Posted by on Sep 21, 2013 in Blog Posts | Comments Off on Neuro-plasticity


N-P-R and Neuro-plasticity, theory and practise finally meet.

It has long been assumed by practitioners of Neuro-linguistic programming, that we all hold a conceptual map of experience in our minds via which we navigate our lives. Alfred Korzybski made the statement, ‘The map is not the territory’ meaning that the map is just a representation of our reality and experience, but it isn’t the reality itself. Just like a normal map of the world, the map is a scaled down visual representation of the real world that we can use to navigate our way through the real geographical area.

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Our conceptual map houses our beliefs about ourselves, our world, other people etc, based on the experiences we have had, and where we have been before. No one could create a normal map of the world without first going and seeing where it all was. Only what was seen and experienced got put in the map. No one map is the same as another, as we all experience the world through our own unique set of senses, and according to our individual experiences. That’s not to say our maps don’t have a lot in common with other maps. I believe that we also have societal and cultural maps, from which we operate, but more about that in a later post.

If you have ever played one of those computer games where you start as a character in a virtual space you will grasp this very easily. As you move around the space a ghostly map will emerge on the screen that shows you where you have already been so that you can either retreat back to the safety of the known, or expand the map by venturing further with your character around the virtual environment causing it to grow ever more complex and vast. What you find is that once you have covered the territory available in the game, you are then limited by it. You can’t go out of the boundaries of the map to find treasure or slay virtual enemies, so you operate within the constraints of it. In real life, our maps can operate in a similar way. We experience our world through our senses and perceptions, our actions and interactions; this creates a map of our experience that includes memories of the outcomes of previous actions and experiences. If we have painful experiences that we don’t want to experience again, these can become the boundaries over which we won’t step because they don’t feel safe. They are self imposed limitations that operate mostly at the unconscious level and we only become aware of them when we try to step over them and feel a discomfort and lack of safety. The map is reminding us that last time we did this, something hurt, something negative resulted, so lots of us learn to remain within the safety of it.

The internal map is not fixed; there are no real boundaries. New experiences and ideas can overwrite old ones to expand the map creating new territory for exploration. The map can grow and reorganise itself eternally when you know how it operates and what to do to change it. Questioning your map and altering the parts that don’t help you to experience life as you want to is fundamental to change, and the latest Neuro-scientific findings are turning out to be as useful as the conceptual map theory in the area of change and growth.

Neuro scientists have been fighting for years about the idea of neuro-plasticity. Neuro-plasticity is the theory that the brain is not fixed in form, as was once believed, but that it is an organ that is able to re wire itself, to adapt, to grow both physically and cognitively. It is in a constant state of learning and development depending on our interaction with the environment via our senses and perceptions. Research now shows undoubtedly that neuro-plasticity is a fact not a theory.

Each time we have a thought, carry out an action, experience an event or an emotion, make a physical movement or even watch someone else making a physical movement, the neurons in our brain fire to form a connection with one another. This is how communication pathways are formed in the brain. Imagine a page full of dots, and each time you perform an action, you draw a line from one dot to another, each time you repeat the action you draw another line on top of the original one and it becomes heavier and thicker and more pronounced, the connection is very clear and obvious. This is similar to what happens when a brain cell communicates repeatedly with another brain cell. The line of communication becomes solidly established and fires easily and readily. Imagine if many activities or thoughts occur, the whole page of dots begin to be joined up creating a large spaghetti like map of the experiences that are taking place. When neuro scientists look inside areas of our brains, they can see the physiological changes taking place in correspondence with what we are doing in our realities with our thoughts, actions, behaviours and experiences. Not only is there a conceptual map, but there also appears to be a physiological representation of our experience taking place in our brains that corresponds to whatever we are doing or learning in our lives. When we learn something new, or do something new, we cause one neuron to connect with another neuron. The more often we do this new ‘thing’, the more often the neuron fires. Eventually, this neural pathway will be established as a working part of your brains communication pathways. Your brain has learned something new and has adapted itself physically to accommodate that new ‘thing’ into its old map. Conversely, when you stop doing a ‘thing’, i.e., a behaviour, action, or thought, the opposite occurs. The neural pathway that used to support that ‘thing’ withers away and dies in a process called neural pruning. This is where some of the success of Neuro-Psychological Reprocessing for the treatment of anxiety lies. You are literally teaching your brain to do something new, to establish a new neural pathway that will strengthen with each usage, while the old pathway established by the previously learned anxious experience diminishes and ceases to bother to operate.

Your experience quickly changes as old limitations are literally replaced by new freedoms. You then know that you have had these new freedoms; they become part of your conceptual map because you have been there and added them to your experience, and they are also established in your neuro-physiological map as new neural pathways that are used repeatedly. As I talk about in the N-P-R process itself. The brain does not need to have the real experience to generate the changes; the virtual experience has the same impact on the alteration of your conceptual map as the real one does. We now know that the virtual experience also has an impact on your neuro-physiological map just as the real experience would. More about that in the next post.


Alfred Korzybski – Science and Sanity. David Hamilton – Your Mind Can Heal Your Body Norman Doidge – The Brain that Changes Itself.