The Brain, The Net ... And Other Things
October 30, 2012
These paragraphs assume you and I may differ from many people because we truly expect our dreams to come true. Most days, we believe we can improve our lives and the people we engage. This has nothing to do with a false sense of importance or hubris. Reduced to its simplest, we want to improve our mind function so that we can get it to work for us rather than against us.
Working with Roy Disney in the earliest days of my career, I was introduced to Lou Tice, founder of the Pacific Institute. Lou's career in behaviorism began as a high school football coach, to a PhD in Psychology and time spent trying to rehab recidivistic prisoners in the State of Washington prison system (talk about hard-scrabble). From there, thanks to his unconventional career track, Tice became a sports psychologist. Touchdown! Teams like the San Francisco 49ers and the Texas Longhorns began seeing unprecedented success with Lou's unconventional approach to engineering self-improvement. The following describes one of my most valuable and oft-used discoveries when we consider optimizing our minds.
Radiating from your brain stem is a small network of cells about four inches in length called the "reticular activating system." It's about the size of a quarter of an apple. If you like, borrow the analogy that this remarkable piece of human wiring is your "Apple computer." The unique function of your reticular activating system is to filter all incoming stimuli from sight, sound, smell, and touch. It determines which incoming sensory stuff will make an impression and which will be discarded. It decides from moment to moment what information might change your life, become part of your conscious world. Without reticular activation, your cerebral cortex would be overrun with stimuli, ultimately driving you mad.
Here's how it works. Have you ever had an instance where upon meeting someone, perhaps your fiancé or best friend, you discover they have a keen interest in sailing? Yet you've never been aboard a sailboat, have had no interest in sailing, and would never have considered it. But, because you're fond of your newfound relationship you agree to attend a boat show. Suddenly over the ensuing weeks, sailboats seem to be falling from the sky. From TV ads to magazine racks at Barnes & Noble ... sailboats are everywhere.
How is this possible? Your reticular activation has opened the filter; suddenly something that wasn't there is now top-of-mind. Or, consider your experience at someone's cocktail party. The room is buzzing with light chatter, soft jazz is playing, you're standing in a corner in conversation when suddenly from 20 feet away breaking through, you hear your name mentioned. That's reticular activation.
Now think about people with whom you interact. Without mentioning names, think of the people who seem to have no reticular activation. Their mind is closed on many topics, their opinions caste in steel, forever unalterable. We see them every day. What they don't realize is that they've turned off their filtering system to guard against stimulus they don't want to encounter or think through. In short, by turning off their filter, they're also guarding their minds against success and growth. By considering failure, their minds are set on self-limitation.
The greatest property of using reticular activation is that you can self-program to be on the alert for positive, success-charged intake. It will wake you without an alarm clock, it will program your thinking to engage success-based people in the day's coming agenda, and it will concentrate your attentions on where you want to go, as opposed to away from where you don't want to be. We always move in the direction of our most dominant thoughts.