Learning to pay attention.

Attention. Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Being stingy with attention is a natural human characteristic.

The brain is made up of two thinking systems, a rapid system we sometimes call intuition. This system makes decisions based on past experiences, hunches, and deep gut feelings. When you rely heavily on this system, it is as if you are on autopilot. You’re able to do a great many things without any effort at being mindful. Some people describe this as a “mindless” activity.

The other system is slow and laborious. It gathers information, analyzes things, and decides based on facts and stored blueprints on how to make decisions.

Deep analytical thinking uses up a lot of brain capacity, which is why the brain avoids it and makes use of the automatic decision-making system as much as possible. Modern life presents us with many of these conflicts. Video games and brief videos cater to our instinctive short attention span brains. Employment and advanced learning require us to override the fast thinking process, slow down, and restrict our thinking to one task.

An increase in technical material has made advanced education more and more valuable. On the one hand, slow technical thinking is valued with a premium. But on the other hand, your day-to-day life is probably organized around activities that require almost no thought. This heavy reliance on accomplishing tasks without thinking has made many people believe that they lack the ability for prolonged thinking. Hence the incredible expansion of the diagnosis of ADHD.

Your ability to pay attention can be improved.

Some people’s ability to pay attention is so impaired that it requires medication for them to be able to meet their job requirements. But the overreliance on a pill to improve attention has obscured the fact that paying better attention is also a skill you can learn. Young children learn to pay better attention when parents reinforce their attention skills.

Your brain decides what to pay attention to.

In deciding what to pay attention to, your brain will use a series of priorities. Anytime your threat circuits are activated, paying attention to that danger is likely to take precedent over all else. Your current physical states or drives will also elevate certain items in the environment to a priority status. When you’re hungry, the brain notices food, restaurants, or things that remind you of eating everywhere you go. Loneliness primed you to notice other people.

The same phenomenon, sometimes called salience, is at work when people who ride a motorcycle notice motorcycles everywhere they go. Dog lovers are likely to notice dogs everywhere. Even subconsciously, our brains are biased toward seeing what we want to see and ignoring the rest.

The brain also must decide how much attention to pay to that item.

Some things only require a minimum of attention. Other situations require prolonged and intense concentration. Learning to shift your attention and to focus it are skills that can be learned.

You need to recognize when you’re struggling to pay attention.

A prime reason why people struggle with paying attention is that they are distracted. If you try to divide your attention between two items, one of them will get neglected. The first step in improving your ability to pay attention is to recognize when your attention has drifted off an important task, like driving, and onto a task that should be a lower priority, like playing a videogame on your cell phone or texting. In this situation, the easiest way to improve your attention is to put that cell phone somewhere where you can’t see it.

Start paying attention to your attention focusing process.

Don’t get caught up using your poor attention focusing as an excuse for not strengthening your attention skills. Whatever you find your attention drifting, mentally step back, and look at what’s going on in your attention focusing process. Is there something more salient in the environment? Are you trying to pay attention to something you would prefer not to be focused on? Becoming aware of how you utilize your ability to pay attention can improve your attention focusing skills.

Practice redirecting your attention.

As you become more and more aware of what you’re paying attention to and why, and how you determine your priorities for attention, you need to practice redirecting that attention. The more rapidly you’re able to shift that attention, and the more often you do it, the better you will become at keeping your attention focused on one object or task.

Learning to focus your attention better is a skill that will provide you lots of benefits.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Seven David Joel Miller Books are available now!

My newest book is now available. It was my opportunity to try on a new genre. I’ve been working on this book for several years, but now seems like the right time to publish it.

Story Bureau.

Story Bureau is a thrilling Dystopian Post-Apocalyptic adventure in the Surviving the Apocalypse series.

Baldwin struggles to survive life in a post-apocalyptic world where the government controls everything.

As society collapses and his family gets plunged into poverty, Baldwin takes a job in the capital city, working for a government agency called the Story Bureau. He discovers the Story Bureau is not a benign news outlet but a sinister government plot to manipulate society.

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Dark Family Secrets: Doris wants to get her life back, but small-town prejudice could shatter her dreams.

Casino Robbery Arthur Mitchell escapes the trauma of watching his girlfriend die. But the killers know he’s a witness and want him dead.

Planned Accidents The second Arthur Mitchell and Plutus mystery.

Letters from the Dead: The third in the Arthur Mitchell mystery series.

What would you do if you found a letter to a detective describing a crime and you knew the writer and detective were dead, and you could be next?

Sasquatch. Three things about us, you should know. One, we have seen the past. Two, we’re trapped there. Three, I don’t know if we’ll ever get back to our own time.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

For videos, see: Counselorssoapbox YouTube Video Channel

Do you trust your intuition?

Intuition. Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Intuition makes up half the decision-making system in your brain.

People who study brain functioning have investigated two different ways in which people make decisions. This is sometimes called the dual-process theory. One system, the deliberate decision-making system, is slow and requires a lot of information to arrive at a decision. The other system, intuition, reaches a conclusion rapidly, often based on very little conscious information. Relying on only one of these two systems can get you into trouble. The challenge is to decide when to use the slow, deliberative decision-making model and when to use the fast, intuitive model.

When might ignoring intuition get you into serious trouble?

You’re in the big city, walking across the street. You glance up and suddenly realize a bus is speeding towards you and you are about to get hit. Which decision-making model do you think you ought to use?

If you’re a very logical person, you might want to think this over a bit. How many feet away as the bus? How fast is the bus traveling? You look ahead and see how many feet it is to the other side of the street to get out of the way of the bus. You might also want to look back to estimate if you turn around and jump back onto the sidewalk; how far must you go? While you’re gathering all this information, the bus driver is slamming on the brakes, and you are betting your life on whether he will stop before impact.

What if you decided to use your intuition?

People who use an intuitive decision-making model would leap one way or the other without thinking. If you pick the right direction, this improves your chances of survival. Of course, you could choose the wrong direction and run directly into the path of the bus. Or you might decide to turn around and run back for the sidewalk you just left. One of these decisions, maybe both, might save your life.

Are there other situations in which you might want to use your intuition?

Social situations are a time when you want to rely on your intuition. You meet someone, and they say hello. If you stand there too long thinking over what the proper greeting would be, you’re going to appear socially inept. In the pre-Covid days, if someone put out their hand, you wanted to put your hand out and shake. Now your automatic response might be to bump elbows or perform some other gesture. What you don’t want to do is stand there staring blankly.

Making good decisions in life involves using both decision-making systems.

Relying too much on one decision-making system and not enough on the other are characteristics of two specific mental illnesses. Research on decision-making tells us that people on the autism spectrum rely heavily on thinking things over. They are high on rational decision-making, but that leaves them unable to make automatic decisions based on their intuitive systems.

On the other end of the spectrum are people who make almost all decisions emotionally or using the intuitive method. Relying solely on the intuitive decision-making system is one of the characteristics of schizotypal personality disorder.

You can improve both decision-making systems.

Some people believe that they are using logic to make their decisions, but their decision-making is so full of logical errors and flaws that it’s not very useful. Studying logic and how to make better decisions can improve the slow, deliberative decision-making system.

Many people don’t realize that the fast, intuitive decision-making system can also be improved. In some upcoming posts, I want to talk to you about improving your intuitive decision-making and deciding when to trust those fast decisions and when to use the slower logical decision-making system.

Other posts on related topics can be found under the following categories.

Overthinking               Rumination                 Worry              Finding Yourself

Personality                  Inner Child                  Intuition             Personality Disorders             

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Seven David Joel Miller Books are available now!

My newest book is now available. It was my opportunity to try on a new genre. I’ve been working on this book for several years, but now seems like the right time to publish it.

Story Bureau.

Story Bureau is a thrilling Dystopian Post-Apocalyptic adventure in the Surviving the Apocalypse series.

Baldwin struggles to survive life in a post-apocalyptic world where the government controls everything.

As society collapses and his family gets plunged into poverty, Baldwin takes a job in the capital city, working for a government agency called the Story Bureau. He discovers the Story Bureau is not a benign news outlet but a sinister government plot to manipulate society.

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Dark Family Secrets: Doris wants to get her life back, but small-town prejudice could shatter her dreams.

Casino Robbery Arthur Mitchell escapes the trauma of watching his girlfriend die. But the killers know he’s a witness and want him dead.

Planned Accidents The second Arthur Mitchell and Plutus mystery.

Letters from the Dead: The third in the Arthur Mitchell mystery series.

What would you do if you found a letter to a detective describing a crime and you knew the writer and detective were dead, and you could be next?

Sasquatch. Three things about us, you should know. One, we have seen the past. Two, we’re trapped there. Three, I don’t know if we’ll ever get back to our own time.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

For videos, see: Counselorssoapbox YouTube Video Channel

How to tame and train emotions and feelings.

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Man with feelings

Managing feelings.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

3 step process for making feelings a part of your recovery.

There was a time, back in the Victorian days when feelings were suspect and the goal was to stop feeling and to think logically. This approach has resulted in feelings and intuition getting a bad name.

If you have struggled with an emotional or mental illness, say depression or anxiety, it is hard to keep in mind that in smaller doses that anxiety or sadness could have been your friend. A little bit of anxiety can keep you safe in dangerous situations. But if that anxiety beast has gotten unruly, you need to get them back to being well-behaved.

People who have abused substances, taken drugs or drank to help them be less anxious will find their emotions have gotten out of control like a house full of unruly children when the parents are away. Using alcohol to sleep or to not feel leaves you exhausted the next day and beyond.

Feelings can tell you things, provide you with the information you need if only you are willing to listen to them. If you grew up around others that did not pay attention to feelings, yours or theirs, or pretended they did not have feelings, you may be at a disadvantage when it comes to managing your emotions.

Learning to manage your emotions, feel what you need to feel but not let your emotions take over complete control of you requires you to develop a better relationship with your feelings.

Here are the three basic steps to learning to make peace with your emotions

Step One – Recognize that you are feeling.

Many people are accustomed to ignoring their emotions. Whether you are recovering from depression, anxiety, substance abuse, or any other life problem the first step to integrating feelings into your new recovered life is to become aware that you are feeling something.

Our bodies hold on to emotional feelings even when the mind is trying to ignore them. If you say that someone is a pain in the neck, check your neck. If your stomach is upset, look inside to see if there is someone or something “making you sick to your stomach.”

These body sensations are your nervous system’s way of telling you that something is wrong. Remember that you have lots of nerve cells outside your brain. One estimate places the number of nerve cells outside that brain at over fifty percent. You have nerve cells throughout your body for many reasons. One of those reasons is to convey information, especially emotional information, to the brain.

Learn to recognize that you are feeling something. Look for where in the body that feeling is staying. What physical sensations do you feel? Does this rev you up or shut you down.

Step Two – Name that feeling.

When you do not have a word for something it is more difficult to think about that item. To learn to make emotions your friends you need to learn their names. There is a lot of difference between being sad and being angry. Learn to recognize what you feel when you feel it and then name that feeling.

When you first enter a new field you do not have the vocabulary to talk about that field. New on a job you may find the old-timers see and react to things you had not noticed. As you get more familiar with things you learn their names and you respond more readily.

For an example of this take a look at my difficulties in understanding what a friend was talking about when I knew nothing about her area of interest. In this example, I could not remember or talk about something because I did not know enough about it to recognize it when I saw it.

What purple glass? Memory and the expert effect

Step Three – Apply your feeling change tools.

Once you recognize that you are feeling something, are able to describe where in your body you are feeling it, and then are able to name that feeling, you are well on your way to learning how to manage that feeling.

There are all sorts of feeling management tools. Many people are required to attend an anger management class because they never learned to follow these steps. If you just suddenly find yourself furiously angry then you are at a loss to know what to do about that anger once you have it. But if you learn to recognize that anger is coming on and how it is affecting you, there are all kinds of tools you can use to avoid excess anger and to manage that anger once it arrives.

Tools that are used for anger management work, most of the time, when they are applied to other feelings. One of the early stage feeling management tools is the process I have described above. Learn to recognize that you have feelings, identify what that feeling is, and then decide how you will respond.

Other emotional regulation tools include cognitive tools, changing your thinking and behavioral tools, physical things you can do to manage emotions. For more on tools to manage feelings look at other blog posts here on counselorssoapbox.com and keep an eye out for my book, in progress, which is nearing completion.

Move your feelings from out of control to friends.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Seven David Joel Miller Books are available now!

My newest book is now available. It was my opportunity to try on a new genre. I’ve been working on this book for several years, but now seem like the right time to publish it.

Story Bureau.

Story Bureau is a thrilling Dystopian Post-Apocalyptic adventure in the Surviving the Apocalypse series.

Baldwin struggles to survive life in a post-apocalyptic world where the government controls everything.

As society collapses and his family gets plunged into poverty, Baldwin takes a job in the capital city, working for a government agency called the Story Bureau. He discovers the Story Bureau is not a benign news outlet but a sinister government plot to manipulate society.

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Dark Family Secrets: Doris wants to get her life back, but small-town prejudice could shatter her dreams.

Casino Robbery Arthur Mitchell escapes the trauma of watching his girlfriend die. But the killers know he’s a witness and want him dead.

Planned Accidents  The second Arthur Mitchell and Plutus mystery.

Letters from the Dead: The third in the Arthur Mitchell mystery series.

What would you do if you found a letter to a detective describing a crime and you knew the writer and detective were dead, and you could be next?

Sasquatch. Three things about us, you should know. One, we have seen the past. Two, we’re trapped there. Three, I don’t know if we’ll ever get back to our own time.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

For videos, see: Counselorssoapbox YouTube Video Channel

Picture is worth a thousand words? Not always

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Picture.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Picture or Words?

Sometimes pictures work better than words, but sometimes pictures have a decided disadvantage.

When we need which and how to keep these two memory systems in balance is one of the challenges in building a happy recovered life.

So do you really think a picture is worth a thousand words?

Can you imagine the Declaration of Independence Picture?

OR

What do you think would have been the result of Lincoln unveiling the Gettysburg Picture?

Anyone want to go to court and plead the “Fifth Picture?”

The memory of pictures and the memory of words.

Humans appear to have at least two different memory systems. One, the emotional intuitive system, largely uses emotional sensory data. The other system is the rational word-based system.

Feelings can be conveyed well by pictures, often better than by words. I can write thousands of words about cute but that single picture of the baby or the kitten and puppies, those pictures tell you instantly what cute is at the most basic emotional level.

More complicated things, those need words to map out the concept. Abstracts like ethics and justice those need words.

Some of us get all up in our heads and we forget to make use of our feelings. In a past post, I wrote about the value of intuition based on experiences in making good decisions.

When it comes to figuring out right and wrong those emotional pictures do not seem so dependable. That’s where we need to use our reasoning and thoughts some of the time.

We therapists, like everyone else, struggle with this dichotomy. One school of counseling says you need to talk about your feelings, get in touch with how you feel, and have someone genuinely hear what is going on inside you. Those therapists spend a lot of time asking you “How do you feel about that?” Some people really can’t answer that question as they are way out of touch with their feelings.

Other therapists, I included, tend to believe that the way to be most helpful is to help you find the flaws in your thinking, get a new viewpoint and your feelings will begin to change.

A good therapeutic connection is about the relationship and that means we need to provide you with the thing that you need.

People are not required to pick one thinking style over the other. Some people are high in one style, maybe logic, maybe intuition and they are low in the other way of thinking. There are those folks who are high in using both rational thoughts and in intuitive thinking. Other people appear to be low in using both forms of thought.

Which works best for you – trust your instincts or think it through carefully? Are their times you switch up and use the other approach? Or are you one of those people who just try to avoid thinking about things and making decisions period?

In the posts to come, I plan to change it up, offer you some in-the-head logical reasons that you are the way you are, and also offer you times to get comfortable with your feelings. Let me know which works for you and what you think of the possibilities using the other approach might open up to you.

Photos courtesy of Flickr

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Seven David Joel Miller Books are available now!

My newest book is now available. It was my opportunity to try on a new genre. I’ve been working on this book for several years, but now seem like the right time to publish it.

Story Bureau.

Story Bureau is a thrilling Dystopian Post-Apocalyptic adventure in the Surviving the Apocalypse series.

Baldwin struggles to survive life in a post-apocalyptic world where the government controls everything.

As society collapses and his family gets plunged into poverty, Baldwin takes a job in the capital city, working for a government agency called the Story Bureau. He discovers the Story Bureau is not a benign news outlet but a sinister government plot to manipulate society.

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Dark Family Secrets: Doris wants to get her life back, but small-town prejudice could shatter her dreams.

Casino Robbery Arthur Mitchell escapes the trauma of watching his girlfriend die. But the killers know he’s a witness and want him dead.

Planned Accidents  The second Arthur Mitchell and Plutus mystery.

Letters from the Dead: The third in the Arthur Mitchell mystery series.

What would you do if you found a letter to a detective describing a crime and you knew the writer and detective were dead, and you could be next?

Sasquatch. Three things about us, you should know. One, we have seen the past. Two, we’re trapped there. Three, I don’t know if we’ll ever get back to our own time.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

For videos, see: Counselorssoapbox YouTube Video Channel

Has intuition gotten a bad name?

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Picking the right door.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

People who use intuition correctly make better decisions.

In this modern scientific era, it has become conventional wisdom to dismiss intuition as nonsense and to insist that everyone thinks rationally – whatever rationally means. Recent research tells us that people who have developed their intuition make better decisions much of the time and that just relying on rational explanations does not get you the best answer all the time.

Top business executives and successful entrepreneurs use intuition to get ahead and stay ahead of their competitors.

Psychological tests and particularly the Myers-Brigs personality types distinguish two personality types. Those who decide “in a blink” and those who need time to think. One way of deciding is not necessarily better than the other and people who are able to use both methods do better at many tasks.

To understand the role of intuition in our lives we need to look first at what it is and then at how its proper use might help us have a better and happier life.

The dictionary definition, from an old paper dictionary, includes “To receive or assimilate knowledge by direct perception or comprehension.” This section on defining intuition is exceptionally long and includes a list of ways in which one might receive information: look at or upon, observe, regard, contemplate or consider, immediate perception.

The principal meaning of intuition is those things you know immediately by personal experience as opposed to thinking them based on some theory or second-hand knowledge.

While I may not trust that I get everything a see correctly, the essence of intuition is found in the old adage “seeing is believing.” Which explains why knowledge based on personal experiences including feelings can often be trusted more than the opinions of others including experts who have studied the subject but have no firsthand knowledge of the thing they are talking about.

Intuition, it would appear, is firsthand knowledge based on experiences not only in the head but in all the nerves in the body. We tend to believe that our brain is in our heads. More than half of those nerve cells that process information are outside the head. That feeling in your gut just might be telling you something your head needs to know. We experience these nerves outside our head as feelings or emotions and it turns out that this “felt-sense” is often more accurate than what we might be thinking.

What are some of the advantages of using intuition in making decisions and why might it beat out slow careful deliberation?

Using intuition has several features to recommend it.

1. It is easy, requires no effort to assemble data, analyze that data, and deliberate decisions.

2. It is often much faster than deliberative or logical decision-making. By the time you get the research done the market opportunity may be passed and your competitor may be in charge.

3. Using intuition does not require deliberation, committee meetings or extensive testing.

4. We are often more confident in the results of our intuitive decisions because they – just feel right.

Taking the slow deliberative approach does not eliminate mistakes as any marketing research director should be able to tell you. Here are the problems with doing market research to use as a basis for your decisions.

1. The information you will get is often not what you wanted.

2. If you get the facts you want they might not be the ones you need.

3. Fully researching things may take too much time and cost too much

4. Even when you get all the facts, can afford the cost, get the info you were looking for it still might not tell you what you need to do.

The trends in products may take years to develop and a new introduction by a competitor could change the whole market overnight while you are doing research. Try applying this research model to your personal life.

A personality test may tell you if you have things in common with a potential partner but it does not guarantee success in the relationship. Making that cute guy or gal take a 5-hour personality test may just blow the whole deal even before you get to the first date.

There are times in our lives, both personal and professional when we just might need to trust our instincts and use that old friend intuition.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Seven David Joel Miller Books are available now!

My newest book is now available. It was my opportunity to try on a new genre. I’ve been working on this book for several years, but now seem like the right time to publish it.

Story Bureau.

Story Bureau is a thrilling Dystopian Post-Apocalyptic adventure in the Surviving the Apocalypse series.

Baldwin struggles to survive life in a post-apocalyptic world where the government controls everything.

As society collapses and his family gets plunged into poverty, Baldwin takes a job in the capital city, working for a government agency called the Story Bureau. He discovers the Story Bureau is not a benign news outlet but a sinister government plot to manipulate society.

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Dark Family Secrets: Doris wants to get her life back, but small-town prejudice could shatter her dreams.

Casino Robbery Arthur Mitchell escapes the trauma of watching his girlfriend die. But the killers know he’s a witness and want him dead.

Planned Accidents  The second Arthur Mitchell and Plutus mystery.

Letters from the Dead: The third in the Arthur Mitchell mystery series.

What would you do if you found a letter to a detective describing a crime and you knew the writer and detective were dead, and you could be next?

Sasquatch. Three things about us, you should know. One, we have seen the past. Two, we’re trapped there. Three, I don’t know if we’ll ever get back to our own time.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

For videos, see: Counselorssoapbox YouTube Video Channel