Episode 90: Lessons Learned from Thomas Sterner
Okay, my friends, we’re on episode 90 which is amazing in and of itself but if you’ve been with me for a while – first off, thank you! Lots of love for you! But you’ll know that every 10th episode I spotlight a book, a teacher something that has really impacted me so that you can get to know them too and expand your life.
And today I’m bringing you lessons that I learned from Thomas Sterner in his book, “The Practicing Mind” which I highly recommend to you. My copy is so loved. I think I highlighted and marked 90% of this book because it’s just so good. It’s less than 150 pages and it will change you. It will change the way you think about certain things and to me that was just such a gift.
So I want to share just some amazing things with you especially coming from a lens of Confidence because that’s what this podcast is centered on. But I really teach what I call Quiet Confidence. Which is being able to feel certain and secure in yourself no matter what the circumstances are around you.
I loved this book so much because he helps you to really dive into what you’re thinking. Quiet confidence and certainty isn’t something that you just get on then fly. It’s a process and it’s learning to love the process that creates this confident state of being and that’s something that I absolutely love about Thomas’s work.
The very first quote in his introduction reads, “Real peace and contentment in our lives come from realizing that life is a process to engage in, a journey down a path that we can choose to experience as magical…life itself its nothing more than one long practice session, an endless effort to refine the motions, both physical and mental, that compose our days.”
We talk about life being a journey but more often than not we expect ourselves to perform at top-notch levels as if we’re engaged in an exam. And I know I’ve heard just as much as you all have too that “this life is a test” but with that mentality, we operate from fear and perfectionism and both of those don’t allow room for growth or progression. You can’t be tested on something you’ve never learned before.
So I love the mentality of a journey, of learning how to engage and love the process of becoming.
He says, “When we learn to focus on and embrace the process of experiencing life…we begin to free ourselves from the stress and anxiety that are born out of our attachment to our goals, our sense that ‘I can’t feel happiness until I reach my goal’. This ‘goal’ always takes the form of someplace we have not yet reached, something we don’t yet have but will at some point, and then, we believe, all will be right in our lives. When we subtly shift toward both focusing on and finding joy in the process of achieving instead of having the goal, we have gained a new skill…With this skill we are masters of the energy we expend in life, and without it, we are victims of our own unfocused and constantly changing efforts, desires, and directions.”
There is a mighty difference between having to do something or thinking we have to do something vs wanting to because you love it.
The first is laden with resentment, stress, overwhelm, fear, scarcity, and just no room for any enjoyment. But the second, doing something because you want to because you love it – it’s so freeing. Time isn’t an issue. There isn’t anything else you want to be doing because this is fulfilling.
This is really the difference between thinking of life as a test vs thinking of life as a process and a journey.
When we think that we already have to be something or someone we’re always operating out of scarcity because it’s like you’re already behind. You should have learned that already. You should have done that. You should already know that, be that, think like that. So no matter how much you hustle you’re always behind and this is something I see quite often with perfectionist thinking. They’re on a time frame and they’re always behind because they started off behind. It’s miserable and creates more insecurities, fears, and doubts.
There is no growth that can come from the belief that we should already anything. I love the thought that if time weren’t an issue would that still be a problem for you?
If you had all eternity to learn that, would you still hold yourself to the standard that you should have learned that a decade ago? Without time we lose the need for scarcity and stress. When you embrace the journey of becoming there’s nothing but room for growth.
It’s a process so there’s no expectations or should’s that you should be anything other than where you are right now. This is such a huge aspect of confidence.
Being certain that you can and will be able to accomplish or become who you really want to be.
Sterner says, and I absolutely love this that, “All of life is practice, in one form or another.”
Every day we’re practicing something. We’re practicing waking up feeling overwhelmed or practicing our painful or fearful thoughts that lead to insecurity and doubt. Or we can practice being in the present moment. Practicing awareness and understanding.
We can practice using the confidence model to create quiet, secure, certain confidence in ourselves. We can practice learning how to have our own back. We can practice compassion by choosing to be curious instead of judgmental.
Take a moment and really ponder what you’re practicing in your life. What are you practicing when it comes to those closest to you? And I’m not just talking about how you speak to them or how you show up but what are your thoughts about them?
I’ve shared this before but it was so eye-opening to me to learn this for myself years ago. I was sitting in Relief Society and this sister got up to teach the lesson and I had a story about her in my mind and not a productive one. So I sat there practicing the same story and thoughts about her and as a result feeling disgruntled and irritated and I had this new thought enter my mind that was something like, “What if this was your first time here? What would you be thinking if you didn’t have a story about her?” And instead of feeling irritated, I started to lean into curiosity. And as that question sat in my mind I started looking around the room at all the other sisters in the room that were smiling ear to ear and fully engaged in what this sister had to say and I thought, “that’s possible for me if I want it.”
And taking a step back to see my previously practiced story or this new option of light and joy, I knew that I wanted that. So from that day on I started practicing something new. I tell you what. That lesson was amazing. I took tons of notes. I laughed alongside the group when she told jokes and I wanted to mourn with her when she mourned. It was so eye-opening to me because I didn’t know what I had been practicing up until that point and once I was made aware I couldn’t help but want to change and to start practicing something else.
I know this hard for so many of you and I get it and you never have to change your thoughts about them if you don’t want to. That’s your agency and your gift. But just ask yourself, how does that thought feel to me? And know there’s always another option if you want it.
I love curiosity because it doesn’t take sides. It’s not them getting away with anything or you glossing over something that was painful to you. It’s just inviting you to expand your awareness and your perspective so you know what your other options are.
So I invite you to choose to practice curiosity. Here’s a challenge for you. I love challenges. I give my Catalyst members a challenge each month and they’re just amazing at taking them and really following through in their own natural ways. But I want to extend this challenge to each of you.
For one day practice curiosity all day long. Instead of jumping right to a reaction, plan and decide ahead of time that you’re going to choose to be curious. Instead of diving into a story about someone or something – ask a question instead. You can even take the statement you were about to say or think and just add a question mark to it.
Like, “ugh…she’s the worst!” To “she’s the worst?” Why would I want my brain to answer that? What if she’s not the worst? What if I’m at my worst when I think that way? And again, who do I want to be? How do I want to feel? How do I want to show up? And what do I want to create for me in my life?
All of these questions create curiosity and it helps you to see others and yourself as part of a journey and not the final state. I was talking to someone recently and they brought up something that was said to them over 20 years ago and at the time it was painful to them or they made it mean something painful about them and I just offered a question like, “What if it’s possible that they could have changed in the last two decades?”
I know that I certainly wouldn’t want people to remember everything I said 20 years ago. Thankfully I’ve changed significantly or at least I like to believe so.
Life is a journey and we’re all just here learning, practicing, growing all along the way.
Sterner says, “Mindset influences everything. It is the blank page on which we draw our lives. It determines not only what we draw but also what we are able to draw. It shapes every aspect of who we are, what we become, and how we see others. It is self-discipline and self-awareness. It gives us patience with ourselves, with others, and with life itself.”
What are you practicing? What do you want to be practicing? Are you practicing painful stories about yourself, your body image, your income, or your time? Or are you practicing stories of kindness, compassion, empowerment, confidence, and love?
Oftentimes we don’t realize what we’re thinking because we’re so well-versed in multi-tasking that our brains don’t have room for anything else including awareness.
Sterner says, “Our minds are juggling many activities, and our energies are very dispersed. Even though it tries us completely, it has become normal for us as our world moves faster and faster. We don’t even question the levels of absurdity that multitasking reaches at times…at times we must do several things at once, but the problem for us is that we are so used to always multitasking that when we decide we want to reel in our minds and focus ourselves on just one activity, we can’t. Our minds are so agitated…we find we can’t sit still and we can’t be still.”
Now as a wife, mother, entrepreneur, homeschooling mama, gardener, and anxiously engaged member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints you know I’m very familiar with multitasking. There are only so many hours in the day and for sure I want to maximize all of them but when we’re too focused on all these things all at once we’re really in a sense leaving our brain unattended. We’re so focused on outside, external things that we unknowingly resist our feelings that come along with the 60-90,000 thoughts a day and we find ourselves in a heap on the floor in a puddle of our tears, or on the verge of a melt-down, or all other kinds of unproductive, not fun things and all of that is attributed to not being able to be mindful – full of what’s in your mind and intentional about what you’re focusing on or practicing, it’s bound to catch up with you.
We hear a painful sentence from a friend or someone at church and we store it away to think about but we’re so busy with life that we just put a pin in it and repress the emotions that want to come with that and it just builds and builds and before long it affects all other areas of your life.
So what would happen then if we learned to be mindful?
Sterner says, “So few people are really aware of their thoughts. Their minds run all over the place without their permission, and they go along for the ride unknowingly and without making a choice. Instead of observing their thoughts and using their thoughts to serve themselves, they are IN their thoughts.”
And then, “If you are not in control of your thoughts, then you are not in control of yourself…awareness must come first.”
This is also why it’s really the first step in the confidence model. KNOW yourself. Know what you’re thinking, what you’re practicing, what story you’re telling yourself and if you like that story or not.
What are you practicing?
One thing that is very prevalent in our society is the idea that the goal is the product over the process.
We want to be that certain size and weight.
We want to have made the specific amount of money.
We want to have earned and already have the degree or the accolades.
And when we do this it takes all the enjoyment out of life because you’re waiting and postponing your joy until you get to that point.
Sterner says, “We have a very unhealthily habit of making the product our intended results – the goal, instead of the process of reaching that goals…We become fixated on our intended goal and completely miss out on the joy present in the process of achieving it. We erroneously think that there is a magical point that we will reach and then we will be happy. We look at the process of getting there as almost a necessary nuisance we have to go through in order to get to our goal.”
Jumping ahead he continues, “When you focus on the product, you immediately being to fight yourself and experience boredom, restlessness, frustration, and impatience with the process…When you focus your mind on the present moment, on the process of what you are doing right now, you are always where you want to be and where you should be. All your energy goes into what you are doing. However when you focus your mind on where you want to end up, you are never where you are, and you exhaust your energy with unrelated thoughts instead of putting it into what you are doing. In order to focus on the present, we must give up, at least temporarily,, our attachment to our desired goal. If we don’t give up our attachment to the goal, we cannot be in the present because we are thinking about something that hasn’t occurred yet: the goal”
Okay wow…This is huge especially when it comes to becoming and feeling confident, creating confidence we need and want to step back from the sole focus on the goal and postponing happiness until we get there, until we arrive – which never happens because there is a mirage. And instead, focus on the here and now – keeping the overall vision alive and well. We want to see where we are going and move in the right direction to that vision but this process of intrinsic journey-based joy allows us to be here now. To enjoy and embrace all you are now while still knowing you’re progressing forward.
Sterner says, “when you truly shift into putting your attention on what you are doing right now and remain continually aware that you are doing so, you begin to feel calm, refreshed, and in control. Your mind slows down because you are asking it to think only of one thing at a time. The inner chatter drops away.
Focusing in this manner is very contrary to how we handle most of our activities during the day.
Our minds try to manage a long list of things that we need to get done (in the future) or forgot to do (in the past). We are everywhere be where we are, and we are usually doing too many things at once.
This awareness of being where you are and in the present gives you the constant positive reinforcement of reaching your goal over and over again. However, when your mind is only on the finished product not only do you feel frustrated in every second that you have not met that goal but you experience anxiety in every “mistake” you make while practicing.
You view each mistake as a barrier, something delaying you from realizing your goal and experience the joy that reaching that goal is going to give you. When instead your goal is to focus on the process and stay in the present, then there are not mistakes and no judging, You are just learning and doing.”
People often speak of confidence as a one-and-done kind of thing and it’s always boggled my mind because we’re never just one anything. We aren’t always happy because we attained happiness once. We’re not a terrible person because we snapped at someone once. You don’t become a confident person because you gave yourself permission to believe in yourself once.
You become a confident person by engaging in the journey, by being present in this moment looking inward, what am I thinking? What’s going on? What story is my brain attaching to? Knowing yourself.
Then embracing it – all of it – all the parts of you – no wonder I’m struggling with that, my brain is used to practicing these self-deprecating thoughts. Or Of course, my brain would respond that way, that’s how my natural man/primitive brain is wired to do so, but then after this leg work of really being in the moment, you then turn to trust. Trust is knowing you’re going to be okay no matter what. It’s getting to the present moment and reframing the story so that it works for you instead of against you.
Stener says, “True perfection is both always evolving and always present within you…What you perceive as perfect is always relative to where you are in any area of your life.
Consider a sailor trying to reach the horizon. It is unreachable. If the sailor sees the horizon as the point he must reach to achieve happiness, he is destined to experience eternal frustration. He works all day at running the boat, navigating, and trimming the sails, and best by nightfall he is no closer to the horizon than he was at dawn’s first light. The only evidence he has of forward motion is the wake left behind the boat. Unseen to him at the vast distances he is really traveling just by keeping the wind in the sails and applying the moment-by-moment effort of running the ship.
Look at the things you feel you need in order to create the perfect life, and think them through in your mind….the feeling “I’ll be happy when X happens” will never bring you anything but discontentment.
There is an endless quality to life. There is always more to be experienced. Deep down, we know this and are glad for it. The problem is that everyday life steals this sense from us. It pulls us away from this perspective, constantly bombarding us with advertisements that all promise to fulfill us through purchases: get this, do that and life will be perfect. But none of this ever works. We need to let go of the futile idea that happiness is out here somewhere and embrace the infinite growth available to us as a treasure, not as something that we are impatient to overcome.”
We can find joy in the journey. We can not just wade through our challenges but use them as an opportunity to grow, to see and understand what your brain is thinking. Mindset is powerful and coupled with awareness it’s unstoppable.
You become a confident person with a state of quiet certainty when you embrace all the parts of you as becoming in each stage of your life. You can let go of the overwhelm, stress, and anxiety when we look forward to each day as a learning experience, something you’re practicing. There are no judgments, just learning.
That happened, now what? Stay in this moment and allow yourself to find joy all along the way.
Okay, my friends, I didn’t even make a dent in how truly amazing this book is. It’s called, The practicing mind by Thomas M. Sterner – go add it to your audible, amazon, Barnes and noble, or local bookstore cart and grab a highlighter because you’re going to want it!
Thank you all! Talk to you next week!