The Practicing Mind
By Thomas M. Sterner
Thomas Sterner is an accomplished musician who, as a child, practiced his instruments without much enjoyment. Though he became proficient, it wasn’t until he was in his mid-30s, and especially after he took up golf, that he understood what practice is, how to practice mindfully and deeply, and how we can master any skill or challenge if we only learn to love the process. “When we learn to focus on and embrace the process of experiencing life, whether we’re working toward a personal aspiration or working through a difficult time, we begin to free ourselves from the stress and anxiety that are born out of an attachment to our goals,” he says. “When we subtly shift toward both focusing on and finding joy in the process of achieving, instead of having the goal, we have gained a new skill. And once mastered, it is magical and incredibly empowering.”
We usually describe those who’ve mastered this skill as having self-discipline, focus, patience, and self-awareness, and we know that these traits are the secret to reaching our goals and to having inner peace and contentment on the journey. Sterner shows us how to master our life energy so we no longer have to live as “victims of our own unfocused and constantly changing efforts, desires, and directions.” We move, often ungracefully, from trial-and-error to mastery. Although a child who’s learning to walk, tie her shoes, or ride a bike will keep working at it in spite of mistakes and painful falls, adults often will quit when the going gets tough or avoid learning a new skill at all, for fear of failure. Sterner reminds us that “life itself is one long practice session, an endless effort to refine the motions, both physical and mental, that compose our days.” He shows us how to master any skill swiftly, with the least possible amount of effort, in a spirit of peace and joy that will have us eager to practice again and again.