Want a Better Life? Try Flexing Your Reticular Activating System

Dan Bedard
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The following is an article from the October 2019 issue of "Get Your Ducks in a Row" Carolina Family Estate Planning's free newsletter. You can read the rest of the issue, as well as back issues of our newsletter online or subscribe for free!

You know how everyone thinks it's creepy when you'll be talking about something you want to buy, and then Facebook or Amazon shows you an ad for that product?

Remember in the days before Facebook and Amazon, when that kind of thing would happen and it wasn't creepy? You'd be on your porch thinking, "Gee, it sure would be nice if I had an Almond Delight right about now." And then the ice cream truck would just... appear?

Or have you ever gone to sleep thinking of a problem and woken up with the solution?

Or noticed after you start shopping for a particular model of car., that car starts showing up on the parking lot of the grocery store, your neighborhood, and everywhere else?

What's the deal? Do you have special powers? Is it the Law of Attraction? Quantum entanglement?

It may be your very own Reticular Activating System doing its job for you. "My what now?" you may ask. Inside your brain, there's a network of nerve bundles that makes up most of your brainstem and extends from there into other parts of your brain. That network is called the Reticular Formation, and it plays a role in breathing, swallowing, control of your heart, sensation of pain, and sleep and consciousness. I guess you could say it's pretty important.

The system within the Reticular Formation that's responsible for sleep and consciousness is called the Reticular Activating System (RAS). We all know the power of a good night's sleep. So then, it may not be a surprise to learn that the RAS is also responsible for preventing information overload. It does this by "filtering" out information that isn't relevant to the questions your brain is trying to answer.

Just think about what it would be like to have to think about and judge every single thing you see, hear, smell, taste, and touch. It'd be exhausting!

I recently read a good article about the RAS by designer Tobias van Schneider in the online magazine Medium (vip.carolinafep.com/ras-article). As van Schneider puts it, "The RAS is the reason you learn a new word and then start hearing it everywhere. It's why you can tune out a crowd full of talking people, yet immediately snap to attention when someone says your name or something that sounds like it.

The RAS may be partly responsible for a phenomenon I've previously discussed in this newsletter, where happy people seem to enjoy amazing luck, while for others, bad things just seem to keep happening to them. Happy people and unfortunate people may actually be experiencing the same things, but their RAS is looking for evidence to confirm what they believe to be true.

So what if you could train your RAS to look for reasons to be happy? Could that possibly improve your life? Some people say you can. Here's how, according to the NLP Institute of California, via van Schneider:

1) First, think of the goal or situation you want to influence.

2) Now think about the experience or result you want to reach in regards to that goal/situation.

3) Create a mental movie of how you picture that goal/situation ideally turning out in the future. Notice the sounds, conversations, visuals and details of that mental movie. Replay it often in your head.

"So that's it? Just think positive."

I haven't done a meta-analysis of all the research papers that are out there. But, in my experience, I have indeed found it helpful to focus on what I *do* want to happen rather than what I *don't* want to happen. I have also found in my experience that people who intentionally try to be happy do, in fact, seem happier. And who wouldn't want that?

So give it a try.

Side note: A side effect of reticular activation is that when you're interested in a topic, you tend to meet other people who are similarly interested. If you're reading this newsletter, you were interested in estate planning at some point. You're well-equipped to recognize people who need our help: people who care bout their future and what happens when they're gone. Please help those people by telling them about Carolina Family Estate Planning. When you connect someone to a great service, it's a win for them, it's a win for you, and it's a win for us. To your health and happiness.

 

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