What are neural pathways?

When I’m talking about how the brain works, I sometimes mention neural pathways. What are they and how do they affect our lives? Here’s a brief look at the science behind solution focused hypnotherapy.

What is a neural pathway?

In brief, a neural pathway is a series of connected neurons that send signals from one part of the brain to another.

Neurons come in three main types: motor neurons that control muscles; sensory neurons that are stimulated by our senses; and inter-neurons that connect neurons together. These connected neurons process the information we receive. It is these that enable us to interact, as well as experience emotions and sensations. They create our memories and enable us to learn.

We already have a series of neural pathways, and we are creating new ones all the time. An example of an early neural pathway is that if a baby smiles, he or she is rewarded by a smile in return and possibly a cuddle. The same baby may work out that if he or she touches something sharp, it may hurt. Both are valuable learning experiences.

Neural pathways are essential; however not all of them are beneficial and can become negative habits.

How neural pathways develop

Like a physical pathway on the ground, if you keep going over the same route, it becomes a habit. You probably have a set route that you take on the way to the local shop. You can walk it with your eyes closed, and why would you ever go a different way when this way is so ingrained?

Habits are the same. By always reaching for a bar of chocolate when you feel low, or a drink to lessen feelings of anxiety, you are creating a pathway in the brain. This means that like your walk to the shop, you automatically follow the same route. You’re feeling down, so your brain goes along the path to the chocolate bar.

The happy thing is that like a real road system, the brain can be changed and adapted. This flexibility of the brain is called neuroplasticity, and it’s this that enables you to change habits that you thought were ingrained. Like the Highways Agency, the brain can create new routes and shut off old ones, with some help and training.

How solution focused hypnotherapy helps change neural pathways

This is what my colleagues and I do: we help our clients to let go of old habits and create new, positive pathways in their place. If you have realised that you need to change your route, you can start to remove those negative behaviours.

A good example of how we re-programme our neural pathways is to do with weight loss. It could be that since childhood, you’ve come to associate a biscuit with reward and feeling good. So, if you feel in need of an emotional lift, you automatically take the path (physically as well as mentally!) towards the biscuit box. Yes, diet and exercise help you lose weight; however unless you change those pathways, any weight loss won’t be sustainable.

I work with my clients to adjust their relationship with food. However solid this pathway has become, we can block it off by replacing the need to eat with other ways of feeling good. By looking at the source of the pathway, we can also head those anxious feelings off at the pass, meaning that you won’t need to travel that path anymore. Solution focused therapy helps you train your brain to stay on positive pathways, and yes, you can break those well-worn habits.

I’ve used eating as a straightforward example, and an issue that many of us struggle with. However, you can also change your pathways to break nicotine or alcohol addiction, or help with social interaction if you have anxiety. Thanks to the neuroplasticity of your brain, with help, support and effort you can overcome habits that sometimes seem unbreakable.

Start on a new path

I’m Debbie Daltrey, the founder of Great Minds Clinic. My clinics are in Timperley, Altrincham, and Manchester City Centre. If you feel that you need support to break any negative behaviour or habits, please call me for a confidential chat. We’ll start on that positive new pathway.

 

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