Review: The practicing mind by Thomas Sterner

Learn the correct way you can become good at something.

cover of the book "the practicing mind" by Thomas M. Sterner

The practicing mind (AMZN) by Thomas M. Sterner is going through the mindsets and hurdles a person trying to perfect an art might encounter.
In his books most of the examples are about perfecting a instrument, sport or profession; The mindsets and techniques can however be applied to anything in your life.

I listened to this book as an audiobook (sample) and it is read by the author himself which is always a big plus in my opinion. (So much more personal somehow)
The books could be a bit slow at times, but it did still have some very good thoughts and ideas to implement.

My takeaways from the book:

Japan workers don’t have supervisors

One thing I found really interesting was how different the cultures are when it comes to work morale and quality.
In one of the chapter he tells a story of some Americans visiting a Japanese factory where they manufactured a type of plate that had to be very precise and “perfect”. When one of the Americans asked a factory worker how many plates he produced per day, the worker answered: “As many as I can make perfect”. The american then asked if he doesn’t have any requirements on performance from his supervisor to which the Japanese worker asked: “what’s a supervisor?”. When the american explained that a supervisor is a person that check that the quality is good the Japanese worker asked: “Why would I need someone to check that I’m doing the work that I’m here to perform?”

A flower is always perfect

When a person practices some hobby or profession they usually only focus on the end goal, and not the process on which they are performing to reach it. This is a dangerous thing to do as it can quickly get you discouraged on reaching your goals.
Think about a flower: A flower is always perfect at the thing it is currently doing, when it’s a seed it is perfect about being a seed, when it grows it is perfect at growing, and when it blooms it is perfect at blooming. The flower doesn’t think: “Awww man can’t wait until I bloom…”.

Another risk with focusing on the goal is that goals are usually always moving away from you. If you are learning to play an instrument you might start by thinking that your goals is to be able to play a piece. When you get closer to being able to play that piece you will most likely have found another, more advanced piece, that you’d like to achieve.
Constantly having new, harder, goals is important for people because when you reach your goal what should you then do? What’s the purpose of life then if there are no challenges?

So try to enjoy the process and not the endgoal.

Trust in the process, there’s no instant gratification

This is another thing that comes up in so many of the personal development books I’ve read: There is no instant gratification. All the successful people in the world have learned that by working hard now they can reap the rewards later; Working for long term goals and success is the way to go. People who want something now and automatically get it will never learn how to reach success.

Read also: There is not instant gratification

Break your goal into smaller tasks

This is a concept that I see coming up everywhere when it comes to achieving a larger goal: breaking everything down into smaller pieces.
So when you want to learn playing the guitar and some specific piece, start by learning the basics about the guitar, then some chords, then how to combine those chords, and after that taking a part of that musical piece at a time to practice it until perfection. The important part about this is that you don’t go on to the next step until you feel comfortable enough with the previous one.

When trying to do a larger task, like in his example clean the garage, don’t be daunted by the large task thinking that it might take forever. Instead set aside 1 hour a night to clean the garage and when that hour is up go back inside. You will find that in a weeks time, by just spending 1 hour a night, you might have cleaned the garage; Compared to putting of the task trying to find a day where you have a 7 hour window to clean the garage (this window will usually never come).

Slow down

Thomas is repairing and tuning pianos, and one day he had so many jobs queued up that he thought he wouldn’t get them all done in one day and have to work late into the night.
He then decided to try and deliberately work as slow as possible, doing every task in a slow manner, taking one tool out at a time and doing one task at a time.
When he had repaired the first piano of that day and sat into his car he had to check double at the time on the car’s dashboard, and confirm it with his wristwatch. He had finished the task much faster than usual, in fact 40% quicker. He then decided to continue his experiment for the rest of the day, later realizing that he had time to eat lunch in peace at a restaurant rather than a sandwich in his car and that he was able to finish his work before the day had ended.

Since this he has decided to never stress when doing his work but instead focus on the process and work slowly.

Do Observe Correct

When practicing a skill or art people are again focusing too much on the end goal, hitting the goal, scoring some points or similar, and getting frustrated when they are not able to achieve those goals. Instead people should focus on the process, not putting any emotional weight on the outcome, and try to adjust accordingly. So when you are doing for example a golfswing, focus on your movement and form instead of getting the ball to go somewhere. Then by performing the swing you can see where the ball goes and adjust your swing accordingly.

This might seem very simple and obvious, but so many people fail to do so and put too much emotional value on the goal.

Plant triggers in your mind to control your behavior

In the golfing example above he talks about how you should actually practice a lot when not in competitions, and then when you are practicing and perfecting your swing plant “triggers” that you can later call on to reach perfection in the competitions.

This is a concept that I myself have found useful in stressful situations:

  1. Be in a peaceful situation feeling confident and relaxed, meditation helps a lot to reach this state.
  2. Plant a trigger (tap two fingers together, touch your earlobe, etc)
  3. Do step 1 and 2 enough times (using the same trigger) so that you can reproduce that feeling again and again.
  4. When in a stressful situation you can use the trigger to stay calm and relaxed.

This of course requires that you practice planting the triggers often enough, and that when a stressful situation occurs, you realize that you’re getting nervous and can act accordingly (use the trigger)


If you’re trying to practice a hobby, like an instrument or a sport, pick up this book (AMZN) and read it as a guide on how you should practice and what traps to avoid. Otherwise there is a high risk that you’ll get discouraged on your journey. Listen to the audiobook sample to get a feel on the book’s content