“A man is a fool not to put everything he has, at any given moment, into what he is creating.” -Frank Herbert
I write in order to develop my powers of concentration.
Of course, each moment we’re alive presents us with an opportunity to practice developing our concentration and our ability to focus— every bite of every meal, every word of every conversation, every motion in every household chore or bit of yard work, every email written and read, every commute. Everything.
For me, it matters because I’m never happier than when I’m in a state of flow, and writing is one way I’m able to intentionally enter flow. Wikipedia explains flow as “The mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. It is a single-minded immersion and represents perhaps the ultimate experience in harnessing the emotions in the service of performing and learning.”
Wikipedia goes on to say, “In flow, the emotions are not just contained and channeled, but positive, energized, and aligned with the task at hand. To be caught in the ennui of depression or the agitation of anxiety is to be barred from flow. The hallmark of flow is a feeling of spontaneous joy, even rapture, while performing a task. Flow is also described as a deep focus on nothing but the activity – not even oneself or one’s emotions.”
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi wrote a book about the flow state, appropriately titled Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. In it, he writes, “Contrary to what we usually believe … the best moments in our lives, are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times—although such experiences can also be enjoyable, if we have worked hard to attain them. The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.
He goes on to say, “Optimal experience is thus something that we make happen. For a child, it could be placing with trembling fingers the last block on a tower she has built, higher than any she has built so far; for a swimmer, it could be trying to beat his own record; for a violinist, mastering an intricate musical passage. For each person there are thousands of opportunities, challenges to expand ourselves.”
Another reason to consciously develop powers of concentration is that the ability to focus is very often foundational to success. Last year I completed a training with Jack Canfield in which he shared with me that during his research for the book The Power of Focus, he and his writing partners interviewed more than 2,000 successful entrepreneurs in order to find out what made them successful.
Almost without exception, Jack and his partners found, every successful entrepreneur possesses three attributes: 1) a high degree of clarity about what they want to accomplish; 2) powerful success habits (in the form of daily routines and disciplines); 3) a high degree of focus, or concentration.
My dad certainly possessed all three of these attributes. If he was in a meeting or on a phone call, especially if he was doing a mathematical calculation in his head, it was nearly impossible to distract him. I do remember him sometimes becoming irritated by background noise, or kids playing loudly outside (of whom I was often one).
If the sound of my playing managed to penetrate his concentration he would tell me to play somewhere else or simply to be quiet, and then he would go back to concentrating. His level of concentration was extraordinary, and it was a big part of what made him successful.
For me, understanding that we can develop our ability to concentrate feels a bit like “cracking the code” of success. I mean, it’s easy to look at people who are extraordinarily successful and simply attribute their success to natural talent, sheer luck or hard work. And in many cases, of course, all three of those things are true, but it’s also true that many of those phenomenally successful people have a great capacity for concentration that they have developed consciously or otherwise. And we can do the same.
But concentration matters for another reason too. The spiritual teacher Yogananda writes, “To be able to concentrate is essential for spiritual progress; without concentration you shall never find God.”
For me, each writing session provides an opportunity to consciously slow down and deliberately attempt to fully experience the present. I endeavor to carry this mindfulness into every aspect of my life, and those ephemeral moments when I succeed in this effort are always gratifying.
It’s not always easy, but it’s a challenge worthy of a lifetime of effort. This, I think, is what author Frank Herbert recognized when he wrote the words I opened with: “A man is a fool not to put everything he has, at any given moment, into what he is creating.”
After all, our only point of power exists in the present.