Have you ever bought a new car and suddenly you start seeing your car everywhere? Or consider buying a new watch and notice that everyone seems to have that exact one? It’s a funny thing that our brain does to us and it’s called the reticular activating system and helps control our attention.
What is RAS?
RAS is your Retiuclar Activating System. It’s the part of the brain that helps filter out all the incoming data that is being thrown at you. There can be up to 2 MILLION pieces of data at anyone time and your RAS is what helps your brain filter out what is useful and what is not useful. The RAS system helps you by picking out pieces of information that is useful or not. How does the brain decide? Basically based upon what you believe is useful or not useful to you. So a person’s focus will direct the RAS system. Therefore it is very important to be aware of what your focus is on, if your focus is negative, you will always find pieces of information to match this internal story or if it is more positive you will also find information that supports these ideas.
How to use RAS to change behaviors and achieve goals
In cycling and skiing one thing you are taught is to look where you want to go. Don’t focus on where you don’t want to go. In cycling if you focus on a tiny rock on the road and think “I don’t want to hit that rock!”, the likelihood that you will hit that rock or that it will take more energy to avoid that rock is guaranteed. When taking hairpin turns, in cycling it it typically taught to focus on how you want to take the corner and the bike will follow. Skiing is somewhat similar, particularly in powder. One should focus on where and when to turn rather than focusing on the tree that they don’t want to hit. This becomes more important the faster one is skiing but it is important nonetheless.
So how does this all relate to changing behaviors and setting goals? Learning how to focus appropriately will help you focus on how to change any behavior and achieve any goal, but first start with these 5 steps for success.
First: Define your focus
I was reflecting on this topic this morning listening to Tony Robbins Unlimited Power seminar. He was discussing that WHAT you want and WHY you want it will get you there will help direct you on your path. He gave an amazing example of how Sly Stallone behaved when he was first getting into the movie business and how many times he was turned down and EVEN when he was offered > 250K for his Rocky screenplay. But he wouldn’t take it because he only wanted to do it if HE was in it. Can you imagine Rocky now without Stallone?? The story of Stalone becoming an actor and screenwriter is pretty amazing and shows incredible tenacity. But the thing Tony Robbins kept focusing on wasn’t that he just knew WHAT he wanted, that he wanted to be in movies…Sly had a commitment to his WHY. He was focused and had his reason.
Second: Find your why
Lean Six Sigma is a methodology that relies on a collaborative team effort in order to improve performance by systematically removing waste,combining lean manufacturing/lean enterprise and Six Sigma to eliminate the eight kinds of waste in the areas of: Transportation, Inventory, Motion, Waiting, Overproduction, Overprocessing, Defects, and Skills. Toyota was the first to introduce this methodology particularly into manufacturing, but it has a variety of different tenants and methodologies in order to help identify waste. One method is using the ‘5 Whys’. The 5 whys is exactly what it sounds like, you ask why five times. The reason this is important to finding your WHY is that it gets to the root of what motivates you to do something as well as helps breakdown behavior that isn’t supporting your goals.
How does this work, start with your goal.
For example maybe your goal is: I want to lose 50 pounds.
Then ask: Why is this important? (1st why)
Answer: To look better
Why is looking better important to you? (2nd why)
Answer: because I will fit into my clothes better
Why is fitting into your clothes better important to you? (3rd why)
Answer: Because I will feel more at ease at work
Why is feeling more at ease at work important to you? (4th why)
Answer: Because I’ll feel more confident
Why is feeling more confident important to you (5th why)
Answer: Because I’ll be able to contribute more and be more effective
Sometimes you can see that as you get into these ‘whys’, the real reason for something really bubbles to the top. This is helpful to identify because when you have full conviction of why you are doing something and really understand why it’s important to you, you will be able to better keep your focus especially when things get hard. But even if you have your why you may still not be fully committed to making your goal a must and not just something that you feel like you should do.
If you feel like you SHOULD change something, the likelihood you will stick to your commitment becomes much lower. Figuring out your why helps to get away from the idea of SHOULD and moves you towards why you MUST do this particular change. The other thing to understand are your values. When you understand your why and combine this with understanding your values it helps power why your change is a MUST.
Third: Inventory your values
Sit down and think about what things you value in your life. Your family? Your health? Being successful? Check out this great list on James Clear’s website if you are stumped. Pick 5 that you think are your core values and think about how these values are integral to your WHY. If living a peaceful life is one of your greatest value, and a habit you want to cultivate is meditating more, use that as leverage to help you commit to your practice. What I mean is when you understand not just your WHY but how it integrates into your core value when you want to skip a mediation session it’ll be easier to say: NOT meditating isn’t in line with what I value…this is very important to who I am.
Fourth: Create a plan
Now that you know WHAT you want to do and WHY you want to do it and what values are important to you, sit down and create a plan. Start brainstorming 5-10 behaviors or habits you need to adopt in order to execute on what you want to do. Then pick ONE habit to focus on. Leo Babouta of Zen Habits discusses this in his book The Power of LessThe Power of Less, and how focusing on more habits and things you want to change actually brought about less action in his life.So really drill down into one habit that will help you and focus on that for the next two week.
Fifth: Take daily action
Figure out how to take daily action on your goal. What one small thing can you do today to help you focus. The other thing today is to get a journal and commit to your goal everyday. Write it down: what are you wanting to do, why are you doing it, and what small action will you take today to move you towards that goal? There are lots of ‘special’ journals out there to help you keep track but regardless of what you use, a regular journal will work as well, but write it down everyday because you are making a mini commitment when you do that and recommitting daily is super helpful. Then at the end of the day do an evaluation: did my behaviors/actions today move me towards or away from my goal? What can I do tomorrow to move me towards my goal.
What are you trying to focus on? What goal are you working on? Where do you need help and support? Leave a note in the comment section and let me know!
Here at Wellness Habits I write about things that impact our well being, mind-body-spirit. Topics of Self-Mastery/Mental Chatter I file under things that impact our Spirit. While they also impact our mind, I’ve filed this under things that once we learn how to manage our mental chatter, we typically are able to be more free in our emotions or spirit. So when we feel emotionally overwhelmed many times it brings our spirit down.
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