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.
CONCENTRATION, Speaking generally, is defined as "the act of bringing together at one center or focus." Mental concentration is therefore a focusing of the mind upon one object or point.
There is nothing abnormal about the sort of concentration to which we refer. Your individual character or personality is made up simply of the progressive results of your trained habits of concentration of attention. Every conviction that you have on any subject, from religion to politics, is the outgrowth of the ways in which you have concentrated your attention.
Every conviction thus acquired is wrapped up and stowed away in some thought complex of the past. It is a part of your personality. It will resist, with all the might of its innate energy, the establishment in your mind of any contrary beliefs.
The admonitions of a mother may be so implanted in the mind of her boy that all contrary leanings and impulses will be inhibited. No amount of argument will dispel the faith that religion has fixed in the mind of the true convert. Only the strongest evidence will overcome a man's confidence in the character of an accused friend.
Life is made up of experiences. And the influence of every experience upon your conduct and character depends upon the degree of concentration of attention with which it is received.
And so every idea in memory has a tendency to direct the mind toward those things that are associated with it in time or place or otherwise, and the extent of its influence depends upon its vividness. Every soft inflection in the well-remembered voice of one you love has a tendency to concentrate the activities of your consciousness upon those things that are associated with the object of your affections. Every advertisement, every shop-window display, every prospectus, every business man's artifice, every salesman's lure, depends for its effectiveness upon the extent of its concentrating influence, the extent to which it is able to bring about a concentration of attention in those to whom it is addressed.
The mere presence of an idea in consciousness is not concentration. If you suggest to one that a white mist floating across a darkening meadow is a wraith, the idea will be momentarily active in his consciousness, and yet you may have simply succeeded in directing his ordinary attention to an abstract conception. But if he is a believer in spirits and comes away shaken with terror and convinced that he has actually seen a ghost, then there has been a concentration of his consciousness in a scientific sense.
Not every idea presented to consciousness constitutes belief or results in action. In the first instance, the thought of the "ghost" was active in the man's mind, but other conflicting ideas and impulses were simultaneously present denying its reality. In the second instance, however, his consciousness was given over wholly to the idea of a "ghost" that you presented to him. There were present no inhibitory ideas and impulses. He accepted the thought and believed in the reality of it, and, giving free rein to his impulses, he acted accordingly.
Concentration technically interpreted necessarily implies, then, belief in the idea that is the subject of concentration. And this belief releases the impulses for appropriate muscular response.
How, then, shall we define concentration? Simply thus: Concentration is such a focusing of consciousness upon an idea that if complete it will overcome all conflicting ideas and will result in a belief that will control conduct.
When we say "complete," we mean that the idea in question must hold undisputed sway in consciousness. When this occurs, the idea will be so assimilated as to become incorporated as a part of the personality. You accept it as truth. You believe in it. This belief becomes an element of your personality. It is "your own."
And so it comes about that efficient concentration necessarily results in belief coupled with such muscular activity as accords with or tends to bring about the realization of that belief. An overmastering conviction and an efficient will are therefore the immediate results of complete concentration.
Concentration will be of value to you in two ways:
1. It will give you a minute and specialized knowledge of things and make you an expert in your line.
It is related of Agassiz that he used to lock a student up in a room day after day with a turtle's head and not release him until he had learned everything there was to know about it. Some achieved this happy result after months of lonely contemplation. Others never did succeed. The successful ones had formed the habit of concentration. They deserved the title of "naturalist" for which Agassiz was fitting them. The unsuccessful ones were forever "blotted from the book of honor and of life."
Learn, then, to concentrate, for without it you can pretend to no real knowledge of anything. This is an age of specialists, and the essence of specialization is the acquiring of a minute knowledge of one thing.
Few people realize the immense part that the quality of thoroughness plays in the life of the successful man. The man of millions has generally earned every dollar of his money by doing everything he undertook just a little better than the next man.
The average man is superficial. His motto is, "To seem, not to be." He is willing to "let well enough alone," and has a very modest conception of what "well enough" is. His competitor needs only a little of the leaven of thoroughness to outstrip him.
What you do today is but practice for what you are going to do tomorrow, and if you do whatever you undertake as if your life depended on the issue your capabilities for greater things will grow in proportion.
The fact is that thoroughness is the distinguishing trait of the super-man. And the secret of thoroughness is mental concentration.
II. (And this point is much the more important of the two.) Concentration, whether you will or no, will necessarily result in your driving ahead with all your energy in pursuit of a given end until your point is gained.