The “Brave New World” of the 21st Century requires a “Brave New Discipleship” strategy.

Releasing the Magic In Your Brain

Posted on: January 09, 2018


Many years ago, I sat in a classroom and heard master-teacher Howard Hendricks ask, “What do you want out of life? Are you willing to pay the price?

Those questions changed my life. As a young man, I had never been confronted with those questions before, and I have been asking and answering them ever since.

Being clear on what you want to happen in your life is a powerful force for enabling it to happen. It may be something big, such as a life goal. Or it may be smaller, such as the goal of learning to be more gracious when someone irritates or offends or hurts us. Or something in between.

When we vividly imagine a future goal, something magical happens in the brain.

In fact there are at least three things that happen in the brain when we vividly imagine a future goal.

First, the reticular activating system (RAS) kicks in. The reticular activating system is the gatekeeper to the brain. The brain is bombarded with far more information than it can process at any give moment, simply in the living of everyday life. Therefore, in order to cope, the reticular activating system filters out most of what bombards the brain, and only allows things through the doorway that have been identified as important.

Once something has been identified as important, the reticular activating system allows information on that subject into the brain, enabling the brain to then decide what to do with it.

For example, I had never owned a black car before we bought the one we now own. I didn’t buy it because it was black. I bought because it was the best deal I could find, and it happened to be black. So frankly, I had never been particularly aware of black cars.

After I bought it, however, I started seeing black cars everywhere. It seemed like half the cars on the road were black. Who knew? That was the reticular activating system letting information in that it was screening out before.

In another example, I have been amazed at times when I’ve been around a lot of kids making noise that all sounded like equal racket to me. And yet I have seen a mom suddenly alert to the sound of her child’s voice, and respond accordingly.

How did she hear it above the din? The reticular activating system blocked out all the noise except the sound of her child’s voice. It came through like a siren.

I’ve had a similar experience with police officers. The auditory garble that pours out of police radios is incomprehensible to me. But I’ve been with police personnel who have been talking with me while their radio is spouting unintelligible commotion, seemingly paying no attention to it. Then suddenly, they stopped and paid keen attention to something they just heard, because it pertained to them. The reticular activating system sifted out everything except what had been identified previously as important, and let that information into the brain.

When you create a clear picture of something you want, the reticular activating system will alert the brain to things that it would not have alerted the brain to before. Suddenly you see resources, options, possibilities, information, you meet people, you think thoughts… that you didn’t before. And these are all things that will help you realize the goal you envisioned in your brain.

Yes, the reticular activating system is a marvel, and we can use it as a powerful resource in personal growth by clearly envisioning things in our mind and waiting for the RAS to send our way a cornucopia of information that it would have filtered out before.

The second thing that happens when you vividly imagine what you want is that that new information goes into the subconscious, where the brain ponders it, compares it with information already stored there, develops insights, makes connections, assesses importance, and then brings those things back to the conscious brain where you can act on them. Sometimes the new insights are subtle. Sometimes they are volcanic. But the more time we spend cultivating the vision, the more powerful the brain becomes in feeding back to us new insights. We feed our subconscious, and then our subconscious feeds us.

The third powerful impact on the brain that happens when we clearly envision a goal is that the brain will also guide your behavior more directly. Athletes know this perhaps better than any others. All top-notch athletes are skilled in the art of mentally rehearsing their athletic activity, perfectly, over and over and over and over.

Because the brain does not distinguish between a real and a vividly imagined event, mental rehearsal can often be just as effective as actual physical rehearsal. Repetition burns deep neurological pathways in the brain allowing the body to perform that activity more and more perfectly.

However, our very versatile brain can apply this phenomenon to virtually anything, including personal attitudes and behavior. So if you want to be more patient and loving toward your spouse during times of predictable dissonance, you can rehearse Bible verses, then vividly imagine responding biblically to your spouse during those times of dissonance. Over time, you can automatically respond to your spouse in a way that is consistent with the Bible verses.

Of course, this principle can be applied to a vast array of issues we face in life, whether trying to overcome something negative or achieve something positive.

So, we started out by saying that being clear on what you want to happen in your life is a powerful force for enabling it to happen… that it may be something big, such as a life goal or something smaller, such as the goal of learning to be more gracious when someone irritates or offends or hurts us.

Either way, there is almost magical power released in your brain when you vividly envision a clear goal. You can use it for major life goals, or for everyday minor goals. As you saturate your mind with Scripture, a world of possibilities opens up to you as the reticular activating system reveals ways to see that truth lived out in your life.

Please, “Like” my Facebook page at and invite your friends to do the same. If you know someone you think may find this blog valuable, please forward it to them. I am always glad to hear from readers. Write me at I will not be able to answer all emails, but I may address in future blogs the questions/issues you raise.