How to make someone concentrate

By M.Farouk Radwan, MSc.

When do we concentrate?

When I was in 6th grade in school, we had to start with some stretching exercises before our P.E. class. One of the stretching exercises was to lift your foot and continue to hold it for half a minute and then swap and do the same with the other foot.

The problem was that every time we held our foot up we lost balance and had to sway left and right really quickly to keep it until we eventually let go of our foot to prevent ourselves from falling. No one in my class what able to do it!
Our P.E. teacher said something very interesting.

She told us to stare at any stone or point in the ground and never lift our gaze off from it.It worked like magic. No one ever fell doing this stretching exercise again.
The very interesting part about this is whenever I let go of my gaze until this day, I always lose balance.

Very interesting… how does this work?

What’s happening inside our minds?
Have you noticed how you stiffen up when you’re uncomfortable being watched? And suddenly all the things that you do very easily everyday suddenly become difficult and you mess things up a bit?

The reason behind this is that when we’re good at doing something, we do it unconsciously without thinking much about it. When we learn to do new things though, we first use our conscious mind to learn it and this is why it doesn’t come out well at first. The reason for this is that our conscious mind is responsible for rational thinking and not execution.

So it continues to analyze as we’re learning and this is why it doesn’t come out as smoothly as when we have finally learned it. When we have learned it, we’ve ‘learned it’ because all the analysis and experience is now being applied by the subconscious mind which is responsible for execution. And so you do things very smoothly, without having to think about it anymore. (see also How to learn any skill)

So what does this have to do with the stretching exercise?

Since we’ve already learned how to balance our bodies from our experience of walking, running, moving, standing, playing …etc, our subconscious mind already knows how to do it. When we were asked to lift our foot and lost balance, we panicked and started using our conscious mind to analyze how to balance ourselves.

But because our conscious mind is not really responsible for execution the result was swaying left and right and eventually deciding to let go. When we gazed at something else, we shifted our focus onto something else other than our balance, and our subconscious mind which has already learned how to balance kept our balance.

It’s exactly the same when you feel really shy in front of people, suddenly you don’t walk properly and you do silly things like not holding the glass properly and letting it fall. You could have sworn to yourself that you do these things easily everyday with no problems at all!

You do them everyday unconsciously, now you were doing them consciously.

Great, so what does this have to do with people concentrating with me?

No, I am not concluding that you should keep someone’s mind busy so they unconsciously focus with you. Before I begin with how this is useful to you to make people concentrate, there are two additional vital things you need to know.

First, the mind can only focus on ONE thing at a time. When you think you are multitasking, your mind is actually shifting its attention between the things you’re doing in as quick as one tenth of a second. But it can’t focus on both at the same time, and therefore you are not ‘focused’ when you do several things at the same time.
Second, people’s minds are always wandering off thinking of different things, and you usually have a few seconds to make them decide whether they should focus with you or something else around them.

Now that we’ve realized all the aspects regarding focus, let’s put it all together. With the stretching exercise illustration, you are now able to realize just how one’s mind can quickly be totally absorbed with you once you get them to focus.

Anatomy of keeping focus

Contrary to what you may think, getting and keeping someone’s focus is actually very easy to do once you present it the way that the mind needs to comprehend things.
Because once the mind is in the process of understanding something, it is very hard to make it shift its attention.

In order to explain anything to anyone or tell them about something you need to follow what I call the “Zoom out – Zoom in – fine-tune” method. This method goes directly hand in hand with the way the brain understands things. Another thing that helps the brain understand really well is pausing between the different information that you are giving, this way the information ‘sinks in’ if you will.

Imagine the method like yourself holding a camera and showing something to people, this is why I called it the “Zoom Out – Zoom In – Fine-Tune” method. Why ‘Zoom out’ first? Imagine if I start displaying a zoomed-in scene in of some grass and random plants next it for a while. Unless this is something very interesting to people, the natural reaction is that they’ll turn the channel.

This is why you never start with “zoom in” unless you know you’re doing it quickly to grab someone’s attention about something. Otherwise, it is comfortable for the brain to get an outlined big picture first of what we’re talking about before getting into any kind of details. This way, the brain has an outline and can continue to understand and follow you as you get into the details you need.

How to ‘Zoom In’ second? Here you need to put something very important into consideration: Don’t try explaining things to people that you don’t understand yourself. If you don’t understand it, why should they? Even more importantly why should they give you their focus?

Now to the “zooming-In” part

When you are giving details to someone, see the different aspects of the topic or the story. Then, give details to each aspect alone and then shift to the next. You can link them when you are done giving the details, but first give the needed details to each part fully. The brain understands very well when the information is organized. Why? Because then it is not dividing its attention on two things – listening to you and trying to organize the information to understand. (see also How to become organized)

Why Fine-Tune? Now that you’ve given so many details the mind will need to wrap up and make logic out of all the new information. Here you have a great opportunity of having someone completely focused and concentrated with you because of this need.
This is why it is best to finish with either a small summary or a conclusion. The summary should be very brief and to the point.

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