WE LIVE IN A WORLD SO RICH with possibilities
that if you ate a different dish every meal, you'd never eat
them all, and if you watched a different movie every day, you'd
never see them all, and if you read different book every day,
you'd never read them all, and if you thought a different thought
every second, you'd never think them all.
In a world like this, it seems awfully
foolish to repeat anything to read the same book twice,
or think the same thought over and over again. It seems foolish,
but it is very much not foolish. Repetition generates power in
many different ways and in many different contexts. Let me go
over a few to give you an idea.
Obviously the first place to start is with
slogans. Repetition is what makes slogans work. (See the chapter
from Self-Help Stuff That Works called Personal Propaganda.) Repetition goes over
and over the same pathway in your brain, making that pathway
stronger and easier to go down again, and that strength and easiness
is exactly what makes the slogan worth anything. It allows that
thought to be very easy to think, and if it's the right thought
for the right context, it can do a lot of good. The good was
created with repetition.
The most lasting way to memorize something
is a seemingly clumsy, time-consuming, and old fashioned way:
Go over it again and again. If it's a poem, for example, it is
reading it aloud again and again. Go over it enough times, and
you will have it memorized. And it will be memorized so well
that forty years from now you'll be able to recite it by heart.
This is the power of rote learning. Repetition generated the
power to put something in the mind and have it stick. The power
to take something as ephemeral as a thought and make it solid
in the mind.
If you were one of the many children who
recited the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag every morning at
school, you have with you right now a good example of how solid
repetition can make something in an organic organ as soft and
alive as the human brain. You can stand up right now, put your
hand over your heart and say the whole thing start to finish
without batting an eye, and chances are good you haven't said
it or even heard it for a long time ten, twenty, maybe
even fifty years. But there it is, complete.
It would seem really old fashioned to walk
by a fifth grade classroom and hear them all chanting aloud the
rules of grammar, because that was done in the olden days before
mimeographed copies could be handed out. But those rules and
facts that were repeated over and over out loud were indelibly
printed on the mind of those students.
Unless you're a writer, you probably know
very few rules of grammar by heart. I am a writer and
I hardly remember any of them.
We've gotten away from that sort of learning
in our schools, and for some good reasons. But it has its uses
for some things, and perhaps we've gotten too far away from it.
One of the arguments against rote learning
is that it stifles creativity. But that isn't true. Perhaps nothing
but rote learning would stifle creativity, but memorizing
some things by repeating them over and over doesn't keep the
mind from being creative.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the author of
Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery
and Invention and Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience,
and a researcher in the field for over thirty years, wrote,
It is a mistake to assume that creativity
and rote learning are incompatible. Some of the most original
scientists, for instance, have been known to have memorized music,
poetry, or historical information extensively.
There's something very calming about well-memorized
words. It is a place to come home to, a stable place in a sometimes
unstable world of experience. "A person who can remember
stories," wrote Mihaly,
poems, lyrics of songs, baseball statistics,
chemical formulas, mathematical operations, historical dates,
biblical passages, and wise quotations has many advantages over
one who has not cultivated such a skill. The consciousness of
such a person is independent of the order that may or may not
be provided by the environment. She can always amuse herself,
and find meaning in the contents of her mind. While others need
external stimulation television,
reading, conversation, or drugs to keep their minds
from drifting into chaos, the person whose memory is stocked
with patterns of information is autonomous and self-contained.
Benjamin Franklin wrote in his essay Way to Wealth, "To encourage the Practice
of remembering and repeating those wise Sentences, I have sometimes
quoted myself with great Gravity."
Of course, he said that tongue-in-cheek,
but he did create a lot of aphorisms and they did get repeated
often, and became like proverbs and rules people lived by, and
some still do to this day. Many of his aphorisms are well known.
He made many of them rhyme or made them especially pithy and
memorable. Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy,
wealthy and wise; God helps them that help themselves;
Diligence is the mother of good luck; Constant dropping
wears away stones; Little strokes fell great oaks,
and so on and on. He was fond of making sayings and repeating
them often in his writings. He repeated himself so much that
others got the ideas stuck in their brains, and they have become
a part of our culture.
repetition and focus
The first definition for "slogan"
in Webster's New Collegiate is "A war cry or rallying cry
esp. of a Scottish clan." When you need to bolster your
courage, when you need to get off your rump and go to work, when
you need to overcome your own inertia or nervousness, repeat
the following slogan to yourself over and over, making the intensity
and urgency of your tone rise each time you say it until it becomes
like a war cry focus creates power! Focus creates power!
Focus creates power! You'll be up and moving!
In a sense, this is the principle that
makes slogans work. By repeating the slogan over and over, you
allow your mind to focus, like the sun through a magnifying glass.
The sun could shine all day without changing a piece of paper
lying on the ground. But use a magnifying glass to focus a lot
of light on one little spot, and you'll start to see something
It's like reading a book. You read and
get a lot of good ideas, and then get up and go on about your
day, and the ideas never had a sharp enough focus onto a single
point to make a difference. But take one of those ideas and repeat
it and think about it and tell your friends about it, and you'll
start to see something happen. Repetition creates focus. Focus
In experiments on Yoga practitioners, researchers
found that their intense focus during meditation created a specific
power: the power to maintain an alpha brain rhythm even during
annoying stimulation. During meditation, the yogis' brain waves
slowed down and became rhythmical. It is known as an alpha state,
and the state cannot be achieved by force. You can't make
yourself, by any effort, create that state, because the state
of forcing or "making yourself" puts your brain in
a beta state, a normal waking state characterized by a faster
and more chaotic electrical pulse.
Anyway, once the yogis got into that alpha
state, the researchers tried to see what they could do that might
pop them out of alpha and into beta. They tried strong light,
a loud banging noise, touching them with something hot, ringing
a tuning fork, and sticking their hands into ice-cold water for
forty-five minutes. Something they didn't try was smacking them
on the back of the head with a baseball bat. I think it would've
worked, but I wasn't there at the time and they didn't ask me
for my ideas. But anyway, the things they tried didn't work at
all. The yogis stayed in alpha, and their alpha rhythm didn't
respond at all to the annoying stimuli. By contrast, normal people
sitting there who had relaxed enough to be in alpha would immediately
come out of it from any of those stimuli.
What were the yogis doing? They were simply
repeating some stimulus over and over. Either saying a word over
and over to themselves, or holding a picture in their mind's
eye and when they drifted away into other thoughts, bringing
it back to that picture or word. Focus is what created the power.
The ability to stay with what you're doing
without getting your attention scattered by non-relevant stimuli
is a vital component to your general effectiveness in life. Csikszentmihalyi
wrote, "If the rock-climber were to worry about his job
or his love life as he is hanging by his fingertips over the
void, he would soon fall. The musician would hit a wrong note,
the chess player would lose the game."
If you can set a goal and stay with it
through all the normal distractions of our modern world day after
day until you reach your goal, you are in possession of a power
to be reckoned with!
Focus creates power. Even my repetition
of this principle in this article is creating a certain amount
But repetition is boring, isn't it? Let's
look at that for a moment. Boredom means what? It's an unpleasant
state characterized by a wandering mind. Your mind wanders, which
is the opposite of focus. When you're repeating your slogans,
and your mind wanders, you can handle it in one of two ways.
I don't know which way is best. Either you can wait until you
notice your mind has wandered, and then gently bring it back
to repeating the slogan again. That's the peaceful way. If you
have too much stress in your life, that's the one I recommend.
If you want more motivation and energy in your life, I recommend
the other way: say your slogan fast enough and intensely enough
that your mind doesn't wander very much.
The repetition of the slogan focuses your
mental powers on one idea and forms a well-worn path through
your dendrites. The branches of connections through your brain
cells form a pattern for each thought. And the more times that
pattern gets activated, the easier it is for that thought to
form in the future. It's like making a path in a meadow. Walk
across the grass once, and you don't make much of a mark. That's
the equivalent to having an insight. Have you ever had the frustrating
experience of knowing exactly what you need to do to solve a
problem or reach a goal only to have time go by without anything
coming of your great insight? Well, there was probably nothing
wrong with the insight itself. It was just one walk through the
If you then tell that thought to someone
else, it's another walk through the meadow. If you then write
it on a card and post it on your bathroom mirror, that's another
walk. If you read it the next morning, that's another walk. And
after enough of these walks, a faint path begins to form, and
the more times you go down that path, the clearer it becomes,
and analogously, the more you think that insight, the easier
it becomes to think it, the more natural it becomes until eventually
it becomes "second nature." Eventually when you look
at the field there is only one way to go: There is only one path
and all the others have grown over.
Of course a faster way would be to repeat
that thought over and over fifty, a hundred, two hundred times
a day. It would be like walking back and forth on the meadow
two hundred times a day. It doesn't take many days to make that
thought very easy to think and come to you naturally. And when
thought habits change, behavior and feeling habits change, and
when those change, the kinds of results you get change too.
In Ben Franklin's autobiography, he wrote about
how he changed himself. He made a list of thirteen virtues he
wanted to acquire, and, he wrote:
My Intention being to acquire the Habitude
of all these Virtues, I judg'd it would be well not to distract
my Attention by attempting the whole at once, but to fix it on
one of them at a time, and when I should be Master of that, then
to proceed to another, and so on till I should have gone thro'
the thirteen...I determined to give a Week's strict Attention
to each of the Virtues successively.
His method of concentrating his attention
on one at a time worked wonderfully, and through the practice
of these virtues became one of the most useful men in America
during his lifetime.
The most effective formula for success
is: Pick one goal and think about it and work toward it all the
time. Make it your Magnificent Obsession. There may be many things
you want. As Earl Nightingale suggests, write them all down,
but then choose one. Forget about the others for now. Choose
one and make it your top priority, your most urgent daily obsession.
Do this, and keep it up long enough, and success is practically
Use repetition of a slogan to
Repeat focus creates power
to yourself a hundred times a day.