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Frenemies- How the Brain is Wired to Take You Down...or Up

I’ll be honest I’ve done many an internal eye roll when someone has said to me “speak life” when I was in the middle of a really brutal crisis. They’d catch me at just that moment where I was about to be overwhelmed and everything inside me shouted, “I’m a realist, I’d rather see things as they are and deal with them.” Yet what I’m finding out as I’m getting older is that the two aren’t mutually exclusive.

We actually have the capacity to control our mood, emotions and even our experiences without falling into the trap of denial or pretending. We can see the reality of a situation and without denying how bad it is, still choose to focus our attention on certain positive aspects of that reality. What allows us to do this well is an amazing cluster of neurons the size of your little finger at the base of the brain called the reticular activating system and man, since that’s a mouthful, let’s just call it RAS for short and talk about how it works.

RAS regulates the shift between sleep and wakefulness but it is also the attention center of the brain and what sifts through all the stimuli we experience everyday with four out of the five senses and decides which should be prioritized based on what your brain already focuses on.

This is why an interior designer will notice your new wall shelves before the average Joe and why your neighbour may remark on how white your teeth are after just one quick smile if she’s a dentist. Your RAS decides what makes it from your conscious to your subconscious mind and what hits the cutting room floor. It is the gatekeeper and powerhouse behind motivation and your perception of everything you experience in life.

Dr. Maxwell Maltz, author of “Psycho-Cybernetics”, described its influence well when he said: “…it operates in terms of goals and end results. Once you give it a definite goal, to achieve, you can depend upon its automatic guidance system to take you to that goal much better than ‘you’ ever could by conscious thought.”

How do you see yourself?

That’s right – RAS reprogramming isn’t the ‘hard path’. To prove it let me ask you whether it is easier to make your greatest dreams a reality or rather to make your reality the first stage of your great dreams? In other words, would you be a happier person if you got everything on your list of goals and dreams or would there always be something to bother you or challenge your contentment?

If there is always a hurdle to jump or a wall to break down, wouldn’t it be easier and wouldn’t you be a happier person if you just changed what you decided makes you happy? What if every day you decided to focus on what you have instead of what you haven’t been able to get? Sounds difficult? Not if you have a ritual. Is there a certain time of day that you’re clear headed and you have 5 or 10 minutes to talk to yourself? Use it.

Write something down. It needs to be what you want to focus on and your RAS will do the rest.

So how do you chose what to focus on? Focus on what you find valuable, your goals and everything that it takes to reach those goals step by step.

What do you work hard for? What do you strive for? It isn’t money, no money is what you use to buy things, so look at the things you buy, look at your credit cards and your bank statements – what are the top 5 things you spend the most money on? Write them down. Why do you invest so much in these? What does it tell you about what you value? Follow the money trail and then ask yourself when you are not working where do you spend the most time? What do you do the most? Look at your schedule.

Write down the top 5 things that you spend the most time on. You have to be honest, don’t lie to yourself about how much time you spend on Facebook or watching TV.

Are the answers what you wanted them to be? Now write your third list – your top 5 life goals. Do your spending lists (your money spent and time spent lists) line up with the things you wrote down as your life goals? Is what you are spending your time and money on getting you any closer to your dreams? If a pastime of low importance is taking up the level 2 spot in your daily schedule you have an imbalance but one that can be fixed.

Ask yourself, to what extent could you change things up so that your time and money are actually working towards your true goals. What if you used your RAS to ignore all that sidetracks you. What if you woke up every morning with a script for what you want your day to look like and what you were going to choose to focus on.

According to how your RAS works, you should be able to better avoid those tantalizing large time and money spending choices that may be enjoyable but don’t help you get any closer to your real goals and you won’t even have to struggle against your urges, you’ll just stop thinking about them less and less.

Instead of saying “Don’t eat that cake!”, you’ll refocus and say “That salad looks amazing.”

Let’s say you keep thinking that your spouse doesn’t love you or that he/she is lazy or selfish. Your RAS is programmed to help you notice all the details that will back up your thinking. It’s like RAS is a miniature you on your shoulder yelling “See that? You were right all along!”. Just remember though that for something to be in focus something else needs to be ‘out of focus’.

So RAS is shouting on your shoulder and you don’t even notice when your spouse is doing things that are the very opposite of your fears. You don’t think about how hard they work or the version of you that greets them which makes them respond the way they do. You just don’t see it. You will focus on whatever you tell yourself is the truth and whatever backs that up and that is how we walk through life with limited visibility.

In fact as humans we all have limited awareness, our RAS ensures that this remains the case, however if you have negative thoughts towards a person, a job or situation in your life wouldn’t it be better to experiment a little and try finding something positive about that person or situation to focus on?

Give it three weeks at least and I bet you will come away with a RAS that is finding evidence of those good qualities for you. Meditate on: ‘whatever is true…whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.‘ (Philippians 4:8)

Speak positive words over yourself.

No amount of positive thinking can stop a fire if you were ever caught inside a home going up in flames. It would be stupid to sit there telling yourself “there is no fire, there is no fire” but what I’m suggesting is more like being in that home as it’s engulfed in flames and saying to yourself:

“Don’t quit… keep looking. There’s a way out… keep moving. Search. Find it…” If you focus on looking for solutions instead of spending a lot of time replaying the problem in your mind, RAS will work for you! If a solution is there you are much more likely to see it.

Your soul is that home and life is a fire threatening to consume you, your finances, your relationships with the heat of hurts and fears but there is a way out and if you program your brain to focus on finding that way out you are much more likely to find it.

May the RAS be with you.

Let us know your thoughts about Petula’s post or if it has inspired or motivated you in any way in the comment section below!

Petula Miller Parent Blogger Petula is a busy mom of three, and the author of “How The Grumpy Pants Were Destroyed“. She is also incredibly concerned with encouraging healthy and happy purpose driven lifestyles.

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