You may have heard the self-help message “what you think about, you bring about.” Maybe these words ring true for you, and maybe you wonder what the heck this concept is all about. On the surface, the may idea seem like it’s wrapped in rainbows and guarded by unicorns. Or maybe you take offense with tropes like this because your life isn’t all butterflies and lollipops right now and you certainly didn’t bring your misery on yourself.
I get it. Too often, self-help quips can feel judgmental. And, to be honest, I think that living life according to motivational quotations (also known as motivational porn) is superficial and doesn’t allow for authentic living.
But not this one. This one has some biology backing it. And if you’re serious about creating a new, better and more abundant future for yourself, it’s one you’ll want to master.
Starting with the science
Your brain – specifically the part of your brain called the reticular activating system (RAS) – may set up a few roadblocks for you as you work toward letting go of old, out-of-date beliefs and ideas, and work to create new ones.
What is it?
Along with playing a role in your sleep/wake cycle, the RAS regulates aspects of consciousness, mood, behaviour, and cognitive function. In other words, it forms the connection between your body and your mind. This brain region is responsible for bringing your mind into periods of heightened attention, alertness, or higher focus. When you perceive a threat, data is sent from your sensory neurons to your brain through the RAS.
Your RAS also filters information from your environment so you don’t get overwhelmed by all the sights and sounds around you. Your focus is reduced from thousands of bits of data to the most pertinent ones for your survival. This system prioritizes information and identifies patterns, and it likes repetition. Who doesn’t? There’s comfort in the familiar.
But that’s where the problem lies. Because your RAS plays such an important role in controlling your stress response, it likes to show you familiar things so you don’t get upset. Your RAS also rewards you with a hit of the reward hormone dopamine when your thoughts and beliefs are confirmed. This is why your RAS filters out those confirming bits of evidence and brings them to your attention.
This “evidence” doesn’t mean that your beliefs are correct. There might be overwhelming contradictory evidence to your viewpoint that is never brought to your conscious awareness because your RAS has filtered it out. To quote another self-help trope, “you see what you’re looking for.”
So what can you do?
If you don’t like what you’re seeing in your life, you’re going to have change what you’re looking at. And it’s easier than you may think. You don’t have to chuck your life whole. You just have to retrain your brain to filter in the evidence you want to see in your life; to show you opportunities; to reveal new options to you. You’re going to have to actively look for new data so that you can experience new ways of life.
Change what you see
In order change the things your RAS brings to your awareness, you have to change the things you expose yourself to. Because humans thrive in the familiar, you’ll have to break some habits, including thought habits. Look for ideas and experiences in places you’ve never looked before now. Fill your environment with things you want to see more of, whether that’s love, excitement, abundance – whatever you choose.
Let randomness in
Remember that your brain will come up with the same ideas over and over again, so you’ve got to go out of your way to let new information in. Break habits by allowing random experiences. Consider conflicting opinions and viewpoints. Actively guide your RAS to change what it filters to you. As you do this, don’t be surprised that your creativity soars and what you see in your life changes.
Try the Mindful Minute
In order to help you experience randomness, I’ve devised the Mindful Minute daily email. Each day, you will receive a short message that suggests a mindful activity you can try, a thought to consider, or a belief to challenge. It’s free, and you can register right here. Let’s see if we can start noticing the stuff we want in our lives. You in?
Until next time,
PS For a more in-depth description of your RAS and how to reprogram it, read my book Forget About Having It All.