Ian Cleary

Fire & Your Brain


As fire season starts I’m reminded of my work on fire crews when I was younger. Little did I know that my work testing moisture in leaf litter or plugging in wind speeds would give profound insight into the brain and pain & fatigue.

Who is better protected from catastrophe – a town with a super-fast fire crew that can respond as soon as the first whisp of smoke is detected OR a town that can predict in advance of a catastrophic fire season and set off the warming bells early and take necessary action?

The answer is that it is safer to predict well than respond quickly. 

That is also the brain’s key strategy – it protects and serves us by predicting. BUT HOW?

Well those fire signs we see are not just a person sticking their head out the window and getting a ‘feel’ for the day. They methodically measure temperature, wind, moisture levels AND have a programme that looks at how that relates to PAST fires. It’s the PAST that helps us predict our safety on any given day. OUR PAST is how we predict the FUTURE. The measurements are meaningly unless we compare them to the PAST.

And so it is with the brain. If you haven’t figured it out by all those red highlighted words : OUR PAST IS HUGELY INFLUENTIAL IN HOW OUR BRAIN RESPONDS

Those who have been following my Lightning Process emails know that the approach looks at the role our brain plays in our physical and mental well-being.

Our brains are always changing and adapting to experience (Neuroplasticity). A key fact about the brain is this simple but profound concept … rather than responding to the PRESENT moment, our brains are actually predicting what will happen NEXT and protecting us from that predicted FUTURE. It does this by looking at patterns of the PAST. Like a town preparing for a future fire season.  So technically the brain is not responding to the moment to keep you safe – it is predicting what you need to stay safe based on your PAST. That’s worth pondering – Your brain is trying to keep you safe by looking at your past.

So – your past matters in your brain function. Your responses are unique to you because your past is unique to you.

Long periods of historic stress, adverse childhood experiences (abuse, neglect, household dysfunction) or intense traumatic experiences in our past are highly influential in brain function.

Long periods of stress in our past are associated with an over-protective brain. We might actually be safe now but the brain isn’t focused on the present. It’s focused on the PAST and predicting the future.

Think how this might be relevant to anxiety or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

But we don’t have to be at the mercy of our past. With focused attention and effort we can retrain our brains. That’s what I call ‘Self-directed Neuroplastic Change’.

How might YOUR brain be responding historically rather than appropriately? As a reminder, a ‘response’ could be your stress response, your behavioural responses, your emotional response or even a neurological response like pain and fatigue. (YES – those last 2 are neurological protective responses. This pain TED talk might be a good refresher.)

As we enter a new year our brains will be looking to our past to figure out how best to approach 2021. Sometimes that is useful and sometimes it creates an over-protective response. We don’t have be at the mercy of our past.

Past traumas, threats, stresses and challenges can change how the brain responds. Past stress is associated with over-protective responses. Past stress can create a fear-based brain and introduce biases in how the brain determines what is a threat. Ongoing stress can change the brain so that it can start to respond to safe things as if they are dangerous – very real and physical responses triggered by an over-protective brain.

Pain, fatigue, fear, immune responses, stress, avoidance, emotional responses and ways of thinking can all protect us AND over-protect us. A key finding in neuroscience is that in time the brain changes (NEUROPLASTCITY) and we are stuck responding historically rather than appropriately.

Are you ready to retrain your brain?

It does take focused effort to retrain an over-protective brain but the brain IS the most trainable organ we have. If you feel ready for a brain-based approach I would recommend downloading the LP Audiobook. It guides people through the concepts behind the training and will help you decide if you feel ready to do the work required. Download HERE. You can also simply email to arrange a time to talk through the programme and your own situation.

My Lightning Process online 3 day trainings run twice a month in live video sessions available anywhere across Australia & New Zealand.

Break the cycle of the past – Simply contact me for more information.


+61 (0)450736082

PO Box 481
Eumundi, Qld, 4562.