There are many fields I wish I had studied more in college. The brain is one of them. Of course, when I was in college, we knew about 1/10th of what we know today.
Aside from being an efficient chemical factory for producing hormones that affect happiness, pleasure, body control, and mood, the brain is a masterful collection of information systems and sub-systems. One of my favorite sub-systems is called the reticular activating system. The reticular formation is a set of interconnected nuclei that are located throughout the brain stem. The ascending reticular activating system (RAS) represents a series of connections made between the brain stem and the higher parts of the brain.
The RAS is an miraculous system for controlling habits and perceptions in humans. On one hand, it affects the way you see the world, filtering millions of stimuli into a few things you pay attention to. On the other hand, it reinforces behavior and beliefs. So, for example, we tend to filter out information that doesn’t fit our current beliefs. (This should help explain a great deal of the political discussion on Facebook.)
Here’s the coolest part as far as I’m concerned: the RAS does a lot of work automatically (controlling automated functions of the body, filtering information, helping your sleep, etc .), but it can also be manipulated by your intentions. And when that happens, your intentions can become magnified very powerfully. Here’s what I mean.
Every’s had the experience of buying a car and then seeing that car all over town. Those cars were always driving all over town: You just didn’t notice them because you didn’t care. You have to filter out virtually everything you’re exposed to or you would not be able to function. The RAS does that filtering. At the same time, you can choose to focus on specific things. You can tune into the color blue, or BMWs, or plastic ducks. Most of the time, these “choices” are unconscious. They just happen. But you can make conscious choices to focus on specific information.
Let’s try an example. You may have heard of the concept of block chain. Block chain is a cool new technology for creating secure transactions. It’s going to be widely used very soon. Many companies are investing in block chain. Say the words out loud: Block Chain.
There. I’ve told you almost nothing about block chain. But I’ve planted the seed in your consciousness. You’ve probably heard the phrase block chain before, but you have not paid attention to it unless there’s a reason to. Now, I’ve dragged it out of the background fog and into the forefront of your attention. Watch over the next 1-2 days and you will probably see or hear the phrase block chain. This phrase has been floating around, just outside your consciousness. Now it will become more visible for a short time.
“Short time” is key here. If you have no reason to pay attention to block chain, this raised consciousness will fade quickly – precisely because it has no value in your life.
Now consider something else. Perhaps you want to grow your business, lose weight, learn a new skill, get your garden into shape, or any other goal. If you take time to bring that goal into your conscious brain, the RAS will recognize that it has value for you . . . and begin focusing on it more and more. The RAS becomes an amplifier for your goals.
On more than one occasion, I’ve had a “great” business idea that flashed into my head. I took time to sit down, write out notes, make some drawings, and maybe even do some calculations. In other words, I focused very heavily on this idea for an hour or so. And guess what? All day the next day, it seems that every conversation helps promote that idea. People pop into my head that might be able to help me. The radio has a story about something that affect this. And so forth.
The point is: Once I choose to give an idea a certain amount of attention, the RAS helps me give it more and more attention.
Now, if you practice this regularly, your RAS will help you amplify your focus. But only for a short period of time . . . until you continually choose to focus more. If you keep focusing on the subject again and again, your RAS will renew it’s attention more and more. It’s a lot like cramming your way through on online course. You can ignore it for awhile and your brain will have no reason to put attention on it. But when you buckle down and study every day, your brain redoubles your efforts . . . and begins working on the problem in the background when your are not even aware that your brain is working on your behalf.
All success comes back to the concept of focus. In my book Relax Focus Succeed, I say that you get better at whatever you put your attention on. Other people have said things like, “Whatever you put your attention on expands.” That’s absolutely true. You can spend your days responding to the random stimuli of the universe, or you can choose to focus your attention – And your good friend the reticular activating system help you focus even more.