Derek Sivers

Practicing Mind - by Thomas Sterner

Practicing Mind - by Thomas Sterner

ISBN: 0977657205
Date read: 2011-05-27
How strongly I recommend it: 8/10
(See my list of 320+ books, for more.)

Go to the Amazon page for details and reviews.

Great simple philosophy: Life itself is one long practice session. Everything in life worth achieving requires practice. Practice is not just for artistic or athletic skill, but practicing patience, practicing communication, practicing anything you do in life. The process/practice itself is the real goal, not the outcome.

my notes

Self-discipline, focus, patience, and self-awareness are interwoven threads in the fabric of both true inner peace and contentment in life. Together, living in the present moment and being process-oriented is the path that leads us to these all- important virtues.

Everything in life worth achieving requires practice.

Life itself is one long practice session.

I mistakenly only associated the word “practice” with art forms such as music, dance or painting. I did not see dealing with a cranky child, an over-burdened work schedule, or a tight monthly budget as actions that required applying the same principles as did learning music.

I wanted the joy and benefits that are rewarded to the individual who perseveres at working towards a lofty personal goal. I wanted to experience the self-discovery that one attains from picking a goal and steadily working toward it.

If you are not in control of your thoughts then you are not in control of yourself. Without self-control, you have no real power.

The problem with patience and discipline is that it requires both of them to develop each of them.

When given my present moment attention, the practice sessions were very calming, not bothersome. I didn't have to be anywhere but “here,” and I didn't have to accomplish anything but exactly what I was doing “right now.” 

It would keep my mind in the present, out of the past or the future. I would let go of any expectations of how long it would take me to acquire a good golf swing because I was enjoying what I was doing “right now,” learning a good golf swing.

“practice” and “learning” are similar but not the same.
The word “practice” implies the presence of awareness and will.
The word learning does not.
When we “practice” something we are involved in the deliberate repetition of a process with the intention of reaching a specific goal.

Practice encompasses learning but not the other way around.

Your goal is focusing on the process or staying in the present.
Then there are no mistakes and no judging.
You are just learning and doing.
You are executing the activity, observing the outcome and adjusting yourself and your practice energy to produce the desired result.

Use the final goal as a rudder to steer your practicing session, but not as an indicator of how you are doing.

We are mastering ourselves by staying in the process and mastering whatever activity we are working on. This is the essence of proper practice.

"What is a supervisor?" asked the worker.
"Someone to make sure you do your job correctly," answered the retailer.
"Why would I need someone to make sure I do my job correctly? That's *my* job."

Instant gratification = short term satisfaction, because anything we acquire of this nature has no real lasting value to us.

You can recall everything you have worked hard and patiently for in your life, but how many things that you have attained with little or no effort can you remember?

When we focus our energy on the process of attaining something, whether it be an object or a skill, and through patience and discipline we achieve it, we experience a joy that is just not present when something comes too quickly or easily.

At what point in a flower's life, from seed to full bloom, has it reached perfection?

Ideal images of perfection, if they are used for inspiration, they can be very beneficial; but if they are used as a measuring device, they become our downfall.

At any point in the day when you are involved in an activity and you notice you are feeling bored, impatient, rushed, or disappointed with your performance level, realize that you have left the present moment in your activity. Look at where your mind and energy are focused. You will find that you have strayed either into the future or the past.

We are perfect when we are where we are and absorbed in what we are doing right at that moment.

The reason we bother ourselves with such a life-long effort is not to be able to say “I have mastered the technique of present moment awareness.” This is an ego-based statement. We work at this for one reason: it brings us the inner peace and happiness that we cannot attain through the acquisition of any material object or cultural status.

When we are practicing correctly, we are not aware we are practicing correctly. We are only aware and absorbed in the process of what we are doing in that moment.

In Zen this is referred to as "beginner's mind." Part of this is because, when you are a beginner at whatever activity you are attempting to learn, it takes all of your concentration to accomplish the activity and your mind is empty of chatter.

One of the best examples of this is to watch someone play a computer video game. You will see perfect practice in action. Video games offer a natural environment for pulling us into a state of focused present moment awareness. In a video game, the score is essentially the end result or product that the player is working for, but the game itself is where the fun is. The process of playing the game takes all of your attention. If you take more than a second to glance at the score, it can make or break your attempt to beat the computer at the game.

He had become very present moment oriented. He found it increasingly difficult to plan future events because he was so wrapped up in what he was doing right now in this moment.

What we practice is going to become habit.

Become aware of what habits we are forming, we can begin to free ourselves by intentionally creating the habits we want.

When we say that something is a habit, it means that it is the natural way we do something. We do it intuitively, without having to think about it.

What is required is that you are aware of what you want to achieve, that you know the motions you must intentionally repeat to accomplish the goal, and that you execute your actions with no emotions or judgments; just stay on course. You should do this with the comfort of knowing that intentionally repeating something over a short course of time creates a new habit and can also replace an old one.

This knowledge took so much of the stress out of learning something new for me. It became much easier to stay in the process of doing something, because I wasn’t experiencing all the anticipation that results from not having any idea of how long it would take to learn something new. I would just relax and repeat the exercise and stay in the process, knowing that the learning was occurring.

Also in more personality-related changes:

I would objectively decide where I wanted to end up and what motions were going to get me there. Next, I would work at that process without emotion, knowing that so many intentional repetitions over a short amount of time were going to create the behavior I was after. There was no need to fret over it. I would just stay with it and know that I was where I should be right “now” and becoming what I wanted to be.

The more you experience it working, the more confidence you have in your ability to shape yourself and your life into whatever you want. Being aware that all of your motions are habit, be they physical or mental, and that you have the power to choose which habits you will create, is very liberating. You are in control.

You need to keep reviewing these ideas so that you can hang on to the clarity and perspective. Otherwise, life steals it away.

Thinking about a situation before you are in it only scatters your energy. “But I want to have my thoughts together before I get into the situation.” Fine, then take half an hour to sit down in a chair and do nothing else but go through the meeting in your mind and be there completely, doing only that.

There is an endless nature to life. There is always more to be experienced. Deep down we know this and are glad for it. The problem is that everyday life steals this from us. It pulls us away from this perspective with a constant bombardment of advertisements all promising to fulfill us: “Get this, do that and life will be perfect.” We need to let go of this futile idea that happiness is out there somewhere, and embrace the infinite growth available to us as a treasure, not something that we are impatient to overcome. People involved in the arts understand this endless nature through direct experience. It is part of all the arts. That is why I believe that a personal pursuit in some form of art is so important to a person’s sense of well-being. It teaches you this true nature of life right up front if you pay attention.

Progress is a natural result of staying focused on the process of doing anything. When you stay on purpose, focused in the present moment, the goal comes to you with frictionless ease.

Cheating discipline doesn’t work.

Achieving any personal goal means nothing if it comes with little or no effort. ****

So many people miss this point. They look at the process of working for something as an annoying effort they have to go through to get what they want. They make getting the “thing” the goal instead of “getting there” the goal. “Just getting the thing” produces a very small return investment of inner joy compared with the process of “getting there and achieving the goal.” ****

Let go of your attachment to the object you desire and make your desire the experience of staying focused on working toward your goal.

This shift in perspective is very small and subtle on the one hand, but it has enormous freeing power. No task seems too large to undertake. Your confidence goes way up as does your patience with yourself. You are always achieving your goal and there are no mistakes or time limits to create stress.

Break the overall goal down into small sections that can be achieved with a comfortable amount of concentration.

Working slowly in today’s world goes against every thought system. You can only work slowly if you do it deliberately. Being deliberate requires you to stay in the process, to work in the present moment.

Anything you can do in a rushing state is surprisingly easy when you deliberately slow it down.

We must work at being more objectively aware of ourselves. We cannot refine any part of our daily thought processes if we are not separate from them.

The one who is quietly aware is who you really are, the Observer. The more you become aligned to the quiet Observer, your true self, the less you judge. Your internal dialogue begins to shut down and you become more detached about the various external stimuli that come at you all day long. You begin to actually view your internal dialogue with an unbiased and sometimes amused perspective.

Make a habit of detaching yourself and thereby use your privilege of conscious choice. 

Conscious participation in the whole process of seeing it coming, observing your internal dialogue with detachment and correcting my reaction.

With every difficult situation, my inner response is, “This is when the fun begins, let’s go.”

As adults, we usually feel that life is going too fast. We feel there is too much to do in too little time, and most of us long for the simplicity of our school days when we were young. The older you get, the faster time seems to go. Seasons and years feel as if they are flying by. The time between when you were ten and twenty years old seemed like a century, and yet the time between say thirty and forty feels like two or three years.

Children don’t seem to have a sense of where they are going in life. There is today and that’s it. They live in the present moment,

In every moment of your life your skills are growing. The question is, in which direction?

When we make staying focused on the process our real goal, we experience a sense of success in every moment. Even when we feel we have fallen out of that focus on the process, the fact that we are aware of it means that we have come back into the present moment.