Taming the R.A.S in your brain

Our brains are fascinating things that researchers are still trying to figure out.

One of my favourite researchers to follow is an Hungarian - American Psychologist.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is considered to be one of the co-founders of positive psychology. He was the first to identify and research FLOW and has produced some amazing research findings on the brain, specifically on Flow states and the pursuit of happiness.

“The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times . . . The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile”

(Csikszentmihalyi, 1990).

In his research he has estimated the processing capacity of the conscious mind to be at about 120 bits of information per second. That may not mean much on its own

(I mean - not many of us speak that IT language of BITs and BUTEs)

but it can seem quite astounding when you consider that your subconscious mind is able to absorb over 11 million bits of information per second!

That's a huge amount of information -

if humans were consciously aware of all of that information, we’d probably all go a little crazy. So our brain uses a type of filter system to 'decide' which pieces of information seem relevant, or important in any given moment - and then THAT is the information that gets filtered through to our 'awareness', to our conscious mind.

This filtering system is known as the Reticular Activating System (the RAS), and its sort of like a filing system in our subconscious brain.

It very quickly filters through the information and sends what it deems as relevant or pertinent through to the conscious mind with about a half second delay.

Thats a pretty impressive system. Quick, efficient, and reliable.

There are many things that can influence the 'filtering system'.

Practice and repetition allow many activities to become automatic and habitual (therefore not requiring any need to tax the limited processing ability of the conscious mind).

Things like walking and eating can happen quite automatically, without taxing the processing capacity of the conscious mind.

If you’ve ever noticed that you drove most of the way from A to B, but you can’t actually remember the drive - that’s the part of the RAS that’s on auto to save your conscious mind to focus on things that haven’t yet become habitual.

The filtering system (RAS) bases some of its ‘decision making’ on your recent search history (so to speak)!

It is taking note of where and what you place your attention on, and filters through the massive amount of incoming data to find more things that it 'thinks' will be of interest to you.

A bit like YouTube.

If you've ever searched YouTube for a particular video, you will notice that as the video comes to an end, the YouTube algorithm serves up a list of related videos with captions like:


Many online stores use this same type of process - ‘because you purchased x, you may be interested in y’!

Amazon is great at creating these kinds of lists.