Back in the mid-noughties I had finished my Masters and been invited to lead some post-graduate sessions as a visiting lecturer. The task was challenging and very rewarding, a real opportunity to think and work at a higher level. I decided to look for a career change, and secure a post in higher education.
At the time I had moved in to senior leadership in secondary education, a transition that brings its own demands, and sleep was proving to be elusive some nights. To solve that problem, I got into the habit of deep relaxation and visualisation before going to sleep. At first I visualised nice scenery and locations that I would like to travel to. By chance I then started to visualise my ideal situation at a university. I pictured what the office looked like, where the books and files were, how the chairs were positioned. I thought about the sounds outside, of water, of students laughing and talking under the window and of bird song. I imagined myself working at a wide desk near the window, marking papers and writing up research. The scene became so vivid and familiar that I could step into it at will.
About a year later I secured a post as senior lecturer at my first interview, after my first application. A few weeks later I was shown into my new office. The office had a large desk, beside a window that overlooked a courtyard. In the courtyard students would sit for coffee and lunch beside a fountain that attracted birds throughout the day. One wall of the office was all shelves for my books and files, and the chairs were just as I had imagined them.
If we could not focus on specific tasks or activities nothing would be achieved. Our brains have to be able to filter in order to function effectively. To achieve that humans have developed a Reticular Activating System (RAS). Psychologically, the RAS helps the brain to transition from a relaxed, unfiltering state to a highly focused one; it points us in the direction that we need to go. The amazing thing about the RAS is that we can consciously employ it.
You may have observed that, when you become aware of something, you begin to notice it everywhere when previously you hadn’t been aware of it at all. For example, you see a particular style of coat in a magazine, and think that it would look good on you, that you should buy it. Suddenly a shop window that you never usually notice has a coat in it just like the one that you would like; you see three other people that day wearing a coat similar to the one that you want; and at work a colleague is talking about the same thing. That shop may have had the same display for a week. You could have walked past those people at any time and not noticed them. The conversation about the coat may have happened with someone else last month. Now, however, your RAS is filtering through all those impressions and bringing the features that you are interested in to your attention.
Where is your focus? Do you consciously encourage your RAS to focus on success, on getting to where you want to go? Is it filtering through to bring you the positive, uplifting examples? Is it looking for the opportunities that you want to take? Now that you know you have such a powerful tool at your disposal don’t you have a responsibility to use it?
To discover more try reading ‘The Magic Question: How to get what you want in half the time’, by B.A Baggett.