Have you ever wondered why some people are more organized and focused than others, or even yourself? Of course you have. But what makes these people better organized, focused, productive and frequently more successful? What’s their secret? Well, it may have something to do with the Reticular Activating System (RAS).
First as an Army officer and later as a corporate manager, I wanted to know more about how individuals could achieve greater focus and improved productivity in both the home and workplace. It was in this context that RAS gave me a whole new perspective on how individuals could self-program for success.
There’s a branch of psychology called neuropsychology. Practitioners seek to understand how the human brain makes sense of the flood of sensory inputs received simultaneously every second of every day. The RAS function can be likened to a highly specialized dispatcher who works at light speed to determine the importance and utility of each bit of incoming information. The dispatcher, actually a bundle of nerves located within the brainstem, creates order out of what would otherwise be chaos.
For example, RAS can discern the difference, say, between nearby horn blasts that might signal imminent danger versus similar sounds coming from several blocks away. In the first instance, full attention and readiness to move quickly would result; in the second instance, the brain would acknowledge the information and filter it out as non-threatening or unimportant.
I recall a youthful confrontation with RAS. I was fascinated by old Chevy pickups. My favorites were 1940s models. They had wide running boards, big rounded fenders, windshields that swung out for ventilation, and a hole through the grill so you could crank-start the engine if the battery failed. The running boards and fenders were glossy black. I loved those trucks.
One day I put my wife’s tolerance to the test when I drove up proudly in a 1946 Chevy truck. I made the purchased for $350, which was about all the money we had. To her and everyone else, this truck looked like a bucket of bolts — rusted bolts. But all I saw was a beautifully restored all-original work of automotive art. I didn’t see the missing running boards and tailgate or the absent hubcaps and the rust holes in the fenders — that wasn’t part of my vision. But my bubble nearly burst with the question, “So where are you going to find all the missing parts?”
It was then that RAS kicked in. From that day forward, I couldn’t go a day without hearing or seeing something relevant to restoring my 1946 Chevy truck — my RAS dispatcher was working overtime. All of a sudden I became aware of fellow employees who restored old cars and others who could weld sheet metal. As I drove to and from work, I began to see things that weren’t there before, such as an abandoned work trailer fashioned from the bed of a 1940s Chevy pickup, complete with original hubcaps and a tailgate. All of these things had been invisible to me until they became important — part of my commitment, part of my dream.
RAS seems almost magical in how it can bring focus to our lives and an awareness of opportunities that were previously unseen. To harness the powers of RAS, psychologists and personal development professionals have identified the following steps:
- Know your core values. Failure here means you’re lost in the crowd. Your RAS dispatcher must know what you really believe, lest conflicting thoughts block your progress.
- Express your priority goals in the present positive tense as if they have already been achieved. “My ’46 Chevy truck is beautifully restored and I get thumbs up wherever I go.”
- Imagine the feelings, smells, sounds, smiles, and all the positive results of your success. Envision the joy on mom’s face when you receive that diploma.
- Commit yourself openly. Raise your hand, make the investment, and let others know your intentions.
- And most importantly, put it all in writing. Writing is tonic for the brain.
A lifetime of experience tells me, “If you believe you can’t, you probably can’t. But if you believe you can, a world of possibilities previously unseen will wondrously appear.
RAS is waiting to know what you believe — your directions for success.
Terry Oxley is a member of The Olympian’s Board of Contributors. He is retired from the military and a communications career at Puget Sound Energy. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.