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Points Of Failure In Attention

LACK OF CONCENTRATION.--There are two chief types of inattention whose
danger threatens every person. First, we may be thinking about the
right things, but not thinking hard enough. We lack mental pressure.
Outside thoughts which have no relation to the subject in hand may not
trouble us much, but we do not attack our problem with vim. The current
in our stream of consciousness is moving too slowly. We do not gather up
all our mental forces and mass them on the subject before us in a way
that means victory. Our thoughts may be sufficiently focused, but they
fail to set fire. It is like focusing the sun's rays while an eclipse
is on. They lack energy. They will not kindle the paper after they have
passed through the lens. This kind of attention means mental dawdling.
It means inefficiency. For the individual it means defeat in life's
battles; for the nation it means mediocrity and stagnation.

A college professor said to his faithful but poorly prepared class,
Judging from your worn and tired appearance, young people, you are
putting in twice too many hours on study. At this commendation the
class brightened up visibly. But, he continued, judging from your
preparation, you do not study quite half hard enough.

Happy is the student who, starting in on his lesson rested and fresh,
can study with such concentration that an hour of steady application
will leave him mentally exhausted and limp. That is one hour of triumph
for him, no matter what else he may have accomplished or failed to
accomplish during the time. He can afford an occasional pause for rest,
for difficulties will melt rapidly away before him. He possesses one key
to successful achievement.

MENTAL WANDERING.--Second, we may have good mental power and be able
to think hard and efficiently on any one point, but lack the power to
think in a straight line. Every stray thought that comes along is a
will-o'-the-wisp to lead us away from the subject in hand and into
lines of thought not relating to it. Who has not started in to think on
some problem, and, after a few moments, been surprised to find himself
miles away from the topic upon which he started! Or who has not read
down a page and, turning to the next, found that he did not know a word
on the preceding page, his thoughts having wandered away, his eyes only
going through the process of reading! Instead of sticking to the a,
b, c, d, etc., of our topic and relating them all up to A, thereby
reaching a solution of the problem, we often jump at once to x, y,
z, and find ourselves far afield with all possibility of a solution
gone. We may have brilliant thoughts about x, y, z, but they are
not related to anything in particular, and so they pass from us and are
gone--lost in oblivion because they are not attached to something

Such a thinker is at the mercy of circumstances, following blindly the
leadings of trains of thought which are his master instead of his
servant, and which lead him anywhere or nowhere without let or hindrance
from him. His consciousness moves rapidly enough and with enough force,
but it is like a ship without a helm. Starting for the intellectual port
A by way of a, b, c, d, he is mentally shipwrecked at last on
the rocks x, y, z, and never reaches harbor. Fortunate is he who
can shut out intruding thoughts and think in a straight line. Even with
mediocre ability he may accomplish more by his thinking than the
brilliant thinker who is constantly having his mental train wrecked by
stray thoughts which slip in on his right of way.

Next: Types Of Attention

Previous: How We Attend

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