Creating the Habits We Desire
The Practicing Mind:
Developing Focus and Discipline in Your Life
Creating the Habits We Desire
Excerpt from The Practicing Mind
now, you should notice -- or, shall we say, you should be
of -- several themes running through this book. One of these themes is awareness
itself. You cannot change what you are unaware of. This truth is nowhere more
important than in the world of self-improvement. We need to be more aware of
what we are doing, what we are thinking, and what we are intending to accomplish
in order to gain control of what we experience in life.
in fact, for most of us, this is a problem because we are so disconnected from
our thoughts. We just
them. The horses are running, and we don't have the reins. We need to become an
observer of our thoughts and actions, like an instructor watching a student
performing a task. The instructor is not judgmental or emotional. The instructor
knows just what he or she wants the student to produce. The teacher observes the
student's actions, and when the student does something that is moving in the
wrong direction, the instructor gently brings it to the student's attention and
pulls the student back onto the proper path. A good instructor does not get
emotional in response to the student moving off the path. That kind of negative
emotion comes from expectations, and that is not the perspective we want to have
if we are to be our own instructor. Expectations are tied to a result or
product, to the thought that "things should be
way right now, and until then I won't be happy." When you experience these kinds
of emotions, they are indicators that you've fallen out of the process, or out
of the present moment.
when we were throwing tennis balls into a trash can, we should observe what
happens, process the information without emotion, and then move on. This is how
we should deal with ourselves as we work at learning something new, or when
we're changing something about ourselves that we don't like. This includes
working on something more abstract, too, such as becoming more
or conscious of what we are thinking, becoming more of an observer of ourselves.
This disconnection from our thoughts and actions is a way of thinking that we
have learned during our lives, and one that takes away all our real power. We
must unlearn this approach to life. What we are really talking about here is a
habit. Everything we do is a habit, in one form or another. How we think, how we
talk, how we react to criticism, which type of snack we instinctively reach for:
all are habits. Even when faced with a circumstance for the first time, we
respond to it from habit. Whether we observe our thoughts or they just happen in
our minds is determined by habits we have learned. We may consider some habits
good, others not so good, but all habits can be replaced at will, if you
understand how they are formed.
Habits and practice are very interrelated. What we practice will become a habit.
This is a very important point because it underscores the value of being in
control of our practicing minds. Our minds are going to practice certain
behaviors whether or not we are aware of them, and whatever we practice is going
to become habit. Knowing this can work in our favor. If we understand how we
form habits, and if we become aware of which habits we are forming, we can begin
to free ourselves by intentionally creating the habits we want instead of
becoming victims of the habits we unknowingly allow to become a part of our
behavior. We can gain control of who we are and what we become in life. But what
are the mechanics that create a habit? Knowing this would be quite valuable.
Fortunately for us, we don't have to figure this out, because others have
already done it for us.
The formation of habits has been studied extensively by behavioral scientists
and sports psychologists alike. Understanding how desirable habits are created
and undesirable habits are replaced is invaluable, particularly in
repetitive-motion sports such as golf or diving. In fact, you often see golfers
practicing certain parts of their swings over and over again, or divers standing
poolside, going through the motions of complex dives they are about to execute.
They are practicing and habitualizing their particular moves. What does that
mean? To me, when we say that something is a habit, it means that it is the
natural way we do something. We do it intuitively, without having to think about
it. The martial arts student practices the moves over and over again,
habitualizing responses until they become effortless, intuitive, and lightning
fast. There is no intellectual process that has to occur in a time of crisis
where the brain is saying, "My opponent is doing this, so I must do that." The
responses just happen because they are a natural part of the student's behavior.
That is what we are after. We want something like being more aware of our
thoughts to be just a natural behavior, not something that requires a lot of
Getting to this point is not complicated. It does take some effort, but the
effort is minimal once we understand the process. What is required is that you
are aware of what you want to achieve, that you know the motions you must
intentionally repeat to accomplish the goal, and that you execute your actions
without emotions or judgments; just stay on course. You should do this in the
comfort of knowing that intentionally repeating something over a short course of
time will create a new habit or replace an old one.
*Excerpted from the book The Practicing
Mind: Developing Focus and Discipline in Your Life
Copyright C 2012 by Thomas Sterner. Printed with permission from New
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Thomas M. Sterner
is the author of Practicing Mind:
Developing Focus and Discipline in Your Life. He's also a trained jazz
pianist and an avid pilot, student of archery, and golfer. He teaches his
techniques to businesspeople, at sports clinics, and to learners of all kinds.
He lives in Wilmington, Delaware. Visit him online at