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  • Sue Orwin

The radar in my head

It’s that time of year when we have a chance to reflect, and look forward. To think about changes we want in our lives, and maybe goals we want to achieve. I like to think of it as setting an intention rather than making a resolution which, to me, feels like rules, whereas thinking about my intentions, intuitively feels much more exciting – I think about what I want to create in my life.

Thinking in this was is also a great way to activate a bit of the brain called the Reticular Activating System (RAS). The RAS is a bunch of nerves starting above your spinal cord. It's about two inches long, and the width of a pencil, and it connects the unconscious and conscious minds.

Have you ever had the experience of deciding you want to buy something, say a new car, then it feels like you are seeing that car everywhere? That’s the RAS. It’s like a radar, selecting what you pay attention to, unconsciously filtering all the information we take in through our senses, leaving us only with what the conscious mind can process.

The really exciting bit is that you can actually choose to become aware of new/different information.

For instance, a little trick I find really helpful is to start each day by saying to myself “today is going to be brilliant because…” and I make myself inset a good “thing”. It might be a relatively small thing, but its no less powerful e.g., “today is going to be brilliant because I’m going to give myself half an hour with a cuppa and one of the 20 books I have on the go”. You know, if I were a millionaire this would still be one of my greatest pleasures and how I would choose to spend my down time.

Or if, occasionally, I find I am preoccupied with a worry that is temporarily clouding my ability to see something, I might say that “today is going to be brilliant because by 5pm, that piece of work I’m feeling really nervous about will be done and I will look back, having achieved it, and feel good that I faced a fear and built my confidence.”.

This trick effectively switches my RAS on to search for that good “thing” all day. And it can be a bit like a snowball effect, the more I notice, the more I notice! It moves me away from the natural human tendency for negativity bias. Noticing the things we feel we need to protect ourselves from keeps us safe – of course, it’s good to be aware of danger and we feel anxiety and stress in our bodies so that we pay attention. But modern living increases the chance that the fight or flight response is kicking in where perceived threat is not life threatening e.g., feeling out of control with things that are never going to be in your control like the thoughts and actions of others.

But this isn’t just positive thinking. Intentions require more than just good thought. Time and action are involved.

Setting an intention unconsciously pulls your energy, focus and effort in the direction of what you want. As the saying goes, “where your focus goes, your energy flows”.

Setting an intention, writing it down and talking to people about it gets me past the point of motivation and into the zone of commitment – a very different place mentally, and one that tends to get far better results.

So this year’s intention… To invest my time where it matters most. To get really specific about what this means (and vastly increase the success rate) I have a simple but really effective tool. You can access this tool for free, just visit my website:

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