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THE PRACTICING MIND: Developing Focus and Discipline in Your Life

practicing_mindBy Thomas M. Sterner
Reviewed for Healthy Beginnings by June Milligan, M.Ed., CCHt |

The title of this book sounds really boring, but the content is anything but.  This is one of the most useful books I’ve ever reviewed.  It explains in very simple language how to live in the NOW by focusing on “process,” not “product.”   The author explains how to live in the present moment, where you’ll find calmness and a feeling of control, rather than letting your mind run off in all directions, which brings feelings of exhaustion and overwhelm.

The word “practicing” has a negative connotation to most of us because of the boredom we may have experienced in attempting to master something, whether it was a sport, a musical instrument or anything else.  That was because we were taught to focus on the end product, and as a result were constantly judging the level of our current (temporary) skills, instead of focusing on the process, the “parts” of learning that skill, and as a result, getting consistently better at what we were “practicing” plus enjoying the process.  Real achievement in anything requires both patience and discipline. But the problem with patience and discipline is that developing each of them requires both of them.  However it’s not a problem if we choose to stay in the present moment, and practice doing just that.

We cannot develop either patience or discipline while worrying about “not being at the end product.”  When we worry about that we are comparing and judging ourselves.  We have to stay in the moment while practicing the skill of whatever we’ve decided to master.  The techniques that the author suggests are very useful and they work.  When we realize that there is an Observer inside us, observing our personality and/or ego, then we become much more powerful in controlling our minds and our lives.  The Observer can bring the mind back into line, back into present time.  Sterner gives the example of a centuries-old story of four wild horses harnessed to a chariot.  Each horse wants to go in a different direction, and the charioteer doesn’t know how to control them.  If we don’t engage the Observer, and bring the wild horses of our scattered galloping minds back into line, we find ourselves in the past or the future, regretting or fearing.  We lose our power when we’re not focused on the here and now.

It’s actually quite comforting and sometimes amusing, to allow your inner Observer to bring your mind back to the present.  There’s no judgment involved here.  You just catch yourself.  “Ah,” you say, “I was running around back in the past just now.”  Then you bring yourself back to the present, to focus on what you’re doing right now.  It’s comforting because it’s a win-win situation.  You’re always winning when you’re focused on the present moment.  As you practice a musical instrument or a particular sport, and repeat it over and over, you see and feel it becoming more comfortable, more natural.  The practice of that part of the skill becomes the goal and you feel good about it as you relax into the process.  By doing this you’re learning that breaking it down into a simplicity of effort conquers the most complex tasks.

The author reminds us to employ the four “S” words: Simplify, Small, Short and Slow.  Wow!  That’s different from what our culture has been demanding of us!  Simplify is opposite of the multi-tasking that’s driving us all crazy.  Choose small parts of the process to “practice.”  An example would be cleaning up your office or any room in your home.  Choose only a small corner or section of it to work on.  Then work on it for a short period of time.  You set the time, whatever would be comfortable for you.  And last of all, work slowly and deliberately.  Don’t try to rush through it.  You’ll just stress yourself out, and that’s what we’re trying to avoid.  Stress about, “I’m not getting enough done,” is putting yourself into the future, because sure enough, unless you force yourself to focus on what you’re doing right now, your mind will habitually start to race ahead to all the things you have to do.  You know what that feels like and it isn’t pleasant.  Thinking habits are learned, so we can choose them wisely.  And remember that with deliberate and repeated effort, progress toward any goal is inevitable.

The information in this book is not new knowledge.  It’s centuries old and is relearned by each new generation.  If we stay in the present moment, it brings awareness to all that we do.  It teaches us to stay focused on the process and use our goals only as stars to glance up to now and then, to guide our course.  When we make staying focused on the process our real goal, we experience a sense of success in every moment.  And even when we fall out of the focus on staying in present time, the fact that we’re aware of the fall means that we’ve come back into the present moment.  So take charge of your mind and therefore your life, by staying in the NOW.  It will bring you much joy, peace and achievement.

The author presents many techniques and examples that naturally cannot be included in a review.  This book is well worth purchasing.