The Practicing Mind by Thomas M. Sterner – Book Notes

Posted: January 26, 2017 by Todd in Books

Started 11/29/16, Physical Book
Chapter 1: The Learning Begins
Sterner had a shift in his early to mid twenties in the process of becoming an accomplished musician where he had an “ah-ha” moment realizing that he now loved to practice.  He saught to deconstruct that process and golf offered an opportunity to do that since he’d be traveling from no skill to a place of proficiency.
Life itself is simply one great big practice.  The lessons of this book can be applied to “microskills” and “macroskills” (life).
“Without an understanding of proper practice mechanics, and without an awareness of our own internal workings, we’re almost certain to use up the initial inspiration and motivation that propelled us into our endeavor, leaving us feeling we cannot reach the goal that had seemed so worth striving for just a short time earlier.” Pg. 6
We are so used to multitasking that we don’t adjust easily to focusing on just one thing.
Goal of book is to move us from the rider of a chariot with horses wildly controlling it, to take over as the driver of the charoit, consciously charting its direction.
 “I was having all these ideas for this book, but they were going to have to wait to be written down because my children needed my attention.  I noticed that I had become the chariot driver who did not have control of the reins.  I was allowing my mind to run off the path and work on the book instead of staying on the path and enjoying the time with my kids.”
Chapter 2: Process, Not Product
“We erroneously think that there is a magical point that we will reach and then we will be happy.  We look at the process of getting there as almost a necessary nuisance we have to go through in order to get to our goal.”
“To me, the words 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.  The words deliberate and intention are key here because they define the difference between actively practicing something and passively learning it.” (22)
“In order to focus on the present, we must give up, at least temporarily, our attachment to our desired goal.” (23)
“Where we fall down in this activity is when we drop out of this present-minded approach and become attached to the outcome of our attemps.  Then we start the emotional judgment cycle: “How could I have missed the first one?  I am not very good at this.  Now the best I can do is two out of three,” and on and on.  If we stay in the process, this does not occur.  We look at the outcome of each attempt with emotional indifference.  We accept it as it is, with no judgment involved.” (26-27)
“If you read about any of the great world religions and philosophies, you will find that at their core is the subject of our inability to stay in the present moment.” (28)
Markers – things that define who we are (bad to focus on)
“Grades, when functioning properly, should inform the educational system about how well the present method of teaching is working.” (29)
“The grading system affects our attitudes toward making the product the priority, rather than the process.” (30)
STORY – Japanese pianos – superior craftsmanship with no supervisors (36-37)
“Credit cards work on the premise of product before process, instead of process first.” (37)
“It would be more accurately stated as ‘Instant gratification , short-term satisfaction’ because anything we acquire in this way has no real, lasting value to us.” (38)
Practicing mind comes down to these rules (40):
  • Keep yourself process-oriented.
  • Stay in the present.
  • Make the process the goal and use the overall goal as a rudder to steer your efforts.
  • Be deliberate, have an intention about what you want to accomplish, and remain aware of that intention.
“The problem with patience and discipline is that developing each of them requires both of them.” (41)
Chapter 3: It’s How You Look At It
STORY – Perfection of a baseball player (43-44)
“If these images are used for inspiration, they can be very beneficial; but if they are used as a measuring device, they can become our downfall.” (45)
“An ideal implies that it is as good as a particular circumstance or thing can get.  True perfection, in contrast, is limitless, unbounded, and always expanding.” (47)
“It is perfect at being wherever it is and at whatever stage of growth it is in at that moment.” (48)
A flower’s monologue (48)
Beginner’s mind – state of being immersed in activity because you’re learning (52)
We prejudge our activities as work or play.  Not helpful.
Chapter 4: Creating the Habits We Desire
“Expectations are tied to a result or product, to the thought that “things should be this way right now, and until then I won’t be happy.” (64)
“Habits and practice are very interrelated.  What we practice will become a habit.” (65)
A trigger is a device that serves to start the creation process of a new habit. (69)
Chapter 5: Perception Change Creates Patience!
Worrying – anticipating things that haven’t happened yet or questions that haven’t been asked yet (78)
“Thinking about a situation before you are in it only scatters your energy.  ‘But,’ you say, ‘I have a difficult meeting with someone tomorrow, and 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.” (78-9)
“The second step in creating patience is understanding and accepting that there is no such thing as reaching a point of perfection in anything.  True perfection is both always evolving and always present within you, just like the flower.” (80)
Rethinking perfection based on unfulfillment of accomplished person (82)
STORY – Goals, “horizon” (83-5)
“There were no mistakes being made, just a process of discovering what worked and what didn’t. (85)
STORY – Self playing organs – went out of fashion as they didn’t contribute to growth (86-89)
Focus: Achieving over getting (91)
Chapter 6: The Four “S” Words (compare to Tim Ferriss’ method in 4HC)
Simplify – break something down into its constituent parts
Small – break down into small parts (distinction without a difference from simplify, best I can tell)
Short – time brevity
Slow – Work at a pace that you pay attention to what you’re doing
Sterner – tried experiment of working “slowly” and found out that he experienced more peace and actually finished faster
Chapter 7: Equanimity and DOC
Equanimity comes from non-judgment
Judgments are always based on some preconceived idea of perfection.
“Judgments are necessary for us to function in life, but they have a downside: They are not executed with a detached nature.  There is usually some emotion involved, and the amount of emotion is proportional to the perceived importance of the judgment.” (107)
Focus on training and sound decision making, not emotions.
“We must work at being more objectively aware of ourselves.” (110)
“If you are talking to yourself, you probably think you are doing the talking.  That seems reasonable enough, but who is listening to you talk to yourself?  Who is aware that you are observing the process of an internal dialogue?  Who is this second party who is aware that you are aware?  The answer is your true self.  The one who is talking is your ego or personality.”  (110-11)
The ego is subjective; the observer is objective.
DOC = Do, Observe, Correct
DOC can be applied to anything you’re working on.
Evaluating is different than judging.
Move from evaluation to correction, instead of judgment.
Chapter 8: Teach and Learn from Children
Time perception in children and adults – page 124ff
Children typically think it moves very slowly.  Adults think just the opposite – there is too much to do in too little time.
“They don’t see how discipline and effort can pay such great dividends over time, but we do.  This paradox is both their and our strengths and weaknesses in the same instant.” (125)
Chapter 9: Your Skills are Growing
“All cultures begin by expending their energy and resources on survival.  If a culture survives its infancy, its people eventually pass the point of having to spend all their time focusing on staying alive.  They get to a point where they can ask what’s for dinner, instead of asking whether there’s dinner.  Their days have more free time.  It is at this point that the society faces a fork in the road…On one path, you can spend at least a portion of this free time on expanding your spiritual awareness…the other path leads away from this truth into and endless cycle of meaningless self-indulgence that, at its core, is an attempt to fill the spiritual void that many of us experience in our lives.” (135)
“Everything that you spiritually acquire expands your true self and becomes part of you forever.” (137)

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