Tune In Your Reticular Activating System
Put your mind on autopilot to live the life you desire
Most people experience the world though the input of their five senses. At any given moment there is somewhere in the neighborhood of two million bits of sensory information trying to make its way into the subconscious mind. Of that information the subconscious mind can only process about 40,000 bits of incoming data per second. Of the data that comes in the mind has to filter which data is important and which is not. Unimportant data gets filtered out by a bundle of nerves situated at the core of the brain stem known as the Reticular Activating System or RAS.
The time I was most aware of the RAS was while playing the game ‘Slug bug’ with a friend. She had been playing the game for years before I got on the scene. You could say she was a seasoned veteran. She would see the Volkswagen Beetles everywhere. She recognized their tail lights at night; found them in giant parking lots, miles away on hill tops, barely exposed behind trees, I didn’t even know this many Beatles existed.
Slug Bug GREEN!
When I first started playing she smoked me. It went on like this for some time and then gradually I started noticing the cars more and more often. 7-0 turned into 7-1 then 10-2 then 15-4 and gradually I started to see almost as many Beatles as she did. I would then play the game with other friends who’s Reticular Activating System weren’t yet tuned in to allow the Beatles through the filter of incoming information. I would crush them. They sat dumfounded wondering how I could see so many more Beatles than they did. This was the power of the Reticular Activating System.
Your RAS isn’t just good when it comes to finding objects in your environment. You can actually train it to recognize opportunities and use it to accomplish your goals. The RAS is a major reason goal setting works in the first place. As you write down and focus on your goals you are telling your mind what information you find valuable. There is so much processing that goes on behind the scenes that it does a better job of recognizing how to attain your goals than you ever could on a purely conscious level. It will start to connect the dots in your world and guide you along your chosen path. It literally goes to work on finding ways you can become in alignment with the goals you set yourself and the desires you hold. You become aware of the Beatles that would otherwise pass by unnoticed. The power of the RAS can be a curse as much as it is a blessing. Make sure you are using the RAS to enhance your life experience rather than the other way around.
Your RAS doesn’t just become activated when you have goals. It is attune to how you think and feel and responds to ‘self-talk.’ Cognitive dissonance is a psychological term that describes the feeling of discomfort when simultaneously holding two or more conflicting cognitions: ideas, beliefs, values or emotional reactions. People have a motivational drive to reduce dissonance by altering existing cognitions or adding new ones to create a consistent belief system.
When you engage in negative self-talk your RAS filters out your environment so that it aligns with your beliefs. What you say becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. You must become aware of the way in which you are talking to yourself. Anytime you tell yourself you can’t do something, something is hard, it or that it’s not going to work you are programing your mind to give you reference experiences that are in alignment with these beliefs. If you tell yourself you can’t catch the football, then you mind will go to work on not being able to catch the football. Your thoughts actually structure the experience you have of the world around you.
Ask the Right Questions
The questions you ask yourself will determine the way your Reticular Activating System goes about filtering your world. For example, if you ask yourself, “Why can’t I seem to find a better job?” your brain will hand you a list of seemingly valid reasons why you aren’t making progress on finding a better job. As you bring the reasons you can’t do something to the forefront of your mind, your RAS will automatically seek out reinforcement. ‘You can’t find a better job because of your family responsibilities, you don’t know the right people, you don’t have the time, you’re not qualified enough.’ The key is to begin talking to yourself in a way that is productive towards creating the life experience you desire. Follow any desire we have in life back to its roots and we will see it connected to a desire for an emotion. We want money to feel the emotion of freedom and security; we seek a companion to feel the emotion of love and belonging. The key to asking the right questions and talking to yourself in a way that is productive towards experiencing positive emotions is to follow your emotional guidance system.
Emotional Guidance System
The emotional guidance system is how we know which way we are directing the filter of our subconscious mind. All emotions exist on a scale of either good emotions or the bad emotions. When we are feeling good emotions we are using our filter to seek out more good emotions. When we are feeling bad emotions we are using our filter to seek out more bad emotions. It’s really that simple. Tune into how you feel in each moment and seek to feel good.
Notice how you feel as you engage in different forms of self-talk. Notice your emotions as you tell yourself something like “I suck at cooking and I’ll never be any good at it” vs. “I enjoy trying to cook and I’m getting better and better at it each day.” It becomes pretty obvious which set of thoughts are going to lead your RAS into the enjoyment of being a skilled cook.
Call to Action
Start taking control of your RAS. Use your emotions to harness your RAS in a way that is going to lead you towards positive life experiences. Use cognitive dissonance to steer you away from negative influences and keep you on a fulfilling life path. Set goals for yourself and use affirmations and positive self-talk to work with your minds filter and design the life you desire.
The more clear you are on your goals the better your RAS can work for you. Write down any wants, needs, goals, dreams and desires and review or rewrite them daily. The more emotion you put into the process the more motion you’ll get out of it.
Leave me a short story about your experience with the Reticular Activating System in the comments below or let me know if you have any questions about this article.
Wish you the best!