Stephanie Philp offers some advice on how and why your brain’s Reticular Activating System can help or hinder your relationships with others.

Do you know any annoying people?

I have some friends who, while I’m sure they love each other dearly, continuously bicker when they’re together and moan about each other when they’re apart.

Maybe you know people like this?

It’s tiring to be around such folk because they relentlessly focus on what’s wrong; with the other person, the relationship, the situation.

What do you focus on?

No doubt you already know that you get more of whatever you focus on — no matter whether that’s positive or negative.

There’s a scientific reason for this

There’s a part of your brain called the Reticular Activating System (RAS). The RAS filters the information that gets through to your conscious mind, based on your expectations, your interests and what’s of value to you. For example; you buy a car. Next day you notice many other cars of the same make and model are around. Hearing someone call your name even in a noisy, crowded space.

So by focusing on what we believe is problem behaviour, we’ll notice more of what’s wrong. Fortunately, the opposite is also true; by focusing on what we love, we’ll see more of that.

If you want to see, hear and feel more of the things you love about your partner, friends, children or colleagues, try appreciating the aspects of their personality that you like or admire. You can effect changes by just doing this in your head. However, I’ve found it’s much more powerful to do it out loud.

Tell the person concerned what you appreciate

Also, let them know your reasons. Some examples:

“I really appreciate your lovely smile. It lights up your entire face, and I can’t help but smile back.”

“Thank you so much for washing the dishes tonight. It meant I could relax a little after a hard day.”

“I was frustrated when I got stuck in traffic and was late for work. Just knowing you understood made me relax and leave all the stress behind.”

Don’t worry if you get a surprised or sarcastic response

If you don’t normally talk in this way, then the people you’re addressing may be a little suspicious of your motives! Continue on anyway, and then notice how they behave differently.

You’ll get more of the things you appreciate

When you’re focusing on the things you like, there’s less time to think about the things you don’t like. You might even get some compliments in return, or notice others appreciating you for who you are instead of complaining about possible bad habits.

– Stephanie Philp