Monthly review – the power of the practicing mind

If you have read my book review of The Practicing Mind by Thomas Sterner, you will be familiar with what this concept means already. I had been keen to read this book to help me with my habit of practicing deliberate practice that I am working on this year.

The key principle of deliberate practice is that it is about the process not the product. It is about focusing on the process not the goal we are trying to achieve through the process. If we focus on the process, that is the action we are practicing, then the goal will take care of itself.

This is actually something I already knew, but wasn’t always applying it. For the last few years, I have set a single goal for personal and work life, then set habits that I chose to work on to help me achieve the goal. In Sterner’s terminology the goal is the product and my habits are the process. The goal is the rudder for practice sessions but I don’t need to think about the goal every day to measure my progress. My experience with setting a single goal, is exactly as Sterner states – if I focus on the habits, the goal takes care of itself.

My husband and I signed up for a running event at the start of next year and to be able to run the event you needed to have a qualifying time. The qualifying times varied depending on the type of event, so the half Iron Man my husband ran earlier this year qualified him. The event didn’t recognise the Spartan Races I have done this year, so I needed to run a half marathon this year to get a qualifying time.

I have been running consistently all year and the last Spartan Race I ran in April was 21km, so I knew I could easily run the distance. But it had been a few years since I had trained specifically for a half marathon and I decided that if I was going to run the Run Melbourne Half Marathon (July 29) I would train to see if I could achieve a new PB. This was going to be a challenge as my PB was a few years old and I have edged further away from 40 each year since that was set and I honestly was not sure if I could run that fast any more.

I took the practicing mind approach to my training. I had my goal which was go run the half marathon in under 1 hour 36 minutes, but I made my focus the process – my training. I created my own training plan inspired from podcasts I listen to and using a base half marathon plan that I tweaked. I had very much a beginner’s mindset to my running, trying new workouts, increasing the days that I run and trusting the plan.

Rules of the practicing mind

Sterner has some key rules of the practicing mind

  • Keep process oriented
  • Stay in the present
  • Have a process goal and an overall goal as the rudder to steer your efforts
  • Be deliberate in your actions
  • Have an intention about what you want to accomplish and remain aware of this intention.

By adhering to these rules you eliminate the judgement and emotions that can creep in when you are product/end goal focused. Each run on the plan has a purpose and each time I went out to run, this purpose was what I focused on. I didn’t think about the end goal of running a PB, I stayed in the moment, focused on the workout at hand and gave it my best effort.

Results of the practicing mind

The most amazing thing happened through out my training for the half marathon. While I have loved running since I started about five years ago, I actually fell back in love with running. During this training program I was running more that I had for years and the workouts were harder than I had done in years, I looked forward to them and they were often the highlight activity on my to do list for the day.

In the book The Practicing Mind the author Thomas Sterner highlights the importance of the quality equanimity:

One of the signs that someone possesses this virtue is that they are undisturbed by the moment-to-moment ups and downs they experience in daily life. Things just don’t seem to bother these people. Why is this? It is because equanimity comes from the art of non-judgment. Non-judgment quiets the internal dialogue of our mind.

By staying fully in the present for my runs and not constantly judging my performance – eg I am not running fast enough, long enough etc, I felt calmer in my runs and enjoyed them. If for example the work out was something like a 3km warm up, 5km easy, 5km moderate, 5km hard, then 3km cool down I didn’t even think of the run as a 21km run. I focused only on each phase of the run. I didn’t worry about how fast I was going to run at the 5km hard phase, I just focused on executing the phase I was currently in. This made these runs really enjoyable and seemed to go much quicker than when I would concentrate on the fact that I would have to run 21km and count them down. There were of course days when I felt runs didn’t go as well as I would have liked, but I didn’t dwell on them, but looked at why and what I could do next time to change things.

As it came closer to race day, thoughts about whether or not I could hit a new PB did start to creep in, but much like meditation, I would simply acknowledge the thought and then push it out my mind and focus on running the workout I needed to that day.

The plan I had decided I would run to on the day of the half marathon was aggressive and there was part of me that was super nervous about this. There have been two full marathons in my past where I have gone out way too fast and ended up slowing down in the last half significantly because I haven’t paced myself well enough. My plan focused on pacing my effort and if I could pull it off I would get a new PB and a negative split (second half faster than my first).

When race day came, I was feeling good knowing that I trained well and I was really looking forward to running and seeing what the process would deliver. The first few kilometres were a little fast compared to plan, but I settled down and from then on pretty much stuck to the plan. Like in my training runs, I didn’t focus on running 21.1km, I didn’t focus on an over all time, I focused on running the paces I needed for each stage of the plan.

And it all came together on the day! Conditions weren’t perfect, there was rain and it was a very crowded and hectic start, but I loved every minute of the run. I crossed the finish line in 1:31:18 taking over four minutes of my PB (a negative split!), placing me 12th female overall and 3rd in my category (40-49).

Training for this half marathon with a practicing mind was much more enjoyable than previous training programs I have done where I have been too focused on the end result. Focusing on the end result takes you out of the present, into the future of worry, stress and the unknown. Staying in the present and focusing on what I can do then and there allows for calm and greater enjoyment.

Monthly progress review

HabitConnection to goal - Detach from the old and embrace the new to nurture a family spirit of adventure.Poem quoteJuly Review
Practice detachment dailyMy attachment comes from the right place in terms of wanting the best for my family and myself, but it can be founded on beliefs that I hold that are not necessarily true or helpful. Letting go of this belief and creating a new one requires me to detach.

Detaching doesn't mean I stop caring or give up but it means I acknowledge it, explore it, process it, take action to move on and let it go.

Letting go of old or untrue beliefs will mean I can focus on being more supporting and encouraging to the kids.
"For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business."
~ T.S. Eliot
It has taken me half a year to work out that this habit and the habit of using deliberate practice are very interlinked. When I set the habit of practicing detachment the core reason was to improve relationships with others around me. My tendency to worry and hang on to things can get in the way of meaningful communication.

Through learning to use deliberate practice, I learnt that I had to detach from holding on to tightly to my broader goal, stay in the moment and trust the process. I am now using this approach to help me practice detachment with those around me and I am finding it much easier - well most of the time!
Develop the practice of mindful listeningSometimes listening can be hard. I think I know what the kids or others are going to say, I have things on my mind, I have something I want to say or I have things I would rather be doing than listening then and there.

Mindfully listening to others shows that you value them and it empowers them to share exactly how they are feeling. I want my kids to tell me about their dreams, their hopes, their fears and their crazy ideas. This won’t happen if I am not really listening.

“We do not believe in ourselves until someone reveals that deep inside us something is valuable, worth listening to, worthy of our trust, sacred to our touch. Once we believe in ourselves we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight or any experience that reveals the human spirit.”
~ E.E. Cummings
To help me become better at mindful listening, I am making sure that I am setting up my environment the best I can to make it as easy as possible to do this. I do love listening to podcasts, when I am in the kitchen and doing housework but I make sure there are certain times of the day when I don't have them going - during homework time for example. The kids are pretty self sufficient with there homework but I found myself being a little frustrated with constant interruptions of questions etc if I was listening to an episode that I was really enjoying. Feeling frustrated made it hard to listen mindfully.

Do something new each month with the familyI love routine and being organised and sometimes I will take the option to spend time on these activities and not leave enough time for exploring something new.

This year I want to try some big and little adventures with the family.
"Dust if you must, but there’s not much time,
With rivers to swim, and mountains to climb;
Music to hear, and books to read;
Friends to cherish, and life to lead."
~Rose Milligan
This month we tried new restaurants and new food at home, which everyone enjoyed - win!
Use deliberate daily practice to learn something new each monthK. Anders Ericsson, a professor of Psychology at Florida State University, is a pioneer in researching deliberate practice. One of his core findings is that becoming an expert at a skill has more to do with how you practice rather than with just performing the skill many times.

To really embrace a new skill I need to intentionally practice, not just do the skill to tick the box to say I have done it. This is a practice I really want to develop and role model for my kids.
"Submit to a daily practice.
Your loyalty to that is a ring on the door.
Keep knocking, and the joy inside
will eventually open a window
and look out to see who’s there."
As you can read above, while running isn't a new skill for me, applying the mindset of the practicing mind has made a huge difference to how I approach my running and the enjoyment I receive from it.
Develop a monthly decluttering habitOur house is relatively uncluttered but we really do have too much stuff.

All this extra stuff takes up space, time and energy - all of which I can reclaim and redirect when I declutter.
"The open space surrounding me
Clears my lungs
Makes me breath
I feel light
Vividly bright and empty
A room to dance in happily"
~Anna Elise
I decluttered the linen cupboard and we gave the younger boys room a reorganisation and small declutter as we did it.