Wednesday, August 06, 2003

Cool Defined

What's your definition of cool? If it includes the notion that the thing or idea has to have some useful purpose in conjunction with the other factors that elevate its stature to the level of "cool" then we have at least one thing in common. Wanna know something cool - something you may have noticed already but might not have known you can put to good use?

Let's say you have a friend who buys a new car (okay, I realize for some folks, this may be a bit of a stretch, but hey, is it more or less of a stretch to imagine you have a friend or that YOU would be the one to buy a new car?). Done snorting your Mountain Dew? Good. Now let's say it's a car you hadn't noticed much previously on the street. Now you're seeing it everywhere!

You've had something like this happen, right? Not suprisingly (once you think about it, anyway, something I never did till recently), there's a name for this. It's called the Reticular Activating System (RAS) and it explains how what we see and hear and how we interpret that information is closely intertwined with what we think is important. It's related to a lot of other things too but the impact of our underlying thinking on the filtering system that determines what we are able to notice in our lives is the part that is truly cool.

Have you figured out how to use this knowledge yet?

If there is something you want, the trick to getting it is to program your RAS to recognize anything having to do with this new interest as "important" so that it will include it when selecting what information to pass along to your cerebral cortex. You can do this by talking about it to yourself and other people and you can also do it by writing it down. In fact, the more senses you can use and the more often you use them, the stronger the programming will be.

Try this - write out a goal that you have. Now say it out loud at least once a day; more is better. Chances are pretty good that if you do this enough, you'll start noticing a lot more conversations, web articles, TV shows, course offerings, books, etc. related to your goal than you ever have before. If you're like many people, you'll even start running across new opportunities related to your goal. Why does it seem like these things are suddenly appearing out of nowhere? Unless you are using Arthur C. Clarke's definition, it's not magic, it's just that your attention has been newly drawn to information and experiences that quite likely have always been there because of successful programming of your RAS.

If you want to see this brain functioning at work in a different way, try visiting, where you can take any of a series of tests designed by researchers at Yale and the University of Washington to measure unconscious bias using this same basic premise.

If you try this, I think it would be cool (interesting AND useful) to mention some of the results here, so let me know what your experience is by sending a message to

If it's true that our brains are hardwired to provide us with supporting evidence for whatever it is we believe, what will YOU choose to believe?