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.
GIVEN a state of mental concentration,which of course involves "belief," and the belief upon which the powers of the mind are trained may relate to any subject, may be harmful or beneficial, may come from without or be prompted from within.
A whispered phrase addressed to one in a state of concentration of attention will induce him to act as you desire.
Child-training is almost wholly a matter of concentration of attention.
By precept and example we instil beliefs and impulses. The extent to which they take root depends upon the extent to which we have succeeded in so concentrating the attention of the child as to leave no room for the development of contrary and diverting tendencies. Thus are the seeds of character sown.
Most children are never taught to concentrate. Not until compelled by the pinch of necessity do they exercise the will in control of the attention. As children, under the guidance of others, they have no deep interest in anything; they scatter their energies; they never concentrate their minds.
Indeed, many parents are possessed of the foolish notion that sustained intellectual activity along one line would be harmful to the child - as if the concentration of all the mental energies upon one subject at a time involved any more or as much outlay of energy as the ceaseless flitting from one thing to another, the holding of numerous dimly lighted interests before the mind at the same time!
In consequence, the average child grows up "scatter-brained," without any training or ability in such thought concentration as involves the full utilization of subconscious memories and energies.
What can be done by a rational system of mind-training in children is evidenced by all the child " prodigies" in history. That James Watt was solving problems in geometry at the age of seven; that Alexander Pope was a master of literary style at sixteen; that Col-burn at the age of six could multiply four figures by four figures in nine seconds; that "Blind Tom" and "Marvelous Griffith" were respectively marvels of precocity in music and mathematics, does not prove that these men's minds were inherently better adapted to music, literature and mathematics than the mind of the ordinary person. Such men as Benjamin Franklin, Saf-ford, Ampere, Gauss and the Bidders, all infant prodigies who in later years became famous in many different fields, are evidence to the contrary.
Dr. Sidis, the noted psychologist, whose son recently entered Harvard at fourteen and astonished his teachers by his profound grasp of a variety of subjects, insists that his son is just an average boy whose interest and attention have been systematically trained.
As the years increase the susceptibility of the individual to the control of his attention by influences from without becomes less and less.
Experience in the competition and strife of life changes the mental disposition.
Men instinctively guard themselves against the lures of others by building up a protecting wall of mental inhibitions.
They become cautious, suspicious. All their past experience is an inhibitory influence causing them to instinctively distrust and repel ideas that are presented by others for acceptance and belief.
And yet the most incredulous and cynical of men still retains some degree of credulity. And the success of your effort to implant a desired belief in his mind depends upon the artifice with which your purpose is concealed, the skill with which your hook is baited.
A friend shows you two squares of equal size, one containing a large number, the other a small number. He asks you which is the larger square. If you are a person whose attention is easily controlled by others, your mind will seize upon the comparative sizes of the two numbers, and you will believe that the square containing the larger number is in reality the larger square.
Concentration of the other person's attention upon some irrelevant matter is the first aim of every sleight-of-hand performer. It is equally a prerequisite to the success of any man, however high his calling, who seeks to mold the opinions of those forearmed with distrust against him.
Every trial lawyer knows how much depends in cross-examination upon his ability to catch the witness off his guard. He will ask the witness if the number of persons present at the time referred to was four or five. If he has held the attention of the witness to the suggested numbers, the witness will decide for one or the other, although the number of persons present may actually have been six.
Obviously, the success of your effort to sway the belief and so to influence the will of another depends upon the momentary degree of equilibrium of his consciousness.
If his attention is a free and discriminating agent, the whole weight of his past experience may be massed either with or against the acceptance of the belief you suggest. And this weight of experience is an unknown quantity to you. You cannot foresee upon which side of the scale its influence will be felt.
If, on the other hand, you first soothe his consciousness into passivity, and then concentrate it upon the proffered thought, all his mental energies will be bent upon accepting and assimilating the desired belief.
There are two principal ways in which this concentrative process may be successfully employed:
(a) The first is by working to overcome inhibitions, to remove distrust, to allay fears.
(b) The second is by working to emphasize the goal to be won, dwelling upon its advantages, portraying it in ideal colors.
Each method has its advantages, and both should be used concurrently.
You have commonly assumed that as a conscious being you are a free agent, and that being ambitious of success in a given direction you can set out upon the path guided by such financial, economic and ethical principles as you may choose to adopt.
Alas, what a mess you make of it! Instead of pushing straight ahead toward your destination, you soon find yourself straying in a forest of distracting ideas, emotions, desires and impulses. The will-o'-the-wisp of temptation and desire calls to you on every hand.
Some there are who succeed in holding to a general direction. Most of us grope forever without star or compass among enticing interests that lure us from our purpose.
First of all, then, you must remove conflicting desires and emotions that have the effect upon your main purpose of repressions and inhibitions.
This would seem to involve introspection on a large scale. And much is said about the evils of introspection as productive of self-consciousness.
But there are two kinds of introspection. One is purposeless, idle, emotional and depressing. The other is purposive, a thoughtful study of one's self, made with a view to learning the facts, so that those tendencies needing correction may be corrected.
Through such self-investigation, you may scrutinize the obstacles in your own disposition and habits. You may learn to estimate them, without emotion and without self-reproach, at their true value as the manifestations of misdirected energy.
You may find undue fondness for certain pleasures. You may find wasteful habits of emotional excess. You may find moods and fears and undesirable feelings toward those about you.
You are very apt to find a morbid self-consciousness, a habit of comparing yourself with others, as if the great achievements of others somehow spelled the story of your own failure and incompetence.
All men experience reverses of fortune. Here and there is one who broods over his failures.
He keeps thinking about himself and his misfortunes until presently he has acquired an "ingrowing disposition."
Instead of releasing his concentrated energies upon an affirmative purpose, he holds them in leash under the spell of an inhibitory and negative idea.
Instead of courageously attacking this negative idea, he says, "Walk right in, Mr. Gloom, and let me have a look at you."
He recounts again and again the circumstances and sensations that attended at the birth of this idea. And the idea draws to itself a multitude of associations and grows into the huge proportions of a mighty mental complex.
Thoughts of discouragement, and thoughts deprecatory of your own self-mastery, never will pursue you unless you entertain them.
But every time you permit them to remain in your consciousness they take on new associations from the surrounding ideas and sensory images in which they find themselves.
And every new association added to the complex of inefficiency makes it so much the more readily recalled to consciousness at another time.
So it comes about that it is the man who lacks the spur of actual want, the man of comparative leisure, who is most apt to fondle ideas of hesitation and incompetency, of doubt and fear.
If introspection reveals these things to you, you will now realize that they are merely mental habits, merely mis-directed mental energies, and, looked at in a proper light, evidences of un-guessed power that, put to work, will lead you on to fortune.
And, having dragged the skeleton from its closet, you will perceive that failures and defects have no prescriptive right to bar your way to a larger measure of achievement.
You will loosen the clutch of the dead hand of self-depreciation. You will fix your thoughts upon a definite goal.
You will refuse to entertain ideas hostile to your purpose. You will quit thinking about yourself. You will banish all fear-thoughts. You will awake to the knowledge that you are supreme in your own mental kingdom.
And so, having taken the first step, having freed yourself from the impediment of useless baggage, you will take the second step, you will plunge into the fight.
For merely to inhibit certain unprofitable desires and emotions from conscious activity is not enough. Taken alone, it is impossible. There is within you a world of mental energy demanding outlet.
You must, therefore, have recourse to our second concentrative method - that is to say, you must substitute a new group of mental images or pictures in place of those on which unprofitable emotions thrive. You must substitute thoughts in harmony with your purpose.
Consciousness, as you have seen, is but a composite of memory images and their associates. You must see that these images are in harmony with your ideal.