Your Reticular Activating System. (What the heck is it and how do you use it?)
Updated: Jul 20, 2021
Cave Dwellers on The Hunt
Picture this. You're slinking about the savanna in Africa many moons ago. You're out hunting wildebeest or gathering berries, when suddenly, out of the corner of your eye, you spot something moving in the tall golden grass.
Your eyes dart up and your vision narrows on the looming figure. Your heart pounds in your chest and your body tenses up as you go into deep focus.
Is it a lion? Is it just a gust of wind? These are essential questions to answer since your life literally depends on it. Your brain goes into overdrive trying to figure out the answers.
You stare intently at your surroundings and listen carefully to the sounds floating on the wind trying to figure out it you are safe from danger. After a while, you determine that there is no threat, so your breathing slows, your heart calms, and your body relaxes. Ahh...relief! Then, a tree falls on you and you die. Game over. Restart the level 😂
Ok, so what was happening before this menacing tree surprisingly crushed your head? Your RAS was happening! Your reticular activating system (RAS) is a fancy science term for the part of your brain that helps regulate your attention, filter incoming stimulus information from your senses, and transition you from asleep to awake. You can think of your RAS like a gatekeeper. Kinda like Gandalf fighting the Balrog on the bridge in the caves of Moria.
Your RAS is your internal Gandalf
Your RAS is as ancient as those cave people scanning for lions on the savanna. Our brains developed it to help us focus on what is important.
Your eyes, your ears, and your skin are constantly sending info to your brain, and your brain cannot process ALL of it at once without exploding into a big mushy pink mess, so it has to decide the most important info to focus on.
When you think you see a lion in the grass and your life might be in danger, suddenly your environment and the things around you become VERY important, so your brain starts devoting more resources (like blood and oxygen) to help you focus, and that is a very powerful mechanism.
Conjuring Some Reticular Activating System Magic (How you can use your RAS to your advantage)
Normally, your internal Gandalf RAS will naturally respond to things like perceived threats or someone calling your name, but it will also respond to whatever is in front of you at any given moment. We can use the fact that your internal Gandalf is always turning his wily eye to whatever is in front of you to your advantage, and trick him into conjuring up some RAS wizardry for you.
The Mystical Power of Sticky Notes
First thing you can do to fire up your RAS is use sticky notes. Write little notes on them that you want to remember on a daily basis. Things like, "I am awesome", "tell my Mom and Dad that I love them", or "I am an outstanding student."
Put the sticky notes where you are going to see them everyday: on your laptop, on your bathroom mirror, on your closet door, etc. I also like to use brightly colored sticky notes so they really grab my attention.
Addicted to your phone? Might as well make it useful.
Everyday at 7AM a notification pops up on my phone to remind me to "recommit to your mission". It goes off a little after I wake up, and I know I will see it as I am going about my morning getting ready for the day. It helps me to be intentional about my day and remember why I do what I do (which is create content to help you!)
You can set daily reminders to remind you to do your homework, or you can set a weekly reminder to call a friend and catch up. Sometimes, I forget that there is a reality happening outside of my room and that my friends exist (introvert power!), so I have a reminder on Sunday to call at least one person to catch up: my best friend, my mom, my sister, etc. As much as I love them, I'd probably forget to call without the reminder.
Having these reminders automatically pop up on my phone means that I don't ever have to think about doing it. It just happens automagically. My RAS does it's gatekeeper thing and internal Gandalf turns his attention to my little notes.
As I am constantly exposed to this kind of stimuli, I am creating a positive feedback loop in my brain that reinforces itself on a daily basis, which is a fancy way of saying I am creating good habits. And I am using the natural tendencies of my brain to do it! Easy cheesy.
If you put up your sticky notes where you will see them everyday and you add reminders to your phone so that you will see them everyday, you will start building these good habits too.
What you focus on is what creates your reality, so help yourself focus on something good. Recruit your RAS to help you. Make your internal Gandalf your magical ally and become a powerful brain wizard that conjures up good habits.