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Improving 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.

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 reenforce 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.

Next: Problems In Observation And Introspection

Previous: Types Of Attention

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