Friday, June 4, 2010

How to make the most of summer

Have you ever been in a crowded room when suddenly it’s as though everything stops as you hear someone say your name? Why does all the other noise wash over you, but your name is audible among the din of the crowd? It’s not just coincidence, but a highly specialized mechanism working in your brain.

At the base of your brain stem, you have a group of cells that sorts and evaluates incoming data. This control center is known as the reticular activating system, or RAS. Your RAS works like a filter, sending urgent information to the active part of your brain and sending the rest to your subconscious. My RAS allows my baby’s cries to rouse me from sleep, for example, but lets me block out other non-essential noises, such as a snoring basset hound.

You might think of your RAS as an executive assistant for your mind, determining which messages will receive your full attention and which you’ll ignore. On one hand, your RAS protects you, helping to prevent sensory overload. (I’d go nuts if I wasn’t able to tune out the dog’s snores.) But it can also keep you from paying attention to things that may be important to you, such as goals you want to achieve. Still, you can “retrain” your mind’s executive assistant by telling your brain precisely what you want to focus on.

This summer, my husband and I plan to “retrain” our brains with what I have dubbed “Our Summer Manifesto.” Too often, house and yard projects consume our money and our time; I want this year to be different. I want to be intentional with our resources and plan for fun so that summer doesn’t just slip away from us. By putting our summer goals in writing, we’re literally sending a message to ourselves that says, “Pay attention. This is important.”

Interestingly, the word manifesto comes from the Latin manifestus, which means “evident to the senses; apparent to the mind; easily apprehensible.” By definition, a manifesto will keep our summer goals at the forefront of our minds.

To make our manifesto more obvious, I wrote our summer ideas on poster board in large, colorful letters. Next to each item on our list, I drew a one- by one-inch square so that we have the joy of checking it off when we’ve completed it. When I tacked the finished chart up on the wall, everyone (even those who can’t read) buzzed with excitement. Amazingly, the majority of items on our list are simple pleasures that require more planning than money.

Our summer list includes making homemade fruit popsicles, water gun fights, grilling peaches, making homemade ice cream, sipping wine on the front porch, camping in the backyard, eating the zucchini before they’re the size of small children, building a chicken coop, bringing in fresh flowers from the garden, creating art outside with our children, inviting friends over to roast hot dogs and play bocce ball, and perfecting a grilled pizza.

We haven’t set dates for completing the items on our list, but this isn’t necessary because we’ve stimulated our RAS. When we see “eat zucchini” on the list as we go by the back door, we’ll be more inclined to pick the prolific vegetables when we are working in the garden. When I’m at the store and see peaches are on sale, I’ll remember that grilled fruit is on the manifesto, and I’ll buy them.

And, by summer’s end, my manifesto full of check marks will remind me of all the pleasures I took time to enjoy with family and friends.

No comments:

Post a Comment