Why is it that you can sometimes discern a single sound through a maelstrom? And how can you hear your name being called through a crowded pub?
It's because your brain knows this is important information to you. There's a little part of it which never sleeps and always listens out for the things that'll keep you safe. It's been compared to the personal assistant for a busy manager whose job it is to get the right information to the boss.
It's called the Reticular Activation System and it's the part of the brain which sieves through all the thousands of feelings, sights and sounds that blast you every minute. It knows you can't take them all in at once so it lets through the bits it's seen you respond to in the past.
Here's a beautiful quote describing the Reticular Activation System (RAS). Just click on it to open a more technical description:
"Gatekeeper to consciousness, spark of the mind,
the reticular formation connects with major nerves
in the spinal column and brain. It sorts the 100 million
impulses that assault the brain each second, deflecting
the trivial, letting the vital through to alert the mind. The
mind cannot function without this catalytic bundle of cells."
Originally, this bit of your brain woke you up when dangerous animals were about. Now, it tunes you in to the things it believes you're interested in and want to know more about.
Where previously it may have alerted you to the birdsong that signified your favourite fruit tree was close by, now it can hear the ice cream van from 5 streets away.
And so we get to the point...
...If you have regularly wandered in to the same cafe and regularly had the same coffee and cake, your brain is accustomed to that action. If there's an advert for half price coffee and cake in the paper your RAS will zero in on it for you. If that advert is sitting next to a half price gym offer, your RAS probably won't see that as being useful or relevant.
Ultimately, this means if you do what you've always done, you'll get what you've always got.
But you can use this to your advantage!
By showing your RAS that you're interested in eating healthier and taking exercise, it'll start to filter in messages to assist you and slowly (oh so painfully slowly....) filter out the ones about cake.
We can't do much short term to filter out the cake but we can big up the good stuff with statements that have become known as "affirmations".
Don't run away - it's not as New Age as you think.
An affirmation is a statement of positive intention. Saying to yourself daily "I enjoy walking in the sunshine" is enough to make you look outside and check the weather a little more often. Repeating, "Eating less at night lets me eat well at breakfast " might be enough to stop evening snacking and its attendant heartburn or discomfort.
Here's another way to think of affirmations. When you look online the search engine collects information about what you're interested in. This means if you're looking up holidays you'll find targeted adverts for holidays all over your favourite internet sites for weeks. That's what your RAS does for your brain. Try spending 10 minutes looking up personal training, getting fit and eating healthily. Before you know it your search engine will be acting just like your RAS, filtering in the good stuff. Do that for 2 minutes a day and you'll be flooded with ways to make better choices in your life.
I just think of them as easy to remember rules. I go through this in much greater detail with clients but if you'd like to make your own, think of a goal you'd like to achieve:
1. Visualise your goal
2. Write one sentence, no more than 10-15 words
3. Use the present tense
4. Use positive language
5. Use action words
Send it to me or post it on facebook!
Enjoy Good Health!