Practice makes a man perfect”. We’ve been told this quote hundreds of times when we work on our skills. It’s a fact that practice is the only route to expertise, but no one tells you ‘how to do it consistently?’ No one explains ‘how to madly throw yourselves into practice as famous athletes, musicians and artists do?’ It indeed requires a great amount of discipline and focus to develop a practicing mindset. Author Thomas M. Sterner writes about such practicing mechanics in his book “The Practicing Mind” published in 2006. This book shows a clear guide to master our skills by following these powerful methods I summarised here.

(1) Focus on the process, not on the product !

Don’t look at your final goal. Yes, shift your eyes away from it. We all have this unhealthy habit of making the product as our intended result-the goal, instead of the process of getting there. The problem with desiring only for the magical point of happiness at the end of the goal is that you completely miss out the joy present in the process of achieving it. In fact, when you always keep your mind on the end goal, you not only feel frustrated every time that you have not met the goal, but you experience stress and anxiety for every mistake you commit during the process. So, does that mean you should completely forget your final goal? No ! Treat your final goal as a rudder to steer your practice sessions in right direction, but your main focus should stay on the present. Your only job is to observe, analyse and adjust the outcome of each attempt in a way to direct your next effort. This will automatically lead you to the place where you want to be.

Progress is a natural result of staying focused on the process of doing anything.

Thomas M. Sterner

(2) You are perfect at each stage !

Practice is not a red carpet. It involves challenges, frustration and anxiety at times. Naturally, we aim for the perfect ideal state of mastery level in our practice sessions. If that level is not achieved, we feel anxious and unhappy with our lives. Truth to be told, there is no ideal state of perfection in any pursuit. To understand this, observe a flower. At what point in its life, has it reached perfection? Is it when it is nothing more than a seed in your hand? Is it when it germinates from the soil? Or when it blooms with its petals? I guess you’ll agree with me that it is perfect and beautiful at all stages of its growth. Similarly, at whatever level you are performing your activity or skill, you are perfect at that point in time. True perfection is not a finite thing, it evolves forever. If you realise this, you will never again compare yourself with the false idea of ‘perfection’.

(3) Patience: The essential key to practice

Probably the most desired virtue in everyone’s life is patience. It is a state of mind that keeps us away from anxiety. People who worry are the ones who anticipate circumstances that haven’t happened. As I said above, when we think that we haven’t reached our desired level of performance, we feel anxious, insecure and develop “what if ?” kind of fears. All of this can be simply avoided if we live with patience. But, how can we develop this patience? Sterner gives us two important steps to nurture it. First, staying in the present moment with process oriented life and second, realising that there is no ideal state of perfection. When you accept and follow these two steps, there is no reason to be impatient in your practice. Try it once ! It may be hard, but not impossible !

The problem with patience and discipline is that it requires both of them to develop each of them.

Thomas M. Sterner

(4) The four ‘S’ technique

With the three lessons above, you are almost ready to kick start your practice sessions. The final lesson is just an additional tip for your l..o..n..g journey of practicing. The four S technique stands for simple, short, small and slow. Usually, our goals are big. From getting proficient in guitar to loosing overweight in gym, none of them is easy. These require a great commitment to accomplish, neither they are possible to achieve overnight. This is where four S technique becomes handy. When you work at a big goal or activity, “simplify” it by breaking it down into “smaller” sections that can be achieved with a comfortable level of concentration. If needed, focus for a “short” period of time in a “slower” pace that keeps your attention to what you are doing. This method of accomplishing shorter sections of goals gives us enough confidence to conquer the final bigger GOAL.

All things of lasting and deep value require time and nurturing and come to us only through our own effort

Thomas M. Sterner

Practice is a life long task and an endless effort to refine our abilities. It may feel repetitious, tedious and boring sometimes. But, when proper methods of practice are followed, the process of learning something new becomes stress free experience and joyful.

So, are you ready to begin the adventure of practice now?

~ Mani