Written by Dr Mendoza
What we focus on becomes bigger and it is important to understand this.
Have you ever decided you are going to buy another car or perhaps a fashion item?
You do all the research to find out the best place to buy the item. You decide on what colours you’re looking for and what price you are willing to pay. Suddenly, when you are travelling around, you see loads of these cars/items perhaps quite a few in the colours you were considering. You open a magazine or a newspaper and there they are again. What a coincidence that these should suddenly start to show up!!
The fact of the matter is this is not a coincidence as such and there certainly aren’t more of these cars/items about in the last few weeks. What has happened is that you have sent a signal to your brain to tell it that you are now very interested in these products. When your brain sees anything related to these it brings them to your attention. This is your reticular activating system (RAS) at work. There is a mass of stimuli being fired at you all the time and if the conscious brain had to let you know about every single item you would be frazzled and unable to operate effectively. We selectively filter all this information based on out values, beliefs and what is relevant at the time. The RAS is used to highlight to you, things that you have said are particularly relevant/important at any one time.
Why is knowing this so important? It is particularly relevant when working with clients. If your client is fond of making statements like losing weight is really difficult to me their brain has to make sense of this. One of the ways it can do this is to highlight supporting evidence. If you were to give this client a magazine and there were two articles in there. One article discusses how losing weight is straightforward and all about energy balance; the second article talked about genetics and how some people are susceptible to gaining weight and finding it difficult to shift. It is the second article that they would spot and more importantly remember. This is because it supports their views about weightloss.
This is equally true when you add labels to food. If you are discussing diet with a client and you label certain foods bad and tell them they shouldn’t eat them. You have done two things here. You have brought them sharply into focus, so they are now being spotted by the RAS. If this was chocolate for the sake of argument then suddenly they’d see chocolate everywhere.
The next issue is the language and to demonstrate this try this exercise. I do not want you to think about a chocolate fudge cake. I want you to get all images of chocolate fudge cake out of your head.
My guess is that you now have a very clear picture of chocolate fudge cake in your mind. This is because the brain cannot process no/don’t/can’t too well and so in order to make sense of this it has to first get a very clear visual reference. If you are aware of this and the RAS you can now start to get clients to reframe their thoughts and what they focus on. Because remember ‘what we focus on becomes bigger’.
We’ve all heard the adage about people who are either ‘glass half empty ot glass half full’ types of thinkers. This ties in with this in that positive thinking tends to produce better results than negative thinking. If your client has the belief that ‘losing weight is difficult’ then this is where their focus will go. The RAS will give them plenty of evidence to support this belief. Your job as a trainer is to first find out what your clients beliefs and values around exercise/activity and nutrition are. You can now help them reframe their beliefs so they are focusing on positive outcomes. As a positive focus will likely produce far more positive outcomes getting this established early on is crucial. I’ll look at how you can help clients with reframing their beliefs and values in future posts.