Here’s an interesting quote from William Walker Atkinson:
“Psychologists divide attention into two general classes, viz.: (1) voluntary attention and (2) involuntary attention.
Voluntary attention is attention directed by the will to some object of our own more or less deliberate selection. It requires a distinct effort of the will in order to focus the attention in this way, and many persons are scarcely aware of its existence, so seldom do they manifest it. Voluntary attention is the result of training and practice, and marks the man of strong will, concentration, and character. Some authorities go so far as to say that much of that which is commonly called “will power” is really but a developed form of voluntary attention, the man of “strong will” holding before him the one idea which he wishes to realize.
Involuntary attention, often called “reflex attention,” is attention called forth by a nervous response to some sense stimulus. This is the common form of attention, and is but the same form which is so strongly manifested by children whose attention is caught by every new object, but which cannot be held for any length of time by a familiar or uninteresting one.
It is of the utmost importance that one should cultivate his power of voluntary attention. Not only is the will power strengthened and developed in this way, but every mental faculty is developed by reason thereof. The training of the voluntary attention is the first step in mental development.
That the voluntary attention may be deliberately trained and developed is a fact which many of the world’s greatest men have proved for themselves. There is only one way to train and develop any mental power of faculty—and that is by practice and use. By practice, interest may be given to objects previously uninteresting, and thus the use of the attention develops the interest which further holds it.
Interest is the natural road over which attention travels easily, but interest itself may be induced by concentrated attention. By studying and examining an object, the attention brings to light many new and novel features regarding the thing, and these produce a new interest which in turn attracts further and continued attention.
There is no royal road to the development of voluntary attention. The only true method is work, practice, and use. You must practice on uninteresting things, the primary interest being your desire to develop the power of voluntary attention. But as you begin to attend to the uninteresting thing you will become interested in the task for its own sake. Take some object and “place your mind upon it.” Think of its nature, where it came from, its use, its associations, its probable future, of things related to it, etc., etc. Keep the attention firmly upon it, and shut out all outside ideas. Then, after a little practice of this kind, lay aside the object for the time being, and take it up again the next day, endeavoring to discover new points of interest in it. The main thing to be sought is to hold the thing in your mind, and this can be done only by discovering features of
interest in it.
The interest loving attention may rebel at this task at first, and will seek to wander from the path into the green pastures which are found on each side thereof. But you must bring the mind back to the task, again and again. After a time the mind will become accustomed to the drill, and will even begin to enjoy it. Give it some variety by occasionally changing the objects of examination.
The habit once acquired, you will find the practice most fascinating. You will invent new subjects or objects of inquiry, investigation, and thought, which in themselves will well repay you for your work and time. But never lose sight of the main point—the development of the power of voluntary attention.”
We’ve talked before about these types of exercises, but what I wanted to bring your attention to with this quote is the interest that it’s developed on something just by bringing your attention to it and changing your mental state from “boring task” to “investigation”.
You can create interest in pretty much everything by focusing your attention with it – with the right mental state.
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