The Focusing of Mental Energy
“Mastering others is strength. Mastering yourself is true power.” – Lao Tzu
Just like you can focus the sun to start a fire using a simple lens, you can focus your creative energies to accomplish amazing things through the lens of mental concentration. Without the power of mental focus, your creative efforts will remain diffused, and will lack the power to create the outcomes you intend.
Motivation, attention, and willpower operate on a spectrum. One end is very broad like the wide beam of a flashlight. The other end is very narrow like the beam of a laser. Both the flashlight and laser can operate with the same amount of energy, but the difference is in how focused or not the light is. The same goes for your mind. Most people can only operate in the general flashlight mode of willpower & concentration, yet most tasks that lead to success are solely in the domain of laser focus.
I’m not the first to think of mental energies like this. Way back in the early 1900’s there was a man, William Walker Atkinson, who wrote 100+ books in the last 30 years of his life. He wrote a book called, “The Power of Concentration” in 1918 under the pen name, Theron Q. Dumont.
He talks about the importance of concentration, what blocks it, how it connects everyone, and he even lays out 19 practical exercises to strengthen concentration just like you’d strengthen a physical muscle to improve its effectiveness. I’m including a couple of them here and sharing them through the filter of badass mindfulness.
Exercise 1: Sit Down & Shut Up
Just sit there. Don’t move. See how still you can be for just 5 minutes. It’s going to feel like an eternity and that’s the point; this is an exercise that shows you how fidgety you really are. When you’re able to sit as still as a statue for 5 minutes, go for 10 and then 15.
Exercise 2: Raise A Glass
Take a small glass of water and hold it straight out in front of you. See if you can hold it perfectly still; the water will easily show any movement you might have. Try it for a minute with one hand, and then switch to the other. Start with one minute, and work your way up to five.
Exercise 3: Noise Reduction
Most people aren’t aware of how their body moves in space. Think about how many people bounce their leg without thinking about it; don’t be that person. That is a mindless use of energy, and it demonstrates a lack of awareness. Don’t be twitchy. Learn to only move that which is necessary, and only as much as is necessary. This physical efficiency is the result of conscious intent and concentration. Reduce the physical noise from your movements.
Exercise 4: Deliberate Fists
Sit at a table and make fists with your hands. Lay them back down on the table in front of you. Starting with the thumb of one hand, slowly extend it until it lays flat on the table top. Then slowly extend the index finger until it too is on the table. When one hand is completely open, start with the thumb of the other hand. When both hands are open flat on the table, reverse the process until you have 2 fists on the table again. Be as slow and deliberate as you can be. When you think you’re going too slow, go slower. You’ll be amazed at how much focus this requires.
Exercise 5: Finger Focus
While sitting in a chair, rest your hands comfortably in your lap. Make a fist with both hands, and then extend the index finger of one hand. Look at the tip of that finger and slowly move just the finger. Keep your attention locked on your moving finger. Notice how quickly your minds wants to think about something “more interesting.” That’s exactly the point. When you can choose to keep your mind focused on the finger, you are learning to control your mind instead of it controlling you. Think of the tip of your finger as the most important thing you want to achieve in your life. Do not let anything distract you from concentrating on it. You’re practicing this simple exercise so you can bring this same skill to the bigger moments in your life.
Exercise 6: The Eyes Have It
Stand in front of a mirror and draw two eyes on it using a dry erase marker. If you’re like I was, you’ll have trouble looking yourself in the eye because of how self conscious you are. Be aware of that embarrassment, and stare anyway. Stand tall with your shoulders back and relaxed. Get comfortable meeting your own gaze, and with the eyes on the mirror. Think about being happy to see the person in the mirror. Think about how trustworthy and reliable the person in the mirror appears. Notice how that feels in your own body, and learn to be comfortable with it. That way when you’re out in the world, you’ll know to tell if you’re presenting your best self.
Exercise 7: Controlling Desire
This is one I used to do in high school. I had a couple penpals, and looked forward to seeing an envelope addressed to me arrive in the mailbox. I’d be excited to open it right away which is exactly why I wouldn’t. I’d put the envelope on the table and wait. How long? However long it took for my impulse to open it went away. Only after I no longer felt compelled to open it would I allow myself to slowly and deliberately do so. You can practice doing the same thing. Whatever you feel the need to do right now, don’t do it. Wait for the impulse to pass away fully, then choose to act.
Exercise 8: Executive Summary
Whenever you read something, talk with someone, or have some kind of interaction, get in the habit of writing down the 2 or 3 main points you heard. Actually take the time to write them down. When you physically write something, it helps encode the information into your body in a way that typing on your phone or computer can’t do. Knowing you’re going to write down the executive summary later helps you stay present during the exchange, and maintain focus on what you’re talking about.
Well, there you have it; 8 exercises that all will strengthen your concentration. They may feel silly at first, and you’ll probably be too embarrassed to try them around people, but once you get in the habit of doing at least one or two of these you’ll probably never go back. Train your mind, and it will serve you well.