(I wrote this little piece to help me remember a difficult but useful word. Hopefully if I research the topic and type it out a half dozen times it will stick.)


Three years ago, when I was in the market for a new vehicle, I wanted something fun which reflected the image I wanted to project.  After some thought – I selected a car that had a long history of making a statement. I wanted to be associated with that brand.   I selected a JEEP.

Driving off the dealership car lot with my new silver JEEP, I felt bad ass. Gone were the days of vacuuming out my car. I wanted to drive through muddy puddles and splash my fenders. I wanted people to assume I off roaded on my weekends. Laugh if you must but this Walter Mitty was an all-terrain renegade. I was a youthful adventure seeker.   Nothing could hold me back.

Up until that point I had always thought that Jeeps were kind of rare – limited to World War Two medics and safari tour drivers. Oddly enough, over the next few days I started seeing them everywhere. Two old jeeps passed on 33. There’s one in the Home Hardware parking lot and another at Metro. Coincidence?   No…. this is an example of our Reticular Activating System.

Are you familiar with the Reticular Activating System? RAS for short. It is a difficult name to remember. Trust me.   It is the system that wakes me up from a deep deep sleep every night to let me know that I have to go to pee. Remember last fall when Cynthia told us she was traveling to India? Immediately after that I ran into three other acquaintances who were also going to India. Wow. India sure has become popular. Serendipitous?

Another example. Someone mentions they are reading a particular book. That very afternoon I pick up a magazine and read a book review about that same book. Weird.   A happy accident? Not really. It is our Reticular Activating System at work.

The RAS is actually a physical thing in your brain. It is a bundle of nerve pathways; about the size of an almond and situated at the top of your spinal cord.

Its purpose in the brain is to filter out unnecessary facts and observations. Our brain can’t process all of the information being received at any given moment.   We are flooded with hundreds of thousands of insignificant pieces of data starting with the cries of the blue jays at the feeder, shadows of light on the floor, the feel of the key board, the colours and furniture, and the taste of stale coffee on our tongues. We are bombarded and it would be overwhelming if our bodies didn’t have RAS.

How does our minds know what is important?   Thanks to the RAS the large percent of that data is filtered out. The RAS notes what we chose to focus on and masks the rest. Have you ever driven home and realized that you don’t remember a thing about the trip? Not to worry. Your RAS is resting your poor overworked brain. It knows to alert you if a light suddenly turns red or the car ahead of you signals it is turning.. Your eyes are still open. The brain is receiving. Related data is pulled forward for our review if required.  Brilliant, no?   One final example. Have you ever set your alarm clock for a really early wake up call and been surprised that you woke naturally a few seconds before the alarm was to go off? Now you know why.

The RAS does more – much more.

My reach into Reticular Activating Systems led me into Cybernetics and Psycho-cybernetics. There is tons on the net about this stuff. The RAS can be used to influence our life choices and establish patterns. Have you ever heard someone say they can’t lose weight and they don’t; or state that they are always late and they are always late? With these ingrain beliefs your brain goes about identifying and highlighting every incident that supports this understating. It becomes a self-fulfilling. You don’t lose weight and you continue to be late. The more proof you see that supports this belief the stronger that belief becomes. A vicious circle.

Phycologists, sports coaches and self-help guides have tapped into the abilities of the brain’s RAS and learned how it can improve our performance as human beings. It is called resetting a positive RAS to believe in positive goals and beliefs. “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey and Unlimited Power by Tony Robbins are two examples of using RAS to our advantage. “I am confident.” “I am good with money.” “I will be successful.” “I can visualize every gate on the slalom course and will break a new record today”

There are now thousands of books and videos available dealing with the brain’s ability to steer the mind to a productive, useful goal. It is based on solid science.   Imagine that.

Now because I have resorted to using the RAS acronym eleven times, I probably still won’t remember the longer true name.

Reticular Activating System

Reticular Activating System

Reticular Activating System

Reticular Activating System ……


(got it)



About westlakemusings

In 2013 my husband and I retired. We bought an old pre-confederation house out in the country. This blog is about our new world in the country as we explore all of life's possibilities.
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