Customer Reviews: The Practicing Mind: Developing Focus and Discipline in Your Life
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on December 3, 2007
Although I have bought and read literally hundreds of self help books in all categories through Amazon, the Practicing Mind by Thomas M. Sterner is by far the 1st book that has compelled me to write my very first Amazon review.

There are many things that make this book stand out. It is very short, with absolutely, no-fluff or fillings, with the result that every word and every phrase really counts. Sterner's tone is also very down to earth and easy to understand without the use of any pretentious words. The book also has a few very good illustrations and stories to clarify the concepts presented in the book.

But what I think makes the book really practical is Sterner's realization and revelation that the key to success in any area of life is to acquire self-discipline through non-judgmental concentrated practice. Now, I know that this doesn't sound at all like a very profound or new revelation. But if you have been searching through hundreds of self help books - like I have been for the last few years - for the one key ( or system) that would enable me to become successful in improving my spirituality, my role as husband and father, time-management, health and exercise, writing, entrepreneurship and my other personal areas of interest that are of value to me - than the Practicing Mind will be of great value to you.

The Practicing Mind - is not a panacea to cure it all - but for me it turned out to be an amazingly simple and effective system to help me to systematically and measurably improve all the areas of interest in my life.

I highly recommend the Practicing Mind to anyone that has been searching for the key - no matter if you are just starting out or you already own hundreds or even thousands of self-help books - to order this book and put it into practice

I also highly recommend you to get to also get the audio version - as over the years I have realized that the best way to internalize the paradigms like the one presented in this book - is to listen to them over and over again preferably on a daily basis. The audio CD is read by Mr. Sterner himself and the author has a very calm and pleasant voice that helps transmits his ideas perfectly in the audio book version of this book.

Get The Practicing Mind. It might be the last personal self-help book that you ever order.....
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on March 30, 2007
Accomplished musician Thomas M. Sterner spent years learning to play the piano, but it was learning the sport of golf that taught him the dynamics of practice. Through observing his classmates, Sterner began to notice key motivational flaws that keep us in an unyielding state of confusion and discontent.

Today's over-stimulated society is focused on multitasking to the point that we are unable to concentrate on a single task. At any given time, our minds race from events in the past to worries about the future, but we are seldom living in the present. We measure success based on where we are in relation to our goals--or where advertising tell us we should be.

Sterner argues that the exhaustion we pile on ourselves to achieve is useless and self-defeating. We struggle to achieve perfection, but perfection is a myth, as our concept of perfection is constantly changing and moving away from us. To reach one milestone means that a dozen more are lining up in front of us. Sterner's solution is to live in the present and realize that practice is the goal, not the end result. Therefore, no matter what stage we are at, if we are practicing, we are always in a state of perfection and always successful.

Learning to take a step back from life, observe situations and direct our actions without invoking emotion make up Sterner's "DOC" (do, observe, correct) method. He encourages us to immerse ourselves in the process of practice rather than constantly comparing ourselves to the ideal. His four "S" words--simplify, small, short, and slow--help to bring attention to the present and provide the ability to enjoy life, which is one enormous process (or practice) in itself.

In Sterner's words, "There are not that many ideas in this book--just a few, and they have always been there for us to discover. But they slip away from us in our daily lives so easily."

Armchair Interview says: Through the process of practice, Sterner has managed to fit an incredible amount of wisdom into the 98 pages of The Practicing Mind.
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on August 19, 2008
How would you like to learn to let go of anxiety? To get twice as much done with half the stress? To find a way to handle intimidating, unpleasant, or even boring tasks without having them take a bite out of you?
What if I told you that this would involve your investing a little over $10 and reading a 98-page book?
I thought you'd be interested.
Here's the deal. Sterner, a musician, a piano technician, a golfer, and an all-around sage (who would probably be a really interesting person to get to know) mined what he he had learned about repetitive tasks, like practicing music and golf swings (and, I guess, piano tuning and adjusting) and put it into a little book. No frills, no fancy language, no huffing and puffing about how profound he is, his message is, or anything else. And, at least from my experience and that of the other contented reviewers here, he got it right.
Um, sorry, that really should have been Got It Right. What he presents here is not novel - it's been around in recorded human wisdom for thousands of years - but it is simple, direct, and easy to apply. His basic principles are: attach to process (which you can control) not to outcomes (which you can't); accept yourself as embodying perfectly whatever stage of development you happen to be at - don't postpone happiness until you reach/have/attain something - break big projects down into tiny tasks; open yourself to learning from those around you and to joy, which is everywhere. He lays them out in simple, functional prose that anyone can read and understand.
This little book is a giant weapon in The War Against Suffering. Read it. Do what it tells you to do. Read it again. Do more of what it tells you to do. Praise it so that others will read it. Give it to your friends.
I've bought books here based on the reviews of others and it was clear to me when I saw the sorry things that passed for books that someone had self-published and then gotten friends to game the process. I don't know Sterner (my loss) and have no interest in doing anything except sharing my pleasure in having discovered this book.
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For almost three decades, K. Anders Ericsson and his associates at Florida State University have been conducting research on peak performance and the results clearly indicate that "deliberate practice" under expert supervision is far more important to success (however defined) than are talent and luck, although they have significance. This is precisely what Thomas Sterner has in mind when asserting that those who master the new skill to which the title of this review refers will possess "such qualities as self-discipline, focus, patience, and self awareness." Moreover, he adds that these "all-important virtues are interwoven threads in the fabric of true inner peace and contentment in life."

I agree with Sterner (who agrees with Ericsson) that it is impossible to exaggerate the importance of practice. "Everything in life worth achieving requires practice. In fact, life itself is nothing more than one long practice session, an endless effort of refining our motions." Recall the reference to "deliberate practice," also called "deep practice." On average, peak performance in the creative and performing arts as well as in chess and competitive sports requires at least 10,000 hours of such practice (albeit difficult, repetitious, and boring pracice) under strict, expert supervision. Does that substantial commitment of time and energy guarantee success? No, but superior performance cannot be achieved without it.

As Sterner explains, he eventually became "immersed" - in his mid-30s -- in practice after intensely disliking it for years and even abandoning it altogether. What he learned about music growing up "laid the foundation" that would later help him to understand both the mental and struggles in which he found himself when searching for answers. Whatever the nature of the activity (e.g. playing golf or a guitar or both), Sterner realized that various failures stemmed from a lack of understanding of "proper mechanics of practicing" as well as the mindset required to complete a process of goal setting and then do whatever must be done to achieve it. "Perhaps most important, I realized that I had learned how to accomplish just that [begin italics] without [end italics] the frustration and anxiety usually associated with such an activity." That in essence is the core insight that was finally revealed to him.

Here are three of Sterner's the key points, supplemented by my parenthetical annotations:

1. The mind (what the brain is and does) can be expanded in two primary ways: by constant nourishment (e.g. meditation, knowledge, sensory experience) and by constant practice (i.e. increasing mastery of various skills).

2. Personal development and improvement requires a focused and disciplined approach to what is most important, especially when encountering setbacks, ambiguity, and fatigue.

3. Initiatives should be guided and informed by these four "S" words: simplify ("Make everything as simple as possible but no simpler," Albert Einstein); small; short (the best way to eat a whale is one bite at a time); short ("baby steps" in the right direction rather than giant leaps in the wrong direction); and slow (establish an energy-efficient and awareness-expanding pace).

Development of the "practicing mind" is a never-ending process, best viewed as a journey, rather than as an ultimate destination. I agree with Thomas Sterner that none of the "truths" that he has examined are new. "They are just the eternal lessons that we have learned and relearned over the centuries from those who have questioned and found peace in the answers. This is where the fun begins."

I envy those who have not as yet read this book and will soon do so, preparing for what I hope proves to the most enjoyable journey of personal discovery that they will ever experience. Bon voyage!
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on June 29, 2013
This book is one you won't want to miss if you're dedicated to becoming good at just about anything. I've struggled with various endeavours over the years, and while I've made progress, I feel I could have made more progress if I had read this book earlier. What the author shares is not new information, but he makes that clear right from the start. This book offers a new frame to look at the issue of practice and staying in the moment, which in this context are almost synonymous if you want to improve your skills while reducing frustration.

The author writes clearly and his tone is encouraging while holding onto reality. He didn't ever make a claim that resulted In me rolling my eyes while muttering "yeah right".

The book is great, and it's one I'd certainly recommend. I'll refer back to it from time to time, because, as the author stated, the principles taught here need to be revisited because they are easily forgotten as life presents us with new challenges that can make it easy to fall into old self destructive habits.

After all the positive things I have to say, why have I given this book three stars? When I see a book with three stars, I usually think " it's not bad, it's not good and it's probably not worth my time" that's not what I'm saying here, though. I've given this book three stars because I feel it could have been shorter. The first three or so chapters were full of wisdom and left me thirsty for more. While the other chapters provided some value, I was not as energised as I read them and I often found myself skimming whole pages because I didn't feel like I was learning anything new. It goes without saying that I believe this book would have been better had it been shorter.

I want to stress that this is a book I liked. I liked it a lot. And if you're a person that finds it hard to practice and feel frustration as you try to acquire a new skill, then you won't regret reading it.

I would also recommend the "Zen in the art in the art of archery" that's another great book with practically the same message. However that author understood that less is more and therefore wrote a book with a stronger message that hits home with more impact.
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on April 8, 2009
I agree with the other reviewers: This book really is great. It provides you with simple tools to help you get more focused on what you do and thus enjoying even seemingly boring activities (honestly, doing dishes -of all things- never felt so great!). It made me more patient (from the book I got the expression quiet perseverance to describe patience, which, together with present moment awareness, is what this book is all about).

This little gem together with Getting Things Done by David Allen, really boosted both my productivity and quality of life. It's a quick read, and you can instantly apply the advice. You'll probably get back to it often, because the skills, though simple, take time, patience, and discipline to grow but it's a wonderful trip to inner peace and the book makes for a great companion. After reading it, you can just jump in on chapters 5 to 7 to quickly refresh all of the key concepts.

Another bonus for me: even though the book ends on a spiritual note, it is written in a very down to earth style. So you won't find any religious, new age or spiritual hullabaloo, which put me off in many similar books.

Update: A couple of years later I'm still very grateful for this book. It has introduced me to the world of mindfulness and to the concept of Ego, both are nothing less than life changeing. If after this book (and by all means, read it!) you feel like digging deeper, I suggest you try Mindfulness in Plain English: Revised and Expanded Edition by an author with a very long name. It's a very accessible introduction to a specific and incredibly powerful kind of meditation. And, of course, if you haven't done so already, read Getting Things Done. It helps me every day to juggle the things life throws at you and still to find time for sitting on the cushion.
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on January 1, 2012
The author suggests that most people are constantly multitasking (consciously or subconsciously), and as a result, they find it difficult to focus on one specific task for an extended period of time. In other words, most people are not mindful. The author then describes his transformation from mindless to mindful through his practice of music and sports, and through his job as a piano repair expert.

Summary points:
- Focus on the present moment while practicing, this will make the act of practicing more enjoyable.
- Focus on the process rather than the end product.
- Do not judge yourself while practicing, just observe your performance and correct it in order to improve.
- Avoid trying to reach "perfection" because this leads us to judge ourselves and want to rush the process.
- Your experience during an activity is deeply affected by how you pre-judge that activity.
- Regularly remind yourself about mindfulness, otherwise you will forget and fall back to your old ways.
- Practical advice:
- When practicing, keep it Simple, Small, Short, and Slow.
- Keep in mind what your goal is and use it as a guide, but again focus on the process.
- Keep emotions out of your practice in order to assess your performance objectively.
- Meditation helps steady your emotions and allows your to harness the "Observer".
- Learn from children, and teach children what you know.

- For those new to mindfulness this is a very practical and easily understandable introduction to the subject. The ideas are powerful in that they can transform your outlook on your daily activities. Lessons learned here can be applied to mundane tasks such as raking leaves or commuting to work.
- The book is short and to the point. It is easy to return to it and refresh the main ideas. The author states that this is his intention and he has achieved it.

- The author suggests that we remove all emotions from our practicing. I find that idea unappealing. I would suggest that we focus on positive emotions while practicing, rather than just removing all emotions and observing ourselves.

Overall, this book is very good. Although the author does not have the most polished writing style, the content is very personable and I think most readers will find it well worth their time.
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on March 12, 2010
I am a Book addict! I read hundreds of books per year and own a couple of hundred books in the Self-Help Category (including Psychological/Spiritual Books).

I also seldomly write Reviews. But after devouring this book within hours, i feel compeled to highly recommend this little gem!

Really! Thomas M. Sterner did such a great job with this book, he is not among the best known Self-help-Gurus, but his advice, combined with a clear crisp writing style are invigorating.

Be aware: This is NOT another "Pink-and-Fluffy-Make-me-feel-good"-Book! This is an Action Guide that will kick your "Inner Rear-End" into High Gear into constructing
the Life you ever wanted. It is packed with practical, do-it-know steps that will move you forward in whatever you are trying to accomplish (be it in the Arenas of
Sport, Finance, Self development, Managing tough Family situations, etc.)

If you will read only ONE MORE book about "Life Management" then grab this one, put it to work. It will help you with:

- Calming the inner dialogue, so you can focus on problem solving and even enjoy tough challenges!
- Finding the quiet and peaceful mindset needed to handle any situation, no matter how difficult (it is really that good!)
- Learn almost anything in a short time and enjoy the process (I handed this book to a friend who works in the Financial markets and he has find
his way back to trade in Profit! Needless to say that he is very enthusiastic about this little Booklet)

> If you know somebody who is depressed or otherwise frustrated, do her/him a favour and give this book as a Gift > they will be eternally thankful.

If you are still not convinced, go ahead and buy the book anyway, because you mostlikely will keep this one close.

I wish you all success and happiness! :-)
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on April 21, 2012
The Practicing Mind by Thomas M. Sterner is a great resource for helping anyone to re-learn how to better focus your mind to learn any new skill that you want to know how to do better. The key to this is remembering how to be present in the process, and appreciate the process instead of just wanting to reach the end goal you set for yourself.

The Practicing Mind gives great examples for showing how slowing down and appreciating the process of something is so important when learning how to do something.

The easiest example to relate to that is mentioned in the book is driving. Think about it, when we learned how to drive, we were fully aware of everything going on and really focusing on all of the tasks that go with it. However, now that we have been driving for a long time, we do other things while driving, such as listening to the radio, singing to the radio, having a conversation, etc. We just drive and don't really focus on all of the little things that go with driving. The author suggested to not do anything but drive the next time we had to drive, and focus on driving. I tried it, and it isn't easy. My mind wandered and I really wanted to turn on my iPod. It proved the point very quickly though.

The stories and tips included on staying in the present moment and really focused are memorable enough to help with actually doing this for yourself. I found the book to be incredibly valuable and something that everyone could benefit from.

* Thank you to the publisher of The Practicing Mind, New World Library, for providing me with a copy of this book for review. All opinions expressed are my own.
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on February 11, 2009
I'm just a few pages from finishing my first reading of this book and I can honestly say it's had a more profound impact on me than any modern "self-help" book I've read. Not since reading Emerson's Self-Reliance in college have I been so personally inspired by a piece of writing. The prose here isn't Emersonian (what else is?) but the density and quality of its insights are right up there. I say "first reading" because I know I'll be coming back to it.
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