Four Elements of Concentration
You’ll find, when it comes to concentration, there are four elements that help to define it. These are the:
The width of your attention has to do with the amount of information coming at you from all sources. That means that it can be a rather wide perspective, with a great deal of information directed at you, or simply a narrow perspective, where it’s just a limited amount, trying to get your attention. Being able to grasp a lot of information at the same time takes practice, and even more so to shift from a large amount to a small amount and back again. Learning to do this however, will help you to avoid the unimportant thoughts that everyone experiences all day every day, and really hone in on what’s important, to focus your thoughts.
The second component of attention is direction. This means how well you are able to filter information and events as they come at you. There are times when it’s just not possible to filter out all events changing around you. This too requires practice.
The third component, intensity, can vary from moment to moment. Concentration can go from very weak to incredibly intense, depending on the situation in which you find yourself. Again, it requires practice to go from weak attention to detail, to an intense, focused concentration.
Focus and Concentration
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The last component is the duration of your attention. It can go from brief to long, sustained intervals of time. Keep in mind that it’s not always possible to maintain long periods of intense, focused attention. In fact, the more intense the attention, the shorter the duration you can maintain it.
The length of a person’s attention span is on average between twenty and ninety minutes, depending of course, on the person’s interest in the subject at hand.
As early as 1890, William James had already formed a definition of attention. He said, “Everyone knows what attention is. It is taking possession by the mind, in clear and vivid form, of one out of what seems several simultaneously possible objects of trains of thought: focalization, concentration of consciousness are its essence. It implies withdrawal from some things in order to deal effectively with others.”
Since then, students, athletes, business men and women, psychologists, scientists, and researchers have used everything in their arsenals to increase their ability to focus their minds on the task at hand, whatever is relevant at that moment in time, to the exclusion of all else. Athletes, intent upon their sport, have to focus their mind and body, like a laser beam on the appropriate action, pushing everything else from their minds. Only by doing so will they win the game; no time to daydream here.
In sports, as with other endeavors, the play changes by the second and athletes must be focused on what they are doing, fully aware and ready to spring into action, change course, and win the game. Nothing else is acceptable. There is no room in the sports arena for daydreamers. Athletes call this ability to hone in with laser-like ability being ‘in the zone.’
Dr. Robert Nideffer, psychologist and founder of Enhanced Performance Systems has classified the two rudimentary categories of attention as internal and external. He describes internal attention as mentally projecting oneself into the proposed action, whatever problems might be encountered.
External attention is, of course, what is going on around oneself. An example would be a member of a team, being constantly aware of where his/her teammates are at any given moment, as well as those on the opposing team.
Athletes, probably better than anyone else, learn how to focus on the moment, to the exclusion of all else.
How are we able to focus on and deal with all the information coming at us at once? Research shows that we deal with this information on two levels. One is simply automatic; we grab onto it without consciously thinking about it. This generally happens when we are performing tasks that we have learned over time and can do almost by rote.
The second level we work at is called the controlled level. This is limited by the capacity of the brain to deal with all the information available to us. If we go beyond that capacity, our performance automatically declines. It is even possible to work on both levels at the same time, though of course, the automatic level works much faster than the controlled level.
The trick is to bring oneself to a state of awareness and energy, directed towards the desired goal. Some athletes or those involved in other types of contests might find themselves over-excited to the point of distraction. They experience nausea or nervousness, which naturally distracts them from their original focus.