“Where your attention goes, energy flows and results show” — In praise of the Reticular Activating System

Toby Hazlewood
Oct 17, 2018 · 10 min read
What do you see? (Photo by Jose A.Thompson on Unsplash)

If I could share one tip with anyone wanting to improve their life and feel better about themselves, it would be to recognise the immense power of the Reticular Activating System. It’s effects can be easily summed up in the quote above from T. Harv Eker.

Through understanding this part of the brain and the harnessing its effects, I believe I’ve enhanced the quality of my life and I feel more contentment on a daily basis as a result.

Once you understand what it is and how it can shape your life, it seems like the simplest thing to implement. It plays a part in many other tactics, practices and hacks, supercharging the effectiveness of each.

The best part? All it requires is that you become a bit more deliberate about how you observe and focus on what is all around you. That’s it!

After awakening to its power and experiencing its’ effects, I’ve become almost evangelical in trying to get others to wake up to its power.

I continue to encourage my eldest daughter to practice it since she’s left home and gone to university in the Netherlands. When she remembers to apply what I say in her life, I have no doubt that she’s feeling the benefit too.

I wish I could get my younger daughter to practice it too. Notwithstanding her innate teenage resistance to most things I suggest, I know that she’d benefit if she could just look at things a little differently.

My wife, currently in the midst of a hate-affair with her job and experiencing something of an early mid-life crisis of dissatisfaction in her career would benefit from it too.

In short, I know and believe we could all be helped by it. I suspect you could too.

The Reticular Activating System (RAS) as I understand it is a small part of the brain that filters the things we notice via our senses. It acts as a gatekeeper for the things detected by our senses (apart from what we smell) and filters out the things we actually take notice of, usually those that are synergistic with what we’re already aware-of and focusing upon. What we notice, we then react-to via our emotions, thoughts and physical responses.

You may have experienced it if, for example you have bought a new car; with that experience and your precious new possession fresh in your mind, you suddenly notice numerous other cars of the same make and model all around you. It’s not that sales have rocketed as a result of your purchase, but rather they were there all along. Your Reticular Activating System is now filtering out all the inputs it detects that relate to your chosen automobile since it’s at the forefront of your mind, fresh from the new purchase.

Borrowing from the motivational narrative of a Tom Bilyeu video on YouTube, the effect of the Reticular Activating System is as follows:

“Where you put your attention and energy, becomes real in your life and monopolises your mind”

Take it in, filter it, feel it (Photo by Ian Stauffer on Unsplash)

If we look around us and we interpret what we see as a world of beauty, positivity, possibility and abundance, then that will trigger positive and optimistic feelings If we see a world monopolised by ugliness, selfishness, scarcity and decay, then that will prompt pessimism and despondency.

Dispensing with the esoteric descriptions, let me share some examples of how becoming attuned to the power of the Reticular Activating System has affected my life.

When I embarked upon my journey of personal-development, it was as part of an exploration of the world of entrepreneurship. I wanted to broaden my horizons and experience greater meaning and significance in my work. I also wanted to make more money.

I’d encountered the book, The Secret and like most who read it with an open mind, I figured that there was probably some merit in the main premise. It teaches us that the Law of Attraction acts to unite the good things in life (abundance, happiness, health, fulfilment and money) with those who not only want them, but who live and act in the expectation of receiving them. My belief stopped short of genuinely expecting that just because I would imagine piles of cheques landing on my doormat, that they would appear.

I understand now though that at least a part of embracing The Secret, aside from the visualising of what you want to receive, is in training your Reticular Activating System to recognise the places in your life where you already have what you want. This prompts gratitude and bolsters self-belief which then promotes the positive actions that bring more of that desirable thing into your life. This, in turn, reinforces the expectation that you will achieve more and more of the same, and so the virtuous circle continues.

I started out believing that money was scarce in my life, that in spite of earning a decent living, we always felt short of money and that an endless stream of bills denied me the opportunity to provide for my family as well as I’d like. This also stood between my achievement of wealth. It was delaying the purchase of my Lamborghini.

Through focusing more on what I do have rather than what I think I don’t, I now see that the exact opposite is true.

I note with gratitude and a sense of fulfilment how I’m able to provide shelter, food, clothing, leisure, comforts and treats for my family and myself. We truly want for nothing that we genuinely need, and our financial situation is improving drastically as time goes on. I put this down to my new attitude and the associated supporting beliefs (as well as to taking action) which have become embedded as my inner-story about money. I still don’t have the Lamborghini.

It’s about more than money though.

I used to fixate upon and lament the state of my health and fitness compared to how I used to be in my sporting heyday (it wasn’t that different to where I am now, just to be clear). I would bemoan the latest injury. I would slip-up, making poor dietary choices, conveniently ignoring the additional carbs and the extra beer or two that I’d reward myself as a treat.

Now, with a renewed focus on all the many ways in which I’m able to do what I want to do physically, I am grateful for the efforts that I put in to every workout and I appreciate the gains I make, accepting the injuries I incur along the way. I make dietary choices mindfully, I enjoy the indulgences and I am grateful for the options I have. I accept the slip-ups as part of being human and find it easier to hold the line of dietary discipline as a result.

I take walks around the woodland that I’ve lived near for many years and I’m newly stunned and appreciative of the scenery that surrounds me. Where I previously dreamed of a rewarding and happy future (maybe as late as retirement) when I’d be able to take a morning walk in beautiful surroundings, I’ve realised that I can do that already. I take just such a walk most mornings before I start work, and feel grateful for the opportunity and for how it makes me feel; appreciative of the surroundings and of the time to be present and positively engaged with them.

I used to view my career and working-life as something that I had to endure Monday to Friday to get to the weekend. I told myself that I had to endure chunks of 20-working-weeks to get to the summer holiday and then the Christmas break. I was blinded to the fact that as a freelance home-worker, I have virtually limitless flexibility and choice to curate my own working day as I see fit. I’m grateful to my former-self for the efforts that afforded me such an opportunity. I acknowledge that I’m good at my day job, respected, capable and valued by my clients. In my side hustles and pet-projects I’ve the creative freedom to explore and grow, to take these in whatever direction I desire. I appreciate the financial rewards that enable my life and that of my family, and the more I adopt this mind-set of filtering out and feeling grateful for all that is good in my life, the greater the flow of rewards that seems to emerge.

These are just a few of the significant effects I’ve noted in my life. The boundaries blur between what is attributable to the Reticular Activation System, and what results from other practices I’ve adopted. Like any great cake-recipe, I’m certain that the sum of the parts is what makes the finished-article, the cake (or in this case, my life) into what it is.

The daily practices of gratitude journaling, meditation, regular exercise, the setting of goals and the planning and taking of massive action, the seeking of accountability, being more devoted to service of others and benefitting myself in the process; all of these intertwined practices no doubt have a part to play in how I feel about life.

For these reasons I’m all the more evangelical about trying to get those I love to adopt some of these practices in their lives.

My eldest daughter is a few steps behind me in her exploration of personal development. I encourage her to believe that how she views the world and what she focuses her attention upon will influence the results she sees in her life, and how she feels on a daily basis. When she bemoans that she’s tired, overwhelmed, has too much work to do or is feeling down, she knows the response she’ll get from me. I encourage her to focus on the fact that she’s studying a subject she loves, in a beautiful foreign country at a worldwide-renowned university, and that she’s got the world at her feet. By focusing on the negative feelings and experiences, she’s taking her attention away from all that is good, filtering out and filling her attention and her life with the temporary and trivial problems.

When my wife bemoans the conditions in her job, the tedium and lack of fulfilment in her daily life, she’s lost sight of her many blessings too. She’s home in good time to spend time with the kids. The work is undemanding. She works with good friends and is reasonably paid for what she does. Relatively little in our lives hinges on her staying in that job if she really wanted to quit. Sure, we’d miss the money but we’d manage.

Until she can turn her focus upon the positives of the situation, I fear that she’ll remain dissatisfied and her internal and automatic response will serve up the same feelings of frustration and annoyance. She knows that too.

Take time to smell the flowers… (Photo by Erriko Boccia on Unsplash)

I mention these examples, not out of a desire to appear too Pollyanna-ish about my own life, or to share challenges in the lives of my nearest and dearest. I do it to illustrate just how powerful I believe the Reticular Activation System is in being able to influence how we think and feel in life. I do it to request of you in the strongest possible terms that you take steps to harness its power.

It doesn’t take much and you can do it right now.

Consider and listen to your internal reactions to the things you notice when you look around you:

When you look in the mirror, do you see and react to all your frailties and flaws or do you recognise the beauty and the brilliance?

When you encounter random people in the street, do you fixate on their faults and imagined misdemeanours or do you try to see the positives in them and to want to get to know them better?

When you look at your bank balance do you immediately lament that there aren’t more zeroes on it, or are you grateful for the money that’s there, even if it’s only enough to meet your next bill-payment?

We all have the power to observe our thoughts and to train our emotional responses to them. The benefit of doing so doesn’t come from beating up on ourselves for them. Instead, it’s from practicing the art of focusing more on the things that serve us well and make us feel good. We need to zoom in less on the things that invoke negativity and bitterness.

The power of the Reticular Activating System is way more significant than can be covered eight minutes of reading. The possibilities offered by harnessing its power and embracing it are virtually limitless and will last for a lifetime. I’m just starting to observe and appreciate them in my life. I heartily encourage you to tune into your Reticular Activating System and tap into the amazing benefits it can bring to you.


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Toby Hazlewood

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Writer, parent, husband, project manager and cycling enthusiast. If you enjoy my writing, please feel free to say hello at tobyhazlewood.com

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