Friday, November 21, 2008

Imroving the Power of Attention


While attention is no doubt partly a natural gift, yet there is probably no power of the mind more susceptible to training than is attention. And with attention, as with every other power of body and mind, the secret of its development lies in its use. Stated briefly, the only way to train attention is by attending. No amount of theorizing or resolving can take the place of practice in the actual process of attending.

Making Different Kinds of Attention Reënforce Each Other.—A very close relationship and interdependence exists between nonvoluntary and voluntary attention. It would be impossible to hold our attention by sheer force of will on objects which were forever devoid of interest; likewise the blind following of our interests and desires would finally lead to shipwreck in all our lives. Each kind of attention must support and reënforce the other. The lessons, the sermons, the lectures, and the books in which we are most interested, and hence to which we attend nonvoluntarily and with the least effort and fatigue, are the ones out of which, other things being equal, we get the most and remember the best and longest. On the other hand, there are sometimes lessons and lectures and books, and many things besides, which are not intensely interesting, but which should be attended to nevertheless. It is at this point that the will must step in and take command. If it has not the strength to do this, it is in so far a weak will, and steps should be taken to develop it. We are to "keep the faculty of effort alive in us by a little gratuitous exercise every day." We are to be systematically heroic in the little points of everyday life and experience. We are not to shrink from tasks because they are difficult or unpleasant. Then, when the test comes, we shall not find ourselves unnerved and untrained, but shall be able to stand in the evil day.

The Habit of Attention.—Finally, one of the chief things in training the attention is to form the habit of attending. This habit is to be formed only by attending whenever and wherever the proper thing to do is to attend, whether "in work, in play, in making fishing flies, in preparing for an examination, in courting a sweetheart, in reading a book." The lesson, or the sermon, or the lecture, may not be very interesting; but if they are to be attended to at all, our rule should be to attend to them completely and absolutely. Not by fits and starts, now drifting away and now jerking ourselves back, but all the time. And, furthermore, the one who will deliberately do this will often find the dull and uninteresting task become more interesting; but if it never becomes interesting, he is at least forming a habit which will be invaluable to him through life. On the other hand, the one who fails to attend except when his interest is captured, who never exerts effort to compel attention, is forming a habit which will be the bane of his thinking until his stream of thought shall end.


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