You may have heard of the Law of Attraction. This law states that “like attracts like” and that whatever you focus on will begin to appear in your reality. Many skeptics think of the Law of Attraction as new-age magical thinking where a person just wishes for something hard enough and the universe delivers it. Thinking positive and hoping for what you want is an over-simplification and leaves out many pieces of the puzzle. While I personally believe there is an element of magic (who couldn’t use a little magic now and then?), there is real scientific evidence behind why visualizing your goals works to attract your desired outcomes.
BRAIN GAMES: YOUR RETICULAR ACTIVATING SYSTEM
There are millions of pieces of information being presented to our subconscious every second, but our conscious mind is only able to perceive about 120 of those per second. What happens to the rest? How does your brain choose what to let in and what to ignore? The RAS or reticular activating system is a part of the brain located in the brain stem and it’s about the size of a baby carrot. This is the regulator for all of the sensory information that your brain needs to filter through daily (with the exception of smell which heads straight to the emotional center of the brain). It is basically the gatekeeper for your conscious mind, deciding what things to let into your conscious perception and what to leave out.
When I was a child, my younger sister would cry at night as a result of colic. I almost always slept right through, blissfully unaware. Many mornings, I watched my bleary-eyed mom “coffee-up” as she got us all ready for school on very little sleep due to my sister’s late-night crying. Fast-forward twenty years and a small cough from my own children down the hall was enough to make me sit up straight in bed and listen carefully to be sure they were ok. Why the difference? In the case of my sister, my eight-year-old RAS knew that it was ok to filter these stimuli out. The baby would be safe because my mom would care for her. In the case of my own children, my reticular activating system put any and all sensory input related to their survival at the top of the list. Therefore, a cough in the middle of the night was sent directly to my conscious mind and woke me up.
Think of your brain is constantly in “search” mode, seeking out the quickest way to close the gap between what you are experiencing in real life and what you are most focused on achieving.
Have you ever thought about buying a new car and suddenly the type of car you are thinking of buying is everywhere you turn? This happened to me a few years ago. We were thinking of getting a Honda-CRV for our teenage drivers. The CRV I drove at the dealership happened to be powder blue. For the next week, I saw powder blue CRVs everywhere; parked next to me when I came out of the grocery store, on a “for sale” poster at my favorite coffee shop, pulling out in front of me at a traffic light, it was uncanny. Now, did everyone suddenly start driving powder blue CRVs in my town? No, I am sure I have been driving past these same cars on a regular basis; what changed was my perception of what had already been surrounding me. I was hyper-aware of powder blue CRVs because I was in need of a safe car for my teens to drive, and that particular car was the one I was most focused on at the moment.
The great thing about the RAS is that once we know it exists and how it functions, we can choose to program what it will filter out and what it will become hypersensitive to. Highly successful people understand this. That is why so many of them advocate setting goals, creating affirmations, and using visualization as tools for bringing what they want into their lives. This is not just wishful thinking...you can literally program your subconscious to filter through a vast sea of input, and send your conscious mind only those precious bits of information that will help you close the gap between what you are what you are currently experiencing and your ideal vision.
Try an experiment for yourself. Choose something you would like to see this week; a butterfly, green cars, yellow houses, etc. focus on this one thing each day and see how many times your reticular activating system helps it show up for you.