01 Apr How to Develop a Powerful Concentration | Inspirational Podcast
Welcome to the Inspirational Living podcast, brought to you in part by Book of Zen, makers of wearable inspiration for a better world. Today’s podcast has been edited and adapted from Thought Force in Business & Every Day Life by William Walker Atkinson, published in 1901…
The individual who practices concentration in their daily life, shuts out distracting impressions, and gives their best thought force to the task at hand, and does better work by reason thereof, whether that person be an architect, office worker, salesperson, poet, painter, or banker.
Every person who has succeeded in life has developed the art of concentration. They may not realize it, but they have, just the same. And more, any person who will develop the art of concentration will be successful.
The individual who can concentrate has a sure remedy for the “blues.” How so? Why, just by shutting off the unpleasant thoughts and concentrating on a brighter subject. Thousands of people have found this plan a specific remedy for the “blues,” discouragement, worry, fear, and the rest.
Try it, and you will find that life will appear entirely different to you. Try it, and you will begin to feel the thrill of life again, and will thank God that you are alive, instead of cursing the day when you were born. You will do your work better; you will feel better; you will BE better. Is it not worth trying it out?
Take up the exercises I am about to share with you, and go over them until you can do anything whatsoever, without your thoughts wandering. Anyone can concentrate upon an agreeable task, but just give them an unpleasant or monotonous job, and you will find that their thoughts will wander away in spite of themselves; that is, until they learn to concentrate by an effort of will.
That is the true test – the ability to successfully concentrate upon an unpleasant, unattractive, or monotonous task.
When you have overcome these troubles, you will know that you have broken the backbone of Wasted Effort and Motion. By concentration you will be able to focus your attention, thought, and energy upon a given thing, thereby obtaining the best possible results.
The rays of the sun, when focused upon an object by means of a sunglass, produce a heat many times greater than the original direct sunlight. So it is with attention. Scatter it and you get but ordinary results. But focus it upon the thing to be done, and you obtain a wonderful amount of energy.
The concentrating professional focuses their attention, and thought force, upon an object, and the result is that their every action (voluntary and involuntary) is in the direction of the attainment of that object. Every individual can reach their goal if only they want it hard enough. If your energies are focused upon one thing, to the exclusion of everything else, the force so generated must bring about the result.
The moral of all this is: “Whatsoever you do, do it with all your might.” Do it in earnest. “Do one thing at a time, and do it well.”
I will now give you a few exercises, the practice of which will enable you to develop the power of concentration. But first I would like to again remind you that the underlying principle of concentration is the focusing of the attention upon a certain thought or action. Any exercise, which will strengthen the faculty of suppressing non-essential thoughts, will be of value. The exercises I’m about to share are merely being furnished as a few suggestions.
The fist requisite of concentration is the ability to shut-out external thoughts, sounds, and sights; to conquer inattention; to obtain perfect control over the body and mind. The body must be brought under the direct control of the mind; and the mind under the direct control of the will.
The Will is strong enough, but the Mind needs strengthening by being brought under the direct influence of the Will. The Mind, strengthened by the impulse of the Will, becomes a much more powerful projector of our thought vibrations, than otherwise, and the vibrations have much greater force and effect.
In these exercises, we will begin with training the body to readily obey the commands of the Mind.
The first exercise, and one which must be mastered before the succeeding exercises are undertaken, involves the control of muscular movements. This, at first sight, may appear very simple, but a few experiments will convince you that it is not so easy as it seems.
We begin this exercise by sitting absolutely still. This is no easy task. It will at first tax your powers of concentration to refrain from involuntary muscular movements, but by a little practice you WILL be able to sit still, without a movement of the muscles, for fifteen minutes or more.
The best plan is to place yourself in a chair, assuming a comfortable position. Then relax all over, and endeavor to remain perfectly quiescent for a period of five minutes. Continue this exercise until you can accomplish it with ease, and then increase the time to ten minutes. After you have mastered the ten minutes exercise, increase the time to fifteen minutes, which is about as far as you need pursue the exercise.
You should not tire yourself with this, or any of our other exercises. The better plan is to practice a little at a time, but as often as possible. Bear in mind that you must not sit in a rigid position. There must be no strain on the muscles. You must relax completely. This plan of relaxing will prove valuable to you when you wish to get a good rest after fatiguing physical effort. It is an ideal “rest cure,” and may be taken either sitting in a chair or lying down on a couch or bed.
Now for the next exercise. Sit erect in your chair, with your head up and your chin out, and shoulders thrown back. Raise you right arm until it is level with your shoulder, pointing to the right. Turn your head and fix your gaze on your hand, and hold the arm perfectly steady for one minute. Repeat with the left arm.
When you are able to perform this feat, perfectly, increase the time to two minutes, then to three, and so on until you are able to maintain the position for five minutes. The palm of the hand should be turned downward, this being the easiest position. By keeping the eyes fixed on the tips of the fingers; you will be able to see whether you are holding your arm perfectly steady.
Now, the next exercise. Fill a wine glass full of water, and taking the glass between the fingers, extend the right arm directly in front of you. Fix the eyes upon the glass, and endeavor to hold the arm so steady that no quiver will be noticeable. Commence with one-minute exercises, and increase until the five-minute limit is reached. Alternate right and left arms.
In your everyday life, endeavor to avoid tense, strained conditions of the muscles, when you should be at ease. Endeavor to acquire a self-poised attitude and demeanor. Cultivate an easy, self-possessed manner, in preference to a nervous, strained, over-anxious appearance.
Mental exercise will help you to acquire the proper carriage and demeanor. Stop tapping your fingers on the table or chair. Such actions indicate a lack of self-control. Don’t tap on the floor with your foot, nor swing your feet backward or forward while talking or sitting.
Don’t bite your nails, nor chew your lips or cheek; don’t wiggle your tongue around in your mouth, whilst reading or studying, or writing. Don’t wink or blink your eyes. Get rid of any habit of twitching or jerking of any part of the body, which may have become second nature to you.
You can stop it easily by “carrying the thought” and practicing concentration. Train yourself to bear with equanimity and composure, noises which have been startling you heretofore, such as the banging of a suddenly closed door, the dropping of a book or other object, etc. In other words, keep yourself well in hand. The previous exercises will be of great assistance to you in getting yourself just where you want.
Now let us move on to another set of exercises, which are designed to enable you to bring your voluntary muscular movements under the direct control of your Will—in other words, to train your mental faculties producing these voluntary muscular movements.
Begin the first exercise by sitting in front of a table. Place your hands upon the table: your fists clinched and lying with the backs of the hands on the table, the thumb being doubled over the fingers. Fix your gaze upon one of your fists for a while, and then slowly extend your thumb and fingers. Then reverse the process, closing first the little finger and continuing the closing until the fist is again in its original position, with the thumb closed over the fingers. Repeat with the other hand. Continue this exercise five times at a sitting, and then increase it to ten times.
This exercise will likely make you tired. But you must persevere, as it is vital to the training of your attention by directing it to trivial and monotonous exercises. In addition, this exercise will give you direct control over all of your muscular movements. You soon will feel the benefit accruing from this simple and apparently unimportant exercise. Do not fail to keep your attention closely focused upon the closing and unclosing of your fingers. That is the main point, if you neglect it; you lose the entire benefit of the exercise.
Now let us move on to the next exercise, which is nothing more or less than the old trick of twirling (or twiddling) your thumbs. Place the fingers of your two hands together (so that they are intersecting), and leaving the thumbs free. Then slowly twirl the thumbs one over the other, with a circular motion. Be sure to keep the attention firmly fixed upon the ends of the thumbs.
The next exercise is to place your right hand on your knee, the fingers and thumb closed, with the exception of the first finger, which must be pointed out in front of you. Then move the finger slowly from side to side, keeping the attention firmly fixed upon the end of the finger.
All of these exercises may be extended indefinitely, and you may exercise your ingenuity in supplying additional ones. The main idea is that the exercise shall consist of some trivial, familiar muscular movement, and that the attention must be kept firmly fixed upon the moving part of the body.
Your attention will revolt at the slavery enforced upon it, and will endeavor in every possible way to escape its thralldom. This is where the training comes in, and you must insist that your attention does its work, from beginning to end, and not wander away to more congenial scenes or occupations.
Think of yourself as a strict schoolmaster, and of your attention as a playful, fun loving student who tires of looking at their book and wishes to steal sly glances out of the window and door at the more attractive sights on the outside. Your business is to keep the student at their book, knowing that it will be better for them in the long run, although they cannot see it just that way now.
Before long, you will notice that you have much better control over your muscular movements, carriage and demeanor, and you will also observe an increased power of attention and concentration in your everyday affairs, which will be of considerable advantage to you.
The last exercise that I’m going to share with you is intended to aid you in concentrating your attention upon some material object not connected with yourself.
Take some uninteresting object, such as a pencil, and concentrate your entire attention upon it for five minutes. Look at it intently; every part o it; turn it over; consider it; think of its uses; its objects; of the materials of which it is made; the process of manufacturing, etc. Think of nothing else but the pencil. Imagine that your chief object in life is the study of that pencil.
Imagine that there exists nothing else in the world but you and the pencil. “There is only one world, and but two things in it: the pencil and I.” Do not let your attention get away from the pencil, but keep it down to its work. You will realize what a rebellious creature your attention is when you try this exercise, but don’t let it get the upper hand of you.
When you have conquered you rebellious attention, you will have achieved a greater victory that you now realize. Many a time in your life ahead, when you need the closest attention upon some matter before you, you will thankful for having mastered this exercise.
This particular exercise can be varied each day, always choosing some uninteresting and familiar object upon which to concentrate your attention. Don’t select an interesting object; for it requires no effort to concentrate upon that. You need something that will seem like “work” to the attention. The less interesting the object – the more the work – and the better the exercise.
The trouble with this exercise is that you will soon run out of material, as the continued concentration of the attention upon uninteresting objects will, in the end, cause the attention (in self-defense) to take an interest in the things upon which it concentrates.
However, when you have reached this stage, you will have but little further need of the exercise, as you then will be able to powerfully concentrate your attention upon anything, or anybody.