Highly concentrated attention is exactly what it says it is: It’s a highly focused, deeply intensive mental state of attention. It’s like the state you see your children go into when they are playing video games. It’s also highly explosive. It gives your personal productivity an instant kick. Highly concentrated attention is a powerful productivity thruster.
Highly concentrated attention is high-powered thinking that produces high-powered results. When your brain is in highly concentrated attention mode, or HCA for short, you can blow past obstacles and cut through a task with razor-beam precision. When you concentrate, your personal productivity elevates rapidly. You can accomplish twice as much in the same amount of time or accomplish the same amount in half the time, or a combination of the two. Either way, you can’t go wrong. There are no negative side effects of HCA, no supreme price to pay. Highly concentrated attention is available to you any time you desire it, just for the asking.
Highly productive people use HCA often. It’s one of the secrets of their success. You can learn to do the same. You can know exactly how to kick your brain into highly concentrated attention whenever you like. And here’s what’s going to happen to you as a result.
First, you’ll get great ideas and solutions. The two basic tools of productivity, the hammer and screwdriver of accomplishment, are ideas and solutions. Ideas that enable you to exploit opportunities, and solutions that enable you to get past obstacles. When you’re in HCA mode, you’re going to think of good ideas and solutions; they’ll just come to you. Not only will you have more tools than ever before, and thereby accomplish more, but you’ll dazzle others who marvel at your resourcefulness.
Secondly, you’ll have more free time. Since you’ll be accomplishing in less time, you’ll have time remaining for other enjoyable activities. It’s like creating extra time in each day.
Thirdly, you’ll treat yourself to one of life’s natural pleasures. The brainpower you devote to highly concentrated attention is not exhausting; it’s exhilarating, invigorating, refreshing. It’s the mental equivalent of a physical workout, beneficial and pleasurable all the way.
Fourthly, you’ll advance your career. Most people don’t concentrate very often. Most people are moderately productive, turning in average performances. But as you spend regular amounts of time in HCA mode, your productivity will surpass that of others. Before long you’ll look like a miracle worker. Whom do you think the company’s going to promote?
These four benefits, thinking of ideas and solutions, more free time, exhilarating mental workout, and career advancement all result from your use of highly concentrated attention. HCA mode is the mental equivalent of physical exercise. Just as the human body is designed to engage in limited amounts of physical exertion, the brain is designed to engage in limited amounts of mental exertion.
People who engage in either physical or mental exertion regularly do so because their brain has discovered the exertion turns out to be enjoyable. When you engage in HCA regularly, you’re retraining your brain to like it. You’re developing a taste for it. That’s why there are two extremes, the people who physically or mentally exert themselves regularly, who have trained their brains to enjoy it, even crave it, and the people who avoid any physical or mental exertion, who have never gotten past their brain’s initial resistance to it.
When you first try to concentrate on something, you may find your attention wandering. You may find yourself gravitating toward other less mentally taxing activities. That’s your brain resisting HCA mode. Don’t let it happen. Force yourself to concentrate. Get past your brain’s gravitational pull. Once you do that, concentration becomes enjoyable. And your brain will gradually cease objecting to it.
Three Keys to the Highly Concentrated State
Here are the three key steps to getting yourself into highly concentrated attention whenever you desire. Step one, reduce distractions. Either alter your anything-can-happen (ACH) environment by turning off the phone, the television, or whatever distracts you, or leave your ACH environment for a more secluded spot. Notice this step calls for you to reduce distractions, not eliminate them. If you believe you must eliminate all distractions, you’ll end up concentrating more on the distractions than on your intended subject. On a remote island with nothing but you and nature, the birds or wind will become a distraction if you think you have to eliminate it. Incidentally, if you work in a hectic, distraction-rich environment that you can’t alter, you can still concentrate. I’m going to give you the secret to that in a few minutes.
Step two, allocate special time for HCA mode. It’s much easier to get into HCA mode if you dedicate special time for it. Time when you’re not doing anything else. Coming into work an hour or two early before everyone else shows up and the phone starts ringing is a great idea. You’ll probably get more done during that period than in the eight hours that follow.
Next, choose either step 3A or 3B. Here’s 3A: Put the object of your attention into motion. Motion commands attention. That’s how video games suck you into HCA mode so quickly. There’s constant motion on the screen with multiple things happening in rapid succession. If whatever you’re trying to concentrate on is moving, like a person walking by, a movie, an airborne baseball, or an assembly line, you’re in luck. But what if the object is inherently stationary, like a book? Then you should be moving. Move your eyes rapidly across the words. You’re not trying to speed read; you’re just warming up, getting yourself into HCA mode.
Motion doesn’t always involve sight. Sounds can be put into motion, too. Which is easier for children to remember, a random string of words or a nursery rhyme? When the words are in motion, like a poem or song, they attract deeper attention.
Step 3B, choose this step if the object of your desired attention isn’t something you can see or hear. Step 3B is, engage in physical movement. Sometimes you want to concentrate on thoughts. You want to contemplate the future or think about a relationship or come up with an idea or solution. To concentrate on something you can’t see, hear, or touch, put yourself into motion. I know a guy who races dirt bikes as a means of getting himself into HCA mode and making decisions. President Reagan said back when he was president he’d often go horseback riding to concentrate on difficult decisions he had to make. I often walk through the park or drive to nowhere to get myself into HCA mode.
Have you ever driven past your intended freeway exit and not realized that until later? You were probably in HCA mode, though it wasn’t your driving that you were concentrating on. You know, at the office I’ll start walking back and forth or in circles to get myself into HCA mode. It looks a little strange, but it does work.
What if you’re required to concentrate even though your environment is hectic and full of distractions? You can still concentrate no matter what’s going on. Here are three auxiliary steps to take in addition to those we just covered that will allow you to get into HCA mode in an ACH environment.
Auxiliary step one, keep your eyes focused on one small object. Air traffic controllers, for example, focus on that radar screen for the duration of their shift, rarely taking their eyes off it. Surgeons wear magnifying glasses and focus on one specific thing at a time.
Jerry Rice, the record-setting wide receiver for the San Francisco ’49ers, used to stare at the ball while it was sailing through the air. In fact, in one interview, he said he actually stares at the tip of the ball, an even smaller object. You can’t find a louder, faster, more hectic environment than a football game. But Jerry said while he’s running down the field, staring at the tip of the ball, he can’t hear the crowd; he can’t hear the footsteps. He tunes it all out. That’s HCA mode all right, and you can see how that aided Jerry’s productivity.
Auxiliary step two, create a wall of sound. Sounds will distract you if they’re erratic, like when it’s quiet for a minute or so and someone sneaks up behind you and says, “Hey!” But if the sounds are steady, rather than erratic, like the crowd at a baseball, basketball, or football game, you can tune them out. The steady drone of a particular sound can become a wall of sound that transforms itself into non-distractive background sound.
Ironically, you can reduce the distractiveness of sound by adding to the sound. Turning on the radio at work, for example, creates a steady wall of sound that negates sound distractions. Leaving the television on for long lengths of time turns it into wallpaper video, meaning it becomes background and negates other distractions that might appear erratically.
Auxiliary step three, become acclimated to your ACH environment. With people talking, phones ringing, and interruptions interrupting, is it any wonder you get any work done at all, right? You may quickly conclude that you just can’t concentrate in such a hectic environment. That conclusion, while understandable, may be incorrect. You can concentrate in an ACH environment if you give yourself time to acclimate to it.
I did just that back in the mid ’70s when I was a newscaster and a copywriter at a radio station. I had to write the commercials, and I had to concentrate to do that. I had no choice but to force myself to concentrate, despite the hectic environment. Before long, I got used to it, and writing in that ACH environment became easy. I ran into a guy about a year ago who told me he goes to a local restaurant on Sunday afternoons when it’s crowded and noisy to concentrate on things. He learned to concentrate in an ACH environment and became hooked on it. He actually found the people, the noise, the interruptions mentally stimulating. This happens to many people who learn—and it is a learned behavior—how to thrive on a hectic environment and be productive not in spite of it but because of it.
Force yourself to concentrate even when things are hectic and distractive. Don’t say, “I can’t concentrate in here. There’s too much noise.” In time you will acclimate, and you will get into HCA mode at will. And you’ll double your productivity regardless of the distractions.