I had a request from a reader to write about the power of focus. There are many things I could write about that but I am committed to keeping my articles bite-sized so I told her I’d keep it to one of the most important things on the topic – the Reticular Activating System.
The Reticular Activating System (RAS) is the part of your brain that tells you what information is important to notice.
Your brain takes in about two million bits of information every second. I don’t think it’s possible to know for sure exactly how much information your brain is taking in every second and it probably varies from second to second but two million is the number I usually use when teaching this information. Jack Canfield writes “At any one time, there is about eight million bit of information streaming into your brain”. So my number could be an underestimation.
The main point to get here is that it is huge amount of information in every moment. The more important point to get here is that your brain cannot process all of that information (it can do less than a quarter) – nor does it need to. So your RAS filters most of the information out, letting into your awareness only those signals that are important to you.
Imagine you are at an airport waiting for your flight. An airport is an extremely busy place with flights coming in and out from all over the world, people constantly on the move – and moving fast, flight information constantly changing. There are flight numbers, cities and people’s names being called over the announcement system constantly. Most of this information goes on around you. Now imagine your name is suddenly called. You hear it. You notice it. Of everything that is going on at the airport, and of all the information that is being announced, you hear and notice your name.
Your brain knows that your name is important information to you. Your RAS filters that information into the processing centres of your brain.
Imagine you’ve just brought a new car. You’re loving your new car and think you’re pretty special. Now that you’ve got it though you start seeing the same car everywhere and in the same colour too! This is similar to the way that pregnant women start seeing other pregnant women almost everywhere they look. We’ve all experience these kinds of phenomenon. It’s your RAS in action; bringing into your awareness all the information that your brain had been programmed to assess as important to notice.
This is why setting goals is important and highly useful – it is effective use of your RAS. Your RAS is part of your brain, it will be functioning regardless of whether you intentionally program it, and it costs nothing to use. So I say program it to your advantage.
If you do not set goals in order to program your brain with what is important to you, then your brain will go with default goals. In general, default goals will be fear-focused and survival-driven goals that your upbringing and society have taught are important. This will cost you.
Special note here: Your fears are equivalent to goals. They tell your brain what to notice in order to stay away from it (i.e. keep you safe). For example, if you have a belief that ‘people can’t be trusted’ your brain will very helpfully provide you with lots of evidence of all the times that people have been untrustworthy. This is just one example of one of the many of fears or beliefs you or I possibly have. I could go on forever with all the fears that I learn about in my work: Women are too demanding, it needs to be perfect before I can move forward, relationships don’t last, everyone else has better work/life balance than me, rich people are greedy, I’m never good enough… Seriously I could go on all day…
So get focused, decide what you want (and don’t hold your imagination back) and notice how relevant information appears for you. It’s appears like magic – only it’s not really magic because the information was always there. It was just lost amongst all the other information.
I set a goal about a year ago that I wanted to go on a holiday to New Zealand. A few days later I was reading the newspaper. Can you guess which advertisements were jumping out of the pages and grabbing my attention? Of all of the travel ads in the paper, my brain was noticing the ones that said things like ‘Auckland on sale’.
I set a goal that I wanted to write articles as part of my coaching business. Now I’ll be having conversations with friends and clients and they will suggest things for me to write about or I’ll receive unexpected emails with similar suggestions. Or I’ll simply be going for my daily walk and see something that inspires an idea.
Use your brain or it will use you. Your choice.