How to Improve Your Concentration Fourfold


What's the difference between a high performer who is four times as productive as the average person?

Concentration problems that even geniuses can't overcome.

When I think about it, the history of mankind has been a history of battling with distractions.
Zoroastrianism, which originated in Persia 4,000 years ago, already has a demon with the ability to cause distraction and fatigue in mankind. There is even an ancient document written in Egypt 3,400 years ago that says, “For God's sake, concentrate and get the job done!
Furthermore, the geniuses of the past also suffered greatly from distractions.
Leonardo da Vinci, known as the “Man of Many”, left more than 10,000 pages of manuscripts in his lifetime, but the total number of works he actually completed did not exceed 20.
His work was so distracting that it was not uncommon for him to start a little painting and then immediately start scribbling something unrelated in his notebook, only to come back to himself and grab his paintbrush again.
As a result, work was delayed and delayed, and it took 16 years to complete the Mona Lisa.
Franz Kafka was repeatedly distracted by his lover's letters while writing his novels, and was unable to finish most of his works.
Virginia Woolf, a great writer, wrote in her diary that she was constantly distracted by the ringing of the telephone and that “the sound devoured the contents of my brain.
There are countless episodes of geniuses who struggled with concentration.

However, on the other hand, it is probably true that in every world there are people who are called “high performers.
It is the top runner in the field who consistently maintains a high level of concentration and produces a huge amount of output more than others.
Examples include Pablo Picasso, who produced some 13,500 oil paintings and drawings in his lifetime, mathematician Paul Erdesch, who published more than 1,500 papers, and Thomas Edison, who was granted 1,093 patents.
Even if you are not one of the greats, you can probably think of at least one high performer in your life.
He is the kind of person who is treated like a star.

Concentration isn't determined by talent alone!

In 2012, Indiana University conducted the largest ever study of high performers, involving 630,000 people.
They looked at professions such as entrepreneurs, athletes, politicians, and artists, and uncovered the characteristics of those who are unusually productive.
Ernest O, Boyle Jr. and Herman Aguinis (2012) The Best and the Rest: Revisiting the Norm of Normality of Individual Performance
The result is that high performers are consistently 400% more productive than the average person.
It has also been estimated that the amount of business performance generated by high performers accounts for 26% of the profits generated by each company.
If we compare it to a company with 20 employees and 100 million yen in annual sales, it would be like one high performer making 26 million yen and the remaining 19 employees making 3.9 million yen each.

What makes these high performers so different?
How do they maintain high levels of concentration and achieve four times as much as normal people?
Of course, natural talent is one of the main reasons.
It is well known that our productivity is influenced by our genetics, and a Michigan State University meta-analysis of 40,000 people (a highly reliable analysis that further combines multiple analyses) found that about 50% of our work ethic and concentration can be explained by our natural personality.
Henry R.Young, David R.Glerum, Wei Wang, and Dana L.Joseph (2018) Who Are the Most Engaged at Work? A Meta Analysis of Personality and Employee Engagement
It is certain that a person's ability to concentrate is determined to a great extent by his or her talent.
The data is unintentionally demotivating, but don't be discouraged just yet.
Concentration, which is determined by genetics, is only half of the total, because the other half is made up of “certain elements” that can be modified later.
Many high-performer studies have shown that highly productive people more or less unconsciously make similar points that help them achieve high levels of concentration.
In other words, there is still plenty of time to start over.
In this article, I will refer to this “element” as the “beast and the trainer.

A Framework to Solve Concentration Problems Once and for All

The beast is a metaphor for instinct, and the trainer is a metaphor for reason.

“The “beast and the trainer” is a metaphor for the fact that the human mind is divided into two parts.
This idea itself is probably not new.
It has long been known that our minds are not one unified entity.
The angels and demons of Christianity are a prime example.
The situation where angels, who respect moderation, challenge the devil, who invites humanity to fall, is now too commonplace to be used even in comedy.
It is a classic expression of the divided human mind.
In the 17th century, as you know, the Enlightenment thinkers saw the functioning of the human mind as a conflict between “reason” and “impulse,” and believed that a rational way of life was the truth.
At the same time, Adam Smith, the father of economics, argued that humans have two personalities, “empathy” and “impartial observer,” and in more modern times, Freud described mental illness around the conflict between the “id” and the “superego.
Even at a time when scientific methods had not yet been established, the existence of a “split mind” was already apparent to the scholars.

Fortunately, in modern times we have made progress in studying the “split mind” with more precision.
The most convincing evidence came from the field of brain science, which was developed in the 1980s.
Many researchers have conducted brain scans and found that the prefrontal cortex and the limbic system are constantly battling for control of the human body.
The prefrontal cortex is a system that emerged later in human evolution and is good at complex calculations and problem solving.
The limbic system, on the other hand, is an area that was created early in evolution and controls instinctive desires such as eating and sex.
For example, when you are worried that you should be working but want to go out drinking, it is the role of the prefrontal cortex to insist that you should be working, while the limbic system will continue to insist that you should be drinking. The limbic system just keeps saying, “Drink!
“If you are in a situation where you need to save money but want to go on a trip, your prefrontal cortex is the “saver” and your limbic system is the “traveler.
Currently, this concept is used in various academic disciplines, and can be divided into “heuristics” and “analytical thinking” in psychology, and “System 1” and “System 2” in behavioral economics.
There are subtle differences in nuance, but the point remains the same that both divide the human mind into two parts.
The “beast and the trainer” used in this article also follows this trend.
If we follow the explanation so far, the beast corresponds to the “impulse” or “limbic system,” while the trainer corresponds to the “reason” and “prefrontal cortex.
It's like a trainer trying to somehow control a beast that moves as it pleases on instinct.

There is no such thing as the ability to “concentrate.”

I have deliberately rephrased it as “the beast and the trainer,” even though there are already many expressions for this, because the conventional language is not sufficient for thinking about human concentration.
To clarify this point, let's think about a time when you had to concentrate on your studies.
It's a very common situation, but it requires all of your abilities to be able to concentrate like a high performer.
The first barrier comes before you even begin to study.
For example, what would the following situation look like?
I opened my textbook, but I couldn't get motivated to do anything, so I started checking my email anyway, and half an hour went by. ……
We're all familiar with the situation where we don't feel up to the task at hand and can't even get to the starting line to begin with.
Two things that are needed in this step are self-efficacy and the ability to manage motivation.
Self-efficacy is a state of mind in which we naturally believe that we can accomplish even difficult things.
If you don't have this sense, even simple tasks will seem difficult and you will not be able to take the first step.
The other, motivation management skills, probably needs no explanation.
In order to get started on a task that you don't feel like doing, it is essential to somehow motivate yourself to do it and feel better.
But even if you can clear these obstacles, the next challenge will come your way.
The problem here is “attention span.
The ability to stay focused on the text, which is technically called “attention control”.
Attention spans vary from person to person, but the average adult limit is only 20 minutes.
McKay Moore Sohlberg and Catherine A.Mateer (2001) Cognitive Rehabilitation: An Integrative Neuropsychological Approach
Even if you are able to get into a good focus mode, your attention will always wander after about 20 minutes.
It is difficult to extend this activity limit, and basically the only way to do so is to learn skills to use the brain efficiently.
Furthermore, the biggest barrier is temptation.
It's not uncommon to be distracted by a desire that comes to mind at a moment's notice, a notification on your phone, a game you just bought, or a snack in the fridge.
However, external temptations are not the only things that can diminish your concentration.
Your brain can also be easily distracted by internal memories.
For example, let's say that while studying, you read the sentence “Genghis Khan started his expedition in 1211.
Immediately after that, your brain will try to recall a number of memories associated with “Genghis Khan”.
It's better if it's something related to your studies, such as “Phubilai Khan” or “Genko”, but for some people, it's not uncommon for irrelevant memories to appear, such as “I had a delicious Genghis Khan hot pot the other day”.
Once you are fixated on the memory of Genghis Khan, your brain starts to make more associations.
You start to lose focus, “I'll find another good place to eat,” or “I'll find a recipe I can make at home.” and so on, and your concentration collapses.
At this stage, what you need is the ability to control yourself.
The ability to maintain self-discipline will be essential to confront the myriad of memories swirling around in the unconscious.
After all, the ability we call “concentration” in our daily lives is a combination of several skills.
It requires a sense of self-efficacy and motivation management skills in the lead up to the task, attention span is essential once the task is underway, and constant self-control is required to complete the task.
Many people only somehow see this complex process as a specific force.
In short, there is no single ability called “concentration.
Therefore, a deeper consideration of “concentration” requires a more total framework.
We need a foundation for a story that can incorporate multiple capabilities, scooping up elements that fall outside the definition of a particular academic genre.
The metaphor of the “beast and the trainer” corresponds to such a foundation.
In a way, it is a framework of thinking to grasp the true nature of “concentration” at large.

“The Beast is simple, irritable, but super-powerful!

First trait: “I hate difficult things.”

What kind of “beast” lurks within us?
What kind of power does it have, and how does it relate to concentration?
First, let's observe the ecology of the beast.

Your inner beast has three main characteristics.

  1. Aversion to difficult things
  2. It responds to all stimuli.
  3. Powerful.

The first is, “I don't like difficult things.
The beast prefers objects that are as concrete and easy to understand as possible, and tries to avoid those that are abstract and difficult to decipher.
An example of the beast's preference for clarity is the famous study on human names.
Simon M. Laham, Peter Koval, and Adam L. Alter (2011) The Name Pronunciation Effect: Why People Like Mr.Smith More Than Mr.Colquhoun
The research team gave hundreds of students a large list of names and asked them, “Which person do you prefer? “Which person do you prefer?
We investigated whether a person's preference changes based on their name alone, independent of their face or fashion.
The results were clear.
The students' preferences correlated with the “difficulty of reading the name,” and candidates with names that were difficult to pronounce, such as Vougiouklakis, were more likely to be disliked than candidates with easier names, such as Sherman.
Another test even reported that those with hard-to-read names were more likely to be delinquent, while those with easy-to-read names were more likely to be socially successful.
David E. Kalist and Daniel Y. Lee (2009) First Names and Crime: Does Unpopularity Spell Trouble?
As you can see, we are creatures that jump at the ease of understanding and decide whether we like or dislike a name based on its illegibility alone.
The reason why the beast does not like difficulty is to avoid wasting energy.
In the primitive world in which our ancestors evolved, life and death depended on how efficiently we used our precious energy.
If there was no energy left when we were about to starve because we could not find any food, when we were suddenly attacked by a fierce beast, or when we had to wait for recovery from an infectious disease, humanity would have surely died out.
So evolutionary pressures pushed us to conserve energy as much as possible.
In addition to not using the body's energy blindly, I had the brain implement a program to reflexively move away from incomprehensible things so that the brain would save as many calories as possible for brain-intensive tasks.
It's no wonder that this program is so damaging to your concentration.
In today's increasingly complex world, everyday tasks are becoming more sophisticated by the day, and your cognition is under constant strain.
And yet, since the basic programs of humanity work in such a way that they dislike difficult tasks, there is no way we can concentrate on the task at hand.

Second trait: “Reactive to all stimuli.”

The second characteristic of the beast is that it responds to all stimuli.
As mentioned earlier, the human brain is susceptible to temptation, but the factors that distract the beast are not limited to familiar factors such as sweets and smartphones.
We are exposed to a myriad of small stimuli without even realizing it, and according to some estimates, the brain receives more than 11 million pieces of information in one second.
Timothy D. Wilson (2004) Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious
The faint sound of a car engine in the distance, a dot on a monitor, the memory of a blocked call two hours ago, an unpleasant backache… the human mind is constantly bombarded with an enormous amount of information.
These stimuli are not a problem as long as you are focused on the task at hand, but they can draw the attention of the beast from the unconscious when your attention is suddenly diverted.
It's hard to predict how the beast will react, whether it's suddenly feeling an itchy head when it had been absorbed in its studies, or for some reason suddenly feeling anxious about tomorrow's work.
It's quite a challenge to re-focus from this state.
This kind of problem occurs because the beast is very good at parallel processing of information.
Without the data processing power of the beast, humans would not be able to live properly.
As an example, let's consider a case where you run into someone you know on the street.
In this case, the beast first activates a program that recognizes facial expressions to determine who the person in front of it is based on information such as facial features and voice.
You start to use the search program and continue to search for past data, such as what conversations you had with this person in the past, what kind of character this person was, and so on.
It's a marvelous ability, and if I were to consciously process all the information, the night would be over before the conversation could begin.
The ability of the beast is like a computer with multiple CPUs.
However, this ability also brings a great disadvantage to “concentration.
This is because the power of the beast is optimized for its primitive environment, making it extremely vulnerable to physical stimuli such as food, sex, and violence.
Needless to say, in primitive environments, the more people who could obtain the greatest amount of food possible, procreate with their partners, and prevent the risk of disease and injury, the better adapted they were.
Therefore, beasts have evolved to give priority to those things that appeal to their five senses: sight, smell, hearing, touch, and taste.
So no matter how focused you are, you can't help but think of someone you care about or your favorite candy.
A survival program that has been refined over six million years automatically kicks in and instantly switches your consciousness on and off.

Third trait: “Strong power.”

The last characteristic of the beast is that it is very powerful.
Again, the beast processes 11 million pieces of information per second and has the power to take over your body instantly.
The speed is astonishingly fast, for example, after seeing a picture of a delicious looking dish, it takes only 1/100th of a second to activate your appetite and hijack your consciousness.
When your reflexes are this quick, it is almost impossible to consciously suppress the activities of the beast.
It is easy to see how a human being hijacked by a beast would behave if you look at a teenager.
He repeatedly smokes even though he is underage, jumps off the top of the school building for some reason, and picks on the opposite sex without thinking …….
In adolescence, the brain changes first in the cerebellum, which controls muscle movement, and then in the nucleus accumbens, which is involved in the pleasure system, and finally in the prefrontal cortex, which reaches maturity.
Thanks to this, the teenage brain is still under the strong control of the beast, and is more prone to behave in ways that appear to be stupid.
During the teenage years, the secretion of sex hormones is also high, so it is difficult to control.
It's like a car with only a gas pedal but no brakes.
However, it is obvious that even if the prefrontal cortex has matured, we cannot feel secure.
It's no secret that the Catholic Church in the past preached “Control your inner desires! In the past, the Catholic Church preached “control your inner desires,” but it is a well-known fact that many Christian countries ended up in violence and war.
It is no wonder that while our ancestors diverged from monkeys about 6 million years ago, Homo sapiens acquired abstract thinking only 200,000 years ago.
This means that for about 96.7% of human history, humans have been under the control of beasts.
In the meantime, the beast has spent an enormous amount of time building up its strength.
Once the beast has taken over, there is nothing we can do.
When controlled by a beast, humans are like puppets that have lost their reason.

The “trainer” is logical. For a big meal, the power is shabby. ……

First trait: “Fight with logic as your weapon.”

For such a powerful beast, what did evolutionary pressures give the trainer to do?
Now let's look at the biology of trainers.
The trainer has characteristics that are roughly mirrored in the beast.

  1. Use logic as a weapon.
  2. High energy consumption
  3. Weak power.

First, the trainer uses “logic” as a weapon.
You have to think rationally to stop the rampaging beast.
For example, let's say you are concentrating on your studies and you suddenly notice a cake in the refrigerator.
In your mind, the beast is telling you to eat the cake right now! and your concentration is on the verge of collapse.
At this point, the trainer tries to suppress the beast's outburst by making up a rational objection.
“If I eat here, I'll gain weight and I'll regret it!” “Once my concentration is disrupted, next week's test will be a disaster!” “If you eat here, you'll regret it!
However, in the face of a beast with primal speed and power, the trainer is at a huge disadvantage.
This is because, as we saw earlier, the beast processes information in parallel, while the trainer can only process data in series.
“When the trainer receives the information, “There is a delicious cake in the refrigerator,” he first asks, “What will happen if I eat the cake? The trainer first asks, “What would happen if I ate the cake?” and then outputs the answer, “You would likely gain weight.
The trainer then begins to think, “What will happen if I get fat? and finally draws conclusions such as “I'll be worried about what other people will think” or “I'll be embarrassed”.
Thus, the main feature of serial processing is to consider one piece of information in order.
If we compare it to PC hardware, if the beast's CPU is multi-core, the trainer is single-core.
This will inevitably slow down the trainer's response.
Nevertheless, there are reasonable advantages to series processing as well.
The beast can process a large amount of information at the same time, but on the other hand, it cannot interconnect multiple pieces of data.
As soon as you think, “There's cake,” you can return the output, “Let's eat it!” But what will happen if I stop studying here? or “What will be the effect on my body shape? However, they are not very good at combining different information such as “What will happen if I stop studying here?
The beast's response has to be short-sighted, and it will lure you down the wrong path.
Going on a trip when you need to save money, or playing when it is right to focus on your studies, these irrational behaviors are due to the biology of the beast, which is incapable of serial processing.

Second characteristic: “High energy consumption.”

“High energy expenditure” is another important characteristic of a trainer.
While the work of the beast is low-cost and hardly strains the thinking ability, the trainer puts a tremendous strain on the brain system and uses more energy for it.
Of course.
The beast just jumps at the desire in front of him, while the trainer has to ponder over multiple pieces of information.
It's no wonder it takes so much effort.
At this point, the work of the trainer is highly dependent on the working memory of the brain.
Working memory is a function of the brain that keeps very short-term memories in the mind, and is used to temporarily store intermediate results of processed information.
In other words, it's like a notepad for your brain, and it's indispensable in situations where you want to have a long conversation, remember a shopping list, or do some mental math.
We need to make full use of this working memory in order to process incoming information in series.
The reason is that in order to create a flow of thought from “there is cake in the refrigerator” to “if I eat it, I will get fat, I don't want to get fat, so I will endure it,” it is necessary to temporarily store multiple pieces of information in a short period of time and draw a final conclusion based on the results of intermediate processing.
Unfortunately, the capacity of working memory is limited, and only three or four pieces of information can be temporarily stored.
Nelson Cowan (2000) The Magical Number 4 in Short Term Memory: A Reconsideration of Mental Storage Capacity
For example, if the input “What will happen if I eat the cake? If there are four outputs such as “fat,” “embarrassed,” “satisfied,” and “regret” for the input “What will happen if I eat the cake?
On the other hand, the operation of the beast does not require working memory.
This is because the reaction of a beast is always simple, such as “cake→eat” or “fierce beast→run”, and you can return it immediately without complicated processing.
This mechanism also contributes to putting the trainer at a disadvantage.
It is not clear why working memory is limited, but in any case, trainers have to process information under great constraints, which inevitably requires a great deal more energy than animals.
In order to stay focused, you have to overcome so many disadvantages and win the beast.

Third trait: “Low power.”

The third characteristic, “low power,” needs no further explanation.
Lacking the speed to react to a situation, expending a great deal of energy to confront the beast, and having a fragile blade of logic as your greatest weapon, the outcome is clear.
However evolutionary this may be, it is still a very harsh conclusion for modern people.

Three Lessons for Improving Concentration

Unfortunately, a trainer can't beat a beast.

From the above story, we can learn three important lessons for improving our concentration.

  1. A trainer can't beat a beast.
  2. There is no such thing as a person who is good at concentrating.
  3. If you lead the beast, you'll gain immense power.

The first thing to keep in mind is that it is impossible for a trainer to beat a beast.
As we've seen, there is a huge difference in the strength of the beast and the trainer, and therein lies a bigger difference than between an adult and a child.
If you try to fight them head on, you will end up with a one-sided game.
You have to be quick to acknowledge this fact, and if you don't start from here and learn only small techniques, you won't get much benefit and will only end up frustrated.
For this reason, you first need to get it into your head that there is no easy way to improve your concentration.
And from this first lesson, we inevitably derive the following lesson.
That's the point: there is no such thing as a person who is good at concentration in this world.
We have already mentioned that even great men with many accomplishments were continually defeated in their battles against the beast.
If you're having trouble concentrating right now, that's kind of inevitable.
The battle between the beast and the trainer is like a kernel that has been etched into the heads of humanity over six million years.
In the future evolution, trainers may become more powerful, but we who live in the present cannot help but think about it.
We have no choice but to live with the outdated operating system we have.
Some people are naturally good at controlling their attention, but it is only a matter of degree.
The battle between the beast and the trainer is a fact of life in everyone's brain, and no one can escape this problem.
Some of you may have felt hopeless.
If the trainer is that helpless, then improving concentration is a dream come true.
After all, high performers are only born with a natural talent, and we, the untalented, have no choice but to live our lives as if we are being swept along by the beast.
Of course, that's not true.
Even if there is no way to win in a head-to-head battle, the weak have their own way of fighting.
While utilizing the rationality that is the trainer's weapon, sometimes the trainer is able to coax the beast into becoming an ally, and other times the trainer is able to exploit the beast's weaknesses by devising a plan.
That brings us to the third lesson: “Lead the beast and you will gain enormous power.
Originally, the beast does not want to do us any harm.
In the primitive world, the mighty power of the beast saved humanity from danger, motivated us to get the calories we needed, and was the driving force behind our current prosperity.
The problem is that the power of such a beast is dysfunctional in today's society, where information is drastically increasing.
An abundance of food that was not available in primitive times.
The daily news is full of crisis.
Social networking sites that work on your approval needs.
A shopping site that instantly satisfies the joy of ownership.
Internet pornography that stabs at our fundamental desires.
Each of the many intense stimuli that the modern age has produced will elicit an intense response from the beast and disrupt your concentration.
Herbert Simon, a genius who received a Nobel Prize for his work in cognitive psychology, foresaw this 30 years ago.
“Information consumes the concentration of the receiver. Therefore, the more information you receive, the more your ability to concentrate shrinks. The more information there is, the more concentration is consumed, and the more concentration needs to be allocated, the more concentration is consumed.
Like moths dying by running into the light of a lamp, programs that once worked well are now malfunctioning.
So, there is only one thing we can do.
The only way to do this is to learn how to deal with the beast properly and bring out its natural power.
You give up on going head-to-head with the beast and find a way to put its power to good use.

Ride your beast and overtake your rivals!

The process of harnessing the power of the beast is similar to flood control.
Once the river overflows, there is nothing we can do but watch as the electricity and water supply fail and houses and bridges are swept away.
Its destructive power is unparalleled.
However, if we build long levees and dams upstream before such a situation occurs, we can direct the water flow.
The power of water could also be converted into electricity by taking advantage of the dam's water storage.
This is the same way to deal with animals.
As long as the trainer creates a path of guidance beforehand, he can guide the beast's enormous power in the desired direction.
So, starting from the next chapter, I will share with you the beast's guidance techniques based on scientific evidence.
It is, in a sense, a “manual for taming the beast.
Of course, taming the power of the beast is not an easy task, and even in the aforementioned high performer study, only 5% of all business people are able to work with deep concentration.
That's how difficult it must be to deal with the beast.
But it's well worth it.
Herbert Simon, the aforementioned cognitive psychologist, also made this point.
“In a society where the amount of information is increasing dramatically, the ability to concentrate will be the most important asset.”
The more data we come into contact with in our daily lives, the easier it is for the beast to run amok, and the less we can focus on it.
In such a society, those who have the ability to focus, not money or authority, are the ones who can be called the greatest asset.

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