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Therapy for Creatives, Part 11: Selective Attention & Making Sense of the World

Neurological studies have demonstrated that we can only pay attention to a small amount of sensory input at any given moment. Selective attention is the way we sift through the data to create our awareness of the inner and outer world.

Most of us have experienced a demonstration of how our brain works as a master editor. I can remember the ‘two dots on a page’ trick that allows us to notice our blind spots in each eye. Our brain fills in the missing information and creates our experience of an uninterrupted field of vision. Our experience of 'now' – sight, sound, touch, taste, the smell of the world around us—is far from objective. Our brains use our sensory cues to trigger useful assumptions about what’s happening at any given time to keep us from being overwhelmed with useless detail.

Cognitive therapy is a process where sensory input and mental assumptions can be examined. New information is noticed to 'rewire' our attention and thoughts to avoid unproductive harmful thoughts, triggers, and judgments. This ‘opening up’ of the possibility of changing what we pay attention to and form new stories that make up the basis of our assumptions about our world.

Creatives have a distinct advantage in doing cognitive therapy. Most creative actions require 'feeling our way' past an everyday experience and reorganizing the input to create something new. Thus, the creative has an extra set of 'mental muscles' that are exercised each time novel solutions are formed.

When doing therapy with creative patients, we learn how their creative process works and explore how that same process can be used to positively influence their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. From there, it is a short step to learning how to focus that ability on reducing or eliminating depression, compulsion, addiction, and shifting moods.

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