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How influential is severity or duration on the course of recovery?
From a ‘traditional’ healing perspective then you would say these factors are very relevant. But what EXACTLY needs to heal? And even if there is healing required, our body is really good at that. A broken bone can heal in just 6 weeks. Skin can heal really quickly and the cells of our digestive tract are replaced so rapidly.
Approaching issues from a Neuroplasticity framework, allows people to see that it’s not a ‘healing’ journey at all. It’s a retraining process… and our brain is the most flexible and trainable organ we have.
So length of illness or severity is not a key factor in success with the Lightning Process.
Like learning anything new, it takes focus and work, with set backs and slip ups, lessons and insight. Unlike other trainings like learning an instrument or a language that you have never learnt before, with the Lightning Process you are learning to do things you have done before. I often say to people that everything they need is already there.
Can anyone learn to change their brain? Well like it or not, your brain is changing anyway. It’s built into it’s very structure – the capacity to change its structure and function if required. That capacity stays with us until the day we die. So why not learn to guide the process?
So that becomes the focus of the Lightning Process – training the brain and body to respond appropriately to ‘stimulus’ – whether that be learning to respond more appropriately to touch, exercise, food, people, light, noise, chemicals, temperature, places, times of the day.
The Lightning Process teaches people to get ‘unstuck’ and to learn to respond historically rather than appropriately.
How long does it take? It starts from Day 1 – because it is a training.
Here is one lady’s story from debilitating pain and fatigue to recovery. If there was healing to occur this would be miraculous. But it’t not miraculous. It’s possible when you understand the brain’s role in guiding our health.
Well done F.G!!
I remember that first day very well as I am sure you do too.
There are many ways a healthy nervous system can get stuck into a state of chronic fatigue.
Often it is a combination of factors that puts the system into a state of overload.
I see a lots of people from of high performance sport get Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and often they are told they have to give up sport and learn to manage the condition.
That hasn’t been my experience. There may be some changes required but often people with a sports background find the discipline of the Lightning Process easy and can throw themselves into the Lightning Process training and return to the sport they love.
Read Angus’s story here. From fit young rugby player to CFS. Then post Lightning Process back to win the premiership. Impressive!
After years of physical illness people often loose trust in their bodies and life becomes a carefully managed routine to avoid crashes or flare ups.
While people are busy planning all the things they want to do after the training, one of the joys of recovery is the ability to be spontaneous again. The ability to not to have to plan.
Here is a lovely piece written by a Lightning Process graduate.
ODE TO SPONTANEITY
This way or that? Who cares…
Adventure lies to the left and the right of me now.
I wander with curiosity to see where my feet take me.
Getting lost is a treat not threat.(
The burden of the ‘right’ choice is gone.
I can have all the complexity of a flipping coin.
But not fussed if not.
“YES. YES. WHY NOT.”
These words flow effortlessly.
My “NO” is about desires not survival.
I can do what ever so “what do I want?”
The master planner is now the confident explorer.
Because deep down I now know
‘WHATEVER HAPPENS YOU WILL BE JUST FINE’.
(They were your words now they are mine.)
This is the new soundtrack to my life.
I sing along as I walk and my coach just smiles.
I trust myself again. I’m back.
Life. Take me where ever. I am ready.
(reproduced with permission)
I’ve just returned from giving a ‘Neurobiology of Pain’ lecture in London.
It is such an exciting topic because it impacts every person on the planet & the implications are huge for people suffering with chronic pain.
The challenge is this – What most people think about pain is no longer in line with modern science.
The opportunity is this – By understanding pain you are more likely to do what’s required to treat it and not get stuck in a life of merely managing it (or the endless failed treatments).
But this is not just about pain. This is about beginning to understand the brain’s role in health – in immune function, in endocrine function, in fatigue, in physical movement, in digestion – in living a healthy life.
So if you are curious – read on.
AN OVERVIEW OF MODERN PAIN THEORY
ALL pain is in the brain. It doesn’t matter how long its been going, how it started, what it feels like, where it is, what the scans say or even how much blood there is. ALL pain is in the brain. 100% of the time.
If you are wondering right now if that actually applies to YOUR pain. The answer is yes. ALL pain is in the brain. No Brain – No Pain.
People often talk about trying everything without getting anywhere. Or perhaps treatments have work for a while but then things slip back to how they were. Other approaches work a little bit when they worked perfectly well for others. Sound familiar?
Maybe it’s time to approach this from a radically different view point and find the missing piece? The Brain and neuroplasticity.
ARE YOU SAYING IT’S ALL IN MY HEAD?
It’s easy to get insulted when you hear statements like “All pain is in the brain” because it sounds a lot like – It’s all in your head / you’re making it up. But that is not the case at all. In fact if someone had a broken leg with an exposed bone we would still say that the pain is in the brain.
Modern pain theory certainly stretches us because we all grew up thinking pain is in the body and it is a sign of damage. Now we are being told PAIN is in the brain and it’s the brain’s assessment of threat. So you can have pain without tissue damage and tissue damage without pain.
So it is worth pondering that concept. Pain is the brain’s assessment of threat not it’s assessment of tissue damage. How your brain assesses threat is unique to you. It is a judgement call based on messages coming from the body but also information stored inside your brain – all of your past experiences, your traumas, your thoughts, your beliefs, your mood, your expectations.
The great opportunity here is that our brain is our most flexible and trainable organ we have.
Modern pain theory opens up exciting opportunities but it does take a willingness to let go of the old pain model. But was that model working for you anyway?
Pain (and fatigue) are part of our brain’s protective responses. They are meant to come on at appropriate times to keep us safe. These responses get us to slow down (fatigue) and/or pay attention (pain) but those responses – those messages in the brain – can start to mis-fire and in time get ‘stuck on’. This is known as the dark side of NEUROPLASTICITY.
With repetition the pain and fatigue messages create changes in the brain. This is why after 3 months of pain and fatigue, regardless of the original issue, neural-plastic change has taken place and it gets the label ‘Chronic’. Chronic does not mean permanent though. It just means that it is going for longer than would be expected as a protective response. So the focus needs to shift to retraining the brain.
If you are new to the concept of NEUROPLASTICITY I would encourage you to get curious.
Not suffering from PAIN or Fatigue but still interested?
I work with a wide range of conditions including GAD, SAD, FM, PTSD, IBS, PVFS, PBS, POTS, IS, EHS, CLBP, PLTS, MCS, CRPS, ME, CFS, PVFS, MS. (I would be a whiz at scrabble if they allowed acronyms).
So it’s not just about pain and fatigue. The Lightning Process looks at how normal & healthy responses (like pain and fatigue) can become automatic and therefore inappropriate with repetitive activation and the impact this has on health. We look at how we can pro-actively influence our responses by looking at how the body and brain interact.
A great example is fear. Like pain, without it we would be dead. It is a protective response to keep us safe. But what would happen if that response became automatic and turned on too often? Simply ask someone with anxiety for the answer.
So having a neuroplastic or a neurological ‘retraining’ perspective allows us to look more pro-actively at responses like stress, anxiety, depression, perfectionism, guilt. Can we retrain ourself to respond more appropriately to a given situation rather than automatically ( i.e. historically)?
The downside of this approach is that you can’t rely on others to fix your brain. You alone are in charge and so it’s up to you. The upside of this approach is you don’t have to rely on others. YOU ARE IN CHARGE and finally your health is in your hands. If that feels like something you are chasing then make contact today.
While you are not thinking of polar bears, whatever you do now don’t think of dancing jellybeans. And definitely don’t think that embarrassing thought that you hate thinking but it seems to just pop up out of nowhere. Yes that one. Opps. So are we clear? Just don’t do it now. I mean. Don’t DO IT now. Don’t think of those cursed polar bears.
The funny thing about the brain – it’s can’t directly process a negative. If you talk or think about what you DON’T want – your brain is wiring in a very specific way to avoid that and sometimes that is part of the problem.
The words we use and the thoughts we think can wire our brains in ways that keep us stuck.
Mastering NEUROPLASTICITY also requires people to master their thoughts and words because mental activity (thoughts) and physical activity (talking) also changes our brain.
People often try to manage a problem by ignoring it. That clearly doesn’t work practically. Neurologically your brain needs to create certain wiring to get you to remember to ignore those ‘cursed’ things. You have to REMEMBER to ignore. Your brain has put a THREAT VALUE on that thing and we are wired to spot the ‘dangerous’ things. It applies to thoughts as much as smells, activities, people, places, foods, bodily responses. If it is a regarded as a threat as far as your brain is concerned, why would the brain ignore it? So you are left remembering to pay attention to those things you then need to try to ignore.
Confused? How do you think your brain feels? 🙂
Try to ignore that ticking clock at 3am and you will see what I mean. Ignore the ticking clock. Ignore the ticking clock. Ignore that damn ticking clock. Ignore that thing that is making my life miserable. If there are intense emotions involved it will only become more impossible to ignore.
Others, realizing that ignoring doesn’t work more actively focus on the problem. Sometimes ironically that can keep your focuse on the problem not the solution. You can ironically become stuck by focusing on the problem.
One way that this shows is with anxiety. We can ignore it or pretend it isn’t a problem as just described. That doesn’t seem to work so well.
So we can try to stop anxious thoughts by trying NOT to think anxious thoughts …. or try not to think negatively, or try not to catastrophise, or try not to check how much pain or fatigue you are in.
Not only does this not work but it can create a bigger problem as the field of psychology called ‘Thought Suppression’ now suggests. We now have a better idea why Dostoevsky‘s ‘cursed polar bear comes to mind every minute’.
A thought creates a physical structure in the brain. A neural wiring. Think it a few times and we are strengthening those pathways and our brain structure is changing. Over time it can become a habit. This applies to a thought, behavior, feeling or response.
In the case a unwanted thought-habit, if we recognize that it is now a problem we could try to NOT think it. That requires wiring as well. One part of our brain might be successful in suppressing the thought BUT….. and it’s an important but…. another part of the brain is wired to remember what we shouldn’t think. We put a threat value on a thought and in order to create the activity of ‘not thinking’ we need to create other pathways that keeps checking in whether we have remembered to stop – ironically bringing it to mind again. It’s known as Ironic Neural Processing.
So now we have a complicated neural structure all designed around ‘polar bears’. It’s taking a lot more ‘brain space’ than before the problem even started. We now have more neural pathways all somehow linked to this thought (that we don’t want to think). So when we do eventually trigger the thought there is a rebound effect. When we do think about it – BOOM – it’s there bigger than before or more regularly than before. Cursed Polar bears!
How can thoughts really matter or effect my body?
A really profound experiment was done where people were asked to read a list of words then walk to another area for a second task. The experiment was actually timing how long it took people to walk from the ‘reading words’ task to the next task. If randomly scattered within that list of words were words associated with old age (wrinkles, grey, pension, dentures, florida) then those people walked slower than the people who had not read any old age related words.
Wow. Just think about that? (Or don’t think about that NOW)
That’s just a single experiment. What about what goes on in your head regularly or more problematic – unconsciously. It is also going to have an impact on your thinking but also your body.
Where else might this show up?
This is a basic brain function so could show up anywhere in your life. It also more destructively has the potential to become a mindset – or habitual way of focusing on what you don’t want rather than what you do want.
Examples might be, if the brain has put a threat value on pain, then focused on being pain-free is ironically problematic. If you are constantly hoping to avoid fatigue and hoping that you don’t overdo it and crash, then you are wiring your brain in a very specific way that only re-enforces the threat value of activity. If you go on a diet and try to ‘NOT EAT THE TASTY CURSED CHOCOLATE CAKE’, then guess what? You not only fail but fail big time. Mmmm. Chocolate!
Neural plasticity is a competitive process. It is not just about trying to stop a problem (thought, emotion/feeling, behaviour, a memory, compulsion or physiological process like pain/fatigue). We are activity doing something in it’s place. We might have to start with changing our habitual mindset.
Where our focus goes our energy flows is an often used saying. Our neural wiring also goes where our focus is. Are we wiring our brain to what we want or what we don’t want. There is a massive difference.
Or as Aristotle out is – Put all your energy into creating the new not fighting the old.
So don’t tell me what you don’t what. You will be operating out of fear & wiring the brain around the very thing you dread. Don’t tell me what you want to avoid or want to stop. Pain-free is not the aim. To stop panic attacks is not the goal. To beat anxiety is not the aim. To manage CFS is not the solution.
This way of thinking is great but ONLY in a threatening environment. “I want to stop the tiger”. It gives a single minded focus , our options narrow and we produce stress hormones. We survive but not thrive.
We need to engage a very different part of the brain instead of the threat driven protective part of the brain.
So notice how you think. What’s your style?
Start getting clear about what you want – Not what you don’t want. It doesn’t make change happen but it sets you up for success rather than more struggle.
I hope that made sense and I just wanted to double check that you really have stopped thinking about polar bears. Damn bears!
So what is Neuroplasticity?
Change can become easier when you understanding how brain function influences who you are and how you experience the world AND how you can influence brain function. Neuroplasticity shows us that the brain is the most trainable and flexible organ we have.
Change is in your control.
Why does it matter?
When I first started this work I remember giving a talk to a local health care clinic and I had to explain the term Neuroplasticity and how it relates to pain, fatigue, anxiety & trauma. A lot has changed since then but NEUROPLASTICITY is still often not fully understood.
Most of us has grown up not thinking too much about our brains or its role in everyday basic function. We obviously knew it was a vital organ but we often misunderstood the role it plays and few thought they could actively influence their own brain. Just how import is the brain? Well we no longer talk about an immune system or an endocrine system. It is the neuro-immune -endocrine system because of the driving role of the brain plays. This has given rise to the field of science called psycho-neuro-immunology (PNI) – how psychological process interact with immune and endocrine function. How we experience our body or the world around us is a brain process. We see, hear, feel, smell, taste because of how the brain process the information coming from our senses. Our senses send the information to the brain and what we experience is the brain’s ‘best guess’ of what’s ‘out there’. If the processing of this information is altered even slightly, our experience of ourselves and the world changes. We also now know how a traumatic experience changes the brain to protect us. And more recently it has become clearer that chronic pain and chronic fatigue are very different from acute pain and acute fatigue and are less ‘body’ issues but rather issues in brain processing. We can confidently now say that ‘All Pain is in the Brain’ – a statement that just wouldn’t have made sense a few decades ago.
All this information would be of mere scientific curiosity but it really matters. If the brain can change, can we influence that change in our favour? Can you learn to change the organ that is so critical for making us who we are. Neuroplasticity says the brain is actually built to change! So why not make the most of Neuroplasticity?
Neuroplasticity has been described as the greatest medical breakthrough in the last 400 years. It’s a game changer that offers everyone with a brain, the opportunity to improve their lives. But it is still a concept that is culturally new. The Nobel Prize for Science in 1990 went to work on Neuroplasticity and pain but it takes time to go from the science lab to the water cooler. And that’s where it needs to be. A cultural understanding that if you change your brain and you change your life.
It is a concept that has become so linked in with my work and my trainings that I often forget that it is still a concept that is new to people or that people only vaguely comprehend.
So here is a basic overview for you. Colleagues and Neuroscientists will cringe at the simplification but it is aiming for a basic understanding only. I will give links to great books and videos to watch to deepen your understanding at the end.
WHAT IS IT?
The term Neuro means the nervous system. Our central nervous system is the brain and spinal chord. The Plasticity part refers to the revolutionary concept that the nervous system is malleable, flexible changeable in both it’s structure and function. It is revolutionary because we used to think it was not flexible at all. We thought the brain was made up of specific regions and that each region had it’s own important function.
We used the think that the brain formed in the womb and continued developing in early critical childhood period. By late childhood the brain had finished developing. It was believed to be the only organ in the body that couldn’t heal or change. The implication of this old ‘static brain’ concept was that if you had devolopmental or trauma issues early on then there was little you could do. You were at the mercy of those developmental years. Also we thought if there was deterioration in brain function with age or brain injury then there was little we could do. We were at the mercy of our age and genetics and we just had to get along as best we could.
It turns out that not only we were wrong we were embarrassingly wrong. The brain does change and adapt. It is actually built to adapt and change. It retains this capacity until the day we die.
So we have a brain that has built into its function the capacity to change. To rewire. To change its structure and function to create a better life. We can be stronger, happier, healthier, smarter. We can be more happy and healthy, day by day. If the brain can change, we can change.
DIY Brain Changes
Making change however takes effort and energy so the brain will only change if there is a need. If there is not a need to change it won’t. Some neuroscientists call it a lazy brain, but I think it is more about efficiency. It changes if it needs to. If it doesn’t need to then it won’t. The brain will change if there is a benefit to us. Benefits tend to fit into two categories. They either positive changes to get us to thrive or they are changes that keep us alive.
If something is dangerous to our survival then the brain will change to protect us and keep us safer. But here is where I think it gets really fascinating. For the brain to decide what is dangerous it LEARNS. It can learn from past experience, from conversations, from the news, from watching others, from the internet. From all the sensory input it has received from its early development. Your brain is unique to you and is formed through your life experiences. No two brains are the same. They have been changing since the beginning and bring you to NOW.
For some, NOW is now really working for them. They are in a stuck state. The brain changes in order to make life better, easier, more efficient and SAFER. But it is also easy to get into a neurological rut. This is known as the dark side of NEUROPLASTICITY. Anything we repeat often enough or under certain conditions, rewires the brain so that becomes easier and eventually effortless and automatic. This includes emotions, feelings, behaviours, physiological responses.
So with certain neuroplastic change, people can become stuck in a rut where their brain and body really isn’t operating in a way that is creating an optimal life.
But the exciting part of Neuroplasticity is that brain is the most flexible and trainable organ we have. Just because we are stuck, doesn’t mean we can not potentially become unstuck.
When we understand the nature of the rut and have the tools to get out of those neuroplastic ruts, then we can do incredible things.
For the chronic conditions I work with change is required at the neuroplastic level. But a neurosurgeon can’t do it. But you can.
Retraining sleep pattern alters brain function. Regular physical activity plays a special role in neuroplastic change. Addressing trauma or stress hormones influences brain function. How you think changes your brain. Everything we do can influence the brain and body in important ways. What you do, how you move, what you think, say, feel, remember, expect, focus on or imagine changes your brain. All these things can become automatic and create change in our brain. These are all things that you can learn to control and take back control of your brain and life.
Your past experience has given you a unique brain that is helping to make you who you are and how you experience the world. But you are not at the mercy of your brain. You are not at the mercy of your past.
If you are curious to learn more about Neuroplasticity then I would recommend Norman Doidge’s 2 books.
You can be skeptical or you can be curious about neuroplasticity. And thanks to Neuroplasticity either can become a habit. I would recommend curiosity and a willingness to learn. It will change your brain and your life.
There is a great TedTalk (below) by Michael Merzenich ‘the Pioneer of Neuroplasticity’ if you enjoy going to the movies.
If you prefer to kick back and listen to podcasts, then download the Brain Science Podcast interview with Michael Merzenich.
And of course if you would like to talk to a real person, and learn more about my work and how it might help you then it’s as simple as making contact.
TAKE BACK CONTROL – Lightning Process Podcast
I recently did an Interview with Bev for the Living Fabulously Website about my work & the concept of taking back control of your health & life.
I wrote a recent post “If Pain persists BE your own Doctor”.
This one could be “If you are stuck BE your own Neuroplastic Surgeon”.
To live a brilliant life you don’t need understand the brain at the level of a Neuroscientist like Michael Merzenich. But you would be foolish to ignore his message.
And that is that change is very much under your control. You can learn to change your brain and therefore your life.
Inside your skull you have something which is extraordinarily precious AND has a built in capacity to make your life better – happier, stronger, healthier.
Why would it have this capacity if not to utilise it?
It’s worth pondering that biological fact. Your brain has the capacity to change. You can learn to walk and speak because you have the built in capacity. You have the capacity to speak several languages but you might not want to. But you could.
Another built in capacity you have is to make changes in your brain. You can take charge of this process. You may not want to but you could. But unlike speaking another language, once we learn how to change our own brain then a world of opportunity opens up to us.
Regardless of what your beliefs are about how the brain got that ability to change, the truth is that your brain can change and you have the capacity to change it.
It is built for change. You are built for change. We can all get into a rut. Life, circumstance or age can put us into a stuck state or a state of decline. But one of the most destructive concepts is the idea that you can’t change or that you are at the mercy of your past, your genes, your environment, your circumstance or your age. At any age and regardless of your past. You can change.
When you believe you can’t change you are ignoring that your brain is built for it. When you understand just how influential the brain is in who you are and how you experience the world, you begin to understand why Neuroplascitiy is regarded as one of the greatest breakthroughs in the last 300years.
You can learn to be your own Neuroplastic Surgeon.
Below is a video from Micheal Merzenich. He is such a powerful voice for Brain Plasticity because of his passionate understanding of these concepts and their implications.
Many people I see have been sick for a long time & come to me with a long list of failures, having ‘tried everything’.
That doesn’t mean it’s impossible or even hard. It is just a comment on the approaches they have tried or how they have used the approaches.
Maybe it means it’s time for a radically different approach.
If you ignore the role brain function plays in any chronic health condition you are likely to be missing a key driver.