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An Excerpt From "The Practicing Mind"

by Thomas Sterner


The four “S” words are simplify, small, short, and slow. As you will see, these concepts are deeply interrelated and flow back and forth into one another. As you develop control of your practicing mind, it is important to work in a fashion that makes staying in the process as easy as possible, and these four techniques, each one basic and straightforward on its own, can help you do just that.

Simplify. When you work at a specific project or activity, simplify it by breaking it down into its component sections. Don’t set goals that are too far beyond your reach. Unrealistic goals create frustration and invite failure, which can make you doubt your abilities. The success of attaining each simple goal will generate motivation that propels you along in the process, and you won’t suffer the mental fatigue you experience when you bite off more than you can chew.

Small. Be aware of your overall goal, and remember to use it as a rudder or distant beacon that keeps you on course. But break down the overall goal into small sections that can be achieved with a comfortable amount of concentration. You will find that focusing on small sections is easier than focusing on the entire task and gives you repeatable success.

Smallness, like the other techniques, applies to daily life in general, not just specific endeavors. It applies just as much to a fitness program as it does to cleaning the garage on Saturday afternoon, or developing a perspective change that affords you more patience. Cleaning the garage is an activity that most would consider worthy of full-scale procrastination. But when it has to be done, step back and examine your feelings toward the job. You will find that you tend to see the necessary work-energy in its entirety. You see the whole task ahead of you, and it looks huge. This viewpoint brings about a lot of judgments and negative emotions. You are full of anticipation as you find yourself saying things like, “There are so many things I have to move. Should I keep this or get rid of it? Will I ever need that thing over there again? The whole garage is a mess, and cleaning it means lots of time, lots of energy, and lots of decisions I don’t feel like making after a week of work. I just want to relax.” All this internal dialogue has nothing to do with cleaning the garage, and yet it is exhausting you.

You simplify the task greatly when you break it down into small sections: “I am going to start in this corner over here and clean just to the window. That’s all. I will not concern myself with the stuff over by the door or up in the rafters. Just this corner right here is all I will contend with.” Now you’re dealing with a little task that doesn’t have the overwhelming qualities of the whole job.

Short. Now you can also bring short into the equation: “I’m going to work at cleaning the garage for forty-five minutes a day over the next few days until it is completely clean.” You can survive just about anything for forty-five minutes. You have to deal with only one corner of the garage for forty-five minutes, and you’ll be done for the day. You look at your watch and walk away from the task at the end of the forty-five minutes, feeling in control and satisfied that your goal of a clean garage is flowing toward you. No frustration is involved. You have simplified the task by breaking it down into small segments and asking yourself to focus for only a short period of time. You are practicing the art of perfect garage cleaning.

Slow. Incorporating slowness into your process is a paradox. What I mean by slow is that you work at a pace that allows you to pay attention to what you are doing. This pace will differ according to your personality and the task in which you are involved. If you are washing the car, you move the sponge in your hand at a pace slow enough to allow you to observe your actions in detail. This will differ from, say, the slow pace at which you learn a new computer program. If you are aware of what you are doing, then you are probably working at the appropriate pace. The paradox of slowness is that you will find you accomplish the task more quickly and with less effort because you are not wasting energy. Try it and you will see.

Another interesting aspect of deliberate slowness is the way it changes your perception of time’s passage. Because all your energy goes into what you are doing, you lose your sense of time.

Remember, you can apply these simple rules to any part of your life and to any activity you undertake. As you begin to evolve in this area, the Observer within you will become more and more apparent. You will start to watch yourself going through your daily life; you will become more and more aware of when you are living in the present moment and working in the process, and when you are not. This doesn’t mean you will be able to control yourself all the time, though. That tempting mindset comes from slipping back into the “perfection” mindset that states, “Only when I can do this all the time will I have achieved my goal.” Accepting that this is a lifetime effort, and that in the beginning your progress may seem almost unnoticeable, is part of the lesson to be learned. Keep thinking of the flower. Regardless of the stage of growth and evolution you are in, in every moment you are perfect at being who you are.

Thomas M. Sterner is the author of Practicing Mind: Developing Focus and Discipline in Your Life. He’s also a trained jazz pianist and an avid pilot, student of archery, and golfer. He teaches his techniques to businesspeople, at sports clinics, and to learners of all kinds. He lives in Wilmington, Delaware. Visit him online at http://www.thepracticingmind.com.

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Adapted from the book The Practicing Mind: Developing Focus and Discipline in Your Life Ó2012 by Thomas Sterner. Printed with permission from New World Library.


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