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Manifest Your Desires Effortlessly

Considering how frequently we employ the term "Attention," and its importance in our mental processes and their resulting action, it is strange how little thought we have given to the question: "What is Attention." While the present work is concerned more particularly with the subject of how to use the Attention, yet we may well spend a moment to consider just what is known regarding the nature of Attention, and the important part it plays in all of our mental life and activity.

The term "Attention" is derived from the Latin term "attendere," meaning "to stretch or bend forward"; the original implication being that in the act of Attention one's mind was extended, stretched out, or bent toward the object of Attention, just as one needs or stretches his neck forward when he wishes to see or hear more effectively. When we "attend" to a thing, we turn our thought or mind toward it by a positive act of the will; in many cases we also make a positive effort to hold the thought or mind on the thing, after having extended it toward it.

Attention is defined by the dictionaries as: "The application of the mind to any object of sense, representation, or thought; the concentration of the mind on any object of sense, or on any mental conception." The more technical definition may be summed up as: "Concentrated Consciousness," for in all acts of Attention there is always a manifestation of concentration. As a leading psychologist has well said: "Attention is consciousness, and something more. It is consciousness voluntarily applied to some determinate object. It is consciousness concentrated." In this last statement is found the explanation of the office of Attention—of the part played by it in the mental processes. The office of Attention may be stated as: The office of concentrating, focusing, or centering consciousness to a focal point of activity. And what is the particular act in which Attention manifests this concentration upon a focal point? Simply the act of Perception which we considered in the preceding chapter. The perceptive power of the mind depends primarily upon the Power of Attention.

And here let us consider an interesting and important point, namely: Attention is not an enlargement or increase in consciousness, but rather a narrowing, condensing, or limiting of consciousness. The act of Attention may be said to consist of three phases, viz.: (1) The earnest fixing of the mind upon some particular object; (2) the persistent holding of the mind upon that object; and (3) the determined shutting-out of the mind (for the time being) of the perception of any other objects struggling for conscious recognition and attention.

It is an axiom of psychology that the degree of concentration or Attention is proportionate to the smallness of the field upon which it is directed. That is to say, the smaller the number of objects that we "pay attention to" at any one time, the greater the degree of Attention such objects will receive. Conversely, the greater the number of such objects, the less the degree. Again, if we concentrate upon a single, simple thing, our perceptive impressions concerning it will be quite distinct, intense, vivid and clear. The increase of the number or degree of complexity of this object results in less clear, less distinct, less intense impressions—unless we attend to it in detail, by mentally breaking it up into small parts, which also proves the rule.

The importance of Attention in the mental processes may be realized by the consideration of the following quotations from eminent psychologists:

"An act of Attention, that is an act of concentration, seems necessary to every exertion of consciousness, as a certain contraction of the pupil is requisite to every exertion of vision. Attention, then, is to consciousness what the contraction of the pupil is to sight; or to the eye of the mind what the microscope or telescope is to the bodily eye. Attention constitutes the better half of all intellectual power." "It is Attention, much more than any difference in the abstract power of reasoning, which constitutes the vast difference which exists between minds of different individuals." "The most important intellectual habit that I know of is the habit of attending exclusively to the matter in hand. It is commonly said that genius cannot be infused by education, yet this power of concentrated Attention, which belongs as a part of his gift to every great discoverer, is unquestionably capable of almost indefinite augmentation by resolute practice." "The force wherewith anything strikes the mind is generally in proportion to the degree of Attention bestowed upon it." "The more completely the mental energy can be brought into one focus, and all distracting objects excluded, by the act of Attention, the more powerful will be the volitional effort."

A leading psychologist has pointed out to his students a very important fact, and at the same time has given a very useful hint, when he says: "There is a constant struggle on the part of sensations to survive in consciousness. The sensation which we allow to take the most forcible hold on the Attention usually wins the day. If we sit by an open window in the country on a summer day, we may have many stimuli knocking at the gate of Attention: the ticking of a clock, the barking of dogs, the lowing of cows, the cries of children at play, the rustling of leaves, the songs of birds, the rumbling of wagons, etc. If Attention is centered upon any one of these, that one for the time being acquires the importance of a king upon the throne of our mental world. But none of these may sway our thoughts, for our Attention may be forcibly directed to some other object, which colors our conscious mental life. Hence it is of the utmost importance for our mental welfare to guard the gates of Attention. Some persons have the power of voluntary Attention developed in such slight degree, that it has been well said that they belong less to themselves than to any object that happens to strike their attention.

There are two phases of Attention: (1) reflex, and (2) voluntary attention. Reflex Attention is drawn from us by a nervous response to some stimulus. Voluntary Attention is given by us to some object of our own selection, and is accompanied by a peculiar sense of effort. Many persons scarcely get beyond the reflex stage. Any chance stimulus will take their attention away from their studies or their business.'' In what is called Reflex or Involuntary Attention, there is but a slight employment of the will, the process being almost automatic. The child, or person of uncultivated mentality, manifests this form of Attention almost exclusively. Such persons are attracted only by the passing, changing things of the moment, in which the Attention is caught by the outside stimulus easily and almost without the conscious action of the will. It is this form of Attention that we find in the case of children, the lower animals, and in persons of untrained intellect. Wave a stick in front of a dog, or a ball of worsted before a young cat, and the Attention is caught at once. In the same way, the Attention of the child or undeveloped adult is attracted by some similar trifling thing. Such forms of Attention are almost automatic, and belong to the general category of reflex actions of the nervous system, rather than to the class of voluntary actions of the mind. Attention of this class is accompanied by but a minimum of concentration, and an even less degree of detention in consciousness.

In Voluntary Attention, on the other hand, a distinct and deliberate effort of the will is employed, both in the focusing and in the detention in consciousness of the impression. In involuntary, or reflex Attention there is no selection of the object on our part, it being presented from the outside world to our nervous system. But in voluntary Attention we make a deliberate selection of the object to which we wish our mind to attend. Again, in involuntary Attention there is no sense of effort; while in voluntary Attention there is always a peculiar sense of effort, sometimes to a very marked degree. In involuntary Attention there is but a small degree of detention, and even the slightest new stimulus will draw away the Attention from the first object. In voluntary Attention, however, the will holds the Attention to the object before it, and often closes the door of the mind to even marked stimuli from the outside.

The actual experience of every reader of this book will furnish proof of the correctness of the distinction made above between the manifestation of involuntary, or reflex, Attention, and that of voluntary Attention, respectively. It will be found that when the Attention is not specially directed or concentrated upon any one thing, by means of a voluntary effort, the person is more or less conscious of a number of impressions pouring in upon the mind through the channel of the senses. One then sees a number of things, and hears as many more, and may even at the same time receive impressions through the respective senses of taste and smell, and sometimes even the sense of touch may assert itself at the same time. In such cases the Attention may dance backward and forward, here and there, with great rapidity, and the consciousness may receive many impressions with more or less distinctness.

But, let voluntary Attention once concentrate itself upon any given thing, or set of things, and a far different state of affairs if manifested. For instance, a person concentrating his attention upon an interesting book may fail to hear his name called by one of his family, or even to respond to a touch of the hand on the shoulder. He will not hear the doorbell ring, nor perceive the sound of the striking of the passing hour by the clock near to him. The enamored lover is often almost entirely oblivious of the persons and scenes around him, and recalls nothing of them afterward. His attention is concentrated keenly upon the beloved one, and to the rest of the world of impressions he is practically in a trance. Nearly everyone reading the above will be able to corroborate the statements made therein by reason of his or her own experience.

It is related of a well known philosopher that he was so busily occupied in writing one of his books that he failed to hear the voice of the bombardment of the college town by the guns of Napoleon's army; and that he became aware of the fact only when he was brought back to the consciousness of his immediate surroundings by a rough shake of the shoulder at the hands of a grenadier who had penetrated into his study. It is recorded in a number of cases that persons having become intensely interested in some one subject, or sight, have failed to feel pin-pricks or even more severe pain. The story is told of a well known American statesman that he once requested a fellow-congressman to stop him after he had spoken for two hours. But the statesman had been so deeply concentrated upon the subject of his speech, and the delivery thereof, that he failed to be aroused even when his friend repeatedly pricked him in the leg with the point of a pin. Soldiers in battle have failed to perceive pain, owing to their attention having been fixed on the object of the military movement in which they were engaged. Workmen closely interested in their work often fail to hear or see things which are occurring in their near vicinity. In the same way, one often falls into a reverie, or "brown study" in which the outside world is practically shut out. Criminals know that when a crowd is intently watching some interesting sight the persons composing the crowd are far less likely to detect the movements of the pickpockets.

As a rule, the greater the degree of voluntary Attention given to a special object, the greater will be the degree, and the variety, of conscious impressions from the general environment. The act of concentrated voluntary Attention also tends to magnify the power of the impressions received at the time. If the attention be voluntarily concentrated upon the ticking of a clock, or the dropping of water from a faucet, the sound will often become so intense as to be actually painful. A tiny itching of the skin will have a similar effect under the same circumstances. The buzzing of a mosquito may become maddening, unless the Attention is fixed upon some other object. Consequently, it follows that concentrated voluntary Attention will develop the power of any sense-impression to which it may be directed. In this way we manage to see small objects which were at first invisible to us; or to hear sounds which at first were indistinct. The principle is akin to that of the principle of focus in the sun-glass. It causes the full power of consciousness to be brought to a focal point, by concentrated voluntary Attention, and its power is seemingly magnified in this way.

The power of voluntary Attention varies greatly among different individuals. It may be greatly increased and developed by training and exercise, however. In fact, the difference between individuals in this respect seems to be almost entirely a matter of exercise, cultivation, and development. Many instances of remarkable development along these lines have been noted in the history of applied psychology. Some eminent authorities, as we have seen in the preceding pages, have gone so far as to say that a highly developed power of concentrated voluntary Attention is the key to much of that which we usually tail "genius"; or, at the least, that it enables its fortunate possessor to duplicate many of the achievements of genius. It is conceded by the best psychologists that voluntary Attention is one of the highest forms or phases of mental activity, and is found to be largely developed in the case of all men of great intellectual power. The same authorities tell us that imbeciles, and persons of weak intellectual powers, have little or no power of concentrated voluntary Attention. Voluntary Attention, that is Attention directed, concentrated, and maintained by a special act of the will, is the mark of the trained intellect, and is the badge of developed mental efficiency in any line of human endeavor. It is one of the special characteristics of the Master Mind.

A leading psychologist says: "The first step toward the development of the will lies in the exercise of Attention. There is a sense of conscious effort in voluntary Attention. This suffices to mark it off from the involuntary type. When there is a flash of lightning, we attend involuntarily; when we look into a microscope to discriminate between the atoms seen floating there, we put voluntary effort into our Attention. Ideas grow in distinctness and in motor power as we attend to them. If we take two ideas of the same intensity, and center the attention upon one, we shall notice how much it grows in power. Take the sensations from two aches in the body, and fix Attention upon the one. That idea will grow in motor power until we may act in a direction supposed to relieve that particular pain, while the other is comparatively neglected. If we, at the start, want several things in about an equal degree, whether a bicycle, a typewriter, or a encyclopedia, we shall end by wanting that one the most on which our attention has been most strongly centered. The bicycle idea may thus gain more motor power than either of the other two; or, if we keep thinking how useful a encyclopedia would be, action may tend in that direction. There is no dispute over the fact that voluntary Attention is the most important element in will. In order to act in the direction of one idea in preference, to another, we must dismiss the one and voluntarily attend to the other. The motor force thus developed in connection with the dominant idea lies at the foundation of every higher act of will."

The same authority also says: "When it is said that Attention will not take hold on an uninteresting object, we must not forget that anyone not shallow and fickle can soon discover something interesting in most objects. Here cultivated minds show their especial superiority, for the Attention which they are able to give generally ends in finding a pearl in the most uninteresting looking oyster. When an object necessarily loses interest from one point of view, such minds discover in it new attributes The essence of genius is to present an old thing in new ways, whether it be some force in nature or some aspect in humanity."

From what has been said concerning the nature and power of voluntary Attention, and from what will be said from time to time on the same subject as we proceed with our study of the general subject of the Master Mind in the pages of this book, the reader will see that the weapon of voluntary Attention is the most efficient in the collection of the mental weapons in the armory of the Master Mind. It is by means of the power of voluntary Attention that the Ego really brings into subjection and obedience the various faculties and forces of the mind, which without it often tend to become rebellious and disobedient.

The Ego, controlling the power of voluntary Attention is able not only to select the nature and character of his thoughts, and to cause his mind to think intelligently and efficiently, but it also is able to control the feelings and desires which serve as the usual motive of will-action. As we proceed, we shall see that the Ego is able to change the desire to act this way or that way into the desire to act some other way, and to set the activity of will flowing along the particular channels chosen freely by itself. As we have said elsewhere, the Ego, in such cases, is able to "will to will," instead of being carried along in the current of some "desire to will." The Ego is the King of His Throne—and Voluntary Attention is his Sword of Power.