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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.

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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.