Focus on what you want! How to programme your brain
A few years ago, when I was pregnant with my daughter all I seemed to see around me were other pregnant women. Walking to the shops, in the office at work, on television… everywhere. Last year I was buying a new car, I wanted something a bit different but in essence a specific, small black SUV. I hadn’t seen many of them on the road. Then suddenly, I started seeing them everywhere! My choice of new car wasn't so unique. It seemed like everyone else was doing the same thing. What was happening? Did I have the power to ‘magic up’ the things that I was thinking about? Has this happened to you?
I didn’t have mystical powers but what I did have was a very smart Reticular Activating System (RAS) in my brain – we all do. The RAS is a bunch of nerves near our brain-stem that acts as a filter to help us focus on the things that we tell our brain we want to see and hear.
The RAS helps us hear if our name is called out in a noisy classroom, it helps us search for the threats that we’ve learnt are dangerous, it helps us find our friend in a busy shop. Whatever we are focusing on, our RAS will search for. It filters everything our sensory systems pick up and will show us the very things we are looking for.
If our RAS hears lots of negative self-talk such as ‘I’m rubbish at work. No one likes me. I just keep making mistakes’, it will use its filter to find and show us evidence that aligns with this thinking. Amplifying the tiniest error, we might make or leading us to believe that if someone didn’t talk to us in a meeting it was because we are useless.
Our RAS will not look for evidence that disproves this thinking. It will choose to let all our great accomplishments and positive feedback from colleagues disappear from our memories or be buried under the pile of unhelpful evidence.
So, what can we do? We can change the filter on our RAS by using positive self-talk. We can focus on the things we want to see. Here are three quick techniques that really work.
- Affirmations can be powerful here. Try thinking positive thoughts whilst brushing your teeth each morning and evening with your non-dominant hand. Do this for 30 days for the new habit (and RAS filter to really kick in).
- We can build confidence (and create real evidence) by creating a physical record of all our accomplishments and great feedback from colleagues, customers, friends, and family. Look at this each time you need a positive boost.
- We can reduce the amount of time we spend worrying. Set 15 minutes aside each day just to worry. If worries pop into your mind at any other points during the day write them on a list but don’t think or ‘worry’ about them until your scheduled worry time. Setting an allocated time to worry allows negative self-talk to be restricted to a very small part of your day.
Finally, it’s helpful to remember that we are in control of our own thoughts, they do not control us. By focusing on what you want, you are programming your brain and taking control of those thoughts.
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