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To Win We Must Harness the Power of Concentration

Aug5_1 Bob Marx, an experienced skin diver, felt his heartbeat accelerating when a 12-foot mako shark attacked him. "The first time it hit me, it didn't bite," Marx said, according to an Associated Press story. "It knocked me out of the water. It hit so hard that it knocked off my mask, fins, and snorkel!"

Bob, who had 25 years of diving experience, started to fight for his life. In a sudden burst of anger and fear, he grabbed the shark's snout with his right hand and started pounding on its head with his left. The giant shark pushed Bob backward with increasing speed and took into its mouth his right arm between the armpit and elbow.

Not ready to give up, Bob concentrated his remaining energy and pulled his arm away so hard that two of the shark's teeth were left in the wound. At the same time, he pushed both his knees up violently into the shark's belly, spun away, and curled into a ball. His mind raced: "Is this the end?" As he opened his eyes, and floated toward the surface, he noticed that the shark was taking off; it had lost interest.

Bob was then aided by his friends and taken to the hospital. His wounds required 150 stitches.

Bob's story astonished many. It is an extraordinary example of a human being acting under stress and accomplishing baffling feats of strength. Bob was able to concentrate all the force of his muscular system just then when it was needed to save his life. Because he had the power of concentration, that man's strength became more effective than the mako shark's teeth and its powerful 12-foot body! The clarity of aim led to concentration, and this concentration made the lesser volume of force the more effective.

From the world of daily experience, we might draw many more such incredible examples of the power of concentration. Concentration is that which makes force speedily and directly effective.

Bob's story is indeed unusual, since people like you or me may quickly exclaim, "If I had been in his position, the shark would have devoured me..." But before we come to this conclusion, we may ask ourselves, "What powers could I use, - if I'd only concentrate a bit more? Isn't everyone endowed with the ability to concentrate?"

Concentration is one of the most important keys to success. If we tirelessly apply our physical and mental energies to one problem, we will meet with great success. So how can we improve our powers of concentration? Golf champion Arnold Palmer believes that concentration demands self-knowledge. He once told a reporter, "The secret of concentration is the secret of self-discovery. You reach inside yourself to discover your personal resources and what it takes to match them to the challenge."

People who have difficulty concentrating on their jobs often blame interruption from other people. Brendan Francis argues, "Other people's interruptions of your work are relatively insignificant compared with the countless times you interrupt yourself."

Research shows that with improved concentration comes an increased flow of productive ideas. TV producer Norman Lear once told Selling Power that there is an infinite flow of creativity we can all tap into, providing we concentrate without forcing the flow. If we are too preoccupied or self-centered, the flow will stop. If we forget ourselves in the task, the creative flow will increase.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced Chick-SENT-me-hi), professor of human development at the University of Chicago, described how superachievers concentrate to reach "the zone" of total absorption. He said that anxiety kills the flow, as does boredom. In the same way that an archer pulls the string against the bow to create tension, a superachiever fills the mind with a challenge that causes new ideas to flow with high velocity toward a mental bull’s-eye.

Olympic athletes often create a series of ritualistic steps that help them concentrate on the present. Their objective is to forget the preoccupation with success and failure and focus all mental energy on the challenge at hand.

The success-oriented mind is like a magnifying glass that concentrates the rays of the sun in one spot. The magnified intensity of the rays dissipates the moment the glass is moved. When our mind wanders from subject to subject, our productivity drops, our energies are sapped, and our motivation dissipates.

Inventor Thomas Edison once told a reporter how to use the power of concentration to achieve something of significanc: "You do something all day long, don't you? Everyone does. If you get up at 7 o'clock and go to bed at 11 o’clock, you have put in 16 good hours, and it is certain with most people that they have been doing something all the time. They have been either walking, or reading, or writing or thinking. The only trouble is that they do it about a great many things, and I do it about one. If they took the time in question and applied it in one direction, and to one object, they would succeed. Success is sure to follow such application. The trouble lies in the fact that people do not have an object – one thing – to which they stick, letting all else go."

It is easy to get lost in thought and action in life. There are many among us who have seen the bright young sales recruit, with a capacity to learn all things, sound principles, refinement of taste, and equipped to set new sales records - fall short of achievements because of a wasteful or wavering dispersion of his or her gifts. These intelligent, but unfortunate salespeople lack the concentration on one clear purpose. They were never brought to focus.

We can all build a great mental framework in which concentration will flourish. If we apply razor-sharp concentration, there is nothing that can hold us back from winning.

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Gerhard--This is a really well written and well thought out post. I'm hoping other folks have given you similarly positive encouragement. A similar and related topic is the process of becoming "excellent" at something. Tony Schwartz wrote a brief yet highly informative post on this on an HBR blog (http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2010/08/six_keys_to.html). Your readers may be interested in this as well in order to continue honing their skills.

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