If you want it, you might get it. The Reticular Activating System explained

by Tobias van Schneider
first appeared ✍🏼 on my personal blog

I’ve always been fascinated with superheroes for the same reasons kids are: They wear costumes. They beat bad guys. They have awesome powers. The older I get, though, the more I realize how amazing real human beings are.

Our brains are incredibly complex. We can sift through billions of bits of data at any given time. And somehow, so we don’t short circuit, we have to organize that information. The Reticular Activating System helps with that.

The Reticular Activating System (RAS) is a bundle of nerves at our brainstem that filters out unnecessary information so the important stuff gets through.

The RAS is the reason you learn a new word and then start hearing it everywhere. It’s why you can tune out a crowd full of talking people, yet immediately snap to attention when someone says your name or something that at least sounds like it.

Photograph by Sergio Rola

Your RAS takes what you focus on and creates a filter for it. It then sifts through the data and presents only the pieces that are important to you. All of this happens without you noticing, of course. The RAS programs itself to work in your favor without you actively doing anything. Pretty awesome, right?

In the same way, the RAS seeks information that validates your beliefs. It filters the world through the parameters you give it, and your beliefs shape those parameters. If you think you are bad at giving speeches, you probably will be. If you believe you work efficiently, you most likely do. The RAS helps you see what you want to see and in doing so, influences your actions.

Some people suggest that you can train your RAS by taking your subconscious thoughts and marrying them to your conscious thoughts. They call it “setting your intent.” This basically means that if you focus hard on your goals, your RAS will reveal the people, information and opportunities that help you achieve them.

If you care about positivity, for example, you will become more aware of and seek positivity. If you really want a pet turtle and set your intent on getting one, you’ll tune in to the right information that helps you do that.

When you look at it this way, The Law of Attraction doesn’t seem so mystical. Focus on the bad things and you will invite negativity into your life. Focus on the good things and they will come to you, because your brain is seeking them out. It’s not magic, it’s your Reticular Activating System influencing the world you see around you.

Articles and sketchy YouTube videos suggest many ways to train your RAS to get what you want, but I find this method to be the most practical:

  1. First, think of the goal or situation you want to influence.
  2. Now think about the experience or result you want to reach in regards to that goal/situation.
  3. Create a mental movie of how you picture that goal/situation ideally turning out in the future. Notice the sounds, conversations, visuals and details of that mental movie. Replay it often in your head.

Of course, in reality these things aren’t as easy as they sound, but I do believe that our Reticular Activating System (RAS) can be trained. It’s about visualizing what we want, and then letting our subconscious and conscious work together to make it happen.

The idea is: If I can hear my own name in a crowd of thousands, can I also tune my brain to focus and attract the things that matter to me? I’m fairly certain I can. This is why I keep my Big List with me wherever I go, and reread it often. I have to continually refocus and remind my brain what matters and what doesn’t.

We’re only a couple months into our New Year’s Resolutions (or in my case, Anti-Resolutions) and it’s easy to quit on our goals. If we set our intent and refocus, though, our RAS might help us out. Our brains look out for our best interests. Our RAS is filtering through billions of pieces of data so we can see and hear and be what we want to be. Sounds kinda like superpower to me.

Have a fantastic week,
Tobias


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Tobias is a Designer & Maker + Co-Founder of Semplice, a portfolio platform for designers. Also host of the show NTMY — Previously Art Director & Design Lead at Spotify.

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