If you’ve ever traveled in the Eastern United States, especially on Route 95, south of Washington D.C., you will immediately recognize this image. There are some 250 billboards for South of the Border stretching from New Jersey to Florida. You can’t make that drive without seeing these.

However, if one gives sufficient attention to the sheer number of billboards and considered the effort and expense to erect all the advertising, they’d expect it was the Taj Mahal.

In reality, South of the Border is little more than a faux-Mexican themed rest stop.

Good marketers know how to take advantage of the human mind. Specifically how to activate the “RAS” – the Reticular Activating System. It’s the part of the brain where we notice patterns and frequency. If enough attention is given to a pattern, we dedicate more “brainwidth” to it in our thinking and find more of the pattern.

This is why even 20 miles after passing a South of the Border sign, I’m still cursing them – because I find myself looking for the next billboard.

So… back to south of the border…

In my life, I experience many thoughts in my waking hours – some are helpful, some aren’t. I treat all of them as similar to billboards. Some I don’t even notice. Some I notice briefly. Some interest me, some disgust me, and some are so repetitious they downright anger and annoy me.

If the message on the billboard matches a need or contributes something to my life, I’ll give it more attention. If it doesn’t, I really try to let it disappear in the rearview mirror.

Sometimes some of those thoughts coming at me are akin to South of the Border billboards – loud and full of unhelpful and annoying content – and all at a staggering frequency.

As annoying as those thoughts can be, one thing I’ve learned is that just like I am not obligated to respond and stop in South Carolina at South of the Border, I’m also not obligated to respond or give more attention to the thoughts that enter my mind.

I may have been seeing South of the Border billboards for the last 500 miles but I can choose not to stop there.

Likewise, I am not obligated to accept a thought as true just because it’s passing through my mind quite regularly. It makes it no more true.
One of the most effective ways I’ve found to reduce the annoyance of all this is to simply pick something more exciting to occupy my brain with.
When on 95, that can be striking up a deep conversation with the people around me or losing myself in songs I enjoy.

In my thought life it can be things for which I’m grateful, or building a list of the praiseworthy attributes of others.

Both of these allow these “billboards” to pass by with less notice until I don’t even see them anymore.

It’s up to me. I get to decide what I accept, focus on, believe and act upon.

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