There are three important features of our mental faculties: concentration, comprehension, and recollection. Without concentration you cannot have comprehension, and without comprehension you do not have recollection. Each person has these features in varying degrees, but I do no think we have trained ourselves enough to utilize them to their full potential. To the contrary, I think we have decreased our ability for concentration by indulging in a world of distractions or have simply dumbed down our intellectual capacity for substantial thought by dwelling on trivial things or pursuing like an animal whatever desires one has. There is no better place to find this mental deterioration than on Facebook. For all the information that could be acquired through there, it is more often than not utilized for the sake of pointless complaints, conversations, images, etc. It amazes me that in a so-called “information age” we are being constantly fed such useless data. With less substantial data comes a lesser need for concentration and comprehension. That’s not to say that we can never rest our minds, but rest assumes that you are being released from work. A mind that is constantly at rest is just a mind that has been turned off. Which is unfortunately precisely the state of society today; it is constantly bored because the satisfaction of rest as a release from work has been removed. Their mind is constantly wandering aimlessly for something to entertain it because it lacks the substantial thought to completely satisfy it.
I have to admit that this can be a problem even for thinkers themselves, most notably myself, but its often of a different nature. For example, I will pursue intellectual activities but not to do so in such a way that it is focused. This is something that I have discussed in other posts like this one. Other times, it may be difficult for a person to stay concentrated because of their current living conditions. It just depends on the person, really, but I think my biggest problem is with concentration and recollection. I’ll comprehend things perfectly, I just think I need to take my time to sink in philosophical concepts before I can move on. This is why it will literally take me over 6 months to finish one book. I assure you that it is extremely rewarding, however. For example, the only book I have ever read on Thomistic philosophy is a beginner’s guide on “Aquinas” by Edward Feser and I still haven’t finished reading it! But the remarkable thing is, I understand its metaphysical concepts in such a way that its as if I read an intermediate textbook on it. Whenever people think I’m some legit metaphysician, I just feel unworthy because I know that the quantity of books that I read does not align with that impression. It’s almost as if I am masquerading to appear smarter than I really am. There are those who read around 5–10 philosophy books a month who deserve more recognition than me.
Nevertheless, I do have a strong desire to read more but I’m caught in an endless dilemma: How can I read more without sacrificing the quality of my comprehension and recollection? It’s not that I am necessarily a slow reader or slow at comprehending things, I think the problem lies in my desire to recall as much as I can. And if I feel like I cannot do that, then I take more time than I should. Something needs to change, I cannot keep up this tedious and time-consuming practice because I want to read and learn more! This is where mental training comes in. You see, it’s one thing to make use of your muscles by constantly carrying a 100 pound bag for a mile, but if you don’t continue to pick up more pounds for a longer distance, how are your muscles going to grow? The same principle applies here. While my comprehension of things have greatly increased, I am still stuck with the same concentration and recollection levels as before. How can I work on improving those areas specifically? This is what this post is about, and I hope that you’ll benefit from it as well. Let’s look at the five ways we can train our minds:
- Memory Techniques
Train yourself to apply certain techniques like the method of loci. Two of the best books for this are called “Your Memory: How it works & How to Improve it” and “Memorize the Faith! (And Most Anything Else)”. I’d recommend the latter more because it teaches by example, not just by principle. These techniques are not based on repetition, that’s the worst way to memorize. Make sure to apply these methods on a daily basis for maximal effect.
- Speed Reading
I’d strongly suggest doing (1) before this because comprehension and recollection are more important than the speed at which you read. But you’d be dead wrong if you assumed “speed” necessarily implies a loss of comprehension and recollection. If properly applied, you can not only increase the pace at which you read but your ability to recall and comprehend as well. Be warned, however, bad habits die hard and this will not be easy. I recommend reading “Breakthrough Rapid Reading” and “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Speed Reading”.
- Higher-Level Reading
This is fairly straightforward. All this requires is increasingly difficult books to read that have more technical words and concepts. Serious reading also requires you to understand how to make the most out of your reading by doing it properly. I’d recommend purchasing “How To Read A Book” for some good principles on this issue.
You may think you do this well already, but I assure you that this can always be improved. It does take a lot of patience and practice to build your concentration up, but you will be heavily rewarded in the end. The best books that I have found are “Concentration: A Guide to Mental Mastery” and “Find Your Focus Zone”.
- Strategic Gameplay
This is not as important as the others, but believe it or not, strategic games can help prepare your mind for serious thinking and it keeps it in shape when you are too busy with work. For beginners I’d recommend checkers and sudoko but for more advanced thinkers, I’d suggest playing chess, Civilization IV, and other similar games. I’m not much of a gamer, but I know that I have enjoyed these. Feel free to add any others in the comments.
I think all of these are important for cultivating and nurturing your mental faculties. I’m confident that these will indeed work, it just takes time and discipline to do them. If you’re lacking in that area, perhaps you can leave a comment asking for an “accountability partner” and we’ll gladly be there to support you through this. Do note that I am by no means an expert in this issue. As a matter of fact, I am barley going to start apply (1) today! I’ll be reading “Memorize the Faith” and report my progress to all the readers on WC to see how I do. If any of my readers can hold me accountable to follow through with this, I’d really appreciate it! I’m hoping to complete the methods and techniques in that book after 3–4 months. Afterwards, I should be all set to apply the other ways to train my mental faculties. If you have experience in this area, please let us know in the comments! Some of you probably won’t even need some of this as you have naturally good memories, but for those like me, I need to train hard to get the most from my mind. Don’t be discouraged if this seems overwhelming though! Just let us know that you need help through the comments or the ask page and I’ll help you as best as I can. I hope this helps cultivate what Aquinas called the “virtue of prudence” in you.