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How To Concentrate


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Improve Your
Your Own How To Concentrate
Memory And ( Originally Published 1930 )
Minor Sense
Impressions "Concentration is the Most Important Intellectual Habit of Man."
Test of Motor
Memory Not one person in ten thousand can really concentrate. Some
Mental realize that they do not know how—others drift along the line of
Photography least resistance and let their minds vegetate, apparently never
Concentration suspecting their weakness or realizing that they are an utter
failure at concentration. To Cori-centre—bringing all your mental
Three Laws
Of Memory force and faculties to bear steadily on a given center with-out
How To deviation from that exact point—whipping into line all wandering
Concentrate fancies—stray ideas or thoughts that go off on a tangent—to hold
Intelligent steadily all your power on the central thing under consideration
Practice And without an instant of wavering—that is Concentration.
The Problem This ONE THING I Do
A difficult thing to do, and very few minds can do it. St. Paul gives
More Articles
About us the shortest definition of concentration on record when he
Memory says, " This one thing I do," short, but tremendously significant.
Another Bible definition is excellent: " Whatsoever thy hand
findeth to do, do it with thy might." Some men work that way,
intense fellows--brilliant professional men—big business
men—executives—leaders in the world of finance—science
—invention—literature—education—it matters not what kind of
work, the point is that when these men pitch hay, they pitch hay
—when they write a book, they write a book—when they manage
a sales campaign, they man-age a sales campaign. That one
thing they do at that one time, and nothing else, and every ounce
they have goes into the doing. But back of all this has been a lot
of mental discipline, a lot of habit-forming, a lot of brain-building.
Let us consider some of the steps by which they have climbed. To
the ambitious student, I offer five practical aids to concentration,
planned to meet the needs of one who wishes to build from the
ground up. We must assume as prerequisites, interest and
attention, which have already been discussed.


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How To Concentrate

These aids will do more than help you to follow a memory course;
they deal with your daily work. Concentration applies to all the
activities of life. It should be established as a life habit. To all who
think, I bring this message, Think it with thy might. Make a
business of doing one thing at a time with all your soul.
Chesterfield was right when he said, " There is time enough for
everything in the course of a day if we do but one thing at a time,
but there is not time enough in a year if we try to do two things at
a time."


It may seem paradoxical that the first aid to better concentration

refers to relaxation. But I have observed that some of the most
intense intellects fail in their concentration because they never
relax. Failure to let go between efforts is their chief stumbling
block. They keep them-selves tense, nervous, " keyed-up " all the
time, even when there is no need for it, thereby wasting nervous
energy. They find it very difficult to " let go "—to relieve the
high-tension by a little natural, wholesome relaxation. Possibly
they feel like the Irishman who was trapped on the fourth floor of
a burning building. He fought his way to the window but was
afraid to jump. The flames drove him on until he was hanging to
the window ledge with his hands. His friends, in the street below,
seeing the walls were about to fall, kept shouting at him to " let
go." Finally, he growled back at them between set teeth—" How
kin I let go when it's all I can do to hang on? " But we must learn
to let go—to relax completely—before each period of in-tense
concentration. Here is the working principle: Relaxation precedes
perfect concentration. A delightful illustration of this point is given
by Elizabeth Towne.

Six puppies were playing in the barn. The barn door was closed
and with the world shut out, they were giving themselves up
completely to the; spirit of play. Two of them were staging a mock
battle over a feather, while the others were rolling over and over in
the loose straw on the barn floor in utter enjoyment.

Suddenly the barn door softly creaked. 'Instantly every puppy

came to attention; heads up —tails up—bodies rigid—bright eyes
fixed in intense concentration on that door, as it slowly swung
open. A moment before they had been in a state of complete
relaxation. Now, they offered a perfect example of concentration
as they stood at attention, waiting and watching for the unknown
danger that Might be coming from the other. Side of the barn

All great mental achievement has been preceded by periods of

absolute rest or relaxtion! During.this time fatigue disappears the
nervous forces. recuperate and the minds-stores up fresh energy
axed establishes a reserve to draw upon during" the hours of
intense concentration demanded by the. big task high lies must

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Very often this preparation period of relaxation determines. the

success or failure of the uder taking.-Herbert -Spencer, once
made, a speech on.," The Gospel "of Relaxation will, which he
pointed ,out that continual tress and strain high tension without
periods relaxation were responsible for much chronic fatigue and
many a nervous breakdown. is far better to indulge. It in an
voluntary let down than: to Offer an involuntary breakdown,
Different .people take their relaxation best in different ways, but,
whether in complete rest, of play or wholesome laughter, it must
come before any sustained effort of concentration. Nature itself
requires cycles of growth and rest. Take your breathing spell
before the battle.


The next step is to free the mind. Nothing is of greater aid to

concentration. In fact, unless you are able to do this,
concentration is impossible. When. harassed by the three devils,
hurry, worry, and f ear, the mind never has a fair chance to center
on anything. " Worry generates a poison at the roots of memory."
But in your period of relaxation, you have an excellent opportunity
to free the mind—now is your chance to eliminate all mental
handicaps and get ready for the race. Not only hurry, worry, and
fear must be thrown overboard, but anything and everything that
troubles you and disturbs your serenity and your peace of mind.
Out they go ! You should not indulge in day-dreaming, either, or
mental drifting. Clear the mental horizon; give yourself a clean
slate to write upon when your hour of concentration comes. And
when it comes, if you have availed yourself of these first two aids I
have given, you will be, possessed of that rare thing, mental


In order to keep it, utilize the third aid: right conditions. Now, it is
true that a trained mind can concentrate under any conditions—in
the roar and din of .crowded cities or the busy hum of traffic—in
the midst of telephone calls or a thousand and one other
interruptions. Some men can concentrate on a mental problem
while walking down a Chicago street and never hear the roar of
the elevated or see the hurrying throngs. I have seen men write
on a crowded street car perfectly oblivious to the people about
them, not even hearing their own stations when called. But these
men were already masters of concentration, and I am addressing
my remarks to those who have not yet learned how to
concentrate. Therefore, it is only a matter of common-sense to
make conditions as favorable as possible. Give your mind a fair
chance. Concentration is difficult enough, even under the best
conditions. I would suggest that you seek a quiet place free from
all distractions (and noise is a terrible distractor), a place free from
all interruptions which may break your train of thought (and a

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telephone is a terrible interruptor), a place where you can be

alone, free from all outside influences (and a friend who " must
drops in " is a terrible outside influence), and a place of pleasing
environment, beautiful or otherwise, where the atmosphere is right
for you. I mean atmosphere in its fuller sense, although an
abundance of sweet, fresh air is necessary. A well-poised mind
can create its own atmosphere which inspires the individual, puts
him at his best, is strongly conducive to good mental work, and
has much to do with his success in concentrating. Not alone for
the beginner, but I may safely say for the majority, is this true. In
fact, some of our greatest creative thinkers absolutely insist on
right conditions and the right kind of a place in which to produce
their master-pieces. True, good books have been written in
mail—great poems written in the trenches—masterly speeches
conceived on an express train. But in every case there was a
degree of concentration strong enough to rise triumphant above
the environment.

Atmosphere--environment—these things differ with the

individual—it's all in the mind. One man may do his best work
seated in a luxurious chair in his beautiful and artistic study--
another may reach his highest plane of creative thinking while
sitting under a lone pine-tree on the crest of a hill. Choose your
own place for concentration, but remember that solitude has
always been, in all the history of mental achievement, a requisite
for great work.

Solitude calls forth the mood of receptivity. Only then do we get

the best. Great things are worked out in silence. Then come the
flashes of inspiration—the new visions. Emerson tells us that "
Solitude is to genius the stern friend—the cold, obscure shelter,
where mould the wings which will bear it farther than suns or
stars," and we have this thought from Carlyle: " Silence is the
element in which great things fashion themselves together—that
at length they may emerge full-formed and mamestic into the
delight of life—which they are henceforth to rule."

The great poems written in lonely garrets—the masterpiece

paintings conceived by the artist amid the fields—the divine
harmonies first heard by the musician communing with the
stars—the sublime oration which first stirred the soul of the orator
as he tramped in the forest—all attest that the best comes to man
when he is alone.

Witness Burns—the Scotch peasant among the daisies pouring

out the lyric songs which to- day touch sympathetic hearts the "
warld o'er."

Witness Emerson—bidding good-bye to the proud world and

retiring to that Sylvan Home, " bosomed in yon green hills "—and
there creating his incomparable essays.

Witness Demosthenes—on the seashore—building to the big

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music of the waves his match-less oration on the Crown.

Witness Byron—alone on the Alps—writing by the glare of the

lightning flash his magnificent description of the Thunderstorm.

And today right in this practical present—thousands of our most

successful business men have learned this secret—that by
getting alone—they can gain new efficiency—and think out better
plans for managing their daily affairs.

History will bear me out in the statement that to bear Solitude well
is a mark of greatness. Look at Lincoln—back there in the country
for the first thirty years of his life, nourishing his own soul and
disciplining his own mind.

Hillis has well said, " What a college and a crowd could not do for
thousands of young men —Solitude did for the rail-splitter's son.
Alone he sailed the seas of thought with God for his only
companion, till at last he stood forth, a mountain-minded man."


The fourth aid to concentration, is a very practical one: make a

daily schedule. In the first place, such a schedule saves an
inconceivable amount of time. Harrington Emerson, in his noted
book, Twelve Principles of Efficiency, lays great stress upon the
necessity and value of a written daily schedule. But what has this
to do with concentration as applied to memory, you may ask?
Simply this—your daily schedule helps to focus the mind, holds it
steadily to one thing at a time and in the right order. Following a
logical sequence tends to eliminate con-fusion.

It has been demonstrated in efficiency tests over and over again

that time and energy are lost not so much on the operation itself
as in passing from one operation to another. So in our mental
operations, failure to move smoothly from one thing to another
results in confusion. And when confusion comes, concentration
goes. A definite daily schedule is a wonderful aid in keeping the
mind on the right track. It often proves to be the salvation of those
who have been unable to concentrate. Try it.

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