What is the RAS?
The functions of the reticular activating system are many and varied. Among other functions, it contributes to the control of sleep, walking, sex, eating, and elimination. Perhaps the most important function of the RAS is its control of consciousness; it is believed to control sleep, wakefulness, and the ability to consciously focus attention on something. In addition, the RAS acts as a filter, dampening down the effect of repeated stimuli such as loud noises, helping to prevent the senses from being overloaded
Imagine that you’re wanting a new car, but you have not decided the type of auto you want, so you are looking around. Then you decide to get a Jeep, suddenly you notice them everywhere. The day before you did not pay attention to them, now you can’t miss them.
Think of all the noise – hundreds of types of cars but you sort out the one you want, easily and quickly. How much of this clutter is brought to your attention? Not a lot.
True, you can see, hear and even feel general background noise, but not many of us bother to listen to each individual sound. The hum of an air-conditioner, the sight of passing cars, even the feel of your clothes. Ever got new shoes and they hurt, but then you focus on a task and you forget your pain. Think of an athlete injured in a game who does not feel it until it’s over (or of course combat)
When your attention is correctly focused your RAS is the automatic mechanism inside your brain that brings relevant information to your attention.
Your reticular activating system is like a filter between your conscious mind and your subconscious mind. It takes instructions from your conscious mind and passes them on to your subconscious. There are some interesting points about your RAS that make it an essential tool for achieving goals.
So you can deliberately reprogram the reticular activating system by self choosing the exact messages you send from your conscious mind. For example, you can set goals using NLP and add visualizations to your goals. Napoleon Hill said that we can achieve any realistic goal if we keep on thinking of that goal, and stop thinking any negative thoughts about it. Also your reticular activating system cannot distinguish between ‘real events’ and ‘synthetic’ reality. In other words it tends to believe whatever message you give it. Imagine that you’re going to be giving a speech. You can practice giving that speech by visualizing it in your mind. This ‘pretend’ practice should improve your ability to give the speech.
Recent advances lets us map the mind and if you are eating say chocolate cake (and you like it) certain parts of your brain lights up with this real action. Now we know that when you vividly imagine eating that cake the same mechanisms “light up” in your mind. WOW Napoleon Hill and Maxwell Maltz were correct!
The reticular activating system appears to play an important role in dreaming. Scientific observation using brain scans and electronic equipment shows that during deep sleep, the activity in this area is much reduced. During rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, however, which is when dreaming occurs, the activity in the reticular activating system increases to levels similar to those that are seen during wakefulness. In his classic 1960 self-help book Psychocybernetics, Dr Maxwell Maltz discusses our automatic goal seeking ‘servo-mechanism’. He doesn’t use the words reticular activating system, but it is the same process.