Want me to say it again?
Want me to actually say it?
The first half of the word “Trampel” comes from the verb “trampeln” which means to stomp.
As in “When we told the kids they weren’t allowed to watch TV, they ended up stomping up the stairs in frustration.”
The second half of the word “pfad” simply means path.
Therefore, a Trampelpfad is a path, which has been created by people stomping along the same trail.
You can most often find a Trampelpfad in the woods, and it looks like this:
Why am I telling you this?
One, because Trampelpfad is an awesome word and there’s no proper English word for it and two, because it will help you remember what I’m about to say next.
Your brain is a forest…
Not only because it’s a very complex ecosystem, but also because just like in a forest, there are many paths in your brain.
Some of these neural pathways are well established, while others are just beginning to form.
You have about 100 billion neurons inside your brain, but only a certain number of them are activated each time you think, feel or do something.
The most developed paths in your brain are your habits.
Let’s say every time you brush your teeth the following 3 neurons are activated:
Since you’ve been brushing your teeth every day for a long time, the path between these 3 neurons is very well established.
That means the brain knows the quickest way between the three and doesn’t need a lot of energy to activate all of them.
Why is that?
Because neurons that fire together, wire together. This is a quote from Donald Hebb, a neuropsychologist who coined the phrase in 1949.
Simply put, neurons that are activated together, strengthen their connection between them — they form a path.
In a forest, once a Trampelpfad has been established, the question is, will it turn to a proper path?
If more and more people take the Trampelpfad, it becomes broader and stronger, until eventually, it becomes the main path, and not just a side track.
The first time you ever brushed your teeth the connection between neurons #14, #4,765 and #9,789,908 was weak — basically non-existent.
Remembering to do it every night wasn’t easy, and sometimes you’d forget.
Taking the Trampelpfad was tough and still took a lot of work.
Now it’s a daily, automatic habit, because the neural pathway is well established.
The Trampelfpad has become the main path.
…and you’re the ranger
This is great news, because what it implies is that you can rewire your own brain.
You’re the ranger in your brain forest, and you can forge new paths, literally at will.
But you can’t just pick up new habits like that, you can also get rid of old ones.
Look at the map below.
The red line in the middle is the main hiking trail between my home town (Merzalben) and Hermersbergerhof — a tavern for travelers, where they can eat and rest.
It’s the main trail, so naturally, at least 70% of the tourists, who come here to hike, take it.
But then again, about 70% of all people drink alcohol. That doesn’t necessarily make it the best path for you.
Wait a second.
You’re the ranger!
So when it’s time to break a bad habit, you can just create a new Trampelpfad, all by yourself.
All you have to do is go off track, away from the beaten path.
Let’s say you have a ton of apple trees in your forest, and you decide to replace all the alcohol in your life with fresh apple juice that you’ll make yourself.
Time to forge a Trampelpfad!
You can now stock up on apples, make some juice ahead of time and, if your go to drink is an ice cold beer placed inside the door of your fridge, simply replace it with a bottle of your homemade juice.
Now, every time you arrive at the crossroads between alcohol and juice, you’re given an automatic prompt to take the Trampelpfad, instead of the beaten path.
Look at the hiking map again.
See the red line on the bottom? The first half of it is dotted, meaning the path is not fully developed yet and even kinda dangerous.
That’s what forming a new path in your brain is like. It won’t be easy.
At first, having juice instead of beer will feel weird. The path is still rough, and you might fail a couple times and go back to take the easier trail.
Forging paths takes time.
But eventually, as you take your own path again and again, it becomes the main path, just like when forming a new habit — and the old path, the previously beaten track, withers away.
This concept is known as neuroplasticity, and it simply means that your brain is adaptable, like plastic.
Even throughout our adult life, we can still change the structure of our own brain by using our emotions, thoughts and actions.
Why Trampelpfads are so important
Habits are a way for your brain to save energy.
Since roughly half of your waking time is spent on automatic behaviors (i.e. habits), you’d better be off accumulating a few good ones.
The more good habits you acquire, the more willpower you will have left to make good decisions.
What’s more, they show you that change is possible.
Even if the first around your Trampelpfad is muddy, steep and you get your feet wet, the more you use it, the better it gets.
Incremental changes compound, and they do so way faster than you think.
I’d now tell you to pick up your boots, get out the door, and venture off the beaten path.
But today, you already are.
Because from this day forward, when you hear the word “Trampelpfad”, your brain will never light up the same neurons again.
New neurons are firing in your brain right this second.
That’s how fast you can get started on rewiring your brain.
The only question is: When will they light up again?
PS: For further reading I suggest Rewire by Richard O’Connor. You can take a look at my personal summary of the book here. Read it, and then decide whether you want to get the book.