What do you spend your time focusing on? Do you even know what you are focusing on most of the time?
As you are reading this post, I want you to notice things around you. What are the sights and sounds you hear and see, while still paying attention to reading this post? What did you notice?
Now, really concentrate on the sights and sounds around you – listen to your heart beating, feel the air going into your lungs, feel the pulsing of your blood through your veins. Listen for those sounds you normally don’t take any notice of – the clock ticking, your neighbor pruning their garden bushes, the hum of a fan or the sound of your computer working.
Were there any new sights and sounds that you heard this time that you hadn’t heard before? These things were always there, but you hadn’t noticed them.
Now, imagine that you’re walking through a busy airport terminal. Think of all the noise – hundreds of people talking, music, announcements, luggage carriers. How much of this noise is brought to your attention? You can definitely hear a general background noise, but you don’t notice every individual sound. Then, suddenly you hear an announcement over the public address system – saying your your flight number is delayed or canceled. Suddenly your attention is full on. You have just tuned in to something specific and useful to you.
Why is this?
At the base of the brain stem, about the size of a little finger, is a group of cells whose job it is to sort and evaluate incoming data. This control center is known as the Reticular Activating System (R.A.S).
The R.A.S sends the urgent information to the active part of your brain, and sends the non-urgent to the subconscious. The R.A.S awakens the brain to consciousness, and keeps it alert. This is why parents can hear their baby cry in the night, but why they don’t notice the non-essential night time noises—the dripping tap, the cats outside the window, or the neighborhood traffic.
According to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, “we filter around 2 million bits of information per second down to 7 plus or minus 2 chunks of information.” In other words, the data available to your central nervous system goes through a process of deletion, distortion and generalization in order for you to make sense of all the information.
The system in charge of sorting the information is called the R.A,S. The R.A.S is a self-filtering system that chooses what you accept and reject based upon your beliefs, values and prejudices.
We are literally bombarded with sensory images, sounds and goings on all day long. Just imagine what your life would be like if you were aware of every single one of them—it would be overwhelming. Our R.A.S. determines what you focus on or pay attention to and also deletes out things you don’t need to focus on at that time.
How can we use the R.A.S. to our benefit?
Remember, this small group of cells continuously determines what you focus on. It is like a filter and takes instructions from your conscious mind and passes them on to your subconscious. It allows in what you believe is important.
If you think the world is tough and life is a struggle, you will find references to support this.
However, if you believe that every day is a special day, and the world is filled with amazing experiences and people, you will find countless references to support this also.
In life, you get what you focus on. Your experience of life is dependent upon what you are deleting at any one time, and you won’t experience the things you delete. Imagine all the opportunities you may have missed in your life because you weren’t focused in that particular area.
As the R.A.S determines what is important for you to focus on, you need to “program” this group of cells to focus on things which will move you ahead, not hold you back or limit your view of the world.
By consistently putting images of what you want in life, you will begin to train your R.A.S. what to focus on. Get a clear image of what you want, and implant that image into your mind. Make it specific to your needs, and visualize in your imagination the outcome you want.
The subconscious can’t tell the difference between the real and the imagined, so be very specific of the outcome you want to achieve. It does this by bringing to our attention all the relevant information which otherwise might have remained as ‘background noise’.
State your desired outcome in the positive. For example “I am fit and healthy and enjoy exercising on a daily basis” rather than “I don’t want to be sick anymore”. By writing your goals down, it is like setting up the filter so the R.A.S can focus on those areas which will will help you achieve your goals.
You can deliberately program the reticular activating system by choosing the exact messages you send from your conscious mind. Napoleon Hill said “that we can achieve any realistic goal if we keep on thinking of that goal, and stop thinking any negative thoughts about it”, and of course, take action towards that goal. If we keep thinking that we can’t achieve a goal, our subconscious will help us – “not achieve it”.
What are you going to choose to focus on?