The human brain is a remarkable organ. It has many fascinating properties that can give us insights on how to live a better and more effective life.
One of these phenomena occurs at the base of the brain: the Reticular Activating System (RAS).
RAS is an incredible filtering system that allows human beings to sort out and pay attention to things that are important to us while disregarding the bombardment of other things that are not critical.
It is the mechanism that allows us to focus attention on the vital few and ignore the trivial many.
I will leave how the RAS works to the brain experts, but the impact of it is a wonder to behold. In this article, I want to explore RAS along with how you can use it to improve your life. The best way to appreciate the power of RAS is through examples.
Imagine you are in a theater during intermission. The crowded lobby is abuzz with the cacophony of voices, and it is impossible to hear any conversation except the one closest to you. In the crowd, within earshot, someone mentions your name.
All of a sudden you are able to laser focus on that conversation, ignoring all the rest, and actually hear what that person is saying about you. If the person had not uttered your name, there would be no way you would hear what she was saying. That is RAS in action.
Let’s look at another typical example. You just came out of a car dealership after having ordered a red Ford truck. On the way home, you start to notice red Ford trucks everywhere.
Driving into the dealership, you paid no attention and did not notice any trucks at all. Once the RAS is activated, it allows all kinds of miraculous things to happen.
Practice using your RAS
RAS is a very powerful tool, but we need to be continuously aware of that power if we are to harness it for use in our lives.
Try this little exercise. Try to identify 5-10 times in each day where you are applying the understanding of RAS to improve how you manage your life.
For example, you might be sitting in a cafeteria with hundreds of people. In the distance, you spot an old friend you had been thinking about recently and realize you have not spoken to him in over a year.
You resolve to call him that afternoon. Immediately you recognize that RAS helped you find that person and renew the acquaintance. That counts as one of the 10 opportunities to use RAS.
That evening, while scanning a magazine, out of the corner of your eye you catch a glimpse of an ad for a boat and immediately remember that you had intended to buy a new fishing reel this week.
The association was made possible by RAS. That would be number two example. Try to find 5-10 examples a day.
By focusing your energy on understanding how you can use RAS to filter your thinking as opposed to following random thoughts, you will actually be doing a kind of “meta RAS” where the technique is helping you identify opportunities to use its power for you daily. It sounds complex, but it is really pretty basic.
Do not overlook the power of RAS to improve your life. The more you practice identifying the phenomenon within you and using it, the more creative ways you will find of having it guide you to a better life.
Robert Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations.