What if you could use your brain to help you achieve your goals?
Well, you can. Here’s how…
Now for a bit of neuroscience, but I promise it’s easy. There’s a part of the brain called the Reticular Activating System (or RAS for short). It’s function is to filter all the information that enter our brains so we can deal with what’s important and ignore the rest. That’s essential as, at any one moment, we may have hundreds, if not thousands of pieces of data impacting our brains – all the things we’re hearing, seeing, feeling etc. If our brain had to process all those individual bits of data, it would probably explode! Instead the RAS filters in what’s important and filters out everything else.
So how does the RAS know what’s important?
You tell it.
This may happen at a conscious level or a subconscious level.
For example, if you are currently selling your house, you probably see ‘For Sale’ signs all around. That’s unlikely to be because there are suddenly many more houses on the market. It’s simply because your mind is focused on selling your house and so your RAS picks out the ‘For Sale’ signs as important.
Or perhaps you have a toddler. You are deep in making a meal, but amidst all your busy-ness and noise, you notice the silence of your child. You stop what you’re doing and go to investigate, only to find him busily (and so far safely!) emptying out all the knives from your cutlery drawer. Your RAS knows the safety of your child is important.
The great thing is, we can use this to work in our favour and help us achieve the things we want to achieve. Sadly, it also can work against us, if we tell our minds the wrong things to look out for.
Imagine that you want to feel more confident. All the time you feel you aren’t good at talking to people, picking up the phone, having good conversations. You might even hear yourself say: “I’m no good at conversing” or “I never know what to say when I call someone” or even “I’m just not confident”.
Each time you think that thought your brain clocks it as important. Your RAS now looks out for those things for you (it’s wonderfully obedient!) and will filter in anything that confirms your thought as true. So if your hand wobbles when you pick up the phone, you notice and conclude that’s because you are no good at this. Or when one telephone exchange with an angry customer is awkward, you remind yourself that you aren’t good at phone conversations. You get the picture?
This can happen even when you have plenty of evidence to the contrary. So you may have dealt perfectly well with four phone calls, then the fifth is with an angry customer. Or you have had a good chat with two friends and the next conversation goes less well. Or you stand up to the over-demands of your boss, but all you remember is your shaking whilst you were stating your position.
If you are telling yourself, or thinking you lack confidence or can’t make phone calls or conversation, you will tend to ignore the times it goes well and only really notice the times when it doesn’t.
Yet this is great news! Your brain can be your servant, rather than your master.
Tell yourself what it is you want to achieve, and your brain will work for you rather than against you. If you’d like to feel more confident, tell yourself this is what you want. Better still, tell yourself that it’s already happened e.g. “I am confident”. Your RAS will now actively seek out evidence to prove that is true.
The great thing is, your RAS cannot distinguish between reality and imagined. So you can persuade your mind that you already are confident, even when that’s the last thing you feel. For example, if you have a presentation to give, imagine yourself leading that presentation confidently, eloquently and well.
Watch out for self-sabotage. If at the same time as you’re telling yourself “I am confident’ you are also thinking “But I’m not really” or “I’m just not confident”, your brain will be confused. It’s easier for your brain to notice the things it always has, rather than change tack and notice something different. So your old default position will tend to take over unless you train it, and keep training it, otherwise.
A client of mine moved from hesitant and tongue-tied to confident and well-received in her public presentations using exactly this approach.
Starting today, what would you really like your brain to notice for you? What would be really helpful and empowering?
Then think those thoughts. Repeatedly. And don’t give any space for the the thoughts that will get in your way.
Rehearse things going just the way you want them to – and you being just the way you want to be.
Teach your brain to notice the things you want it to notice.
Then you will achieve your goals!