I connected with my inner hippy on a recent trip to India.
From Ayervedic massage to drum circles on the beach; from the gentle movement of Hatha Yoga to the stillness of a sound-bath meditation, I was surrounded by a world of colour, tradition and symbolism. It was so different and so relaxing.
However, in the middle of my holiday, one small, and seemingly insignificant, incident, caught my attention, found me putting back on my professional head and reflecting very deeply on the extraordinary power of focused attention.
Sunglasses in the sea
My eyesight is not brilliant. So much so that I even wear my prescription sunglasses while swimming in the sea.
This is rather risky, especially when the Indian coastline has some pretty powerful wave action. One such mighty wave knocked me completely off my feet and I went under. When I surfaced, my sunglasses were nowhere to be seen. Several of the group helped search the water before declaring it was ‘like looking for a needle in a haystack’ and retreated to the beach.
But I continued to search.
Looking intensely into the churning water, my attention narrowed. The water was dark and murky with churned up sand and, without my glasses, I knew my eyesight was very much impaired.
Nevertheless, I continued to look until, after quite some time, I thought I detected their outline, about 18 inches below the surface and swirling around in the water. I reached out and was amazed to find I had safely retrieved them.
‘You were really lucky’, my friends declared, but was it really luck or an example of the extraordinary innate ability of the brain and senses to reconfigure and, with laser like focus, seek and find?
Attentional filters in the brain
Attentional filters decide which aspects of our environment we need to deal with at any one time. This generally happens subconsciously. However, attentional switching is something we can do consciously too.
We can switch to searching or scanning our environment at will. This is now being demonstrated through MRI and PET scanning which clearly shows how the sensitivity of the relevant brain neurones increase.
Imagine, just for a moment, that you’ve lost your child in a busy shopping centre. Your visual systems will reconfigure to search out any children of the same height, build and hair colour, filtering out everything else.
It’s a bit like the Where’s Wally puzzle book.
Wally wears a red and white horizontally striped top. In the book, he’s placed in a picture which is crowded with lots of other people and objects. To seek and find Wally you have to access the neuronal architecture of the occipital lobe within your visual cortex which responds to a particular colour, shape or design.
This ability to switch lenses and move between modes of focus is on extraordinary feature of the mammalian attention system and something I regularly harness in my work as a therapeutic coach.
Use laser-focus to achieve goals faster
We are both autist and artist.
Just like a painter, we have the ability to focus in on an individual brushstroke with laser-like focus or stand back to view the painting as a whole and appreciate context and the bigger picture.
We can do this with our lives too. It’s something I encourage my clients to do by using the STOP System to either step into their thoughts and experience the intensity of their emotions or slip back into the observing self, shift perception and observe choices in the wider context.
We can pick up a cup, turn it this way and that in our hand, observe it from above, below, from near or far and from many different angles. We can also do this with our lives, relationships and experiences. But when we access the amazing power of the brain’s attentional filters with visualisation, we tap into an extraordinary resource which gives us the advantage to achieve goals faster
When we visualise, we set our intention and focus, we set our mind (mindset) and what we focus on is what we instinctively move towards.
How to ‘set your mind’
The Reticular Activating System (RAS) is a gate-keeping filter in the human brain.
Research shows we can only process 120 bytes of information at once, like listening to and comprehending two human voices. Our attentional system is limited so it is the job of RAS to decide what to allow in at a conscious level and what to keep outside our conscious awareness (the subconscious mind).
If I tell you that red is a significant or lucky colour for you today, you will suddenly notice so many red things in the environment and might think it a bit spooky. Those red things were there all the time, but RAS had not been sent a message about their importance and filtered their presence out of your conscious awareness.
Once we decide what we want, the goals we want to achieve, tag them with emotion and make a mental picture of them in our head, we effectively reset our focus, shift our internal filter system and open up to the immense power of RAS, the gatekeeper, to allow in previously filtered out information.
- Decide what you want
- List all the reasons you want that (This is linked to your beliefs and values)
- Decide what person you want to be
- Decide what life you want to live
- Make a detailed mental picture of you living that life
- Now make a decision about the first step you need to take right here, right now, that will begin to move you in that direction.
- Repeat the process until your goal is achieved
Knowledge is power
Make friends with your brain filters and you will have the edge on the competition. The science now confirms what we suspected all along.
You have the ability to achieve goals faster by harnessing the power of RAS and your subconscious mind, so why wouldn’t you?
Simple, isn’t it…?