Have you ever wished you could point your attention to any task or train of thought and just have it stay on it, until the job was done? If you’re prone to distractions and low mental stamina, this video will show you how to cultivate the kind of concentration that you can sustain as long as you need to without strain and fatigue.
Hi, I'm Lorenzo Durand from StrongMinder. This is the first video on my channel, and the reason I chose to start a self-development channel with this particular subject is because I think concentration is the weak link in many a chain when it comes to mental performance, and therefore, improving your attention skills can bring better results relatively quickly in almost any field.
Deliberately directing your attention is what I call a “a core ability”, by which I mean a simple, basic, essential mental faculty that enables and boosts all others.
There are a few of these central abilities by which all others are influenced, two others are impulse control and self-motivation, for example, but concentration is perhaps the core ability. When you improve your ability to focus and especially to sustain focus effortlessly, that tends to raise your performance almost universally.
In other words, concentration is a universal enhancer.
It makes you more efficient, more relaxed, and more confident in your abilities, because your action is indeed more effective. When you act and think with true focus, you feel whole, unified, “connected”.
The flip side of course is that lacking focus will severely hamper your performance, again, almost universally. Talent and intelligence are no substitute for focus. A quick mind that moves without purpose and consistency will struggle to accomplish things that a relatively slower, but very focused mind will accomplish easily.
In short, concentration is not just useful, it’s foundational. If you’re serious about improving yourself and your life, you just can’t do without, and if you already have decent attention skills, improving them further will pay great dividends.
If you’re new to strongminding, concentration is probably the best place to start.
Practice the techniques and drills I will show you, consistently, and you will soon be able to work better, longer, faster, avoid fatigue and mental strain. You will be and feel more capable, more in control and, in a way, more alive.
This topic can’t be explored properly in a single video, so this is just the first in a series of videos I will publish on the subject of increasing your concentration powers.
The principles I'm going to illustrate are universally valid; the exercises, however, are part of a specific training process. Each of them is helpful in and of itself, but it's stacking them on top of each other that will bring you to a whole different level.
I will first explain each principle and exercise in detail, and then we will put it all together in a final video. For best results, I recommend you watch the whole series first, and then come back for a second round where you actually start practicing the exercises.
You can also find the notes for every video in the linked post on my website. If you have any questions, please post them in the comments on the blog.
And if you really like what you see here and want to go the whole way, I recommend you go to my website and check out The Focus Blueprint. This is a rapid training program I designed for busy people who want the benefits of strong, effortless concentration but can’t follow a rigorous, time-consuming meditation regimen.
Ok, enough with the preambles, let's get into it.
First off, we need to talk about excess tension and how it relates to attention splitting, which in a sense is the opposite of concentration.
If you ever told yourself to "concentrate more", you were most likely doing it from the standpoint of "I need to make more of an effort", "I need to work harder".
Unfortunately, essentially the exact opposite is true.
In order to generate sustained focus, you will need to work "softer", or more softly, rather than "harder".
Here's what I mean.
If I ask you to think of someone who is concentrating on demanding, complex tasks, you will probably visualize intent, frowning expressions, with a tense or even an anxious stare or posture.
This is the concept of concentration that is prevalent in our culture.
Look at these two. Which one would you say is “concentrating”?
Look at her. If I show you the same woman in two other pictures, she doesn’t really look like she is “concentrating” as she is in the first one, does she? Even though, when you think about it, her attention may, in fact, be more exclusive while painting or chatting with a friend than in the first picture, where she seems to be struggling with a problem she would rather not have to deal with.
A part of her is definitely pulling her away from the task in front of her.
Still, most of us would describe these as more focused, and that’s because we associate this act of directing our attention on a single task for longer periods of time with a forceful imposition on certain parts or aspects of our mind.
Concentrating, and most importantly, staying concentrated is something that runs against immediate needs and wishes, “I want to have fun, I want to play, I want to seek pleasure, and I want to solve this other problem now”. So in our perception, typically, concentrating on the present task exclusively until the job is done requires us to say NO to all of these, it requires self-discipline, which is to say, on some level, pain tolerance.
There is actually another, better and easier way we can take to exclude the interfering objects from our consciousness, but it’s not the way we take instinctively, unfortunately.
The way we instinctively try to solve this problem of being pulled away from our target by our momentary whims is by trying to lock down the object or task we want to focus on and keep a firm grip on it.
When the mind inevitably wanders away towards some other more attractive or seemingly urgent stimulus, we jerk it back, always with the intention to "keep it in place", keep it still.
This typically results in a cycle that starts with mentally clutching the task, which leads us to tire quickly, which leads to a forced release and then to the mind wandering, at which point we jerk it back to the task and start "crushing" it again in this hopeless grip.
This is, of course, exhausting, wasteful, and largely ineffective.
It's a bit like trying to improve your aim by gripping the weapon tight with all your strength. That seems to be an instinctive thing people do when they don't know better. And, yes, you may get better results than if you let the weapon rest too loosely in your hands, or let the mind wander about freely, but it's still essentially ineffective.
That's because mental strain, and excess tension in general, leads to confusion, irritability and early fatigue.
What you have to realize is that excess tension will make it much harder to operate your mind skillfully. And I’m not just talking about concentration here. This is universally true. Just like a tense body, a tense mind moves with difficulty and tires quickly.
So if you want to concentrate effectively, trying to hold on tight to a task is not the way to go.
In fact, the most effective way to focus is almost the opposite of that.
What you need to do is aim your attention in the desired direction, and then simply relax your mental grip on anything that is not the object of focus. The result will be a clearer, calmer, naturally focused, much more sustainable state of mind.
This is very simple to describe and understand, and it also happens naturally when your attention is drawn into an engaging experience spontaneously, but it’s not necessarily easy to do at will unless you train for it.
Now, let's see how this works more up close, and how you can begin to practice it.
Excess tension in this case is linked to a subconscious attempt to focus on several things at once, to the unwillingness to let things go.
There are always various kinds of stimuli, both inner and outer, competing for our attention: needs, desires, fear and anxiety about the future, anger about events past and present, current problems demanding to be addressed, notifications, imaginary conversations…especially if you have any kind of management responsibilities, whether you work alone or in a team, you may feel like you always have a hundred of these little bastards tugging at you from all sides, demanding to be THE center of your attention, if only for a few seconds.
Unfortunately, our response to this is typically a subcoscious attempt to focus on all of them. Which is of course impossible. The very definition of concentrating is to focus all one's attention on one particular object or activity.
Trying to be in many places at once, so to speak, will simply paralyze you: it will scatter and cloud your mind.
And given the modern lifestyle, this can easily become the baseline from which one operates: a state of mind that is tense, scattered, and aimless.
Now, unless we have been taught otherwise, what we instinctively do when we wish to overcome this state and operate more effectively, when we mean to "concentrate" is try to force our energy and attention towards the given object or task.
Look at that frown again. Look at that body language, the muscles on her skull and forehead “pulling in” and holding on tight. And think of how the need to concentrate for longer than a few minutes in your life and work is typically associated with feelings of irritation, annoyance, even anger and, essentially, insecurity.
Working like this is both exhausting and precarious, because it traps you in a vicious circle: the more you tense up by trying “harder”, the more the mind tries to extricate itself from that dysfunctional state by wandering away, the more you feel like you’re failing, the more you compensate by tensing up even more, until burnout forces you take a break.
This is workable to a point, but extremely inefficient, and therefore draining.
Also, unsurpringly, the mind does not like this approach. It does not like being forced in this way, which means that parts of it will resist your efforts and work against you.
What the mind likes, and what we need to foster, is a state of active relaxation, or relaxed activity, a state where the tension we generate is no more and no less than the exact amount required to execute the present task.
I’ll say it again because it’s important: the ideal state is one where the energy you put in your actions is no more and no less than what is needed to complete them. Maximal efficiency coincides with maximal effectiveness.
And here is how we cultivate this relaxed focus.
Instead of pushing and pulling and grabbing and clutching, you have to let go of all these scattered points of interest, and gently intend your attention to slide in towards the object or activity.
Imagine you are looking through a funnel from above, a funnel that was put in a freezer when it was still wet. The droplets of water are frozen solid on the funnel's inside, and that's your usual tense, splintered state.
When you relax, you warm up the funnel, and the ice starts to melt down, the drops of water sliding towards the hole in the center, towards the task, in a natural, easy way.
Now don’t go and visualize an actual funnel, that would only be another competing task pulling your attention away from the target; it's just an image I'm using to help you understand how this works and, most importantly, to help you connect with the right feelings, both in your body and your mind.
You can use other images as well. You can, for example, imitate the feelings you get when you are in the presence of multiple people talking at the same time, and you start focusing on one particular conversation. The dialogue becomes clearer while the meaning of the other sounds in your field of consciousness becomes blurred, and the other conversations appear only as background chatter.
A similar thing happens when you are watching an engaging movie for the first time, or reading an exciting mystery novel. You point your attention towards a certain object or process and you get "sucked into it"; the object of interest becomes more vivid, while the rest of your inner and outer environment is blurred out. The object almost seems to grow bigger inside your field of consciousness, and push everything else out into the subconscious level.
We experience this as oblivion: our field of consciousness has a limited capacity, and everything that is not within it right this moment, is forgotten. This is what we look for in entertainment, something to help us forget about our troubles and worries.
So in a way, concentration is the art of deliberate oblivion: being able to focus at will is being able to decide what to be conscious of, and what to forget, what to exclude from your field of consciousness.
These are the sensations, the subtle inner events you have to look for, and learn to generate at will.
From the periphery, your attention slides into the center. The central object or task becomes clearer and bigger, or louder, or more vivid, while the peripheral objects become blurred and smaller, or quiet, or greyed out. Depending on your sensory type, some of these images or comparisons may work better than others.
The basic concept remains the same: you point your mind, your attention, to a given object or task, and you make it exclusive, meaning, you let go of any competing objects that may linger on the periphery. I sometimes call this “funneling” because this image connects me personally with the feeling of naturally flowing towards a central point, but a more technically correct term for the wider concept would be “centralizing”, and “centralization”. In any case, the general idea is simply to let go towards the task you intend to focus on, to let yourself slide into it.
This doesn't require any effort. On the contrary, the key is, once again, letting go of the paralyzing, futile efforts you are applying subconsciously.
To get the hang of this, start with putting the sensations of your breath at the center.
Breathing fully, slowly and deeply will help relaxed focus greatly, and using the breath as a focus point allows us to practice on something more tangible and consistent than studying for an exam or writing an essay or the like.
So this is how we start.
1) Direct your attention to the subtle sensations of the air flowing in and out of your nostrils. Do not try to hold your mind still, just direct your awareness towards the breath.
2) Let everything else go. Relax your grip on anything that is not the sensations around your nostrils. Don’t chase away other thoughts and sensations, just let go of them.
When you do these two simultaneously, it should feel like your awareness is softly sliding into the breath, which will come into sharper focus effortlessly.
And that's it for now.
Your goal at this stage is just finding this feeling of effortlessly sliding into the target, and the target filling up your consciousness, non-targets disappearing from it.
To get there as fast as possible, my advice is to practice this in frequent, easy, short sessions of 2-3 minutes, and keep it fun and relaxed.
Once you've found this feeling, just keep practicing as before, until you can generate it at will.
At that point, you will be able to instantly turn off distractions and subconscious blocks and worries.
Of course, doing this while actually working on something rather than just relaxing and breathing is not quite as easy. Even funneling on the breath for more than a few seconds at a time will require more practice, but that’s for another video.
Proper mechanics first, strength and endurance later is a valid principle for physical and mental training both. You want to have a solid, stable foundation for your work.
You can think of practicing Centralization or Funneling as akin to practicing correct form on a certain lift, or how to roll softly to the ground: we are establishing a sound and useful neural pattern. Once established, it will give us a solid basis for our more advanced practice.
That said, even these short and easy practice sessions - as long as they are frequent - can really do a lot to improve your performance and prevent or relieve stress. In fact, that's the best sign you're doing it right: an almost physical sense of relief.
Remember: the mind likes the experience of effortless concentration; it very much dislikes straining. If centralizing doesn't make you feel better in some way after you get the hang of it, you're doing it wrong.
It's important to note that this technique does not force your mind into some artificial, unnatural state. The exact opposite is true: we are encouraging the mind to operate as it naturally would, in the absence of chronic stress factors and the massive overload of stimuli we are subjected to nowadays.
In this sense, we don’t need to condition the mind to make relaxed focus “second nature”. Relaxed focus is our first nature, and we just need to ease our way back into it.
If you want a simple formula that can help you get centralization more intuitively, stop thinking of concentration as intensifying your attention, and start thinking of it as direction + exclusivity, or, in more practical terms, aim and release. Aim at a target which becomes the center, and release any non-targets at the periphery. Combining these two results in effortless, sustainable focus, or from another point of view, deliberate oblivion. What you focus on and what you forget are two sides of the same coin. Remember: Let go towards the target. Let your whole being converge onto it.
And if you only take one thing away from this video, let it be this:
You should always use relaxation to concentrate better, and concentration to relax better. Relaxation and focus go hand in hand, and linking them consciously will allow you to progress much faster in strongminding and in life.
Before I close, let me remind you that you can find a much more detailed training progression than what I can show in these short videos, as well as many more techniques in StrongMinder’s first training program, The Focus Blueprint. If you want to learn to enter a state of strong, steady focus at will, eliminating strain and fatigue; if you want to be more effective and efficient in everything you do; if you want to be and feel more in control of your mind, but you live a busy life and don’t have time for this (meditation), this is the program for you. It’s very systematic, very efficient, and you always get individual answers to your questions from me. At the time of this recording, the course is still free for everyone who subscribes to my mailing list. I don’t know how long that’s gonna last so check that out if you’re interested, I’ll put the link in the description.
Likewise, for a quick summary of the funneling technique check out the post below.
In the next videos, I will show you how to relax and focus more deeply and what's more, how to make concentration stable as well as effortless.
If you liked this first one please give it a thumbs up, share and subscribe.
Thank you for watching and I’ll see you in the next video.