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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.