Our brains are incredibly complex. We can sift through billions of bits of data at any given time and somehow we don’t short circuit, we filter and organize that information instead. The Reticular Activating System helps with that filtering and organizing. The RAS is the reason you learn a new word and then start hearing it everywhere. It’s why you can tune out a crowd full of talking people, yet immediately snap to attention when someone says your name or something that at least sounds like it. It is the reason you start to see your new car everywhere, once you buy it.

It is absolutely astounding how much information our senses actually process. Below is a breakdown of our 5 senses and how much information they each take in per second.

sensory systembits per second
eyes10,000,000
skin1,000,000
ears100,000
smell100,000
taste1,000

All up, the senses gather some 11 million bits of information per second from the environment and it is sent to the brain for processing. One immediately gets present to the problem of determining what is happening to all this data. At the same time our conscious mind seems to be able to process only 50 bits per second. This highlights that there is a huge gap between what our senses & brain process, versus what our conscious mind picks up. It appears that a tremendous amount of compression is taking place if 11 million bits are being reduced to less than 50. 

A Bit of Anatomy

The reticular activating system (RAS) is a network of neurons located in the brain stem that projects both anteriorly to the hypothalamus and posteriorly to the thalamus and cortex to mediate behavior, as well as activation of awake cortical patterns. Most of the neurons comprising the midbrain reticular formation lie dorsal and lateral to the red nuclei. 

Complex interactions between multiple neurotransmitters modulate the action of the reticular activating system with both cholinergic and adrenergic neurotransmission having key roles. 

The reticular activating system’s fundamental role is in regulating arousal and sleep−wake transitions. It enhances the attentive state of the cortex and facilitates conscious perception of sensory stimuli. It regulates autonomic function, muscle reflexes, and tone and also controls the fight-or-flight responses and helps us respond to the world around us. 

Your RAS takes what you focus on and creates a filter for it. It then sifts through the data and presents only the pieces that are important to you. All of this happens without you noticing, of course. The RAS programs itself to work in your favor without you actively doing anything. In the same way, the RAS seeks information that validates your beliefs. It filters the world through the parameters you give it, and your beliefs shape those parameters. If you think you are bad at giving speeches, you probably will be. If you believe you work efficiently, you most likely do. If you believe that life is hard and only bad things happen to you, then that is correct. The RAS helps you see what you want to see and in doing so, influences your actions.

You can train your RAS by training yourself to identify your subconscious thoughts and bringing them forward into your conscious thoughts. This is also known as “setting your intent.” This basically means that if you focus hard on your goals, your RAS will reveal the people, information and opportunities that help you achieve them. This takes work, ESPECIALLY if your conscious thoughts are focused on the negative, on what is wrong with your life, on what is not working. You will then have to retrain the brain and this takes effort, firstly the effort of realizing what those subconscious thoughts are, then the effort of catching them and the retraining of new subconscious thoughts to replace the old ones.

If you care about positivity, for example, you will become more aware of and seek positivity. If you really want a dog and set your intent on getting one, you’ll tune in to the right information to help you do that.

When you look at it this way, The Law of Attraction doesn’t seem so mystical. Focus on the bad things and you will invite negativity into your life. Focus on the good things and they will come to you, because your brain is seeking them out. It’s not magic, it’s your Reticular Activating System influencing the world you see around you.