22 Jul Reinforcing Belief: It’s In Your Hands
Belief is the precursor of success. When we truly believe good things, success follows. Each of us has the ability to actively unlock belief. So, success is on our own hands, or heads, as you’ll soon read.
I lease the cars we drive, because I don’t want to add time-consuming car maintenance to my daily chores. So every few years I am in the business of selecting a new car, and I hate it. Don’t get me wrong. In a way, it’s very exciting to get to choose your new vehicle. And in a world in which the vast majority of our neighbors on this planet only own a single pair of shoes, never mind mechanized transport, I realize I’m a very lucky man. Still, I hate car buying for one simple reason.
For a period of three months, as I select my new vehicle, I become obsessively aware of cars. Whereas, today I get into my car and drive to a meeting with my attention on the natural beauty or people around me, life is very different while I’m buying a car. For three months, all I see are the other vehicles on the road. “Ooh, that’s a nice one, perhaps I should look at that make”. Or, “wow, that’s a nice color, I should get one of those.” The natural and human beauty that surrounds me, and the music on the radio gets overwhelmed by auto obsession!
I’m sure that you have your own similar experience in buying cars, or cameras, or phones, or choosing a college, or even in choosing a mate. Your brain focuses in on your obsession, minimizing all other stimuli.
There’s a simple biological reason for this phenomenon. It’s an ingenious neurological gift from Mother Nature designed to improve our survival and success.
Warning: it can also be our downfall!
To achieve health, happiness and prosperity, we must understand this system, and learn to unlock its power. This is our natural design, and when we master it, we attain WHealth.
As our brains evolved, Mother Nature gave us spectacular computing capabilities, all dependent on how we process incoming data. She gave us 5 physical senses, something we have in common with all other living creatures. To the early mammals she added the limbic system, or emotional brain, conferring the ability to nurture our young and collaborate with others. Finally, she awarded humans with a massive cerebral cortex, or cognitive brain, and the gifts of thought and reason. This tremendous neurological capacity created a new challenge – data overload. Scientists estimate that we have to process several million data points at any one moment, and have as many as 60,000 thoughts in a day.
Picture yourself in the busiest city in a massive airport, or train station, or market, and you can imagine the problem our powerful brains have on an ongoing basis. Noise, noise, noise.
Mother Nature designed a remarkable filtering system to help us manage this flood of incoming data. This function is housed in a collection of neurological centers that are known as the Reticular Activating System (RAS). It is clustered at the top of our spinal cord, and works a bit like a large commuter train station, channeling, filtering and integrating the sensory messages that come into our brains. The RAS also plays a similar role in processing outgoing messages from our emotional and cognitive brains.
The primary role of the RAS is actually in moderating our levels of alertness, or arousal. So, it is intimately involved with regulating sleep and wakefulness. But it also has this more delicate influence on our attention and focus. The RAS decides what we actually hear and see, reducing the noise effectively to a small group of stimuli that we can actually handle, while filtering out millions of “distractions”.
You can easily see how this system enhanced our survival in the wild, and anybody that as been in a life-threatening emergency will verify this. When our ancestors were fleeing from a charging wooly mammoth, their brains were keenly focused on their escape route, ignoring the delicate beauty and fragrance of the pretty flowers they trampled in their haste. Similarly, when I’m preoccupied with choosing a new car, all I can see after stepping out of my front door are cars, cars, and more cars.
There is a powerful beauty in this system that we can harness for health and happiness. But there is an equally powerful danger we must avoid. The secret to unlocking this power lies in the override of the cognitive and emotional brains. You see, it’s the higher centers in our brain that tell the RAS what is important. The RAS then performs its duty of perceptual integration with single-mindedness (if you will excuse the obvious pun).
Let’s look at two different scenarios to understand the far-reaching implications of this elegant system.
Have you ever noticed how powerful your negative thoughts are? That’s because you reinforce them with the help of your RAS. Have you ever heard your own voice saying, “life is tough”, or “I’m not smart”, or “I can’t make anybody happy”, or “I don’t deserve to be healthy, or happy, or prosperous”? Well, the first place that registers these statements is your RAS. It carefully notes your statement, and then starts to select for those incoming messages that reinforce your belief … simply because you told it to! So, you selectively begin to notice that life is hard, or that you’re not smart. Your RAS effectively shows you the things that prove this belief to be true, while minimizing all evidence to the contrary. And soon, your initial statement becomes a deeply held belief, reinforced by “fact”.
I hope that, by now, you see how flawed and dangerous this can be. Let’s rather embrace the other end of the spectrum of possibilities. Have you ever heard your voice saying, “life is beautiful”, or “I’m always lucky”, or “I have a gift to make people happy”, or “I deserve health, and happiness, and prosperity”? All these statements are within your own voluntary control. When you choose to utter the positive, your RAS responds dutifully, focusing your attention on those data points that prove the truth in your statement, while minimizing data that may dispute this, reinforcing your initial positive thought.
This is why gratitude is so powerful. As you articulate the list of items for which you are grateful, your RAS is eavesdropping. It gets to work, and finds abundant proof that reinforces your appreciation. If you’re thankful for love, you’ll be bathed in love. If you’re appreciative of health, you’ll be bathed in good health. If you’re grateful for friendship, you’ll be surrounded by friends.
Your future is in your own hands. The powerful gifts of positive thinking and gratitude can transform your life, by unlocking the power of your Reticular Activating System. Practice them consciously, introducing them into your daily routine. Start today, and remember that habits take 7 weeks to become established. Use a piece of paper, a journal, or an app to capture both positive thoughts and gratitude meticulously for 7 weeks. Your RAS will watch, filter and integrate. You will transform your life, I promise!