Tips to Develop Focus and Discipline, from The Practicing Mind

I have been reminded about the importance of state of mind when engaged in any number of activities, including learning new skills, and developing habits from The Practicing Mind: Developing Focus and Discipline in Your Life – Master Any Skill or Challenge by Learning to Love the Process.

This smallish book by Thomas M. Sterner is an antidote to the current culture of rushing around, multitasking and instant gratification. Sterner draws on his early and recent experiences of learning piano, other instruments, and golfing as well as his personal studies of world philosophies and his personal experiences now as a concert piano technician and restorer. His tips are well explained and are encouraging as he shares the following:

Focus on the Process, not the Product – First of all it is important to focus on the task at hand and not fret about your progress against your ultimate goals. He compares it to swimming where you take a number of strokes before sticking your head up to see if you are on course, instead of looking for your distance landmark after every stroke.

Remember the Lesson of the Flower – The question “When is a flower perfect” could be answered many ways, but if we consider it closely we would have to conclude at each stage, it is perfect. We need to have the same acceptance of ourselves at each stage of our growth.

Create a Trigger – As is backed up by science in a number of recent books, Sterner points out that it can be helpful to choose a small action or event, that will serve as the kickoff to our execution of our practiced behavior. It could be as with professional athletes that will adjust their jersey prior to an attempt, or it can be in the workplace where we see ourselves start losing our temper at a coworker.

Remember the Four S’s, simplify, small, short, and slow – Here it is important to break up our actions that we are trying to improve into small bits that we can work on carefully. One term used to describe effective ways to improve is Deliberate Practice. Sterner makes some very interesting observations about being deliberately slow. He tells of a packed day that he was running back and forth between concert halls, and he decided that he was just losing the life balance game, and feeling frazzled. He decided that despite all that he was going to need to do that day, he would intentionally go about it deliberately and slowly. It felt great as he did it, but he was afraid that he was running late as a result. When he got back to his truck and looked at the clock there (he had removed his watch) he found that he was way ahead of schedule.

Equanimity and Do, Observe and Correct. – Sterner encourages us to develop a even tempered detachment to our behavior and actions. This will allow us to remain calm and in the present. We can correct ourselves without beating ourselves up.

Sterner gives further suggestions as to how to learn from our children’s approach to life. I found this to be a very powerful book, and one that I intend to apply to my own life. I will try some of the suggestions to reduce some of my mental multitasking at work. When I ran an errand yesterday, I turned off the radio and just concentrated on my driving. Frankly I did not notice much difference, but maybe that other drivers did. I strongly recommend this book, as I am going to apply in my own life.

How do you learn new skills? Please share.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *