I’m rereading a book right now called The Practicing Mind by Thomas M. Sterner. Ostensibly, the book is about learning how to practice effectively but, as the author is quick to point out, it’s really about mindfulness and staying in the present moment.
The approach reminds me of Scott Adams’ anti-goals methodology. In a nutshell, Sterner says that the whole trick to effective practice is to calm down, narrow your focus to the present moment, and remember that as long as you’re doing the thing – in process, as he calls it – you’re already winning.
I’m also reminded of the Carol Dweck’s famous book Mindset, where she writes about the importance of teaching children that they can get better at anything – yes anything – if they practice. This is a mindset I’ve tried to instill in my eleven year old, and I’ve gleefully caught him not only embodying it but teaching it to his friends as follows:
“Robert, if you want to learn how to ollie, you just have to practice it a lot. And when you get frustrated, take a break and go back to the thing you already know how to do until you feel better. Then you can try again.”
[CUT TO ME BEAMING]
Sure, he’s more likely to embody a growth mindset when he’s practicing skateboarding than he is when he’s doing something less enjoyable, like practicing piano or reading a book, but like everything else, we have to practice practicing. (Yeah, it’s a thing.)
So what about me?
I can see lots of ways to apply this idea to my life.
- If I’m writing, or making written plans or outlines for a book, or blogging, or researching journals, I am making progress toward becoming a bestselling author – WIN!
- If I am working out or even just getting ready to work out, I am making progress toward becoming fitter – WIN!
- If I am planning meals or shopping for planned meals or preparing a healthy meal or eating a healthy meal or choosing a healthier choice at a restaurant, I am making progress toward becoming healthier – WIN!
In short, Sterner says, stop thinking about the result you want – your book on the shelves in Barnes and Noble, the perfect body, or the lower blood pressure. Instead, focus on the process, where you are succeeding already.
This makes sense given that our default reaction is to look at the goal, measure the distance from the goal to where we are now, and then get frustrated because it’s SO FAR from here to there.
Sterner says frustration is a signal that you’re no longer in process. A more Tolle-esque way of saying this is that you are no longer present. Your body is here, but your mind is in an imaginary future moment. Tolle calls that the anxiety gap. (Don’t you love that?)
One way anxiety shows up in this context is as frustration.
So look for the frustration. Make it your friend. Because it means it’s time to shift your perspective to all the ways you’re already winning, right now, in this moment.