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Be Careful For What You Ask For

Aug 18, 2007
How many of you have heard of the saying "Ask and you shall receive"? Ok - great concept, but how does it actually work? Many thinkers, religious, new age and scientific have been exploring this puzzle in recent years.

Have you ever decided that you need to buy a washing machine and then suddenly noticed there is a rush of companies advertising washing machines? What about if you are expecting a baby - noticed how many people are pregnant around you?

This is due to a part of your brain called the reticular activating system. The reticular activating system (RAS) is at the base of the brain stem and expands into the mid brain (neo cortex). It controls your sleep and arousal patterns and contributes to your focus of attention and levels of motivation.

You are bombarded by thousands of pieces of information every second - you need to sort this data into meaningful chunks and filter out non-relevant pieces of information otherwise you would overload. Your RAS does this for you. Your RAS is a bit like a computer where you set the program to filter out what you want, so only the important bits get through.

Thanks for the science lesson Ingrid, but what does this have to do with me, you may be asking? What you program your mind through your RAS to look out for - that is what you get.

If you program it to look for washing machines or pregnant ladies - that is what you see everywhere. The reality is that there are no more ads or pregnancies than before, it is just that you can see them now. If you program your mind to see the good in others, then that is what you see.

There is a Buddhist teaching story that tells of a wise monk sitting at a crossroads. A family walked up to him and asked "Tell us about the village up ahead. We are looking for a nice new home to live in." The monk replied "Tell me about what the people were like where you came from". "They were horrible, always fighting, crime was a problem and people were not helpful to each other". "Sadly, the next village is the same" replied the monk.

Another family walked up to the monk. "Tell us about the village up ahead. We are looking for a nice new home to live in." The monk replied "Tell me about what the people were like where you came from". "They were wonderful, very generous and supportive of each other." "The next village is the same" replied the monk.

Now you get the basic idea, let's take it that bit further.

Your Reticular Activating System (RAS) and Goals

When you have clearly defined goals, what you are doing is setting your RAS to look for and sort information that will support your goals. If you have fuzzy goals, then your RAS will present you with fuzzy information and fuzzy outcomes.

The reverse also happens - if you set goals that are too narrow or limiting, then that is what you will receive.

To give you an example, I was talking with a businesswoman whose company had just closed. I was debriefing her about what she had done and what she could do differently next time as part of a grieving/closure ceremony. She was still stunned.

"I can't believe it she said. I was set some very specific goals in the past month". "Tell me about them" I asked.

"Well, I asked all my staff to make 100 appointments for free sessions with my business. I set each person an individual target of appointments to achieve and the time within which to achieve them".

"So what happened" - I asked.

"Well, they achieved their targets, we had 100 appointments booked. The problem was that none of the appointments converted to paying customers. Some didn't turn up, most couldn't afford our services and many just wanted the free session."

"So you actually got what you asked for. Did you set any goals for conversion to paying customers?"

A look of horror passed over her face as she realized what had happened "No - we got exactly what we asked for - appointments, not customers!"

Lets leave aside the question of demographics, correct target marketing and qualifying clients for a moment. What she asked for she got 100%. The trouble was, she only asked for part of what she really wanted.

Lessons from Prayer

So does this mean that you have to be 100% crystal clear on exactly what you want? Not exactly. While there is a lot of research currently going on about RAS, there is also a lot of work going on about the power of prayer. Just key in "Power of Prayer" into Google and have a look at some of the nearly 3 million links. Research has been conducted on prayer and heart patients, IVF patients, burns patient, AIDS patients and the list goes on.

The type of prayer - specific "please heal Ms Jones of her lumbago" compared to more general - "If it is for her highest good, please heal Ms Jones", has also been the subject of research. It appears from the research that non-specific prayer is more effective than specific prayer and people are advised to leave the outcomes in the hands of the higher being or God (depending on your personal beliefs).

This provides us with some interesting lessons. The best outcomes come from setting clear goals, but leaving space for a higher being or God to intervene.

So, how can you set your RAS to best support your goals?

* Start with the basics - work out specifically what goals you are looking for.
* Visualise yourself achieving those goals 100%,
* Experience the emotions around successfully achieving those goals
* Hear the sounds of success
* Add in the thought/feeling "this or better, if for my highest good" as this provides space for God or a higher power to intercede.

Doing this will help you to set your RAS program for goal success.

Next write your goals into present tense, write them as if you have already achieved them and say them repeatedly throughout the month as an affirmation. This will help maintain your RAS program.

Finally, detach from the outcome. Know that whatever happens in your life is perfectly correct. You can learn from the outcome no matter what it is. It is at this point you need to let go and trust.
About the Author
Ingrid Cliff is a Business Development and Human Resources Consultant to Small and Medium Businesses. Ingrid has just published Instant HR Policies and Procedures for Small and Medium Businesses www.heartharmony.com.au
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