The Importance of Controlling Sensory Experience for Creativity and Focus

In this video, two individuals discuss the importance of controlling sensory experiences in order to optimize focus and creativity. They mention how writers and creative individuals often have specific habits, like dedicating several uninterrupted hours in the morning for writing, to control the influx of external stimuli. However, they also acknowledge the need to strike a balance and develop the skill to block out distractions in any environment. The conversation expands to explore the connection between sensory sensitivity, such as in cases of autism, and the impact on attention and behavior. They propose the concept of „limbic friction,“ which refers to the level of effort required to maintain focus. Overall, the video emphasizes the need to manage both internal and external influences to achieve optimal performance.

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Key Insights:

  • Controlling the sensory experience can enhance productivity and creativity.
  • Autistic individuals may have hypersensitivity to sensory stimuli.
  • Building resilience involves managing limbic friction and finding a balance between external and internal focus.
  • The brain has two orbs of attention: internal (interoception) and external (exteroception).
  • Levels of autonomic arousal play a role in perception and attention.
  • Awareness of one’s own mode of attention and focus can help optimize performance throughout the day.


If you read books that describe the habits of brilliant people like writers, they do control their sensory experience in the world in the hours after waking up. Many writers have a particular habit of several hours early in the morning of actual writing. They do not do anything else for the rest of the day, but they are very sensitive to noises and make it difficult to live with them. Personally, I am definitely like that. I love to control how much sensory information is coming in. There’s something about everything being peaceful at the same time.

I was talking to a mutual friend of Whitney Cummings, who has a mansion on top of a cliff in the middle of nowhere. She actually purchased her own island because she wants silence and wants to control how much sound is coming in. She’s very sensitive to sound and environment. She has a beautiful home and pays a lot of attention to details. This allows for creativity to flourish. On the other hand, I don’t like that because it feels like a slippery slope. I enjoy introducing noises and signals and training my mind to tune them out because you can’t always control the environment perfectly. It’s a skill to be able to shut it off. I often go to a coffee shop, and it really annoys me when there are sounds, but I train my mind to block them out.

I think it’s a balance. What’s best for work is not always what’s best for completeness of life. Autism, for example, may have many causes, and sensory overload is a significant factor. There are studies showing that certain forms of human autism are linked to hypersensitivity in sensory neurons rather than disruptions in the brain proper. Autistics may experience an overload of sensory information, making it hard for them to tolerate certain things and leading to stereotypical behaviors.

Building resilience, whether physical or mental, involves managing limbic friction. Limbic friction refers to the conflict between the limbic system, which pulls us towards reflexive behavior, and the prefrontal cortex, which suppresses these impulses. Limbic friction can be high in environments where the prefrontal cortex must work hard to focus, such as a busy coffee shop. However, low autonomic arousal, such as during sleepiness, can also hinder focus. The goal is to find the right level of arousal for top-down control.

The relationship between our internal and external experiences is dynamic and can be visualized as two orbs of attention on a barbell. The more relaxed we are, the more freely these orbs can move. When we are alert, the orbs are tethered in place. This allows us to respond to external threats efficiently. Our behavior is driven by what we perceive externally, even though we might think it is internal. Adjusting our internal and external relationship is crucial for optimal performance in different tasks.

In summary, understanding our levels of interoception and exteroception, autonomic arousal, and the balance between internal and external focus can help us develop awareness throughout the day. Observing this process can help us find the right balance and enhance our performance and well-being.