My RAS

January 16th, 2008

About 5 months ago when I was struggling to find some sanity here in India I came across an amazing article in a book about the Reticular Activating System, or RAS.

Our RAS is the part of our brain that acts as a filtering system for what attracts our attention- the example that sticks out for me is that when we are walking down a crowded street we are bombarded by thousands of stimuli- from the traffic passing, people walking past us, store windows, bill boards and signs… but if someone calls our name (or even says a word that sounds like our name) we are more likely than not to turn our heads. Our RAS acts as a filter that lets some stimuli in so that we can respond to it, and filters other stimuli out, deeming it unimportant.

But what’s interesting is how does the RAS know what stimuli is important and what isn’t? Well, it’s kind of working on what we feed it. We can consciously feed it messages through meditation or visualization, and if we aren’t engaging in this type of activity the RAS will work with whatever dominant thoughts are bouncing around our heads.

I’m sure we’ve all had the experience where once you start thinking about one thing you seem to notice it everywhere. Like if we are planning a wedding we may see bridal magazines and invitations and wedding dresses wherever we look. And if we are worried about gaining weight we will notice fat people and skinny people on the streets, books about diets or weight loss plans wherever we look.

The RAS is controlling this- our brain will attract whatever we program our RAS to notice. The book that I was reading talked about how we can consciously program our RAS through detailed visualizations. The clearer the images we feed in, the harder the RAS works to find those exact stimuli in the real world.

I’ve had 2 amazing experiences with this exercise. When I first came here I was coming off of my fourth major career change in about 4 years. I’ve definitely been flip flopping all over the place for a while, which I don’t mind- I think it’s been a healthy part of my life-exploration and curiosity to see what’s out there. But I was without any clue of what direction to head in now. And so through a series of visualizations I imagined my dream job- what it would look like, what I would wear to work, who I would work with, how I would get there… I imagined how it would feel during different parts of my day, how I would look, conversations I might have. .. I imagined it all in an Indian context, willing myself to see this ideal work environment here in India. I imagined all the time- in the morning when I first woke up, while we drove to the coffee shop, while I had my coffee, before I went to bed- anytime my mind was unengaged.

And it totally came true. Out of the blue I got a call from the one person I had spoken to about a job when I first got here, who had an opening in his own company. I pretty much walked into the exact job description I was imagining. (Of course the company wasn’t quite as amazing as I imagined in my dreams, but most elements were pretty spot on.)

Boosted by the success of this incident I went to work on my comfort levels staying in my in-laws’ house. I was determined that we could make this situation work and keep everyone happy. I imagined every possible detail I could think of, in bright techni-color clarity, and finally it was done. Suddenly I woke up one morning and found I had acquired enough of a grasp on Urdu to communicate with my mother in law in small sentences. I stopped feeling like a fumbling foreign idiot and moved with confidence. And the people around me changed too. Everything went according to the script I had written and reviewed in my head.

So now I’m moving to the next project. I’m imagining another dream job, correcting for the flaws in this one and incorporating my living environment. I can’t decide if I want to live in India or the US for the next year, so I’m imagining two scenarios (but I think I’m working harder on the India one), and they are both manifesting right in front of my face. It is so unbelievable it is shocking. I’m actually feeling a little scared by it. If we have so much power within us to control the reality around us, imagine what we can do if we really believe in ourselves.

After the first job offer I got a little nervous about this process and stopped using. Then I felt foolish and started it up again, and once again felt nervous about the speed of results. If this next job manifests I think I will be a true convert- three time’s a charm!


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    This Blog is a collection of my thoughts about culture - my background and culture, growing up between multiple worlds, organizational culture - how we can shift the "feel" of organizations by the choices we make, and cultural competency- understanding eachother better to make better decisions and form meaningful community.

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