I read a lot. I’ll read when I have spare time. If I don’t have spare time, I’ll find an excuse to read. I don’t restrict my reading to any one genre. This is the first in a series of posts I’ll make once I’ve finished a book.
I also love the fact that the English language allows me to have a post title structure that both acts as a recommendation and a declaration. “I’ve just read…” and “You have to just read…” I won’t rate books out of five or ten or anything. I’m going to keep it simple, and will say whether I recommend the book or not. Much of my reading material will appeal to a certain type of person. It should be apparent from the post text what type of person the book in question will appeal to.
The beauty of reading is that it allows you to absorb information and then make your own mind up. Ratings are a way to short circuit that innate ability we all have to make our own minds up, in a day and age where we are bombarded with so much information that comes with a pretty bow on top that says 4.5/5 stars. If you must have a rating, feel free to click through to the Amazon page for the book in question. I will caution that a 4.5/5 rating for me, or for Billy Jones from Utah will not equal a 4.5/5 rating for you. Trusting any rating blindly is to ask for trouble.
The Practicing Mind by Thomas M. Sterner
I first saw mention of this book in a Facebook group I belong to. I went to the Amazon page as I’ve read many good books I first heard about in this particular group, and the premise of the book instantly appealed. This is one of those books that has a subtitle. Subtitles work, they distinguish your non-fiction book from other books, and they also give a larger hint as to what the book contains.
In this case, it’s “Developing Focus and Discipline in Your Life — Master Any Skill Or Challenge by Learning to Love the Process”. Whew, that’s a mouthful! It’s also something I’ve struggled with on and off throughout my life, and I have this principle I abide with when it comes to reading: “If a book provides some bit of knowledge I can make use of in my life, or entertains me for a good couple of hours at least, it’s worth the purchase.”
I learn a lot. I have my fingers in many different pies. Too many some will say! My progress in some of my hobbies is slow, painful, and disappointing to me. I never seem to be where I want to be. There’ll be times where I’ll decide to devote four hours to finally progressing a bit with my guitar, and I’ll wake up and get the guitar out and put in the time only to be disappointed at the end. I’ll still be crap and, as a bonus, my fingers hurt like hell!
This book has a proposal regarding practice and the journey from A to B in ANY journey we will take in our lifetimes that makes perfect sense to me. It also uses a word many times that I absolutely love. Equanimity. As the Oxford Dictionary states, this means: Calmness and composure, especially in a difficult situation.
The Practicing Mind expands on the adage that the journey is the reward, and makes a convincing argument that we’ll both be happier and faster at what we’re trying to get better at if we only execute it with a deliberate, practicing mindset.
Programming and the journey
Reading the book, I realised that I had experienced moments where I was practicing in the now, entirely focused on where I am rather than where I wanted to get to. Usually when I was programming. I’ve been programming professionally for 18 years now, so I’ve come a long way. I’ve still got a long way to go, mind you. The nature of the industry is one where the companies creating the tools and languages we use are forever shifting the goalposts once we get a little too close. I’ve believed, for a while now, that the only way you can ever truly enjoy programming is by letting go of the notion of ever being “done”.
There will always be a new tool, or a new language, or even a new feature that you’ll need to learn. Always. The only way you can truly enjoy being a programmer is to embrace the journey and live in the now.
That digression was simply a way to say I recognised what Thomas was talking about in my own life. I’m sure many of us will have moments where we’ve experienced similar things. I do find myself worrying about situations tangential to where I was. I also find myself getting lost in those distractions and wasting time and energy in imaginary situations that rarely come true. The author’s experiences are music related, so a lot of his examples are music related. Practicing instruments, working as a piano restorer, and the like. It didn’t detract from anything for me, and there were a few interesting tidbits amongst the music related information.
Who is this book for and what’s in it?
This book applies to any activity, professional or hobbyist, and anyone who spends a lot of time attempting to get better at anything should consider reading this book. I even applied the information I read to the act of writing this blog post. It’s that applicable to anything and everything.
The first five chapters speaks about Thomas’ journey to realising that deliberate practice, and living in the now when performing any activity have many benefits. They’re a quick, refreshing read. This isn’t a book weighed down with scientific prose and the required citations that come with such books. They have their place and when someone is telling me that certain foods combine to cause me to balloon in size due to gut bacteria imbalances, I want to know the science.
I didn’t need that with the Practicing Mind because I recognise what he’s talking about in my own experiences. Not just once, but many times. That was enough for me to put into action a few behaviour changes that had the potential to change my life for the better, and the risk of maybe slowing down some work sessions or practice sessions. With that in mind, what did I have to lose?
The next two chapters offer tips on how to implement a mindset where living in the now allows you to appreciate the journey and, paradoxically, get better more quickly. There are then two chapters that close off the book.
It’s not a long book. If you are someone that practices a lot, either for work or for pleasure, it’s potentially a good book. If you feel that you are where you want to be with your hobbies and your work, then it probably won’t offer much for you.
I easily got my £6.64 back in useful information, tips, and a process I can execute so I have no hesitation in recommending the book to anyone of a similar mindset to me.
The Practicing Mind by Thomas M. Sterner (not an affiliate link).