How to Keep your New Years Resolutions!
The secret is setting your RAS.
Here we are in 2022! Many of us are making new fitness resolutions. Why do some of us successfully keep resolutions while others start out strong only to see their motivation fade within the first 30 days? We all hope for positive changes, but it’s easy to fall back into those old patterns we want to change. More on ‘hope’ and ‘want’ later. In addition to becoming healthier and more fit, a well-thought-out training program can reduce the chance of injuries or burnout. I’m excited to share some powerful tips to help you stay the course and ensure those resolutions come true!
In today’s blog:
What is RAS?
RAS in action
Leveraging the power of RAS
What is RAS?
RAS stands for the Reticular Activating System. It sounds like new-age foo-foo, right? Nope, it’s real, and it’s important. Our brains are incredibly complex. We can sift through billions of bits of data at any given time. And somehow, so we don’t short circuit. RAS has been studied extensively and is well understood. If you are not using it, or don’t know how, you are at a disadvantage. Read on to change that.
Your conscious mind processes about 40 bits of data per second. However, your subconscious mind can process about 40 million bits per second. Wow. Read that again. These two parts of your mind constantly interchange data bits seamlessly. How does your high-speed subconscious processor work with your slow-speed conscious mind? The RAS, a bundle of nerves at your brainstem, filters out unnecessary bits, so the important stuff gets through. All of this happens without you noticing.
Without RAS, your conscious mind would instantly overload, with dire consequences. Think of being without RAS like trying to listen to all the spectators in a packed stadium at the same time while they are talking at 10x average speaking speed. Your senses would be feeding so much information to your brain that you couldn’t possibly pay attention to all of it. Your subconscious mind is like a sponge taking in data from everywhere. It’s in a constant state of receiving. RAS is the gatekeeper of information that is let into the conscious mind. In short, RAS decides what is important and then passes it along to your conscious mind, where decisions are made.
How can RAS help you stick to your New Year’s resolutions? RAS is the cornerstone of successful goal achievement. Once you learn how to program your RAS, you can shift from ‘hoping’ and ‘wanting’ to ‘realizing’ and ‘achieving.’ You will reach your goals of becoming more fit and having higher energy levels. In turn, you’ll avoid common back, hamstring, knee overuse injuries that many ‘gung-ho’ goal-setters sustain because they created unmanageable resolutions. Here’s how.
RAS in action
RAS is your built-in autopilot. RAS can control what incoming information (stimulus) you’re aware of so that you’ll be motivated to behave in a certain way. It’s a survival mechanism. At any given time, only a certain amount of information is helpful to your brain. Your Reticular Activating System is there to keep you alive and sane. And it does that by trying to automate your behavior as much as possible.
As an analogy, think of Google as a digital RAS. Type in “tennis racquet,” and Google RAS will bring you info on every possible tennis racquet in the history of racquets. Google RAS will keep searching, and, unfortunately, this algorithm doesn’t know when to stop. Google’s RAS will go down every rabbit hole it can – like digging to China. If you stipulate more search parameters about the racquet, Google’s RAS will sift through the data and bring forward a narrower selection with better specificity.
Coach’s sidebar: Allow me a quick rant about the Internet and Social Media algorithms. These algorithms are designed to pull us into rabbit holes. And usually, those are closed-minded bottomless pits. In my opinion, refusing to be open-minded toward different concepts and ideas is why many political and religious groups can’t even talk to one another anymore. These algorithms convince them that their ideas and beliefs – and only theirs – are supreme and infallible truths. This is an example of how harmful RAS filters can be programmed.
RAS picks up the focus of your conscious mind. RAS sees all the data flying around in your subconscious mind and decides what to bring through to your conscious mind. RAS seeks information that validates your beliefs. It filters the world through the parameters you give it, and your beliefs shape those parameters. It reinforces what’s in your subconscious. RAS helps you see what you want to see and, in doing so, influences your actions.
Isn’t it funny when you’re in the market for that new Tesla, and suddenly you see them everywhere? It’s not that there are magically more Tesla automobiles on the road. It’s that your RAS filter is ‘tuned in’ to Tesla as being important to you. What once was non-essential data to your subconscious is now being highlighted by RAS for your focus and attention.
If, for example, your thought (belief) in a neural pathway is “I don’t like exercise.” Then, guess what? You’ll battle to get into a fitness routine. RAS is an automatic process that cannot distinguish between good and bad behavior. It doesn’t care whether your New Year’s resolution is good or bad for you. It only automates what’s in your neural pathways. To create change and instill a new behavior, reprogram the neural pathway, and your RAS will automate the new behavior. This is powerful!
Leveraging the power of RAS
The language we use is critical. It can help us achieve our goals or completely undercut our success. Some seemingly supportive word choices can have adverse effects. For example, I used the words ‘hope’ and ‘want’ in the opening paragraph of this blog. Aren’t these uplifting, or at least innocuous? These conjure doubt. Instead, use the word ‘intend’. This word activates the RAS by setting the filtering process in motion to bring about what we are seeking more deliberately.
I realize some of this sounds like smug platitudes, but there is actual science behind this. A skilled therapist or life coach can help you build a lexicon that can lead to your designed destination. Words like aspiration, intention, resolve, and ‘determination’ are strong words that leverage RAS.
Just as words elevate, they can demotivate as well. Choose words thoughtfully. As a long-time coach, I’ve seen plenty of misguided motivations. Let me describe one for you. Many parents and coaches encourage their child/student to be fearless. They’ll say to Anna (or Dylan): “I want you to be fearless on the court today!” This may result in a negative feedback loop. Let me explain.
The subconscious mind does not differentiate between fearless and fear. When you speak this word to another person, their 40 million-bits-per-second subconscious mind quickly assembles all the words found containing the root ‘fear’: fearfulness, fearlessness, fearful, fearless, fearfully, feared, fears, fearing, fearsomely, fearsomeness, fearers, etc. RAS saturates the brain with fear in all its many forms (or synonyms of fear) and begins to establish chemical pathways in the brain. Unwittingly, you’ve likely dismayed that child/student you were trying so hard to inspire.
Words are powerful. A vocabulary correction can make all the difference. How about this version? “Sarah (or Josh), I know you’ve been working on your game, and I’m impressed with the effort you are putting into this. It’s this process of hard work that is allowing you to improve and learn. I know you appreciate and are excited about having an opportunity to go back out and play tomorrow.” Notice the keywords are process, hard work, improve, learn, appreciate, and excited.
Also, fear and excitement are twin emotions, each involving our attitude. Fear creates dread, while excitement creates anticipation and openness to learn. It creates the same internal energy, but it can have different outcomes depending on how we react. The word excitement spoken by the conscious mind reaches our subconscious mind. RAS associates it with words like thrill, exhilarate, animate, enliven, rouse, stir, move, stimulate, galvanize, electrify, enthusiasm, delight, realize, achieve. While fear can paralyze, excitement engages us to move through it.
Allow RAS to help you focus on the process instead of results this year. Thoughtfully develop your aspirations and link them to your intentions. Then watch your RAS go to work for you. Leveraging your Reticular Activating System is one of the most powerful ways to improve your training outcomes.
For those who are easily distracted, life can be a torturous journey. The degree to which we allow distractions to capture our attention correlates directly with our ability to retain our personal power. Do your best to be thoughtful and allow adequate time for this. Clarity comes from being patient. Start simply by turning off notifications or try meditating.
Remember, thoughts and actions that coerce your attention will, over time, become the sum of your life. The way we spend our days is how we spend our lives. Direct your conscious thoughts to engage your subconscious mind to build those neuro-pathways that you will ride to your resolutions. Be careful what you wish for because it may just come true. This is neural cultivating.
Next week I will offer the Mirror Effect. It is life-changing and builds off the RAS knowledge foundation. Think of RAS as the engine and the “Mirror Effect” as the fuel.
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