Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 81.djvu/199

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193
HELPS TO STUDYING

HELPS TO STUDYING
By Professor JOSEPH W. RICHARDS, Ph.D.
LEHIGH UNIVERSITY

TO study means to concentrate the mind and attention on a subject, and to keep it there until the difficulties are mastered and the subject understood.

Aside from the philosophical principles involved in absorption of the mind upon one idea or in one line of thought, there are certain physical or even mechanical aids to this end which are well to know. The writer is not skilled in mental philosophy, but has observed certain simple facts pertinent to the subject of studying which may assist others, and therefore he takes this opportunity of setting them forth. Any one can easily determine for himself how true they are, or whether they apply to him personally or not.

The first enemy to concentration is a roving attention, the coming up into the mind of thoughts or recollections foreign to the matter being studied. I have seen a student, supposedly hard at his task, fix his eyes abstractedly on a corner of the room and think for five or ten minutes of something else, then suddenly recollect that his lesson was not being thus mastered, and with an effort, and perhaps a yawn, bring his attention back to his book. Such a youth is in a pretty bad way, as far as study is concerned, yet the remedy is simple, if he will apply it. I have spoken of the effort to bring his attention back to the book; let him, as soon as he feels the inclination to let his attention wander from the book, make the same effort to keep it there, and he will nip the evil in the bud. It is no harder, surely, to hold the attention, to prevent it wandering, than it is to bring it back after it has wandered. But, said youth may say "That is fearfully hard work"; to which we reply that study is admittedly hard work, but the hardest part of it is just this effort to keep the mind steadily on the subject studied. What we mean is, that the student must make a hard, determined and earnest fight to keep his attention from roving, that he must fetch his mind back to the straight road by a vigorous mental effort, as soon as he finds it tending to stray, just as a skilful driver reins his horse back into the highway the instant he sees it turn towards a byway. Keep your mind and its activity well in hand, be its master and compel it to do what you want it to do. Such is mental power.

The next enemy is noise or interruption of any kind, be it even so melodious as the finest music. It acts, of course, by distracting the at-