The reticular activating system (RAS) is a network of neurons located in the brain stem that project anteriorly to the hypothalamus to mediate behavior, as well as both posteriorly to the thalamus and directly to the cortex for activation of awake, desynchronized cortical EEG patterns (de Lahunta’s Veterinary Neuroanatomy and Clinical Neurology (Fifth Edition), 2021).
Well, maybe this is an easier way for you to understand your power: The Reticular Activating System is responsible for our wakefulness, our ability to focus, our fight-flight response, and how we ultimately perceive the world (Missimer, A., 2020).
This fascinating ability of our brain’s RAS is the reason we have such a hard time with unwelcome surprises, conflict or anything that doesn’t line up with our vision of our lives. Our brain treats future visions as real as stored memories.
For example, if we visualize jet-setting to an early morning flight, the brain will treat it as if it already happened. And thus, we are much more likely that we will get up, pack, commute to the airport and spend time in the airport lounge before our flight. Why? Because our brains will perceive anything else as ‘off track’ or ‘off schedule’.
So, we have two superpowers that result from this powerful section of our brain that can inform us going forward.
Firstly, we can harness this ability to achieve a desired future state by visualizing it and treating it as an actual memory. By focusing on a specific outcome, our brain acts accordingly, making it more likely for us to achieve it.
So, if you are not confident about your future state for life’s events, you can actually begin to curate those experiences by first visualizing them and creating a play-by-play of your future state. Some of the world’s greatest visualizers created never-before-seen inventions and experiences. For example, Walt Disney visualized the creation of a new entertainment type, leading to the development of Disneyland and Disney World. Steve Jobs visualized the future of personal computing, leading to the creation of Apple’s iPhone and iPad. This can apply to everything from achieving personal goals to creating art programs, cultural events, and experiences that you want to achieve.
Secondly, we have the power to recalibrate and adapt to unexpected changes or even failures. The quicker we accept reality and refocus on a new desired outcome, the quicker we can create additional steps toward achieving it.
Unfortunately, many individuals struggle with ‘analysis paralysis’, which occurs when someone spends too much time overanalyzing a situation, often leading to indecision or inaction. Analysis paralysis keeps our thoughts spinning like tires on ice, ruminating about what can go wrong. And if we let it, this state can ignite our fears of failure, the need for perfection, or even our desire to avoid making the wrong decision.
RAS helps to provide healthy coping mechanisms and shift our focus away from analysis paralysis, towards a more proactive, future-oriented mindset. This switch allows us to focus on ”what happens next” and take concrete steps toward our desired outcome. Through conscious effort, we can activate empowering thoughts and take action, creating a self-fulfilling cycle of success to achieve our goals.
Where is your FOCUS today?! Take a moment to consider your focus today and use this amazing RAS superpower to your advantage… to create an exceptional tomorrow. As it deserves to be. Can you see it?