Sunday, April 14, 2013

Does Immersive, Purposeful Concentration Lead to Transformation?

I'm contemplating what may be an important cognitive hypothesis: Immersing yourself in frequent, long-sustained bouts of concentration in purposeful activities may the deepest, most effective, most important way to change yourself in the most substantial manner.

My current obsession, natch, is with Robert Greene's Mastery, and part of it reminded me of my old days when I first dropped out of college to become an autodidact. A question that never occurred to me to ask before is: How did I change so rapidly within a short few weeks? At start my emotions were weak and my concentration was a wreck, and in just a month or so, perhaps less, I got myself to the point that I wanted to study all the time and was extremely passionate about pressing myself in all manners of self-improvement. It wasn't just youthful idealism; some sort of process was there.

In thinking of it, concentration seems to be the fundamental factor. From the start of that venture my goal was to literally try and study all day, most everyday, from waking to sleeping, or else to always keep myself involved in some sort of self-improvement. It was very rigorous and intensive. When I first began I couldn't concentrate for more than twenty minutes, but within a few weeks I could get myself up to endless hours.

I think the effect of this concentration is that it gave me absolute control over my subconscious, and by being able to alter its contents at will I was infinitely empowered to bring forth the best premises possible. I wanted to study all the time, was serious in cooking practice, disciplined in my diet, always simmering some ideas in my mind, and so forth.

The telling contrast is that I lost the majority of those personality traits when I became engrossed in some personal problems at home. The person I lived with didn't approve of my path in life, no matter what good results I had to show them, and they interfered frequently, in nagging, harassing, interrupting, and so on. Eventually I got to the point that I became obsessed with solving these problems, dropped the majority of my good habits, including my studies, and fought a bitter battle for over a year, culminating in me moving to Texas.

The essential attribute of my downfall is that I became uncontrollably distracted: My mind was so engrossed in solving these aggravating problems that good thinking got pushed out in favor of obsessive negative thinking, and through practice the obsessive negative thinking won over my subconscious and became my daily all-day habit. The erosion of my concentration led to the erosion of my ability to control my subconscious, and that in effect left it prone to powerful emotions, in which negative ones took over in this case, leading to these particular negative thoughts.

That is oversimplifying it definitely, but nonetheless still useful in its essentials and fundamentals for our purpose.

As such, if it's true that I built myself up to be such an ultra-ambitious guy by keeping myself immersed deeply in concentration towards purposeful action, could I not so deeply change my character again through that means? The essential principle is that it be very deep, uninterrupted (as possible) concentration, as sustained for a long as possible (literally; eight hours or more if you can).

My thinking of concentration in light of this has changed my view of how to analogize the process of building concentration.

Let's imagine you have an empty unmarked lot, a sandy brown rectangle in the center (representing your conscious mind) surrounded by grassy fields representing the extent of content that exists to observe. If you have no ability to concentrate, which translates to having no fence around your lot in this case, any thought whatsoever can come in, scratch its mark in the dirt (your subconscious), and stay as long as it pleases. Without any exerted control to direct attention, the occupation of one's lot is left up to chance to whoever wants to come or go, meaning the patterns of your mind will be dominated by emotions, whims, momentary distractions, and so forth.

However, if you focus and put up a fence, you're more empowered. There's a barrier to keep things out, and consequently you can better control what occupies your space. Though, a wooden fence can still be jumped over. Plus, there's still a need for discipline in who you open the gate for, and to work in booting out the bad thoughts that wandered in before the fence was built.

As your ability to concentrate gets better, however, you're still more empowered in increasing degrees. The wooden fence evolves to a tall chain-link one, and then eventually a full-fledged building. Bad thoughts have a harder and harder time getting in to root themselves in your subconscious, and your personal strength increases through the building process, allowing you to muscle out the squatters and roughhouse those who try to break in the entrance.

Money bin model
Only platinum thoughts inside
At the end of a long effort you can end up with a steel structure more secure than Fort Knox. Absolutely nothing whatsoever can break in and stay without your permission, and there's is absolute control of what comes in and what goes out. The contents of your subconscious are fully at your hand, allowing you to modify it in the best way possible, to give rise to the best attributes possible, freer of emotional problems, bad thinking patterns, reflexes, and so forth.

However, a measure of discipline will be required at all times, of course. At the wooden or brick house stages, powerful emotions can still break down the walls and give you can awful time with the worries and anxieties that come to roost, and a steel security building won't do any good if you leave the door open or are careless as to which thoughts you let in.

Applying it to me, I think I was at my most ambitious and intellectually rigorous because I had built up a rather durable house that allowed me to control the furnishings, so for a long while I was able to control the contents of my mind so that I was focused on my goals, and therefore drawn and continuously acting towards them. The downfall of getting engrossed in my problems led to a smashing down of the walls and a reduction to a chain link fence, making me far too vulnerable to the whims of habits and external stimulation, and the squatters staying from the breakdown of the building.

I don't know if immersive concentration will lead to so totally a character change as I'm hoping it to to, but there's good evidence for it, and I'm certainly going to experiment with it. At the very least, I'll come out of it intellectually powered and far more desirous for healthier mental activities. What I'll do is try to regularly engage myself in activities that involve continuous attention and contribute to my highest goals – such as reading an important book – and attempt to do it for as long as I possibly can, not pausing to eat, look at the page number, check the time, or the like. (Though drinking and the restroom are the exceptions.) On my next day off I think I'll go to the bookstore and see if I can immerse myself like that literally all day long, without stopping until I'm exhausted.

If you want to try it for yourself, it's pertinent to remind here that concentration not only involves specific practices such as holding it through meditation or not skipping from browser tab to browser tab in a fidgety fashion, but also a great number of lifestyle choices. There's many, many, many little things that can erode it and prevent it from being at full-power. Know what they are and guard against them.

For instance, let's say you're doing homework in a cafe. What's that confectionery smell? You do not think about it, nor look up to see what it is. Nope, ignore the shadow of the person that walked by in heels. Don't acknowledge that intercom announcement. Don't pay a second of attention to any of the conversations going on around you.

It would definitely be tough to so totally tune out distractions to this degree, but through repeated practice your mind will eventually learn to not process any stimulus that's unrelated to the purpose you're directing yourself at, so you'll be unsmelling, unhearing, and unseeing of anything except your purpose. (Worry not of emergencies like fires; you'll notice those one way or another, or else have someone else alert you.)

I'm excited for this experiment, for this may be the final self-improvement step I need to take in order to regain those personality traits I had once before, and to take them the next step beyond, this time armed with new knowledge such as how to stop obsessive thoughts, treat people properly, and so forth. You shall be kept in the know of my results.

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