Friday, 22 March 2019

Sheep tracks and neuroplasticity

In NLP and the Lightning Process we talk a lot about how our brains and bodies works. It’s interesting that the inner processes that get us into trouble, are often also exactly what we need to get us back on track, living our lives well. One of these is the brain’s ability to change in response to how we use it. This is technically known as “neuroplasticity”.

My clients know that I often tell this story about sheep tracks as a way of describing neuroplasticity. Maybe it’s because I so enjoyed my chances to work with sheep on farms in my early 20s! Then one of my Lightning Process clients who is a farmer, Maria Greaves, sent me this photo which reminded her of my story. So I promised I would write a blog about it. Thanks Maria, I have finally written it!

Sheep tracks

If you are feeding sheep in a field every day, you might find that the path and the feeding place become muddy and churned up. So you decide to put up a fence to stop the sheep from going onto the muddy area, and feed them somewhere drier and more suitable instead. To begin with, the sheep won’t know where to go to find their food, but sheep are pretty clever when it comes to food and they will work it out pretty quickly! But there won’t be a track yet going to that new place, so to begin with they will be pushing their way through grass and heather. However, when you consistently give them food in this new place, it won’t take many days before there is a clear sheep track that goes there.

And the old muddy track? When it is no longer used it is surprising how quickly the grass will grow and the track will naturally disappear. Just as the mud of Glastonbury Festival returns to grassy fields again every year!


Our brains work in just the same way. Our nerve cells connect with each other to form neural pathways, and when we use a pathway it gets stronger, easier to go down, and more automatic. But when we stop going down those pathways they fade away. Your body doesn’t like anything to be wasted, so the materials are reused to build new pathways. (You can see new neural pathways growing in brain scans.) So you can retrain your brain as quickly and easily as those sheep tracks change, by “feeding your sheep” where you want them to go.