The simple life with its single appeal is not for the business man. For him life is complex and strenuous. To overcome distractions and focus his mind on one thing is a large part of his task. If this single thing alone appealed to his attention, the effort would be pleasing and effective. It is not the work that is hard; the strain comes in keeping other things at bay while completing the pressing duty.
_He is exhausted, not because of his achievements, but because of the expenditure of energy in resisting distractions_.
He is inefficient, not through lack of industry, but from lack of opportunity or of ability to concentrate his energy upon the single task at hand.
All sources of illumination--from the candle to the sun--send out rays of light equally in all directions. If illumination of only _*one_ point is desired, the loss is appalling. The rays may be assembled, however, by reflectors and lenses and so brought to bear in great force at a single point.
This brilliancy is not secured by greater expenditure of energy, but by utilizing the rays which, except for the reflectors and lenses, would be dissipated in other directions.
_As any source gives off equally in all directions, so the human intellect seems designed to respond to all forms and sorts of appeal for attention_.
To keep light from going off in useless directions we use reflectors; to keep human energy from being expended in useless directions we must remove distractions. To focus the light at any point we use lenses; to focus our minds at any point we use concentration.
Concentration is a state secured by the mental activity called attention. To understand concentration we must first consider the more fundamental facts of attention.
In the evolution of the human race certain things have been so important for the individual and the race that responses towards them have become instinctive. They appeal to every individual and attract his attention without fail. Thus moving objects, loud sounds, sudden contrasts, and the like, were ordinarily portents of evil to primitive man, and his attention was drawn to them irresistibly. Even for us to pay attention to such objects requires no intention and no effort. Hence it is spoken of as _*passive_ or _*involuntary attention_.
The attention of animals and of children is practically confined to this passive form, while adults are by no means free from it. For instance, ideas and things to which I have no intention of turning my mind attract me. Ripe fruit, gesticulating men, beautiful women, approaching holidays, and scores of other things simply pop up in my mind and enthrall my attention. My mind may be so concentrated upon these things that I become oblivious to pressing responsibilities. In some
instances the concentration may be but momentary; in others there may result a day dream, a building of air castles, which lasts for a long time and recurs with distressing frequency.
_Such attention is action in the line of least resistance. Though it may suffice for the acts of animals and children it is sadly deficient for our complex business life_.
Even here, however, it is easy to relapse to the lower plane of activity and to respond to the appeal of the crier in the street, the inconvenience of the heat, the news of the ball game, or a pleasing reverie, or even to fall into a state of mental apathy. The warfare against these distractions is never wholly won. Banishing these allurements results in the concentration so essential for successfully handling business problems. The strain is not so much in solving the problems as in retaining the concentration of the mind.
When an effort of will enables us to overcome these distractions and apply our minds to the subject in hand, the strain soon repeats itself.
It frequently happens that this struggle is continuous--particularly when the distractions are unusual or our physical condition is below the normal. No effort of the will is able to hold our minds down to work for any length of time unless the task develops interest in itself.