If back in January you set goals or intentions for the year 2020 you might be feeling a little frustrated. (Let’s keep it real: If you spent time setting goals with God for 2020 you wouldn’t be alone in thinking it would have been nice if He’d given us a bit of a heads up!)
Personally, I’ve given up setting year-long goals. Not because goal setting isn’t powerful or useful (it is!) But, as this current season has so powerfully demonstrated, a lot can happen in a year. Trying to plan twelve months out is nigh on impossible!
Today though, I’m not here to persuade you on the relative merits of setting goals. Instead, I’m excited to introduce you to a little cluster of neurons at the back of your brain that’ll help make your day to day life more lovely. They’ll also make those goals (once you set them!) easier to hit whilst demonstrating the pure wonder and power of our amazing God. (Yes, all that from a little collection of cells. Talk about value for money!)
Known as the reticular activating system, this collection of neurons has a number of functions but, for our purposes today, their most interesting job is to act as a filter.
Think about the last time you bought a new car. If you’re anything like most people, you suddenly found your town awash with cars just like yours. Or maybe your eldest just started learning to drive and all of a sudden you can barely travel more than a mile without seeing a learner driver on the road. Or someone you love finds out that they’re expecting a baby and the pavements are awash with pushchairs.
What just happened?!!
Much like how the Facebook algorithm filters in information based on your likes, comments and clicks, your reticular activating system adjusts what you notice according to those things it deems important.
New car, learner driver, baby on the way … these are all significant enough events for your brain to start filtering in more of the same. But, just like how you can hack the Facebook algorithm by paying attention to what you engage with, you can hack your reticular activating system.
Better than that, your amazing Creator wrote the book on personal development and we have the “how” laid out for us in black and white:
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.” Philippians 4:8 NIV
Every time you think about, notice or pay attention to the things in your day that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy, your amazing mind logs that information, deems “noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy” as important to you, and starts serving up more of the same.
And yes, this happens more naturally for some than others but our minds aren’t fixed.
Science is finally catching up to what God knew all along when He created us. Our minds are incredibly wired. We can literally change the pathways in the brain with the power of our thoughts.
Much like the dirt track shortcut across a field that gets more pronounced as people use it, the easier it becomes to “think lovely thoughts” the more you practice doing so.
But what does this have to do with goal setting?
It has everything to do with goal setting! What are you doing when you sit with God and plan for the new season? You’re thinking about those things that are important. You’re pondering on the possibilities. And you’re signalling to your mind what “more of the same” you’d like.
Solutions will suddenly come to you in the shower. You’ll wake in the middle of the night with ideas. A random comment from a friend will trigger an avalanche of inspiration.
And yes, I would happily argue that many times, those solutions, ideas and inspiration are from the Holy Spirit, our teacher, counsellor and guide, But without your mind working with Holy Spirit, helping you to filter in those things as important, there’s a good chance you may not even hear Him, let alone pay attention and take action!
Okay El, I’m sold! How do I start harnessing the power of the reticular activating system?
You start by starting! When you get to the end of this paragraph, stop reading. Take a look around you for those things in your immediate surroundings that are “true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy”. (And then come back because there’s more!)
Did you do it? Great! Rinse and repeat. Set timers if you find yourself forgetting to play. The more you practice, the easier it becomes. (The very act of doing, signals to your brain that this is important to you. It’ll start nudging and filtering those things in!)
Before you know it, you’ll find it almost impossible not to notice the lovely things around you.
Your day to day happiness levels will increase, your goals will get done, and you’ll find yourself pausing in wonder at the power of your amazing Creator.