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How long can one sustain attention on a thought (or set of thoughts)? How does the mind work in keeping focus on a subject? Like me, I’m sure you must have considered the fickleness of the human mind. The most time (at a stretch) I have managed to keep maximum attention at a task (thought, activity) is approximately 20 – 30 minutes, though with exercises on concentration I have managed to increase this. I know there are people who have lesser time than this and some who have more. I am able to begin again (re-focus) after I have distracted myself from the task by taking a walk, having a cup of tea, checking some other tasks, etc.
The game of chess is one which requires a sustained concentration on the task at hand (remember the beginning and plan forward with a consistent mindset to keep the advantage (however little that may or may not appear)). It does take a lot of discipline to rein in the thoughts for they are like wild beasts heading off in different directions all at once. Practicing the act of thinking on one subject per time (analyzing a line) is a very useful and important technique of improving self. For that to happen, it means that one must keep anxiety (desire to win or not to lose) at bay. This is a very conscious activity which requires a lot of willpower to achieve. The eventual outcome of achieving focus is power and control (over circumstance, opponent, adversity, challenge, etc). Many successful chess players have been able to master this skill which accounts for their overall successes. This is also true for athletes and professionals in various endeavors of life.
There are mental exercises that can help people who desire to achieve concentration. These can include structured games, timed activities, meditation, physical exercises or even just something as simple as doing crossword puzzles or Sudoku. Medications (prescribed by medical doctors) are helpful for those whose mechanisms of concentration are interrupted by neurological disorders or diseases.