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Did you ask but haven’t received? It sees through your beliefs — the Reticular Activating System that can be your co-pilot on the course towards achieving your goals.

Write down your goals, visualize the end result, feel a bunch of delicious feelings, and you will get what you desire. Right? Not necessarily.

If you are using conscious goal-setting methods and visualization to help focus your mind on achieving certain outcomes, there may be an important step that you are overlooking.

Those with an interest in the neuroscience behind the Law of Attraction may have heard of the Reticular Activating System as the scientific reason why visualization paired with strong emotions is likely to help us attract what we desire into our lives. Many of these explanations only skim over the importance that our deeply-held beliefs play in the manifestation process.

The scientific research on how our beliefs control what our brains focus on and therefore what we end up seeing more of in our lives is still in its early stages. Summarized below, this analysis by Eugene Shea sheds some new light on the subject in relating the role of the Reticular Activing System to our will. It makes it clear that our beliefs color how we perceive information and in turn how we see reality the way that we do.

The Reticular Activating System (RAS) is a bundle of nerves in the brain that filters out the billions of signals that our brain must process at any given time. RAS acts as a gatekeeper that filters out the “important” information from the unnecessary noise.

Each individual’s attention is uniquely focused on different things even in the same exact set of circumstances, just as every witness to a car accident will have a different account of how it happened. We have been told many times that noticing the positives and being grateful is likely to attract more of that into our lives while noticing the negatives will only bring more of them.

How is it that some people seem to go through life always complaining, only focusing on the negative, while others may be in very similar circumstances but be mostly content or even grateful?

As we go through our days and the vast amount of sensory information floods our brain, the RAS screens out the impulses that are significant enough to be passed onto the pre-frontal cortex where we make decisions. In addition to filtering out what gets sent to the “boss” for processing, the RAS also plays a role in releasing the chemicals that regulate motor function and processes such as emotion, memories, and wakefulness. Once we analyze the information that gets sent to our cortex, the RAS then starts the process to execute the motor functions necessary to take the intended action.

How does the RAS know what to interpret as important or significant? Our beliefs and values, which naturally have an emotional component, are essential in the RAS determining what stimuli to notice or discard. Many of our long-held beliefs are so deeply ingrained in our brains that we may not even be aware of how we came to them in the first place.

If we do not consciously examine our beliefs and replace the ones that may not serve us (such as “I will: never be smart enough to get that degree/never be able to make enough money/never be able to find the partner of my dreams/never lose that 20 pounds/fill in the blank___”) with beliefs that do serve us, we will be living from a state of those past memories and letting RAS run on autopilot without us knowing what is in the flight plan. Using those beliefs and conditioned responses that we may have learned back in childhood, the RAS interprets the world for us before we even get a chance to think about it.

When we are in a situation that requires an immediate response such as imminent physical danger, the RAS self-generates a response (helping us a avoid a baseball coming at us). If immediate implementation is not necessary, however, the RAS sends the “important” information to the cortex for further processing where we can review the alternative responses and decide what course of action to take.

Although we can select a response once the information is in the cortex, the first wave of filtration through the RAS tends to only allow in data from the outside world that is already in line with our conditioned responses and often-times subconscious beliefs.

We will not commit to a decision that is not aligned with our beliefs and therefore will be a lot less likely to pursue actions that we do not deeply resonate with.

Let’s say that a man who is a vegetarian goes into the store to find something to make for dinner. Even though the store has a large variety of food to choose from, including meat, due to his beliefs, he will likely not even notice the meat section and will go straight to the corner with fruit and vegetables. Thus far, he has already filtered out a narrow segment of all the possibilities of what he could’ve had. His experience of seeking dinner is now already vastly different from the person next to him who may completely block out the existence of vegetables in the store and is heading for the deli counter. Now that he has filtered out the items that are relevant to him, he can decide which particular veggies to have and once he makes up his mind, his brain will do the work of reaching for that particular zucchini or squash. If he firmly believes that having meat for dinner would be against his values, then he will simply not take the action of reaching for that grilled chicken.

What does any of this have to do with setting intentions and manifesting our dreams?

When we set an intention to do something, we are creating new circuits in our brain, and when we continually visualize the outcome of that action along with a strong feeling of emotion, we add that to the memory bank from which the RAS can select in narrowing our beam of attention on the particular event, place, or person that may help us in the realization of our goal.

If we do not believe that something is possible or that it is against our closely held beliefs or values, we will not be able to commit for the long-term in taking the steps necessary to reach that goal.

How do we will something to happen?

Suppose we decide to go to the movies. We first visualize ourselves going to the movies, but we must also believe/know that this is a feasible possibility. If the brain finds a problem with the feasibility of doing something, it has no reason to invest energy into trying to make it happen. If we believe that going to the movies is a possibility, we can commit to taking that action. Once we commit to an action, the RAS is then in disequilibrium as it sees that we intend to be “there” while we are currently still “here.” The commitment authorizes the RAS to execute the motor functions necessary to complete the intended action — in this case, move our bodies out the door and into the car to start driving to the movie theater.

As most of our goals aren’t as simple as just going to the movies, we must remind our brains of our intentions often enough to where we will persevere and take the actions necessary as long as it takes to get there.

If you don’t believe that losing 20 pounds or running a marathon is something that is possible for you then you will be a lot less likely to consistently take the action necessary to reach that end result.

Even though the RAS may start the muscle movements to carry out certain actions, the commitments may often be displaced in the feasibility check process. Therefore, if you have a goal, you also need to make sure that it aligns with your beliefs in what is possible.

A suggestion for a possible update to the traditional visualization process below includes the examination of our beliefs.


Revise your visualization process:

1. Make your list of goals and intentions — focusing on the WHY instead of the WHAT.

2. Put your goals in categories they relate to such as Health & Fitness, Relationships, Abundance, Career & Purpose, Education & Intellectual Skills etc.

3. Examine your beliefs within those categories where your goals fit in, especially focusing on those categories where you may have found yourself having the most problems. Think about where those beliefs came from — did you inherit them or did you consciously choose them? The article in this link offers a few good belief-examining questions to ponder.

If you want to let go of old beliefs, write down the new beliefs you want to replace them with and be alert to the old beliefs still popping up in your mind when you think about those certain aspect of life.

(This can be a whole process in itself and there are many great resources out there that discuss how to replace long-held beliefs — I personally enjoyed Dr. Joe Dispenza’s “Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself”).

4. Set aside some time each day to visualize those goals becoming a reality and to feel with all five senses what that feels like.

5. Take action! As Jim Carrey says: “ Visualization works if you work hard. That’s the thing. You can’t just visualize and go eat a sandwich.”


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