“The Practicing Mind” by Thomas Sterner: Part One

I struggle with keeping my “must read” list short enough to be realistic. This book offers practical, executable advice for how to maintain mindfulness in your everyday life. Much like “The Positive Dog”, “10% Happier”, and “Essentialism”, “The Practicing Mind” is short enough to read quickly, and to-the-point enough to begin applying its lessons immediately. Do-Observe-Correct. Doing is easy, especially when you ignore the consequences, Observe is hard because our egos and internal monologue speak so loudly, and Correct means that you’ve completed the first two with enough fidelity to understand what you need to change.

  1. The ability to quiet one’s mind and to be able to focus one’s energy at will on any particular task provides timeless, true self-empowerment by anyone’s standard, but it is also the key to beginning to unlock the experience of inner peace we all find so evasive in our lives today.
  2. Of all the riches available to us in life, self-discipline is surely one of, if not the, most valuable. All things worth achieving can be accomplished with the power of self-discipline. With it we are masters of the energy we expend in life. Without it we are victims of our own unfocused and constantly changing efforts, desires, and directions.
  3. Living in the present moment and being process-oriented is the path that leads us to these all-important virtues.
  4. At times we must do several things at once, but the problem for us is that we are so used to always multi-tasking that, when we decide we want to reel in our minds and focus ourselves on just one activity, we can’t.
  5. We are so convinced that because our technology is evolving, we must be dong the same. We think that because we have cell phones with cameras in them, we must be more advanced than someone who lived 2500 years ago; but in fact, those people in the past were much more aware of their internal world than we are because they weren’t distracted by technology. We have all this technology, which is supposed to make our lives easier, and yet it doesn’t.
  6. If you are not in control of your thoughts then you are not in control of yourself.
  7. A paradox of life: The problem with patience and discipline is that it requires both of them to develop each of them.
  8. They would have had to experience a shift in their intended goal. What I mean by this is that we have a very unhealthy habit of making the product—our intended result—the goal, instead of the process of getting there.
  9. When you focus your mind on the present moment, on the process of what you are doing right now, you are always where you want to be and where you should be. When you focus your mind on where you want to end up, you are never where you are and you exhaust your energy with unrelated thoughts instead of putting it into what you are doing.
  10. This awareness of being where you are and in the present gives you the constant positive reinforcement of reaching your goal over and over again.
  11. Once we experience the shift to a “present moment, process not product”—oriented perspective, we know that it is right. We calm down. Our priorities adjust themselves and we feel peaceful and fulfilled with what we have and where we are.
  12. Most of the anxiety we experience in life comes from the feeling that there is a point of perfection in everything that we involve ourselves. With.
  13. If you step back routinely during your day and observe where your attention is, you will be amazed at how few times it is where you are and on what you are doing.
  14. Remember, the reason we bother ourselves with such a life-long effort is not to be able to say “I have mastered the technique of present moment awareness.” This is an ego-based statement. We work at this for one reason: it brings us the inner peace and happiness that we cannot attain through the acquisition of any material object or cultural status. What we achieve is timeless, always with us, and perhaps the only thing that we can really call our own.
  15. When we are totally focused in the present moment and in the process of what we are doing, we are completely absorbed with the activity. As soon as we become aware of how well we are concentrating on something, we are no longer concentrating on it. We are now concentrating on the fact that we were concentrating on the activity. When we are practicing correctly, we are not aware we are practicing correctly. We are only aware and absorbed in the process of what we are doing in that moment. In Zen this is referred to as “beginner’s mind.”
  16. The knowledge that we pre-judge our activities and then place them into one of the two categories is very powerful. It demonstrates to us that nothing is really work or play. We make it into work or play by our judgments. The next time you find yourself doing something that you really don’t feel like doing, stop for a moment and ask yourself why.
  17. You cannot change what you are not aware of, and that truth is no more important than in the world of self-improvement. We need to be more aware of what we are doing, what we are thinking, and what we are intending to accomplish in order to be more in control of what we are experiencing in life.
  18. Everything we do is a habit in one form or another. How we think, how we talk, how we react to a criticism, what type of snack we instinctively reach for, are all habits.
  19. I wanted you to realize that we keep coming back to the same few solutions to all the problems we feel we have, and begin to realize that life isn’t as complicated as we had thought.
  20. Thinking about a situation before you are in it only scatters your energy.
  21. There is no such thing as reaching a point of perfection in anything. True perfection is both always evolving and at the same time always present within you, just like the flower. What you perceive as perfect is always relative to where you are in any area of your life.
  22. The feeling of “I’ll be happy when” will never bring you anything but discontentment.
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