The reticular activator is a part of the brain the stays on alert. It's job is to make you notice some things and ignore other things (if you noticed everything, you'd be too distracted to function). When you buy a new VW, it seems like the whole world has bought VWs, because you notice them everywhere. That's the reticular activator at work.
Motivational speakers, business consultants, and authors of "success books" always stress the importance of having a clear goal. One of the reasons goals are so important is because they activate your reticular activator.
If you have the goal of writing and publishing a bestselling book, for example, you will start noticing things you've never noticed before. It seems the world is conspiring to help you out. You'll meet just the right people. You'll run into the perfect designer for your cover by an amazing coincidence. You'll happen to stumble across a magazine article that tells you about a software program that will really speed up your writing. And so on.
All these things are happening because your clear goal has set up the conditions for your reticular activator to work well. That's how it works. When you know exactly what you want, your reticular activator goes to work automatically to help you get it.
For the most part, you run on "automatic pilot." We all do. You tend to think the way you have always thought. You tend to notice things you've always noticed. And you tend to overlook things you've always overlooked.
But when you have a new, clear, definite goal, you start noticing things you would "normally" overlook. And that makes all the difference.
The term "reticular activator" comes from the name given to the part of the brain primarily responsible for arousal and motivation in animals (including humans). It's called the "reticular formation" and it's located at the core of the brain stem between the medulla oblongata and midbrain.
You can't be aware of everything all the time. The reticular activator is your first line of defense against the overwhelm of stimuli. The reticular activator decides what will get into your awareness (what you will become conscious of), and its decisions are based on survival instincts plus anything else you deem as really important.
For example, a woman is a sound sleeper. She has been all her life. Then she has a baby, and the smallest peep from her infant wakes her up. What woke her up? Her reticular activator.
My wife and I have alarm clocks on either side of our bed. I have mine on my side, she has hers on her side. She often gets up earlier than I do. Her alarm woke me up the first couple of mornings, but ever since then, I have slept right through it. Yet my own alarm wakes me up every time.
How does this happen? The reticular activator never sleeps. It is always active.
You can use your reticular activator as a powerful force for good in your life. Give it a strong, clear goal, keep your motivation at a high pitch, and your reticular activator will go to work for you, twenty-four hours a day, helping you find a way to make it happen.
Adam Khan is the author of Cultivating Fire: How to Keep Your Motivation White Hot, Principles For Personal Growth, and Slotralogy: How to Change Your Habits of Thought.