09 Aug The Biology Behind the Law of Attraction
The Reticular Activating System
Hundreds of thousands of years ago, our ancestors needed to be able to locate food, shelter, and the safety of community quickly and easily. They also needed to be attuned to the dangers of both the natural environment, predators, and rival tribes that might mean us harm.
As a result, we developed a highly effective system in our brains that we now call the reticular activating system. This system is a natural information filter that allows us to quickly sift through the millions of points of data input that we take in every day, and only use the information that’s vital to our survival.
In today’s world, what constitutes “vital for survival” is very different, but the reticular activating system remains honed in. It doesn’t know that we’re not in danger or that we need to find our “tribe.” It just does this job more or less on its own.
This is the system that’s hardwired into our brain that is responsible for that weird effect where, for example, when you’ve just purchased a new Mazda in a colour you love, you see that colour Mazda everywhere you turn. And it’s the reason why when you’re convinced that a scary new group of people is overrunning your country, you start to see those people every time you leave the house.
The number of Mazdas and scary people hasn’t actually changed. You’re just seeing only those numbers, because your reticular activating system is filtering the rest out so you can be more attuned to the things you find positive and rewarding, and scary and threatening.
Social media advertising is designed to trigger the reticular activating system in precisely this way. The alogrithms use the same kind of data, and they see the things you follow, like, and comment on, and show you more of those things. The upside of this is that you can stay better connected with the things you enjoy. The downside is that it can amplify your prejudices and fears, and influence you to make decisions based on very little quality information. You’ll start to notice those things that are aligned with your personal beliefs more than the other things, and you’ll start to believe that they’re much more magnified than the other ideas simply because your brain has filtered out information that isn’t in your scope of interest or belief.
Knowing this, hopefully, gives you great power to look past the onslaught of messaging that’s paying for your brain space so you can start digging for the truth behind it all and look at real data with which to make decisions.
The good news, however, is that this is a primarily physical system. And like all systems, it can be trained. See, the reticular activating system doesn’t know the difference between something you imagine and something that’s taking place in the real world.
When you’re feeling down, it’s largely an emotional response to your beliefs about a particular event. You may start speaking negatively about yourself in your mind. The reticular activating system uses this information and says, “oh…I guess this is how things are…” and begins showing you the things that make you sadder. It amplifies your bad luck, your personal failings, your crappy financial situation. It reveals to you all of the things that align with your beliefs about the situation. This isn’t a bad thing — the brain doesn’t do bad things out of malice — because there’s a certain hazard about being overly optimistic during an ice age.
However, it’s important to remember that these negative feelings aren’t greater than they were before the event. They’re probably exactly the same; you’re just filtering out the other things that don’t align with that particular belief, so it appears as though you’re “going through some stuff.” That “stuff” will compound due to this added clarity.
There are two key points here that you have to remember: the reticular activating system can be trained, and the mind doesn’t know the difference between a belief or imagining about something and the real thing. To the subconscious mind, these are the same things. Researchers have found that concentrating as little as 30 seconds every day on what you want to happen, your mind begins to believe these things are actually happening. When this occurs, the reticular activating system gets triggered to seek out those beliefs in the real world.
You see yourself surrounded by amazing friends, and suddenly you realize that this is the case. It may always have been, but your mind was just not showing that to you in your loneliness. You see yourself possessed of excellent health, and suddenly your aches and pains are far less and you appreciate how much energy and vitality you have. You see yourself getting richer by the day, and suddenly you realize your finances aren’t as much of a mess as you once thought they were.
This, in fact, is why gratitude practice is so important. If you spend time daily recalling things in your life that are positive and uplifting, your mind will key to those things and amplify their presence. It will begin filtering out the information that doesn’t support that belief.
When we think of the Law of Attraction, we think of a mysterious force of the universe that tunes into our vibes about a certain thing. You imagine it, and suddenly it appears in your life. This may or may not be a thing (there are good quantum hypotheses to explain this as well), but you certainly do seem to attract what you think about, good or bad. A big part of this has a basis in the physical realm of brain physiology through the reticular activating system. When we practice manifestations and intentions, what we’re really doing is saying to our brains, “this is the way things are; show me these things in life.”
Then you walk down the street, and you spot a five dollar bill on the sidewalk. Did that money magically appear, or did your brain just notice it because it was looking for opportunities?