This section is from the book "Applications of Psychology to the Problems of Personal and Business Efficiency", by Warren Hilton. Also available from Amazon: Psychology and Achievement - Applied Psychology 12 Volume Set.
YOUR attention is like the shutter of a camera. It may be opened wide to admit the light from all directions, or it may be narrowed to a tiny crevice, so that all that reaches the sensitive plate of your consciousness is a single favored ray. Its range is from zero to one hundred, from perfect indifference to perfect concentration.
There are times when, in a listless lethargy, you float aimlessly with the current of life. At such times your eyes are fixed on vacancy; the hum and bustle of the world melt into a dim confusion; even your own body seems to be far away, and you passively surrender yourself to "the empty passing of time."
Then, again, there are times when you follow a train of thought so intellectually exciting, so fascinating in itself, that you become wrapped in a deep absorption in which you are immune not only to ordinary sensations, but even to pain.
These two states of consciousness may seem to you to be diametric extremes, so far as concentration is concerned. At first thought you would say that the one exemplified the least degree of concentration, and the other the most pronounced. And, in a sense, this is true.
Yet, in another sense, the two states are closely related. Both are characterized by a very general bottling-up of mental forces. In the first, there is a peculiar and almost complete and indiscriminate restraint of all ideas and impulses. In the second, all ideas and impulses are restrained excepting those embodied in the one absorbing train of thought. In the former, you are "thinking of nothing"; in the latter, you are thinking of one thing with all the mental energy that you possess and to the exclusion of all else.
Both these states of mind are as far removed as possible from that voluntary forced attention which is the resuit of a distinctly felt effort of the will and never lasts more than a few seconds at a time, and also from that other extreme, particularly characteristic of childhood, in which you allow your thoughts to wander here and there at the call of every association that incoming sensory stimuli may arouse.
Comparative concentration is therefore all a matter of emphasis, and ranges with varying degrees of focusing of consciousness from those states of reverie in which nothing is emphasized to those states of purposive thinking in which you concentrate the emphasis of your greatest mental energy upon one subject of thought.
We have elsewhere pointed out that when you concentrate your attention you not only reserve the spot-light of your consciousness for the subject of attention, but you also so arrange your mental forces that all opposing impulses of consciousness are inhibited and your mind and judgment are left free for the consideration of the one subject upon which your attention is concentrated.
It follows, therefore, that the readiness with which your consciousness accepts belief in a given idea depends upon the extent to which contrary impulses are inhibited. In other words, your mental receptivity in respect to one belief is in direct proportion to your mental passivity in respect to all opposing beliefs.
Consequently, and this is of vital importance, a state of general passivity or inactivity of consciousness carries with it an increased credulity, an increased susceptibility to suggested beliefs.
Experiment shows this to be a fact. Any arrangement that produces monotony, and so tends to bring about unconsciousness, has a tendency also, and for that very reason, to produce a condition of increased susceptibility to belief. Emotional excitement subsides, memory becomes more random and diffused, consciousness becomes more vague, activity gives way to passivity, and proffered ideas meet with little or no resistance.
Obviously, if you want to inspire yourself or others with the belief that a certain fact now is or at some future time will be, and to produce at the same time those bodily activities that in themselves tend to work the realization of that belief, then the first step is to bring about just such a passive condition of mind as we have been describing, one in which, as we have just said, "proffered ideas meet with little or no resistance"
For this reason conditions of mental abstraction, such as reverie or such as that half-waking transitional state that precedes sleep, are conditions of great susceptibility to conviction. They are conditions in which consciousness fluctuates from one moment to the next. Now it sinks deep and is merged in subconsciousness; now it rises and mounts to the level of active consciousness. Experiences long past and forgotten drift into view, fresh, living and realistic.
This means simply that in the absence of any special activity, or, in other words, in the presence of a general inhibition of mental activities, it is readily possible to focus the entire attention upon belief in a given idea. The suggested belief, finding the citadel undefended and meeting with no resistance, takes possession and becomes a permanent part of the mental make-up.