Our belief system includes our values, morals, philosophy and religious persuasion. It enables us to see the world in a unique way and all information we encounter is measured against it.
Altering our belief system can impact our behaviour. Individuals with a poor self-image and negative thinking can take control of their thought life in the effort to change beliefs and improve their life.
The mind, brain, behaviour phenomena makes this all possible.
The brain is an extraordinary organ that has been researched extensively for decades. Studies in the area of mind, brain and behaviour has led some cognitive neuroscientists to believe the area of the brain responsible in part for this activity is the reticular activating system.
Merchant R.E. (2011) states that the reticular activating system (RAS) denotes that part of the brainstem reticular formation which performs a crucial role in maintaining behavioral arousal, consciousness, and motivation.
This area of the brain is very complex and its functions has been widely debated, but some neuroscientists believe that it is a control center that filters the information we receive through our senses, let’s the important ones through and generates responses.
Silverstein, Alvin & Virginia (1986) comments: “The RAS determines which . . . bits of information are important enough – or novel enough – to report to the higher portions of the brain. . .”
Bailey, Ronald H., et al. (1975) states: “[The reticular formation] alerts the brain to incoming information from the senses, and from the centers of thought, memory and feeling. More than that, it adjudicates the relative importance of that information. . . In a way the RAS is like a vigilant secretary, sorting out the trivia from the incoming messages.”
An exert from the book ‘The Brain – Mystery of Matter and Mind, U. S. News Books – 1981 ‘ is as follows:
“The reticular formation is, in essence, the physical basis of consciousness, the brain’s chief watchguard. . .The reticular formation continuously sifts and selects, forwarding only the essential, the unusual, the dangerous to the conscious mind. . . The reticular formation can both send and receive messages. If it suddenly spots one that merits attention, it shoots up an alert through ascending RAS pathways to receiving areas in the cortex. Timed to arrive simultaneously with the impulses sent directly from sensory receptors, [ ! ! ! ] the RAS alerts the cortex to these impulses.”
Breaking it down
Without delving too deep into neuroscience there is evidence to suggest that the brain filters information we are bombarded with on a daily basis. The criteria for filtration are the things we focus on and our belief system. Therefore, an element of confirmation bias occurs.
Have you ever realised that after buying a new car you tend to see the same colour and/or type everywhere you go? It seems like they suddenly popped out of the woodwork. Thing is – they were here all along, but now that your focus is on this type of car, the brain is constantly showing you images confirming your focus.
This is a simple example which does not have a significant impact on individuals but let’s say your focus and belief system is that you are always broke or never on time, information or circumstances to confirm these facts will present themselves and confirm these beliefs. A price increase of that favourite product you cannot live without is enough to bring on a ‘sigh’ and a long face of a dwindling bank account.
Pause and reflect!
The more confirmations you receive, the stronger your beliefs become and the more difficult it is to change.
What should I do?
Re-frame your thoughts:
Instead of thinking ‘I am always broke’, replace this with a more positive statement such as ‘I am getting better at managing my money every day’.
Instead of thinking ‘I am never on time’, replace this with ‘I am a punctual person’.
Affirmations are a great way to help embed positive statements in our minds and change our thought processes.
Your RAS will now show you information in keeping with your new beliefs and after a while your new belief system takes root.
Once we start tackling our belief system, we start doing things differently. In the two examples, individuals may start attending personal finance courses, paying closer attention to spending habits, cutting back on non-essentials so they can still afford their favourite things, preparing ahead of time for events, leaving home 10 minutes early etc.
Pay very special attention to your thoughts – they impact your focus, belief system and the information your brain filters to prove this.
Make the RAS work for your good!
Merchant R.E. (2011) Reticular Activating System. In: Kreutzer J.S., DeLuca J., Caplan B. (eds) Encyclopedia of Clinical Neuropsychology. Springer, New York, NY
Bailey, Ronald H., et al. – The Role of the Brain, Time-Life Books 1975
The Brain – Mystery of Matter and Mind, U. S. News Books – 1981
Silverstein, Alvin & Virginia – World of the Brain – William Morrow & Co. NY 1986