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The Neuroscience Behind Goal Setting: Understanding Your RAS

My RA… what? You might not even know that your body has a Reticular Activating System (RAS for short). But it is actually a pretty key part of how your mind functions. In fact, it is like the sorting centre of your brain. Your RAS filters out the non essential messages and provides you with the information that is most important to you at the time.

It also plays a useful role in helping you achieve your goals. But how does understanding your RAS make your goal setting more effective? Let’s take a look!

 

What is the Reticular Activating System?

If it wasn’t for your RAS, your mind would be overwhelmed with all of the messages it receives from your senses. Each of the 5 senses (touch, taste, sight, sound, and smell) gather information and send it to the brain for processing. Your brain literally receives thousands of pieces of information every second. That is obviously far too much for you to take in at one time.

Enter the RAS…

Your Reticular Activating System is a collection of cells at the base of your brain stem. It processes all of the information that the senses create and prioritises the things that need your attention immediately.

Have you ever noticed that when you decide to do something you immediately begin to see signs everywhere?

For example, if you’ve chosen to start a family, you’ll start to see pregnant ladies and babies in prams everywhere you go. This is your RAS in action. There are actually no more babies than before, it is just that they are now classes as ‘important information’. Prior to your decision your RAS would simply have filtered them out, classing them as ‘unimportant information’.

 

How your RAS can help with goal setting

The processing powers of your RAS can help in two main ways when it comes to goal setting.

 

1: The written word

The simple act of putting pen to paper engages many of the senses. The feel of the pen in your hand engages your touch. Seeing the words appear before your eyes engages your sight. The scent of the ink, the sound of the pen scratching across the paper, and the auditory experience of saying the words in your head as you write them.

Engaging your senses in this way puts your RAS on high alert. It  helps to focus your mind. Suddenly all that information and opportunity that relates to your goals is now deemed ‘important’ and fed through to you.

 

2: Imagination

Your mind cannot distinguish between reality and something that is vividly imagined. It only believes the messages it receives. So, that piece of seaweed that brushed against your leg in the ocean suddenly becomes a jellyfish if you let your imagination run away with you.

That is why it is important to master the art of visualisation. You can then use the vivid image of your dream life to convince your brain that it is possible.

To do this, you will need to have a clear visual in your mind of how you will feel, where you will be, and what it will look like when you have achieved your goal. Then, repeatedly visualise that same situation in your mind at least once a day.

Put your passion and energy into the visualisation, really feel it. If you do, your mind will begin to accept this visual as normal and achievable.

 

How your RAS focuses your mind

When you get your RAS on board with your goal setting, suddenly you become very focused on achieving those goals. All of those goal related things that you might have missed before will now be classed as ‘important’ and brought to your attention automatically.

Suddenly you’ll overhear vital information through the noise at a crowded gathering, or discover someone who can help you take the next step in your goal. Before you would have disregarded both, but your RAS has deemed the information as relevant to your goal and presented it to you, so you can take action.

As mentioned before, your mind cannot distinguish between reality and a vivid visual. If you allow negative thoughts and self doubt to invade, then it can make your positive visualisations less powerful. 

If you start to doubt that you can achieve your goal then your RAS will stop filtering the messages you need to succeed. Counteract the potential for any negativity by ensuring your goal is well thought out and planned. Believe in your true self, not your limiting beliefs!

Your RAS is a powerful resource when it comes to achieving your goals. 

Use it to your advantage by fully immersing yourself in your goals. Be passionate and positive when it comes to visualising your dream life. Truly believe it and it will happen.

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