In my first book, The Practicing Mind, I wrote, “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.”
Here I would like to amend this quote to say that everything in life comes from practice. No matter how small or inconsequential we think it is, everything we do, from brushing our teeth to getting through a scary job interview, comes from practice, the deliberate repetition of an action with an awareness of what we want to achieve.
Learning to center your attention on the process of what you are doing instead of what you are trying to achieve, using the goal as a rudder instead of a reminder of what is left to be done, learning to work without judging your process: these are all simple shifts in perspective that completely transform the experience of going through your day.
This is the state of being fully engaged. We are only here in the now doing just what we are doing. We are absorbed in the process of what we are doing, not contemplating the future or the past and not judging how well or poorly we are doing. As long as we are working at that, we are successful. This type of subtle shift in perspective spells the difference between feeling successful and inspired and feeling like a failure.
A New Paradigm Is Being Born
There was a time in our culture when none of what I am discussing here would even be on anybody’s radar. I am heartened by the fact that there is a global awakening taking place, an awareness that is moving to the forefront of our collective consciousness. As this ancient truth percolates up through the layers of discontent in our culture, a new paradigm for human potential is being born.
In the old paradigm, happiness, a sense of real contentment, is always outside us, a place we have to get to before we can experience it. Wherever we are in this moment we are incomplete, and the nectar that will quench that thirst lies outside ourselves and in some time frame other than the present moment. This feeling can burn within us our whole life, pushing us on in a state of exhaustion, like some poor soul stumbling through the desert trying to get to the water — which turns out to be a mirage.
Indeed, this feeling of incompleteness is what drives the marketing industry. Every day we are fed the message “Without this or that we cannot be happy.” Because we are always connected in some form or another, whether it be through the internet, our smartphones, our TVs, or the radio, this feeling of incompleteness is easily nurtured because the people who wish to nurture it have constant access to us.
Most of us blindly participate, even though in a moment of retrospection we can easily see how unproductive this cycle of “get more” has been in our lives. I call it the failure of SAS, Stuff Acquisition Syndrome. This mind-set pervades every area of our culture, especially the corporate world, an environment that promotes trends such as fewer individuals doing more work and constant multitasking, concepts that stem from the belief that we always need to get more, regardless of the cost.
Opportunities Are Always Right In Front Of Us
Several years ago I was asked to do a working lunch at an investment firm in New York City. The CEO had read The Practicing Mind and liked it so much that he purchased copies for his employees and then asked me to visit for a day. I planned to take the trip up from Wilmington, Delaware, on a train that begins in Washington, DC, and has only a few stops before reaching New York.
When I got on the train I could find only one seat, next to a businessman who had obviously boarded in Washington and was busy on his laptop. We didn’t speak for the almost two-hour ride until we were about ten minutes out of New York, at which point he closed his laptop and started a conversation. He asked what brought me to New York, and when I mentioned that I had written a book and been invited to speak to a group, he asked me the title of the book. As I began to pull the book out of my briefcase he immediately recognized The Practicing Mind and asked, “Are you Tom Sterner?”
He said he couldn’t believe he had missed an opportunity to have a conversation about the book. He went on to say that his company had come to the realization that they needed a new model for managing their employees. Their current model had passed the point of diminishing returns quite some time ago. Their employees were totally burned out and stressed out, and they were taking that stress home, creating more stress on that front, and then bringing that baggage back into the workplace the following day. It was a downward-spiraling cycle that was seriously impacting productivity and morale. The Practicing Mind was one of the books they were using as research in developing this new model.
The Awakening Is Happening All Around Us
I tell this story because it demonstrates the awakening that is happening on so many levels of our culture. The fact that by chance this gentleman had found himself sitting next to the author of a book his company was using as research in developing a new model for their work environment was an amusing coincidence. His acknowledgment that a change was truly needed for the survival of both the company and the employees, however, was a confirmation that the status quo is no longer effective in optimizing an individual’s potential. It may have produced short-term increases in productivity, but the side effects of overall burnout, anxiety, and even underlying anger being experienced by employees is surely undermining their ability to perform consistently at high levels.
We are beginning to understand and accept the fact that personal power, real peace, and optimum productivity lie on a path that has always been here in front of us and is deceptively simple.
In my opinion this discovery began in sports decades ago. Because the field of sports is always pushing the threshold of performance and human potential, gaining a new edge, even if it requires going in an uncharted direction, is acceptable. Sports are also very individualized, which means performance levels are much more in the hands of each participant. Even in team sports, the team is made up of individuals who must each perform at their highest level in order for the team to be competitive and successful.
Sports also have the advantage of being able to divide performance into two areas: physical and mental. These two areas are divided only in theory, since in practice they are interrelated during each moment of execution. But for the sake of this discussion, let’s say that once an athlete reaches a certain level of physical prowess, his ability to move past that falls on the mind. How disciplined the mind is, the mind’s ability to focus, to quiet itself under stress, to eliminate destructive thoughts and create inspiring thoughts — all play a role in the level of an athlete’s performance. Because of the importance of sports in our culture, we in the West have poured an enormous amount of money and research into understanding the fundamentals of human performance when it is operating at its highest level in sports.
We Have Come Full Circle
When I first began to study sports psychology, more than twenty-five years ago, I had already been studying Eastern thought for more than a decade. What immediately struck me was how in the West we were proving, through empirical science, what Eastern thought has been saying for thousands of years. So what does this mean? It means that we have come full circle.
Modern studies in human psychology and ancient philosophical thought systems are in agreement, and we now understand how we perform at our highest level. We understand how to accomplish our goals with the least amount of effort in the least amount of time and without a sense of struggle. I have said many times that these truths have stood the test of time and that they have also stood the test of testing. Their precepts, meant to help us focus and unleash the power of the mind, have been practiced for centuries by spiritual traditions, and now through their applications in high-level sports, they have proved their value in helping us reach our full potential.
More important, we need to integrate them into every area of our life. By doing so we will find ourselves immersed in the process of achieving our goals, regardless of what those goals happen to be. Whether our goal is to get through a job interview, deal with a difficult person, heal from an illness, or learn a golf swing, we can apply these truths, which bring us peace and contentment each moment, as well as increased productivity.
Call it what you will — peace, productivity, profit, joy from being immersed in the present moment, from being in the process of achieving your goals, from being fully engaged in the experience of expanding your life — a new paradigm is taking us human beings to the next level. We had to exhaust our outward search in order to find that what we were looking for was always with us. We are now and have always been complete.
©2016 by Thomas M. Sterner. All Rights Reserved.
Reprinted with permission of New World Library, Novato, CA.
www.newworldlibrary.com or 800-972-6657 ext. 52.
Fully Engaged: Using the Practicing Mind in Daily Life
by Thomas M. Sterner.
Being fully engaged results in less stress and more satisfaction in every aspect of life...
About the Author
Thomas M. Sterner is the founder and CEO of the Practicing Mind Institute. As a successful entrepreneur, he is considered an expert in Present Moment Functioning, or PMF™. He is a popular and in-demand speaker and coach who works with high-performance industry groups and individuals, including athletes, helping them to operate effectively in high-stress situations so that they can break through to new levels of mastery. Visit his website at thepracticingmind.com