With any goal, it can be easy to constantly focus on the desired end result. Something I rarely considered in my own goals until recently.
My most recent read involved learning about what it means to deliberately practice. In the hopes of finding a better way to implement some of the strategies I learn, what better way is there than to actively practice? The Practicing Mind: Developing Focus and Discipline in Your Life by Thomas Stermer was a quick read that helped jump start some ideas to help address these concerns.
“If you are not in control of your thoughts, you are not in control of yourself. You cannot control what you are not aware of.”
While I don’t have a lack of discipline, maintaining focus can be a consistent struggle. This lack of focus was demonstrated by shifting our mindset into the present moment so we can find more joy in the process.
Making goals is a good thing but we progress much quicker by deliberately understanding what it takes to actually achieve a goal. The following sections highlight some of my takeaways from the book.
It’s how you look at it
From the beginning, a reoccurring theme was becoming more aware of your thoughts and state of emotions. Through self-observation, we must seek to understand if we are actively practicing something or passively going through the motions. The practicing mind takes the former and recognizes that the only ways to stay involved in the process is by decreasing our attachment to the final product to make way for the present moment.
Think about a child’s approach to any skill, the author writes. Kids don’t see the point in practicing because they don’t have a concept of what it means to play well. They lack the understanding of what enjoyment it would bring to excel at something which results in impatience.
Adults, however, can understand that practice is the only way to get better and that our impatience occurs when we realize how much work it will take to get better.
By being deliberate with your practices, you remain aware of your intentions which help to guide the mind into the present moment and not the specifics of the goal. But as soon as we become aware of how well we are concentrating we are no longer concentrating on the process.
“Progress is a natural result of staying focused on the process of doing anything. We are practicing correctly when we are not aware that we are practicing correctly.”
The objective is to not become discouraged from the pursuit of a goal because we open ourselves up to excuses and reflections on what could have been. The constant search for more creates a disillusioned mind that is never satisfied until it’s “perfectly” matched to our imagination.
This is dangerous on many levels because if we constantly compare our current positions in life, we affirm to ourselves how far we have to go. It is through this point that the author includes an example of any hobby or skill we want to learn such as playing guitar.
Rarely do we ever believe that there is no need for improvement. Understanding this is what a practicing mind is about.
Creating better habits
Understanding how we form habits allows us to switch from becoming victims to victors. To help bring awareness to the negative habits in our lives, the book suggests setting up a trigger or multiple triggers meant to bring attention to our good or bad habits.
Take for example my meditation rock from vacation. As I sat in a peaceful, beautiful spot near the ocean, I began to reflect on the many things that bring me joy. To better internalize this beautiful scene and the happy place I created in my mind, I picked up a rock to serve as a reminder of my positive emotions within that specific moment. A moment where I was at peace and more in touch with who I want to be in this life. At any moment I feel I am not living according to my values, the rock shall serve as a reminder that I have left the present moment.
Cheating discipline never works. Shortcuts to satisfaction only leave us feeling unsatisfied. We lack the feeling of accomplishment when seeking short-term gratification because we know there was little effort to obtain it.
“If we look at the process of working for something as an annoying effort to go through to get what you want, there is a smaller return of investment.”
We all have troublesome habits such as those where we worry about things that likely will never come to pass. But, a practicing mind is one that refrains from scattering thoughts throughout our day – whether through driving, walking, working, thinking – and instead focuses on solving our worries in dedicated time frames. Once a goal is acknowledged, let go of it and make the process your desire by focusing on gaining experience working towards the objective.
The S words
To further illustrate the steps to a practicing mind, the author gives four words that serve as guidelines for any learning process. These are:
- Simplify – break any goal into smaller pieces first
- Small – as smaller pieces, it’s easier to focus on the individual parts that make up the large goal
- Short – instead of being overwhelmed by how long something will take, shorter time frames help with increased focus
- Slow – don’t rush through the process and instead practice working slower
Practice is to do things slow on purpose because multitasking and speeding through the process remove us from the learning experience. One suggestion provided is to ensure everything is in order before beginning something.
Set up the process in a way that encourages complete fluency in the effort because the key is to eliminate distractions. However, we must be aware of the times where we lose sight of the working slow and feeling like we are taking too long.
But what about when there is a lack of motivation that keeps us from pushing forward? What might be a go-to strategy?
I asked the author and was ecstatic when he responded with a very enlightening response. He writes,
“My go to strategy for motivation is understanding where “lack” of motivation comes from. When I experience lack of motivation it is usually coming from one of two things. Being too attached to the goal means living in the future and anticipating the moment I reach my goal. That pulls me out of the present and makes me feel impatient with where I am so I don’t feel motivated to work at the process.
Second…having too much on my plate. This creates a lot of internal dialog and a sense of needing to be in more than one place at a time. Again that pulls me out of the present moment and the mental multi-tasking (which really is incorrectly labeled and should be called “switch-tasking”) exhausts me, can feel overwhelming and can make me feel like not working on my task at all. That is when I know I need to use the 4 “S” words and refocus on only one aspect of what I am trying to achieve.”
Equinaminity and DOC
The author defines equinaminity as a state that is undisturbed by the moment to moment ups and downs of daily life. When in balance, you are not operating under the influence of emotions and evaluating everything without taking a judgmental stance.
In our battle of ego and self-observations, we first evaluate the situation and formulate opinions. These can either be positive or negative judgments that are driven by our egos. When we observe without judgments, we see life through an objective lens and each experience is neither good nor bad.
The author explains that Do, Observe, Correct – DOC is the one way around this. To do this, we must begin by noticing something that we are fretting over or to observe the behavior that we want to change. We must then realize the experience and find ways to assign the desired emotions over the situation. The final step is becoming more aware of our thought processes and correcting them when they happen.
But, do not confuse evaluating something with judging it. Evaluation comes before passing a judgment. This is where the importance of DOC comes into play. After evaluation, judgments are inevitable. At this point, stop and observe what your intentions are or what it is about the event that is right or wrong.
Then, without judgment, we can detach our emotions from any situation which helps us move on and stay focused.
Situations are as they are and the value whether good or bad is a matter of whether you choose acceptance or ignorance. By only focusing on the solution of the problems, you eliminate the judgment and self-pity component altogether.
When we spend time thinking about what has happened or what could happen instead of focusing on our processes, we waste each moment’s opportunity to experience something real. Through acceptance of our current states, we can become more at peace with the process and understand that this is the foundation of a growth mindset. Not through the achievement of what we build in our heads as a “perfect” result.
“When we make staying focused on the process of our real goal, we experience a sense of success in every moment.”
Overall, this book was a quick read and brought up many thought provoking points on how to approach things I want to learn. I am an ambitious person with many goals yet I always seem to forget that constantly keeping my goals in mind distracts me from the actionable steps I need to be taking to achieve these goals.
Instead, I must think more about the process and not the product. I must understand that there is joy and happiness in deliberate practice because it aligns with the joy and happiness of achievement.
The practicing mind is another way of encouraging all of us to see that the end result is irrelevant because we grow from our experiences, not necessarily the outcomes of what we set to achieve. If we focus more on the learning objectives rather than the actual product, we become more engaged, learn faster, and at peace with where we are at in the pursuit of our goals.
This book is something that I constantly reference and use to reinforce that the process is the achievement.
Do you have any personal connection with this book? I’m interested to hear more about what this book has meant to you!