Can we trust our brains to show us the truth?
Updated: Mar 1
Thanks to a finely-tuned filter system, our conscious mind only receives certain select information. We look at the way this filter works, and how, instead of being helpful, it might actually be working against us.
The Reticular Formation – the brain’s ‘sorting office’
Our brain is being constantly bombarded with stimuli from all our senses, yet we only react to some of them. Why?
It’s all down to the Reticular Formation, a finger-sized part of the brain sitting just above the spinal cord which, among other important tasks, filters out stimuli which have no relevance. The data it does present to our conscious mind is what we need to pay attention to. It is programmed to offer ‘important’ information. This will be selected to affirm our beliefs and provide evidence we are justified in thinking the way we do.
Without even being aware of its existence, we have been inadvertently programming this wonderful filter system throughout our entire lives.
How the Reticular Formation is programmed
Remember Henry Ford’s famous quote “If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right”? It illustrates the fact that those who have paid attention to their successes, however minor, will have been programming the Reticular Formation to consider them to be important, pay them attention, work on them, and continue to watch out for them. Result? A mindset which notices and focuses on the regularity of personal accomplishment, the likelihood of success and a hopeful outlook on life.
Let’s think about this from the perspective of someone with ADHD.
Research shows that those with ADHD will have received around 20,000 more negative messages than others by the time they are 12. *
These messages will have come from influential figures, be interpreted as important and worthy of attention. They are messages of criticism, however they are worded, and they become ‘important’ to the filter system, which then seeks more proof of ‘failure’ to prove the view is correct.
Result? A child, and probably later an adult with low self-esteem who unwittingly looks for signs to confirm that effort rarely produces worthwhile results. A likely negative outlook on life.
Where the filter might also be tripping us up
By spending a lifetime trusting self-selected evidence, we are teaching ourselves to form assumptions about how situations will turn out and we consequently tend not to question the status quo. This closed mindset becomes our norm as it is safe, comfortable and poses no threat. Our mind naturally closes off to new opportunities and tragically we do not allow ourselves to learn, grow and reach our potential.
How can we encourage our filter to present more appropriate information?
With its role of gatekeeper of the higher mind, the Reticular Formation is of crucial importance and we would never want to, nor could we, re-wire all its various processes.
However, if we are inadvertently paying too much attention to unimportant data, we need to address this and start on the gentle path of re-aligning with the truth.
We can deliberately notice what is truly important to us personally, and it’s very simply done:
By questioning why we pay attention to certain things and not others. This won’t come naturally, as we will be working against our innate filter system.
By allowing ourselves to be open to other people’s perspectives
By allowing ourselves to be open to challenging questions about our beliefs. This is a particularly useful practice and is key to the results a Life Coach will help you achieve.
By noticing when we succeed in any task. Resist the temptation to dismiss it, pause and feel truly proud.
Then, as your last thought every night, remind yourself of at least one of these personal discoveries and very slowly, over days, weeks and months, these simple acts, and the process of regularly calling them to mind will be shifting the data the Reticular Formation considers important and will seek it out.
Your information filter will naturally begin to re-align with your lived experience and the feelings of trust, freedom and growth will be reassuring, if not breathtakingly dramatic!
Published Autumn 2021
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Enormous thanks for inspiration to:
Emma Slade https://emmaslade.com
Laurie Dupar, founder of https://www.iactcenter.com/
20,000 negative messages: *https://www.additudemag.com/slideshows/adhd-and-shame/