by teresalaynebennett

How would you answer the question, “What do you want in life?”

Did you say, “I’d like to find:

  • a good mate?”

  • a cause higher than myself?”

  • funds for college?”

  • a rewarding career?”

  • contentment?

  • an affordable house/apartment?”

You’d be in good company, since most of us are routinely trying to find something. (Some, of a certain age, would simply settle for finding our keys. You might not settle for that, but you can bet your mom would.)

I’m right there with you, dude (or dudette). I’ve been looking for a lot of things for a very long time, and I ever so modestly suggest you might even call me The Doyenne of Looking and Finding.

Finding stuff takes up an astonishing amount of our thoughts and efforts. It’s the grand, perennial activity of life. You’ve no doubt noticed that some people are a whole lot more effective at finding what they’re looking for than others. Why is that?

Looking and finding

As with most of life, the answer is complex. Lots of reasons, but the main one is pretty simple. They’re looking. You can’t find stuff if you’re not looking. Agreed? These people, whether consciously or unconsciously, have told themselves they’re looking for such-and-such, and they find it. What a concept.

Several years ago, I listened to a motivational speaker whose audience was professional sales people – not college-kid store clerks – experienced sales professionals who were paid six-figure salaries for selling business-to-business. (I have no idea what I was doing there, as “six-figure sales professional” has never been part of my resumé.) He talked about something I’d never heard about, and it was inside my own body!

He called it a “reticular activating system,” which sounded a bit made-up to me. But I liked what he claimed it could do, so I decided to buy the guy’s story and believe I had one. He claimed it rested at the base of my brain and was the part of the brain which found what the rest of the brain told it to find.

His Reticular Activating
System examples

His first example: he wanted to buy a certain year and model of car. After making that decision and “telling” his reticular activating system, he started seeing this car model that he’d scarcely noticed before and didn’t think many people had bought. It was everywhere, in every color.

Another example: he needed a _____. (Can’t remember what it was. Doesn’t matter.) He “put the word out,” meaning he told friends and co-workers. Then he “told” his reticular activating system to find this item. Again, a commodity he thought was in scarce supply turned out to be everywhere. He found exactly the type and style he wanted and at a good price. His and his friends’ reticular activating systems were in rare form, apparently.

His next example: he wanted to find something intangible – no cars or touchable commodities this time. Again, I can’t remember exactly what it was, but it was something as ethereal as “inner peace,” so we’ll just pretend that was it. Once he told his reticular activating system that he wanted to find more inner peace, he started hearing about, reading, noticing ways others had managed to find inner peace.

But is there really such a thing
as a reticular activating thingy?

That’s a question I’ve asked myself for years, after hearing this guy, but never took the time to research.

Several years after hearing him, I got my answer. It was in a news article about goal-setting in our local paper. Check out this quote from the article.

“Setting the goal and writing it down are paramount, because that at least engages the reticular activating system in your brain. RAS is a finger-length group of cells at the base of your brain that serves as a control center, sorting and evaluating incoming data. It’s responsible for filtering out the urgent stuff from the unimportant so you can function properly.”

photo of brain and brain stem showing pathways of reticular activating system

See. He didn’t make this up. Your RAS exists.

You can imagine my excitement when I learned that this whole deal wasn’t motivational-speaker twaddle. That article prompted me to google “reticular activating system.” Most sites’ definitions included something similar to this:

“… the reticular activating system (RAS) in the brainstem controls our ability to be awake, to sleep, and to pay attention. Integration of the cerebral cortex and the RAS enables us to be aware and knowledgeable about activities in our environment.”

Did you notice
that pay-attention part?

You’re such a sharp cookie, I’ll bet you’ve already thought of some things you’d like to use your RAS to find. Good news. Just tell your reticular activating device to pay attention to ______ and it will. Tell it to find ______ and it will. It works, I’m telling you. Unfortunately, I fear my RAS is dangerously close to the end of its warranty since, Doyenne of RAS that I am, I’ve severely overused it. (Here’s a perfect example: I looked for something for 42 years – and found it!)

RAS disclaimer time

Like a good hunting dog, once your RAS gets the scent, it won’t stop barking. Long after you’ve found what you were looking for, it keeps on looking – and barking, and barking, and barking. Eventually, it does shut up. My unscientific explanation? It gets miffed because I’m no longer congratulating it on finding ______ and in a fit of pique, gives up.

Got any of your own really cool RAS stories for the rest of us?

© 2014 Teresa Layne Bennett

red box with white text: "Look and you will find it - what is unsought will go undetected." – Sophocles

One of The Silver Spoon Set, circa 400-ish BC