Yeah but…..they could afford it
Yeah but…..mine is more complicated
Yeah but…..I was told there is no cure
Yeah but…..if they got well then they never had what I have
Yeah but…..mine’s much worse
Yeah but…..mine is different
Yeah but…..it’s not possible
The “Yeah But” is a wonderful way of staying exactly where you are.
The fascinating thing is that I have seen people who have been sick for more than 40 years, or bed bound for over a decade, people on enough pain killers to kill a small elephant, people whose version of overdoing activity was talking or just opening their eyes for more than a minute and where the payback or consequence of overdoing it was months lying in a dark room, I’ve heard PTSD stories that are horrific, people with more specialists than friends,  people who have outfoxed medical science by not responding to what ‘normally’ works. People who have long periods in hospital or tube fed.
What is important is they all come to me having gone through hell and come with a long history of failed treatments. But they get to a place where they are ready to put all that behind them, to take charge and make massive change in their lives.
In the application process I challenge them – Why the Lightning Process? What makes you think you can do do this training? It takes work and it’s not for everyone.
Their response
“Yeah but ……..if others can do it, so can I”
There’s still work ahead for these people but it’s a ‘yeah but’ that is a stepping stone to change.
What’s your ‘yeah but’?  Choose wisely.



Join the Pain Revolution

February 8, 2018IanChronic Pain/ Fibromyalgia, Lightning ProcessComments Off on Join the Pain Revolution

Are you ready to join the pain revolution?

There is a massive mismatch between what research now tells us about pain and the public perception about it.

Given that we find ourselves with Chronic Pain as the number burden on human health AND a massive over-prescription of Pain medicine, is it time to join the revolution?

Watch Lorimer Moseley’s discussion on the Pain Revolution below.

Join the Revolution.  Vive la Sante!!! (Long Live Health)

You are not at the mercy of your Emotions

One of the concepts of the Lightning Process is to use current understandings of how the brain and body interact to have a positive influence over our health. While we might be a product of our past we do not have to be at the mercy of it.

Learning to engage in the PRESENT moment and our automatic responses, we can use tools to influence our mind and body. This opens up options that can increase our physical and emotional health. With focused effort we can look to retrain our brain to respond differently to the present moment – laying down new ‘automatic’ responses.

While we may often feel at the mercy of our thoughts, emotions or beliefs, as Lisa Feldman Barrett points out in this TED talk on emotions – We are not at their mercy.

Enjoy –


Working with bias

October 31, 2017IanUncategorizedComments Off on Working with bias

An ‘Aha’ moment is a time when our understanding shifts and we change our awareness of the nature of our world. The science of perception is fascinating – how we perceive others, ourselves, our bodies, the world, our past, our present and our future.

We are all biased YET we can work on correcting our biases.

One of the key components of the Lightning Process is developing self-awareness of what we are doing in the present moment. It’s a skill to develop for the present moment is where massive change can occur.

Unlike pure mindfulness meditation, where the aim is to merely observe, the Lightning Process uses self-awareness to allow intervention. Intervening in the present moment to retrain the brain to respond appropriately rather than historically.

Lightning Process research findings

October 9, 2017IanChronic Fatigue Syndrome & ME, In the News & Research, Lightning ProcessComments Off on Lightning Process research findings

The Archive of Disease in Childhood has published a paper on a trial involving the Lightning Process and CFS. The results have certainly created a lot of interest with the conclusion:

” The addition of the Lightning Process to standard medical care may be helpful to children with CFS/ME. However, this study needs to be replicated before the Lightning Process should be offered in the NHS.”


Getting better or just getting better at managing?

September 9, 2017IanChronic Fatigue Syndrome & ME, Chronic Pain/ Fibromyalgia, Lightning Process, NeuroplasticityComments Off on Getting better or just getting better at managing?

The understanding of NEUROPLASTICITY has become a valuable tool in working with both physical and mental health.

NEUROPLASTICITY is the process where the brain alters its structure and function as an adaptation to experience. The implications of this are huge. One implication is that the things that people do to ‘manage’ their problem are also ‘experiences’ so the brain changes and adapts to management techniques.

Another way to think about it, is that the brain of someone managing their illness well is very different from someone who is actually well.

Many people think that they can ‘manage’ their way to full health. But they are different processes.

A really great example of this is described in Norman Doidge’s book, The Brain That Changes Itself. Stroke rehabilitation specialist, Dr Taub realised that when someone lost movement of one arm, they naturally compensated and learnt how to function with the working arm. This however created changes in the brain. The parts in the brain involved in moving the stroke effected arm were not being used so disappeared as the brain’s neurology works on a ‘use it or lose it policy’. Meanwhile the parts of the brain associated with the still working arm increased in area. The person was in essence ‘managing’ their stroke by becoming really good at being a one armed person and the brain changed as a result of this.

This is the Neurobiology of Compensation.

Dr Taub therefore developed a novel stroke rehab technique called ‘Constraint induced therapy’.  When someone loses the use of one arm, using their working arm makes sense but this has nothing to do with full recovery and can get in the way of full recovery. You are just getting good at becoming a one armed person. So ‘Constraint induced therapy’ for strokes now involves tying down the working arm. Any compensation activity (or management technique) changes the brain away from the where you want to be. Tying down the working arm forces people to focus on the aim of retrain the stroke affected arm.

This technique is based on our understanding that we can retrain the brain – even if there is damage. (Read Brain that Changes itself)

What we do to ‘get by’ might get in the way of ‘getting better’ – The broader context

Think of someone with agoraphobia (fear of panic attacks). You can manage that well by staying inside the house.  Great. Problem solved? No. Just well managed. This management technique is an experience that changes the wiring of your brain. Some areas that are not being used weaken (socializing, spacial awareness of the city, procedural memory of public transport, reduction of stress because you are ‘safe’). You get good at staying inside but you haven’t beaten the anxiety just managed it well. With good management comes changes in the body and the brain but you are stuck inside.

So is the answer just going outside and pushing through the discomfort? Interesting – forcing yourself to go outside while you feel terrible also is an experience that changes your brain. The parts of your brain associated with detecting danger and threats get well developed, body awareness of sensations like a racing heart develops and the brain associates certain places with horrible feeling and stress hormones. The brains links outside with fear. Just pushing through doesn’t do it. So people often move back into the more bearable management technique of avoidance. You are not getting better just better at managing it.

Avoidance or pushing through are not about getting better and over time these techniques change the brain. Paradoxically good management can become an obstacle to full health. People often assume the only two options with Chronic pain and fatigue conditions are also to either “push through” and pay for it or avoid the things that set them off. But if you think of the agoraphobia example, neither of these techniques are addressing the issue and are experiences that alter brain structure and function.

When people come to me they tend to have developed a mixture of techniques between pushing through and avoiding what sets them off.

The Lightning Process is suggesting an alternative option – to actively retrain your brain and body to respond more appropriately.

You do have to be committed and focused but the brain and body are highly adaptable. The brain will adapt and get good at whatever you are doing.

So the question is  – Are you getting good at managing the problem or are you actually solving it?

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