Helping clients switch on their RAS

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Helping clients switch on their RAS 

In 1949, Horace Magoun and Giuseppe Moruzzi discovered the Reticular formation within the brain, also known as the reticular activating system (RAS).

It is the attention center of the brain and responsible for regulating vital functions such as sleeping and being awake, plus the transitions between being asleep or being awake. It also secrets cortisol, controlling stereotyped motor responses such as walking or posture, and cognitive functions such as attention.

So if your client is in a crowded room full of people talking, their RAS will be scanning for information and unconsciously listening out for any potential threats and danger. Then they hear their name called out and their attention is immediately drawn to wherever the sound came from.

This ability to hear when we are not actually listening is what enables us to access and sort 4 to 5 million pieces of information every day. However, the downside is, their RAS isn’t really conscious or discerning and is unable to distinguish between ‘real events’ and ‘synthetic’ reality. So it simply believes whatever information it receives or whatever messages they are sending to it.


Using their RAS as an advantage

If you have a client who is afraid of something, they will tend to focus on that fear, resulting in feelings of anxiety and panic. Over time they will build on these feelings and re-enforce any negative thoughts they may have. So if your client is afraid of making a fool of themselves, we know one way to try and help them overcome this fear is for them to work on or increase their self-confidence.

Within coaching, we can use this information to our advantage by asking our clients to visualize something they fear or worry about and maybe even practice doing it in a safe space. That way they will reprogram their reaction to it and build up positive feelings that replace anything negative they may currently experience.

If for example one of your clients has been asked to give a speech, they may have already visualized the panic they would feel and any negative reaction they think they will get from the audience. So their RAS has already done its job and saved these negative feelings as if they had already given the speech.

However, by visualizing giving a great speech and getting a really positive reaction or even practicing giving their speech in a safe place (like a coaching session or home alone), they can build their confidence, reduce any negative feelings and have greater success when the day comes to actually give their speech.

This approach can also work well when we are setting goals with our clients. By asking them to switch on their RAS and have it pay attention when they visualize achieving their goal and all of the steps needed for success, they will be saving the positive memories they want.

You can also ask your client to write down some positive mantras linked to achieving their goals and then get them to read them out loud each morning. Again, by visualizing achieving their goals and recording a positive memory of it with their RAS, they are storing positive reactions for when it actually happens for real.

This helps activate a sensory-motor relationship within the brain so they focus on how they want to feel or react and over time builds up a range of positive memories they can access whenever they are needed.


Further reading:

If you would like to help your clients activate their RAS and learn how to replace negative feelings with positive memories, check out this exclusive ebook in our online shop:

Ebook : Neuro Science and the human brain – A detailed look at the brain and how Neuroscience can help a professional coach understand human behavior.


We have also published a range of ebooks, games and kits to help you within your coaching sessions:


We constantly add content to the site, so please check our on-line shop and look at the full range of games, ebooks and kits. Or read some of the other blog posts written by our team of international coaches.


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