How your Reticular Activating System Helps you Achieve Your Goals

You’ve heard it time and time again – write down your goals as it will increase the chances of you achieving those goals. Some state that they can keep their goals in their head. However, there is research that shows that when you write your goals down and post them in visible places to remind yourself of those goals, you will be more able to achieve those goals.

The reality is that we only have a limited amount of energy and attention to direct toward our goals. Evolutionary speaking, our brain is designed to conserve energy. We’re either focusing on:

  1. Dealing with threats in our environment and learning how to put out fires, or
  1. Focusing on ways to master our environment and work toward higher order goals that are important to our well-being.

Obviously with goal achievement, we are more interested in the latter,  – learning how to master our environment by achieving our goals, because it brings us pleasure, rewards, life satisfaction and of course some degree of security as well.

A key factor that prevents us from staying focused on our goals, and achieving those goals is that it’s hard to direct our attention on those goals all the time or often enough. There are so many distractions and demands in our everyday life, that it seems almost impossible to stay focused at times. Our RAS helps make this process of paying attention and being focused a little bit easier.

Specifically, research in goal setting and motivation states that our arousal systems help us focus on our goals. The reason we have arousal systems to begin with is that evolution has hard wired us to conserve energy, and we are only meant to be aroused when we have a concrete reason – protecting our safety in some fashion or increasing our resources in some way.

Our brain only gets super focused if and when it needs to, otherwise, just like a computer, one could argue that it goes to sleep and does the minimal amount of work needed. When a person has no clear goals, doesn’t write their goals down and doesn’t have plans to achieve those goals, their level of goal arousal, passion and overall enthusiasm is low. As a result, they do not recognize or identify the people, opportunities, situations or resources that could be helpful to them.

How do we increase our levels of arousal to help us achieve our goals? By learning how to activate your reticular activating system (RAS) which is part of your cortical arousal system, you can increase your chances of being much more efficient with your goals.

So what role does writing our goals down play in helping us to achieve our goals? By writing down your goals and your plans for achieving your goals, you learn to focus your attention on what really matters. Doing so gets your reticular activation system aroused and working in your favour.

How does this work? When you write down your goals, you make a point of being specific with a direction that is important for you to move in. You pinpoint specific destinations that you want to move toward, and the specific steps that you need to take to get there.

As you get in touch with what is exciting and rewarding to you, you increase your levels of arousal, and become crystal clear about what matters. As you are doing this, your reticular activating system in your cortex is aroused and promotes you being ready and alert to respond to cues in the environment that are relevant to your goals. When the RAS is activated, we can process and reorganize information much more efficiently in ways that support our achievement of goals.

A classic yet simplified example of your RAS working would be when you identify an article of clothing that you would like to purchase. You try on a beautiful blouse and you write down the size, brand, colour and store where you found it. In the meantime, as you are waiting for it to go on sale, you see other people wearing that blouse because now you are primed to spot it! You’ll also recognize similar types of blouses perhaps by other designers. Your brain is automatically aroused when it notices this blouse because you have indicated that it is something important to you.  The same thing happens when you identify a new car that you want to buy. You begin to notice that car everywhere, because you’ve signaled the importance of this car to your brain.

To learn strategies and tips on the how to activate your RAS to support your goal setting and achievement efforts, read these tips on visualization!


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