How the Power of Concentration Beat the Odds

Concentration is a mental skill that has to be developed but when honed to razor-like sharpness its benefits are stupendous. I was attending a training programme on developing your selling skills when I was introduced to a simple yet highly effective demonstration of the power of concentration. The presenter gave each of us a small pendulum to hold steadily in our outstretched hands. The presenter asked us to focus on the pendulum but hold it still. As we did so she spoke about the pendulum moving side to side, circling clockwise, circling anti-clockwise, making small circles, making larger circles, and so on.

You get the drift. To my amazement, even though I was attempting to hold the pendulum still, because I was focused so intently on the pendulum it started to move as she described. The same happened with the pendulum of my companions on this course. I was sufficiently impressed by this experiment that I decided to use it in my own workshops. The first time I did the experiment I was working with a group of about six individuals. I got them into a relaxed state and then asked them to imagine the pendulum moving in different directions.

The demonstration was a disaster. A couple of individuals started nodding off and not one person in the group managed to exert any significant measure of control over their pendulum. While I too held a pendulum in my hands, I kept my focus mainly on the group because I wanted to give them my undivided attention. However, a couple of times, as I saw my demonstration crumble before my eyes, I momentarily switched my attention to my own pendulum.

Within moments my pendulum started to move in accordance to the directions I was giving the group. So was this experiment really a disaster? No. I took for granted that most people can concentrate and can focus their mind at will.

What a naive assumption. What this experiment illustrated is that concentration is not something that one can take for granted. Concentration is a skill that, like other skills, must be cultivated. The art of concentrating has to be developed. Yet, concentration is a skill necessary for success and, in many cases, it is even necessary for survival.

It is a skill, therefore, well worth developing. Take any successful person and you will notice that they have developed this skill. It is partly because of this skill that they have achieved their level of success.

They have come to experience the power of concentration. Great sportsmen and women have mastered the art of concentrating. You see examples of this time and time again. The tennis player who must focus on his own game when he is a set down. The golfer who must shut out the distractions of the crowd and focus on his shot. The archer who must shut out all sensations other than the rhythm of his heartbeat, the expansion and contraction of his lungs, the feel of the bow in his hands and the movement of the air around him as he aims at his target.

One of my favourite stories demonstrating the power of concentration is that of Michael Johnson competing for a place on the 1992 Olympic team. In one of the preliminary heats for the 200 meters, Michael's group were faced with a headwind. This, combined with the fact that Michael did not win this particular heat, meant that he did not have the chance to draw one of the better inside lanes. Michael Johnson drew lane 8. In athletics, lane 8 is considered the worse possible lane draw because you cannot see your competitors.

You have to run blind until you get into the straight. No Olympic or World Champion has ever come from lane 8 in a sprint. Michael's competitors looked smug. For two years Michael had been beating them, humiliating them even, by streaking ahead and leaving them in his wake. Now the tables were turned. Lane 8 - he was finished.

Michael too felt he was finished but the thought was fleeting. It did not take hold. It did not resonate with his competitive spirit.

That night he gave his situation serious thought. He rationalised that his competitors were not better than he was. He rationalised that it was still the 200 meters and that, at that distance he was the best in the world.

He rationalised that it was still simply a race against time. "I can do this" he said. He decided to run 19.98s from lane 8. The next day Michael went through his warm-ups as usual, well not quite. His focus and intensity were different - more concentrated than ever before.

In the past, Michael's competitors have known not to pat him on the back or make small talk when he is on track. His body may be on track but his mind is elsewhere. Michael enters the zone - the Danger Zone.

On this day they gave him an even wider berth. His coach commented that he had never before seen him that focused. Michael eased into his blocks - coiled energy and sheer power ready to launch himself halfway round the track - eight competitors but only one coveted spot.

There was a sharp bang as the gun went off. Michael hurled himself out of his blocks flew over the track. He was oblivious to the sound of the spiked running shoes pounding the track and to the heavy breathing. His focus and determination were laser-like. Michael tore round that bend like a ball of fury - controlled fury.

He was running his own race. He reeled his competitors in and took them out. He won the race in 19.79s - just seven hundredths off the world record and the best 200 meters time in four years. Michael Johnson was not only going to the Olympics, he was going as the top 200 meter runner from the United States. That, my friend is the power of concentration.

Nickolove Lovemore is a Life & Success Coach and a Certified NLP Practitioner. For resources to power your success please visit

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