What is a Practicing Mind?

What is a Practicing Mind?

Developing a Practicing Mindset: With Thomas Sterner

Thomas Sterner is an author, coach and thought leader in Metacognition and Present Moment Functioning.  His First Book, The Practicing Mind emphasizes that happiness is not some place outside of yourself, but rather happiness can be achieved by embracing the process of what you are doing right here and right now.  His second book, Fully Engaged outlines techniques such as thought awareness training and setting goals to enhance the concepts presented in The Practicing Mind.

Go to Thomas Sterner's Homepage

The Practicing Mind is really about understanding that absolutely everything that we do in life is a skill.

We learn skills from starting at a place where we have no skill. And then we move on this linear line, which is skill building. And we can call that mastery...but it's really the process of learning.

So, how do we convert that and transmute that process of learning into the place we want to be and that we find joy in instead of being attached to the goal, which is the reason that we undertook this endeavor in the first place?

I want to be a jazz pianist. OK, so if I say to myself, "Well, when I am a jazz pianist, then I'll be happy." That makes the process of becoming a jazz pianist, this drudgery that I have to go through so I can get to this, uh, place at here, wherever that is.

And so that's really what The Practicing Mind is about. It's about learning to enjoy the process of developing any skill, of changing yourself, and an understanding that our ability to change and to learn is infinite, and so we never really get...That's what perfection is.

Perfection is the ability to expand infinitely. It's not a number. It's not a level of skill.

Those are all limits. If, if as a musician, we would say, "Well, when I can play Chopin's Nocturne in D flat, then I'm going to be happy." You know what? When you can play that, you're going to want to play something else. That's just the way we are.

When we start out, the very first day on, on our music lesson, whatever the instrument is the instructor is showing us where the note is on the paper.  Where it is on the instrument and how you articulate that with your hands, or your mouth, if you're playing a woodwind instrument or a brass instrument.

And at that moment, we're overwhelmed and our brain is at it's threshold. And we have this feeling inside that this is difficult. But that's a label, difficult.  It's funny; we have these labels for things but it's just a feeling. We're just labeling it with this word that we then interpret as a bad thing, but it's just telling us this is the level we're at in this skill development.

Now, what happens two years later when you're way past all of that and now you're learning a simple Mozart piece, you're no longer trying to figure out where the notes are on the page. You do not have to figure out where they are on your instrument, but the feeling is still there. This feeling of reaching your threshold.  This is a property of art. In art, -- and life in general -- we're always up against our threshold.  We're always noticing what we haven't mastered yet. The stuff that we can do, we don't notice.

You don't pay attention to walking across the floor. You don't pay attention to buttoning your shirt or to looking at the music and say that's a G and here it is on the instrument, because you're past that. You've mastered that.

So, we only notice it when we're up against something that we're in the process of mastering and so that feeling is there. So we never really escape that feeling, because as artists, we're always trying to be more and to expand.

And that's what The Practicing Mind is about. It's learning that the process is a gift and it's something that we need to treasure. And when you shift your focus, your interpretation of the experience creates your behavior towards the experience, which creates how the whole thing feels. And when you shift that, what happens is that you find that practicing is a respite. It's something that you look forward to, because when you're practicing your instrument, when you're practicing anything, your art form, right in that moment is where you're supposed to be and you can completely relax and shut everything off.