What You Focus on Expands – What Science Has to Say

What you focus on expands

What You Focus on Expands – What Science Has to Say

Have you heard the saying, ‘what you focus on expands’? Just as the saying goes, this is what literally happens in real life. Read on to see what science has to say about this.


Focus on good things – you will attract good things.

Focus on bad things – You will attract bad things.

What you focus on expands.


You must have heard the statements above many times before.

If you have read my blogposts on ‘Words are Important’, and ‘Words can Affect Your Health‘, then you must have heard a related message.

What you see or hear often you accept as the truth and it becomes who you are.

As I explore the power of words, I see some meeting points with science. It is easy to focus on what we see and hear. We build on what we see and hear.,  Hence, What You Focus on Expands. What does science have to say?

First, let us visit the system that controls the body.


The Nervous System

The human nervous system is a complex collection of nerves. It consists of specialized cells called neurons which transmit signals to different parts of the body. The nervous system is of 2 parts – the central nervous system and the peripheral nervous system (Basic Biology). The nervous system interprets and transmits signals to different parts of the body with the brain at the center. In other words, the brain helps us identify different stimuli for what they are so we can give the right response. For instance, if you touch a hot pot, the nerves pick up the signal and send it to the central nervous system. The central nervous system interprets the message telling you that the pot is hot. So, you do not pick up the pot with bare hands.

Nervous system

The brain

The brain is the powerhouse. Matthew Hoffman described the brain as “one of the largest and most complex organs in the human body”. Since all these signals have to be interpreted by the brain, the brain is full of nerve connections that help it function. This is not surprising as the brain controls voluntary and involuntary movements, breathing, sleep, hearing, balance, coordination, memory, sight, reasoning, and communication between different parts of the brain.

This means that the brain can manage how information is coordinated between the different parts of the brain and our response to stimuli. Professor Stephen Williams of Queensland Brain Institute said that when we want to give full concentration, something happens in the brain to enable us to focus and filter out distractions. This function is controlled by the cholinergic system. The cholinergic system acts as a master switch that enables the brain to identify which stimulus is worthy of attention at any given moment. The science of how this works has been evolving over the years.

Nerves and the brain

Reticular Activating System

The cholinergic system is a part of the reticular activating system. The reticular activating system is a bundle of nerves that forms a part of the brain stem. The reticular activating system enhances the attentive state of the cortex and facilitates conscious perception of sensory stimuli (Walter & Shaikh, 2014). Other functions of this system include regulating automatic functions, muscle reflexes, and tone.


Read Also:

Factors that Can Affect Your Mental Health

How Colours Make You Feel



What you focus on expands

Having followed the line of thought in the science of the brain summarized above, your guess is as good as mine. A bundle of nerves in the brain stem called the reticular activating system (RAS) helps us focus through filtering out ‘unnecessary’ stimuli based on what we deem important.


How is this function evident in our everyday life? 

Have you ever tuned out the noise in a crowd before, but suddenly look up when someone said your name or something that sounds like it?

This is the reticular activating system keeping you together and connecting you to something very important to you – your name.


Other examples of RAS at work

  • You wish to buy a car and your preferred colour is red. As you ruminate over the idea of buying a red car, you start noticing red cars everywhere you go.
  • You wish to start a business and your choice is a food franchise. You begin to see restaurants everywhere.

To buttress my title for this article – What You Focus on Expands, here what Tobias Van Schneider said –

“Your RAS takes what you focus on and creates a filter for it. It then sifts through the data and presents only the pieces that are important to you”.


Words and the reticular activating system

In my previous post about how words can affect your health, I explained that the things we see often, hear often, and think about often become our reality. It does not matter if these things are true or false. The brain takes them in and validates them as the truth. The receptiveness of these stimuli by the brain is related to their importance to you. You chose them, so your brain chooses them as well.

What do you listen to?

What do you read?

What do you think about?


What you feed your mind is what your mind gives you back

The reticular activating system will seek information that validates your focus or belief and creates your world around it. It shows you what you want to see, lets you hear what you want to hear, and these will determine your action.

So once again, remember Henry Ford’s words – “If you think you can or can’t, you are probably right”.



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by Chinyere Nwosu

May 23, 2021


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