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Attention makes the genius.--Willmot.

Genius is merely continued attention.--Helvetius.

Attention is a sure mark of the superior genius.--Lord Chesterfield.

Attention is the stuff that memory is made of.--James Russell Lowell.

If I have made any improvement in the sciences it is owing more to patient attention than to anything else.—Sir Isaac Newton.

CONCENTRATION of the attention is one of the master keys of power.

Without it one can accomplish nothing great or significant. The most perfect perceptions, the most retentive memory, the most daring and picturesque imagination--without concentration they can effect nothing. The principle of concentration may be well illustrated by a physical comparison. Suppose we take a football weighing four ounces and propel it through the air by means of the charge of powder generally used for a projectile of four ounces' weight.

What effect will the impact of the football have? None whatever. But suppose we concentrate the four ounces' weight into a sphere of lead less than half an inch in diameter and put behind it the same propulsive force--what then will happen? Now the difference between the football and the leaden bullet is the difference between diffusion and concentration--the difference between the impingement that is harmless and that which is deadly.

And so it is in the world of thought. The thoughts of some people are like a football--big, expanded by wordy wind, slow moving, ineffective; the thoughts of others are like bullets-- concentrated, swift, direct, going straight to the center, without pause or hindrance.

"This one thing I do," said that profound philosopher, Paul of Tarsus. And if we study the history of the world's master spirits we shall find that this has been their policy. The uncouth butcher who pushed Charles I. from the throne and established a form of government based on moral principle instead of special right; the pallid, undersized French advocate who, in the hope of establishing his wild dream of democracy, sent the flower of French aristocracy walking up Dr. Guillotine's stairway; the ignorant tinker who gave to the world what is perhaps the greatest allegory in profane literature; the undersized plebeian Corsican adventurer, who made himself master of the world--all these had for their motto the idea of concentration--"This one thing I do."

Now what is meant by concentration of the attention, or, as it is some- times called, the power of attention? You see, in the kind of language which I am using to you, we do not attempt to express things with scientific precision; for that means the use not only of many, many words, but the introduction of many new, and to us, unnecessary words. So for our purpose we may use the terms, concentration, power of attention, concentration of attention, as if they meant the same thing--as they actually do.

What is Concentration?

Now what is concentration? In a word, concentration may be defined as being that state of mind in which the total and entire energies of the individual, physical as well as mental, are focused upon the thing he is doing or thinking. All actions and all thoughts not connected with what he is doing or thinking are kept out of the mind; and all his forces are bent upon the task in hand. He who can do this has concentration, has the power of attention. He who has not this power must acquire it before he can hope to do or be anything admirable or worthy in the world.

Any one who has performed any difficult feat of strength, such as lifting a heavy weight, "muscling" him- self up on the horizontal bar or trying to make a track record at the "hundred yard dash" or the "two-twenty," will realize how large a factor in these muscular performances is the mere fact of concentration. In these, as well as in a great many other so-called physical feats, such as jumping, marksmanship, shot putting and so on, the slightest wandering of the mind from the work in hand is absolutely destructive of success. In acrobatic work, such as flying trapeze and flying rings, as well as in juggling and balancing, the same is true. Acrobatic jugglers and gymnasts are always masters of the art of attention--of concentration as applied to their special feats.

Now concentration is largely a negative process; it depends as much upon what you do not do, as upon what you do.

To take an example: You sit down to write a difficult letter. The trolley car whizzes by with its villainous "bang-bang." You are suddenly re- minded that you should have gone down town to get that book your wife wanted. But there's the letter. You turn back to it. You write another line or two, and then--suddenly you hear the excited bark of little Fido, the Scotch terrier. You go to the window and look out. Nothing the matter--only another terrier not quite so Scotch across the street. You read back a few lines of your letter and start again. You don't quite know what to say. Your eye wanders round the room. Ah, yes, that suit to be pressed. You attend to this matter. Then back to your letter. And so on. A half hour has passed, and the letter is only begun. Now this is a fair example of the lack of concentration-- of a wandering mind. And such a habit of thought is an absolute bar to any achievement that is helpful either to one's self or to the world at large.

And how shall this tendency be overcome? By what means may we gain the power of bringing every faculty of the mind to bear upon the task of the moment, without allowing any of our thought or attention to wander into other directions.

It is very simple--simple, but not at first easy. Merely refuse to let the mind wander. Be the master of your mind--of yourself. Remember what Milton says: "He who is master of himself is king of men." But of course you want more specific directions than this. It is easy to say, "concentrate"; but you need to know exactly how to concentrate.

Remembering that attention is merely the act of applying the mind, the entire mind, to the task in hand, you will understand that the faithful practice of the various exercises advised in previous chapters of this series cannot but be of the greatest value as aids to the development of the power of attention. Every effort of the mind, whether to perceive, to recollect, to associate, to imagine, or to judge, must necessarily involve a concentration of the faculties of the mind upon that particular act, whatever it may be. So, first of all, I may assure you that the practices I have advised, if you have faithfully followed them, will have by this time notably increased your power of attention. As a matter of fact, such assurance on my part is superfluous; for if you have exercised as I have directed, you, yourself, will already have noted a marked change in this direction as well as in others.

Do not allow yourself to overlook the fact that whatever may be the mental act in which you are engaged, the act of attention is necessarily involved. There is no faculty of the mind in which you have so many opportunities of exercise.

So the first exercise I shall advise is that you go over carefully all the methods which I have detailed in the chapters on perception, memory, association, imagination, and judgment, making a special effort while doing them not to allow the mind to wander for a moment from the task in hand. This alone, if persistently and conscientiously done, would insure you a high degree of this splendid intellectual accomplishment.

One of the best methods I know for him or her who would begin at the beginning and learn to concentrate the attention is the following:--

Select some task, which, while simple, requires accuracy and close attention. A sum in addition or multiplication is well adapted for this purpose. Now settle yourself down to this; resolving that, until it is finished and verified, you will not allow the mind to take in, or at any rate hold, any other idea or picture whatever.

While adding or multiplying the figures, you will suddenly find that there pops into the mind some other idea--the clang of a bell (fire or the ambulance) ; a shouting on the street (a fight or a runaway); a thought of the landlady, your tailor, your grocer.

Now just here is where you are required to make the essential act of concentration--of trained attention. Shut the door on these outside thoughts.

Turn back to your work. For a time, at any rate, you cannot prevent the intrusion of extraneous thoughts; you can, however, resolutely refuse to allow them to remain in the mind. At first they will come, insistently, again and again, beating at the door of your consciousness. "Let me in; let me in," they cry. "Never mind those stupid figures. I am more interesting. I am more important to you. You must, you ought, you've got to think of me. Let me in." "But no," says the trained mind. "This one thing I do. One thing at a time. I can think of but one object at once; and if I let you into my mind I can do justice neither to you nor to my task. Avaunt." But the haunters do not retreat so easily. They return and return with incredible persistency. They pound at the door of your mind. They insist on intruding, and occasionally they get in.

Then--don't worry or fret about them. Don't let them bother or excite you. Don't be discouraged. Simply bring the attention back to the original subject of thought. As Dr, William James, Professor of Psychology in Harvard, has said: "Effort of attention is the essential phenomenon of will."

Another exercise for concentration of the attention is simply to count. Count one hundred beginning with 2 and adding three each time, e. g., 2, 5, 8, 11, 14, etc. Or, beginning with 2, add 6, 7, 9, 13, or 17 each time, e. g., 2, 8, 14, 20, etc.; 2, 9, 16, 23, 30, etc.; 2, 11, 20, 29, 38, etc. Or, beginning with 100, count downward, subtracting 3, 6, 7, 9, 11, 13, 17, or 19 each time, e. g., 100, 97, 94, 91, etc. All this may seem very simple. But you will find that, unless you already have a very finely developed power of attention, you will not at first be able to complete the hundred in any of these exercises without the entrance into the mind of vagrant, extraneous thoughts. By the time you are able to add or subtract freely in this way without any wandering of the attention, you may congratulate yourself on having acquired to an unusual degree the power of concentrated attention.

For the next exercise you will need about three dozen large sized blank cards: the best size is about three by five inches. Upon one of these cards write a number of four figures, such as 4357. Upon several others write four figures arranged in a square, as 47 and under that 93. Then on several cards write six figures, as 457, under which you place 236, or figures such as 47, 52, and 96 under each other. Other cards should contain from seven to ten numbers in a simple column.

Prepare a dozen of these cards'. Now to use them: Shuffle the cards, face downward. Draw one, give a rapid glance at its face, and then repeat aloud the numbers that you saw, first in the order in which they were written, i. e., 4357, then backward, 7534. Or, to take another card, repeat 47, 52, 96, in the order in which they appear. Then backward, 96, 52, 47; then go down the units column, 7, 2, 6, then up the tens column, 9, 5, 4, and so on.

After a few hours of practice such as this, you will begin to know the figures on each card by memory. This, while a good thing in one way, makes the exercise of less value as a training in concentration; so it will be necessary for you to make up another set. In the second set make a larger number of figures on each card, say something like 947, 853, 201, under each other, making a square of nine figures, or 94, 78, 53, 20, 16 in a column, or a line of twelve or fifteen single figures, arranged as for an example in addition.

After a period of practice with these cards you will find again that you are learning to remember the numbers from previous glances rather than from the one last glance. Then it is time to make another set. This time make your figure squares still larger. Run them up to squares like this: 4702, 3895, 6374, 9765, etc.; or make collections of numbers like 470, 238, 956, etc., making a list of perhaps five or six lines of three figures each. In my own experience along this line I have known of students who could remember with unerring fidelity a figure square consisting of sixty-four figures arranged in a square, as 48964325, 93842739, etc. It seems incredible; but it is entirely true that, after a time, it is quite as easy to recall a mental picture of sixty-four figures as of twelve or sixteen.

It is perhaps an improvement on the above described practice to have the assistance of another who will shuffle the cards and exhibit one for a fleeting second. Where you can get some one to work with you, it is a good plan for the assistant to read a few lines of prose--say about twenty words at first--which you afterwards repeat from memory. Or he may call out a list of words or figures to which you listen and which you afterward repeat.

And now for the last and most important exercise which I have to suggest. And I may say right here that if you practice persistently and conscientiously you will acquire the power of concentration to a greater degree and in a shorter time than by all other methods combined. This exercise, like most things that are great and important, is also very simple. It is this: Make every detail a work of art. Think this over. It means that you do everything--the most trivial acts-- with strict and exclusive attention.

Are you lacing your boots? There is a way in which that homely little act can be performed more rapidly, easily, and satisfactorily than it can in any other way. Standing, walking, dressing one's self, writing, shaking hands, shaving, handling knife and fork, opening a book--all these and a million other trivial acts--if done consciously and attentively, afford a training in concentration which it is absolutely impossible to gain in any other way. When asked by some inquisitive reporter the secret of his success, "Sunset" Cox replied: "I think it is my attention to detail. I pride myself upon the way I can wrap up a paper parcel." This is the true spirit--"the pride of success." Make every detail a work of art.

And then the gain! You develop not only the power of concentration. You develop perception, memory, association, imagination, will. And this is one of the most satisfactory results of the practice of mental training--in developing any one faculty you are at the same time developing others. But as regards concentration, when you are training that, you are at the same time training all the other powers of the mind.


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