The Practicing Mind - Deepstash

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"The Practicing Mind" by Thomas M. Sterner emphasizes the importance of focusing on the process rather than the end result for personal and professional growth. Sterner advocates for present moment awareness, setting process-oriented goals, and cultivating discipline through small, consistent actions. He teaches embracing mistakes as learning opportunities and redefines success as engagement and progress in the journey, offering a transformative approach to mastering skills and achieving lasting satisfaction.


107 reads

The KeyWords

  1. Present Moment Focus: By concentrating on the task at hand, without the pressure of the end goal, we can achieve a state of flow, making our work more enjoyable and effective.
  2. Process Over Product: Sterner argues that focusing on the process, the 'doing' rather than the 'having done', not only makes the journey more fulfilling but also leads to better outcomes.
  3. Cultivating Discipline Through Small Steps: By breaking down tasks into smaller, manageable steps and focusing on each step at a time, we build discipline and make progress without the overwhelmed.


330 reads


Consider the act of listening to music. When fully engaged, you're not just waiting for your favorite part of the song; you're immersed in every note, every beat as it happens. This immersion is what Sterner advocates for in every task we undertake—finding the rhythm and melody in the process itself.


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1.a. Staying Present: Mindfulness

Mindfulness in Action: Sterner suggests that the key to staying present is integrating mindfulness into daily activities. This means being fully aware of what you are doing at the moment, observing your thoughts and emotions without judgment, and gently guiding your focus back to the task at hand whenever it wanders.


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1.b. Staying Present: Single-Tasking

Single-Tasking: In a world that often praises multitasking, Sterner champions the opposite. Focusing on one task at a time not only improves the quality of work but also anchors you in the present moment, making it easier to maintain mindfulness.


207 reads

1.c. Staying Present: Use of Reminder

Use of Reminders: Physical or digital reminders can serve as prompts to bring your attention back to the present. This could be a recurring alarm, a post-it note on your desk, or a specific symbol on your phone that, when noticed, reminds you to assess your focus and realign it with the current task.


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1.d. Staying Present: Routine as Ritual

Routine as Ritual: Transforming routines into rituals can imbue mundane tasks with a sense of purpose and presence. For example, making your morning coffee can become a ritualistic moment of mindfulness, where each step, from grinding the beans to pouring the water, is done with full attention and appreciation.


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1.e. Implementation: Staying Present

Start Small: Choose a routine task you do daily and commit to performing it with full mindfulness for a week. Pay attention to every detail and sensation, and notice when your mind starts to wander.

Expand Gradually: As you become more comfortable, start expanding it to those you find less enjoyable. Notice how this changes your relationship with the task and the quality of your engagement.

Reflect and Adjust: At the end of each day, reflect on your moments of presence and distraction. What triggered the loss of focus? What brought you back? Use these insights to refine your approach


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1.f. Implementation: Staying Present ~ 2

To further enhance your ability to stay present, exploring mindfulness meditation can be incredibly beneficial. Apps like Headspace or Insight Timer offer guided meditations specifically designed to cultivate present-moment awareness. Additionally, reading "Wherever You Go, There You Are" by Jon Kabat-Zinn can provide deeper insights into mindfulness practice in everyday life.


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Imagine planting a garden. Your ultimate goal might be to have a lush, blooming space, but the process-oriented goal focuses on the daily watering, weeding, and care of each plant. In this approach, the joy comes not just from seeing the flowers bloom but from the daily interaction with the earth and the nurturing of each seed.


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2.a. Process-Oriented Goals: Defining

Defining Process-Oriented Goals: Unlike traditional goal-setting, which fixates on a future outcome (e.g., "I want to run a marathon"), a process-oriented goal emphasizes the steps taken to get there ("I will dedicate 30 minutes to running each day"). This shift in focus helps maintain motivation and reduces the pressure often associated with achieving big goals.


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2.b. Process-Oriented Goals: Breaking Down the Process

Breaking Down the Process: Sterner advises breaking down the overall process into manageable, daily or weekly tasks. This breakdown makes the goal less daunting and provides clear direction on what to focus on in the present, fostering a sense of accomplishment with each step completed.


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2.c. Process-Oriented Goals: Embracing the Present

Embracing the Present: Central to this approach is the cultivation of a mindset that finds value and fulfillment in the current task, regardless of its direct link to the end goal. This mindset encourages a deeper engagement with the task at hand, improving both the quality of the work and the personal satisfaction derived from it.


112 reads

2.d. Implementation: Process-Oriented Goals

Reframe Your Goals: Take a goal you're currently working towards and reframe it. Ex: instead of setting a goal to "lose 10 pounds," set a goal to "eat healthily and exercise for 30 minutes every day."

Establish Daily Intentions: Each morning, set specific, process-oriented intentions for the day. These should be small, achievable tasks. Writing these down can help.

Reflect and Adjust: End each day with a brief reflection on what you accomplished. Acknowledge your efforts and successes, and if something didn't go as planned, consider what adjustments can be made to better align the next day.


119 reads

2.e. Implementation: Process-Oriented Goals ~ 2

For those interested in deepening their understanding of process-oriented goals and mindfulness in goal setting, "Mindful Work" by David Gelles offers insights into how mindfulness practices can be integrated into work and life for greater focus and satisfaction.


118 reads


Picture discipline as a muscle. Just as muscles grow stronger with regular exercise, your discipline strengthens each time you choose to engage in a task, especially when it's challenging or when you're tempted by distractions. Sterner guides us to see each moment of choice not as a hurdle but as an opportunity to build our discipline muscle.


108 reads

3.a. Cultivating Discipline: Realistic Expectation

Setting Realistic Expectations: Sterner advises starting with a clear understanding that discipline doesn't develop overnight. It's a gradual process that requires patience and persistence. Acknowledge your current limits and set realistic, achievable goals that stretch your capabilities without overwhelming you.


102 reads

3.b. Cultivating Discipline: Small, Consistent Actions

Small, Consistent Actions: Focus on small actions that can be consistently performed. Consistency is key in building discipline. For instance, if you aim to write a book, commit to writing a single paragraph or page daily. Over time, these small actions accumulate and build a strong foundation of discipline.


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3.c. Cultivating Discipline: Self-Compassion

Self-Compassion: It's essential to approach this process with kindness towards yourself. When you falter, instead of harsh self-criticism, offer yourself compassion and view setbacks as natural steps in the learning curve. This approach reduces the fear of failure and encourages persistence.


103 reads

3.d. Implementation: Cultivating Discipline

Identify a Keystone Habit: Choose one small habit that you believe will have a positive ripple effect on your discipline. This could be making your bed each morning, a simple task that sets a tone of accomplishment.

Track Your Progress: Use a journal or an app to track your daily adherence to this habit. Monitoring your progress not only provides motivation but also offers tangible evidence of your growing discipline.

Reward Incremental Success: Set up a system to reward yourself for milestones reached. Rewards reinforce the behavior you want to continue and make the process enjoyable.


105 reads

3.e. Implementation: Cultivating Discipline ~ 2

To complement Sterner's insights, consider exploring "Atomic Habits" by James Clear. Clear's work delves into the science of habit formation and how tiny changes can lead to remarkable results, aligning well with Sterner's emphasis on small, consistent actions in building discipline.


106 reads

Blind Spot

A potential misconception about "The Practicing Mind" is the idea that focusing solely on the process means disregarding goals entirely. However, Sterner does not advocate for the abandonment of goals but rather suggests a reorientation of how we engage with them. The key is to use goals as directional markers while investing our energy and attention in the day-to-day tasks that move us toward those goals.


109 reads



Imagine yourself as a sculptor, with a block of marble in front of you. Your task is to chisel away, bit by bit, to reveal the masterpiece within. This process is not about the final sculpture but about each stroke of the chisel, each decision you make, and how you engage with the material in front of you. "The Practicing Mind" mirrors this approach, emphasizing the importance of focusing on the process rather than being fixated on the end result

Curious about different takes? Check out our The Practicing Mind Summary book page to explore multiple unique summaries written by Deepstash users.

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