Concentration basics #1: Learning to centralize

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This video is part of a series. | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 (summary)
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Video summary

Concentration is the key to high mental performance, as well as the development of other mental powers such as memory, observation and logical thought.

The widespread use of portable digital devices is making our minds increasingly fragmented and numb; the more this trend advances, the more the ability to gather and sustain your attention becomes a rare and precious asset.

The common way to “focus” is ultimately counterproductive

We generally approach concentration from the standpoint of “I need to work harder”.

Essentially the exact opposite is true.

Unfortunately, the way we instinctively go about directing our attention is by trying to "lock down" the object or task we want to focus on and keep a firm grip on it; by forcing our attention to stay on it, and keep it still. This intention is usually reflected in the “scrunched” expression we get when we “focus”.

This inevitably generates excess tension and strain, which quickly leads to confusion, irritability and early fatigue. In general, excess tension will make it much harder to operate your mind skillfully. Just like a tense body, a tense mind moves with difficulty and tires quickly.

Just like a tense body, a tense mind moves with difficulty and tires quickly. Always use relaxation to concentrate better, and concentration to relax better.

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The problem is the splitting of attention; the solution is letting go of non-targets

As many different tasks and stimuli seem to demand our attention, we subconsciously tend to try focusing on all of them at once.

This subconscious attempt has a paralyzing effect: it scatters and clouds your mind. It is also linked to an underlying sense of insecurity, of being overwhelmed and “never good enough”. It is inefficient and draining.

The way to focus without strain and fatigue is to 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.

The art of deliberate oblivion

Aiming your attention at the target and simultaneously letting go of non-targets makes the object/task seem clearer, “bigger”, “louder”, more vivid. The target “fills up” your field consciousness, while the non-targets fall outside of it, i.e. they are forgotten.

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.

EXERCISE: Centralizing on the breath

Goal: find the feeling of “sliding into the target” and learn to generate it deliberately. This will allow you generate effortless focus, i.e. deliberate oblivion/exclusion.


  1. Set a timer for 2-3 minutes (or 10, if you’re up for it).
  2. 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.
  3. Let everything else go. Relax your grip on anything that is not the sensations around your nostrils. Do NOT chase away other thoughts and sensations, just let go of them.
  4. When you become aware your mind has wandered, treat that thought as every non-target, and slide back into the breath.

Key takeaways

  • 1
    Mental strain and excess tension in general invariably make it harder to operate your mind skillfully. They are the eternal enemies of mental performance.
  • 2
    Hence, relaxation is key. If you want to improve your concentration and mental stamina, you have to learn to relax your mind. Always use relaxation to concentrate better, and concentration to relax better.
  • 3
    The state you want to foster is one of active relaxation, where you only put as much energy in your actions/thoughts as is needed to execute them, no more and no less. Maximal efficiency coincides with maximal effectiveness.
  • 4
    The way you generate effortless, sustainable focus is by relaxing your mind “towards” a given target, i.e. by aiming your mind towards it, and simultaneously letting go of everything else. 

FULL VIDEO TRANSCRIPT

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