Saturday, September 6, 2008

What's Concentration?

‘To be able to concentrate for a considerable time is essential to difficult achievements’, wrote Bertrand Russell. Yet, the inability to focus our thoughts is a serious, disconcerting problem, for many of us. William James called it the quality that denoted a genius. Sir Isaac Newton often forgot to eat when trying to solve a problem. The magical facility is concentration and the irony is the fact that when we are concentrating, we are oblivious to the fact that we are. It is at this level that inhibitions melt away, pleasure in the task overrides our self-consciousness. The Buddhists call it ‘the loss of self’. The Latin root means ‘centered’.
Concentration is that fragile ability that disappears during an emotional turbulence. When we concentrate, there is an increase in the frequency of brain waves, palms begin to sweat and the heart beat becomes more variable, slowing down in moments just prior to concentration. People say to concentrate we must relax, but the truth is that the earlier stages are characterized by a slight level of anxiety.
There are various factors that affect concentration. An introvert may focus better than a great personality. Moreover concentration is at its peak between the ages of 12 and 40. The afternoon is a slow time for everyone. We work best from mid-morning to mid-afternoon. Concentration spans are not endless. Ideally we need a five minutes break after thirty minutes of focused activity. Some people find it difficult to concentrate after a heavy meal as the digestive processes take over and the level of fat and sugar in the blood stream rises inducing lethargy. Hence balance is the key factor. The inability to concentrate is a symptom of depression. Seemingly unrelated factors such as loneliness, nervousness, perfectionism and worrying can short circuit concentration.
Learned and wise people feel that the strength to concentrate lies within us. This means we can reach our goals, solve problems, read difficult books, if we put aside outside considerations, not by force, but by accepting what is happening in our minds.


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