Ponder Well: What we Think, We Become!
Do you want to control your life and your future? I’ll tell you how. Think about it. Yes, that’s all. Think about it. It’s simple, powerful, and true! Here’s why…
It’s all about the role of the Reticular Activating System (RAS). The RAS is the filter that sifts through the millions of incoming signals that arrive in your brain every second, enabling you to process your environment without your head exploding. To do this, it needs an algorithm to govern the sorting process. Where does this special brain software come from?
It comes from you!
Your RAS listens carefully to the thoughts bouncing around in your cognitive brain. It determines that the thoughts you have most frequently are the important ones, and then it gets on with the essential job of filtering out incoming data on “non-important” topics.
You have a huge number of thoughts bouncing around in your brain at any particular moment. Honest scientists will tell you we don’t know the actual number, partly because it’s hard to define exactly where one thought ends and the next begins, and partly because it’s hard to actually count those thoughts even if we could agree on what a discrete thought is. The neuroscientists at the Laboratory of Neuro Imaging at the University of Southern California estimate that we have between 60,000 and 70,000 thoughts in a day. That’s more than 4,000 thoughts per hour, more than 60 thoughts per minute, and more than 1 thought per second. That’s a lot of internal messages to process!
Your RAS listens to each one and draws its conclusions about its importance to you.
In parallel, neuroscientists have observed that most of our thoughts are repetitive, as much as 90% by most estimates. This makes a lot of sense when you understand that we have this powerful system that filters out what our brain considers to be unhelpful noise, concentrating our attention on what it thinks is important to us.
Now for the bad news.
There’s another hard-to-measure number thrown around by neuroscientists: that over 80% of our thoughts are negative. This statistic is hard to prove but easy to explain from a defensive evolutionary perspective. Deep inside your brain, a voice of fear and negativity from your primitive reptilian brain cautions you about all the bad things that might happen to you, in order to keep you safe. It is a profoundly negative source of information, and it has a really loud voice! You’ve probably already guessed what that means: that your loyal and obedient RAS, on hearing all these negative thoughts, assumes that you mainly want to hear bad news.
So, if your prevailing thoughts are “I’m stupid, and ugly, and nobody loves me,” your RAS takes this as its guide as to what is important to you and faithfully allows through all the data that confirms these perceptions. Of the millions of pieces of information in your environment, the ones that will be allowed entry to your consciousness reinforce that you are indeed stupid, ugly, and unloved. The data that suggest that you are smart, attractive, and loved—no matter how plentiful they are—will be filtered out.
Sadly, for too many of us, this is where the story ends, and life becomes one long, drawn-out misery.
Luckily, Mother Nature gives us a way out of this cycle, but it’s up to us to take advantage of her gift. We have the right to decide what messages reverberate in the corridors of our consciousness. Mother Nature placed the cognitive brain—and only the cognitive brain—under our full, voluntary control. This explains at a functional level a concept that scientists are now exploring with a great deal of excitement, known as brain plasticity. As the name suggests, we now understand that the brain is adaptable. It can change substantially, with important life consequences for us.
Here’s one of them.
Because your cognitive brain is under your complete voluntary control, you decide what messages bounce around inside of it. You decide if they will be positive or negative. And guess what? If you decide that you will fill your brain with positive thoughts, your loyal RAS will filter through positive data from the outside, reinforcing the positive melody in your mind. Life will look better, sound better, and feel better—and with this uplifting feedback, you will be in a more powerful position to live your life and deliver on your dreams.
I’ll leave you with this compelling poem. The author is unknown, though you’ll find it attributed to many great leaders. In the absence of definite ownership, I choose to allocate it to Mother Nature, who designed this wondrous system in the first place:
Watch your thoughts, for they become words.
Watch your words, for they become actions.
Watch your actions, for they become habits.
Watch your habits, for they become your character.
And watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.
Dr. Roddy Carter, MD, has over 30 years of experience working across a range of medical disciplines and corporate settings.
At the height of his successful career, Roddy experienced a personal health and happiness awakening. During this profoundly transformative time, he began applying his deep knowledge of performance neuroscience to his everyday life. He discovered that, in moments of stress, the brain develops intricate psycho-protective adaptations to ensure our short-term survival; however, these adaptations often impose substantial residual limitations, create profound (and often hidden) distress, and prevent us from reaching our innate potential.
Today, Roddy is an executive coach and author dedicated to helping others unlock their full potential throughout their lives by applying compassionate neuroscience and sharing his unique approach to Personal Mastery™.