Everything you see and hear is not everything that is out there. There is so much information in your environment, that your brain cannot handle all of it. Our brain can only handle a very small fraction of all that information. That’s where the RAS comes in and plays it’s part.
What is the RAS?
The Reticular Activating System or as it’s more commonly known, the RAS, is a group of neurons located at the base of the brain, the long tube-like structure, called the Brain Stem. This cluster of interconnected nuclei are called the Reticular Formation.1
The RAS is involved in our flight-or-fight reaction, it controls our sleep and arousal states (waking, asleep, asleep and dreaming) and acts as a filter to all the information that we are continuously bombarded with in our immediate environment.2
It processes and filters information such as sounds, smells, what we see and what we feel. Smell, on the other hand, is not part of this controlled information; this job belongs to our emotional centre, the amygdala.
We receive millions of information every second from our immediate environment. Look around you and see everything that there is in the room that you are in. Imagine if you had to take every little bit of information into account. Most of it is of no immediate importance.
Take you. What are you doing right now? What are you having to concentrate on to make sure that what you have to do is getting done? What are you not concentrating on, information that at this moment in time has no relevance or importance?
Your RAS is filtering all of that information that is not needed out and allowing the information that you do need in. But here is a better question: how does it know what to let in and what not to let in?
What you concentrate on and what is important. In other words, what you FOCUS on.
Where is your Focus?
In a previous post we spoke about focus and why it’s important. What we focus on is what we bring into existence. Concentration means to focus on a single thing and close everything else out, to focus all our attention to a single thing.
Try this: stop what you are doing. I’m going to assume that you have taken all safety precautions into account. Then, close your eyes and listen to all the sounds for about three minutes. Really listen.
Did you hear the usual sounds? Did you hear anything new? Three minutes is a long time when all you are doing is listening but after the first half minute the usual sounds have been heard, and then you begin to hear something new. The brain gets bored and seeks for something that is unusual, hearing new sounds to excite the senses.
Why didn’t you hear those sounds before? A combination of what you consider important and your cognitive bias.
There are a few things that you consider important. Take parents with their newborn baby. The hammer-drill from the road works could be going like a mad jack-hammer, but that is not what wakes them up. It’s the lowly cry of the baby in its cot. That is what is important when parents are tired, want to sleep and are dead to all other sounds in the world.
Just like the sounds that you focus on, you will have certain ideas and goals that you focus on. At the same time you have beliefs and knowingly or not, you are also focussing on them. Consequently you are setting the RAS to focus on them as well, and since what we focus on most of the time is what we bring into our life, you are creating those ideas, those beliefs.
The cycle of change – or not
We all have beliefs. Some of us have the same beliefs because we are part of a group of people; our family, our team, our religion or abstention, political preference, nationality and so on. Because of ALL these combinations, each of us will have different ideas and beliefs.
Each family will have different values, morals and ethics. On top of that we will be influenced by the values, morals and ethics of the people around us in each of those environments, as well as the values, morals and ethics of the organisation we are a part of. If we allow ourselves to be. We do have a choice.
There is a problem here, however, when we don’t want those beliefs and ideals because they are holding us back, such as “I’m not good enough”, “I’m not smart”, “I’m not confident” and “I can’t do it”.
Because of how the RAS works and our cognitive biases, not only do we seek to confirm that what we believe is so (“I can’t lose weight” becomes exactly that), but because we are focussing on that, we set our RAS to focus on that goal as well the result is that it becomes a never ending circle of having the proof, so we believe it, which sets our focus on that belief, that provides the RAS with a goal and what to focus on, which goes on to seek it, find it and provide us with the proof the WE ARE RIGHT.
It’s a never ending circle, a never ending story and a cycle of insanity, because most of us want to break out of that circle but never do anything different. And most of the time it’s because we don’t know that we are doing it and what we are doing. We can’t see our mind, the conscious and subconscious workings of our mind, and since it’s out of sight it becomes out of mind.
How do we change it?
Change your Focus
Sounds simple enough, right. It is. It doesn’t mean that it’s easy.
We can change our focus and it’s easy enough to choose what we want to focus on. The not easy part is maintaining it when there is lack of proof.
We all find it difficult to believe in something we don’t see, but religions have proven otherwise. We believe in God or some other entity, whether it be mother nature or energy, we all believe in something. Even when that something is nothing.
What has been shown is that everything we see now, in our world, started life as an idea in the mind of an individual. That individual focussed their energy, concentrated, towards a given goal. They set their RAS to a definite target, which consequently provided the necessary information to reach that goal and provide the proof.
Instead of saying “I can’t”, say “I can”. Instead of believing that your relationships are always failures, start to create the image, feeling and belief of a successful relationship. Instead of saying that you can’t lose weight, say that you can lose weight and you have all the necessary tools to make it happen. And if you don’t have the tools that they will appear at the right time to help you along.
And feel it. By adding this last element, the most important one, you are activating all your senses, engaging the whole of your brain and mind, on what you focus on. You bring online a system unequaled anywhere else.
The difficulty is in keeping this up until it starts to happen. If you maintain this train of thought it will happen. Whatever you believe.
Earl Nightingale said, “We become what we think about”. Now you understand why.
The suns rays heat the whole world but not until you focus them through a magnifying glass is their true power revealed. The RAS and your ideas are the same.
It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light.