Updated: Jan 8
Have you ever noticed that people who say, “I’m always late!” are always late? And people who say, “I’m not creative at all!” are typically not very creative? We all craft a personal narrative and it’s written by the words we use. If you tell yourself you’re never going to lose weight, you probably won’t. If you tell yourself you're angry, it’s likely that you’ll act angry. If you tell yourself you suck, chances are pretty good that you will.
“The words you speak become the house you live in.” — Hafiz
Self-talk is a powerful thing! The stronger your belief is about what you can and cannot do, the more you will tell yourself that you can or cannot do that thing. The more you tell yourself, the more you’ll look for evidence to prove it to be true. This is partially due to confirmation bias, but it also has to do with a tiny bundle of neurons found at the top of the brain stem. While it’s only about the size of a pencil eraser, the reticular activating system has a big job. As the brain’s bouncer, it decides what information to let in and what information to ignore thus conserving a lot of energy for an already busy place.
The RAS is a very sophisticated filter that sorts through the massive amount of incoming multisensory stimuli all around us. Think of it as an executive assistant that allows you to focus on what you need or value and creates blind spots to the junk. So, how does it know what’s important? By what your think about and focus on. When the brain is already focused on something – like a car you’re considering buying– the RAS lets any information related to it in because your brain has already created a space for it.
Applying these principles, the RAS is actually the key to motivation and success, too. If you have a strong belief that you WILL reach that goal – losing weight, listening better, writing that book – you’ll tell yourself you will more, and you’ll look for the people and things that will help you reach it. Program your RAS for what you want by changing your personal narrative.
I am creative.
I am a good listener.
I am always on time.
Tell yourself you are what you want to be, and then your brain will start to show you things that will help you get what you want to prove that belief is true.
Remember when your teacher scolded you for daydreaming? It turns out that the more you daydream about your goals, the more likely you’ll reach them. Imagining yourself the way you want to be means that you are gradually programming your RAS to focus on your goals and ways to achieve them.
There is a wealth of research demonstrating the power of visualization, but the simplest method is to keep your goals clearly in focus. Simplify the objectives to a few words and write them down on sticky notes where you’ll see them frequently. Send them to yourself in an email with one or two steps toward reaching them. Display your new “I will” or “I am” statement on your phone or computer wallpaper.
The RAS is not magic, and it won’t magically make your dreams come true. But what it will do is allow you to notice more opportunities to help you get what you want. The caveat is that the opportunities you see will be relative to your beliefs, focus and vision. If the RAS can help you notice that car you’re thinking about, why not put it to use on what really matters?