this book is about how you can make practice painless and even joyful. it's not that long. every time i re-read, i find some advice that i had skipped over or forgotten from previous reads, and it helps tremendously.
i would very strongly recommend buying and reading the full thing. 10/10.kindle version here
- a simple perspective shift can have an enormous impact.
- keep yourself process-oriented.
- stay in the present.
- make the process the goal. use the overall goal as a rudder to steer your efforts.
- be deliberate: have an intention about what you want to accomplish, and be aware of that intention.
- you can't intentionally change what you're not aware of.
- if practicing properly, there are no mistakes. you are discovering what works and what doesn't.
To use music as an example, suppose you are trying to learn how to play a piece of music and you come from this new perspective. Your experience will be totally different than what we usually think of in terms of learning to play a musical instrument.
In the old way, you are sure that you are not going to be happy or “successful” until you can play the piece of music flawlessly. Every wrong note you hit, every moment you spend struggling with the piece, is an affirmation that you have not reached your goal.
If, however, your goal is learning to play the piece of music, then the feeling of struggle dissolves away. With each moment you spend putting effort into learning the piece, you are achieving your goal. An incorrect note is just part of learning how to play the correct note; it is not a judgment of your playing ability.
In each moment you spend with the instrument, you are learning information and gaining energy that will work for you in other pieces of music. Your comprehension of music and the experience of learning it are expanding. All of this is happening with no sense of frustration or impatience.
What more could you ask for from just a shift in perspective?
the author tells a story about taking golf classes. he showed up early to a lesson one day and spoke to a classmate about her practice. she seemed frustrated that golf was much harder than it looked and depressed about all the hard work ahead of her before she could reach a skill level that she thought would make the game more fun.
i see this every single day, almost every single conversation in the aim training discord servers i'm a part of.
the author believes (and so do i) that getting past this issue requires two things: understanding the mechanics of good practice, and a shift in your intended goal.
to understand what good practice is, you need to answer the question: what makes the learning process efficient and free of stress and impatience?
a shift in your intended goal means that instead of your goal being to achieve the product - your intended result - your goal is to *be in the process* of working towards that result.
This is evident in so many activities in our everyday life.
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 are going to get to 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.
it doesn't have to be this way.
when you focus your mind on the present moment, all of your energy goes into what you are doing. when you focus your mind on where you want to end up, you waste your energy on unrelated thoughts instead of putting it into what you are doing.
this means that we must, at least temporarily, give up our attachment to our desired achievement. if we don't, we cannot be in the present moment because we are thinking about something that hasn't happened yet.
if you shift your goal away from the product and towards the process of achieving it, all the pressure drops away. if your goal is to just pay attention to what you are doing right now, then as long as you are doing that, you are constantly reaching your goal. in one respect, this is a very subtle shift. in another way, it's a huge leap in how you approach anything that requires your effort.
when you shift into putting your whole attention on what you are doing "right now", and stay aware that you are doing so, you begin to feel calm and in control. your mind slows down because you are only asking it to think of one thing at a time.
when your mind is on the finished product, you feel frustrated in every second that you haven't met your goal. you experience anxiety about every "mistake" that you make while practicing. you view each mistake as a barrier to reaching your goal and experiencing the joy that reaching your goal will give you.
Using music as an example, let’s say you are trying to learn a particular piece of music.
If your goal is playing the entire piece of music perfectly, with each note you play you will be making constant judgments about the music and yourself.
“I played that part correctly but I can’t seem to get this part right.”
“Here comes the part I always mess up.”
“It will never sound the way I want, this is hard work.”
All these judgments require your energy, and none of that energy is going into learning the music and getting to a point where it is effortless for you to play it.
These thoughts are only keeping you from learning the piece of music.
We waste so much of our energy by not being aware of how we are directing it.
this doesn't mean that you lose touch with what you are aiming for. you continue to use the final goal as a rudder to steer your practicing session, but not as an indicator of how you are doing. this is hard to do, because the goal is usually the reason you start practicing in the first place. it's always *there* as a point of relativity with which to compare your progress.
If I gave you three tennis balls and told you to throw them one at a time into a trash can ten feet away, you should perform the task something like this.
You would pick up a tennis ball, look at the trash can, and toss the first ball.
If the ball hit the floor in front of the can, you would observe this and make the decision to adjust the arc of the ball and how hard you tossed the ball based on this observed information.
You would continue this process with each toss, allowing the present moment feedback to help you refine the art of tossing a tennis ball into a trash can.
Where we fall down in this activity is when we drop out of this present-minded approach and become attached to the outcome of our attempts.
Then we start the emotional judgment cycle of “How could I have missed the first one, I am not very good at this, now the best I can do is two out of three,” and on and on.
If we stay in the process, this does not occur.
We look at the outcome of each attempt with emotional indifference.
We accept it as it is with no judgment involved.
Remember, judgment redirects our energy and wastes it.
It could be said that we have to judge the outcome of each attempt to make a decision on how to proceed, but this is not true.
Judgment brings a sense of right or wrong, good or bad with it.
What we are doing here is objectively observing and analyzing the outcome of each attempt.
This observation serves only to direct our next effort.
It is amazing how everything changes when we use this way of thinking to approach any new activity.
For one thing, we become patient with ourselves.
We are not in a hurry to get to some predetermined point.
Our goal is to stay in this process and to direct our energy into whatever activity we are choosing at the present.
Every second that we achieve this, we have fulfilled our goal.
This process brings us inner peace and a wonderful sense of mastery and self-confidence.
We are mastering ourselves by staying in the process and mastering whatever activity we are working on.
This is the essence of proper practice.
back to the author's golfing classmates: what could have changed their experience? shifting into a "process not product" mode of thinking. instead of feeling "until i am good, i won't enjoy practicing", they would know that there is joy to be had right now. instead of procrastinating their practice sessions, they would have looked forward to them.
inspiration: you can watch a vod of a top-level player and use it to give you motivation to practice. this can be a very good thing.
if you begin to analyze your progress based on where you are relative to that top player, you are headed for discontentment and frustration. we all do this naturally and often subconsciously. it's worth making an active effort to avoid.
(analyzing your *progress* is different to analyzing your *technique*. the latter is still good.)
Go out on a golf course and you will see somebody slamming a club into the ground because they missed a particular shot that may have been way beyond their ability.
They are comparing themselves to the pro they watched on TV who hits 500 balls a day with a swing coach observing, and then plays five days a week.
This is what I mean by unrealistic and perhaps unattainable ideal images.
The amateur in question probably plays once a week, has had a few lessons, and maybe hits 100 balls a week.
Yet his or her standard is the epitome of the sport.
if you are involved in an activity and notice that you are feeling bored, impatient, rushed or disappointed in your performance, look at where your mind and energy are focused. your mind is either in the future or the past, and not on what you are doing in the present moment. you may be subconsciously focused on the product.
True perfection is not a finite thing.
It is not a specific number, as in how much you weigh or how much you make.
It is not a specific skill level that can be reached in an activity regardless of how long and how hard you pursue it.
Ask any high-level performer in any sport or art form and they will tell you this.
Their idea of perfection is always moving away from them, always based on what their present experience and perspective is.
Present-minded awareness can be and is a natural process when the circumstances are right.
We have all experienced this state of mind many times in our lives.
The problem in identifying at what times we are functioning in this state is a paradox.
When we are totally focused in the present moment and in the process of what we are doing, we are completely absorbed with the activity.
As soon as we become aware of how well we are concentrating on something, we are no longer concentrating on it.
We are now concentrating on the fact that we were concentrating on the activity. > When we are practicing correctly, we are not aware we are practicing correctly.
We are only aware and absorbed in the process of what we are doing in that moment.
In Zen this is referred to as "beginner's mind."
Part of this is because, when you are a beginner at whatever activity you are attempting to learn, it takes all of your concentration to accomplish the activity and your mind is empty of chatter.
As you become more adept at the activity, it actually becomes harder to concentrate solely on performing it.
Remember when you first started learning to drive a car.
You were totally absorbed in the process of learning to drive the car.
You had a "beginner’s mind."
Now when you drive, you have lost that beginner’s mind.
Try this the next time you are faced with doing something you define as not enjoyable or as work.
If the activity takes a long time, tell yourself you are going to just work on staying present moment and process-oriented for the first half hour.
After that you can hate it as much as usual, but in that first half hour you are absolutely not going to think of anything but what your are doing.
You are not going to go into the past and think of all the judgments you have made that define this activity as work.
You are not going to go into the future anticipating when it will be completed, allowing you to go participate in an activity that you have defined as “not work.”
You are just going to do whatever it is you are doing right now for half an hour.
Don’t try to enjoy it, either, because in that effort you are bringing emotions and struggle into your effort.
If you are going to mow the lawn, then accept that all you need to do is cut the grass.
You are going to notice the feel of the mower as you push it, how it changes resistance with the undulations of your front yard.
You will pay attention to cut as wide a path as possible, not sloppily overlap the last pass you made as you gawk at the neighbor across the street washing their car.
You will smell the cut grass and notice how the grass glows with green in the sunlight.
Just do this for one-half hour of the activity.
You will be amazed.
you cannot intentionally change what you are not aware of.
Like throwing the tennis balls into the trash can, we should observe, 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 changing something about ourselves that we don’t like.
This includes working on something more abstract, like becoming more aware or conscious of what we are thinking: becoming more of an observer of ourselves.
Habits and practice are very interrelated because 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 it, and what we practice is going to become habit for sure.
Knowing this can work in our favor.
If we can understand how we form habits and become aware of what habits we are forming, we can begin to free ourselves by intentionally creating the habits we want and not the other way around.
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 responses just happen because they are a natural part of the person’s behavior.
That is what we are after.
We want something like being more aware of our thoughts to be just a natural behavior to us, not something that requires a lot of struggle.
Getting to this point is not complicated, but it does take some effort.
The effort is minimal when 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 with no emotions or judgments; just stay on course.
Remember also that if you start to experience an emotion such as frustration, you have fallen out of the process.
You are back in the false sense of,
“There is some place other than where I actually am now that I need to be. Only then will I be happy.”
This is totally untrue and counter-productive.
Experiencing impatience is one of the first symptoms of not being in the present moment, not doing what you are doing, and not staying process-oriented.
The second part is understanding and accepting that there is no such thing as reaching a point of perfection in anything.
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 yet by nightfall he is no closer to the horizon than he was at dawn’s first light.
The only reference he has to forward motion is the wake left behind by the boat.
Unseen to him are 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.
Progress is a natural result of staying focused on the process of doing anything.
When you stay on purpose, focused in the present moment, the goal comes to you with frictionless ease.
However, when you constantly focus on the goal you are aiming for, you push it away instead of pulling it toward you.
In every moment of your struggle, by looking at the goal and constantly referencing your position to it, you are affirming to yourself that you haven’t reached it.
You only need to acknowledge the goal to yourself occasionally, using it as a rudder to keep you moving in the right direction.
So many people miss this point.
They look at the process of working for something as an annoying effort they have to go through to get what they want.
They make getting the “thing” the goal instead of “getting there” the goal.
“Just getting the thing” produces a very small return investment of inner joy compared with the process of “getting there and achieving the goal.”
The key word here is “achieving.”
To me, getting the goal and achieving the goal are worlds apart. > Most people spend their lives on an endless treadmill where they acquire or get one thing after another with no experience of lasting joy or personal growth.
To change your perspective, you must first realize this truth, and secondly, you must become aware of when you are involved in the process of working toward a particular goal.
When you make a decision to acquire something which will require a long-term commitment, pick the goal and then be aware you are entering the “process” of achieving the goal.
You cannot do this if you are constantly making the end result your point of focus.
You have acknowledged the goal, now let go of it and put your energy into the process of achieving the goal.
simplicity in effort will conquer the most complex of tasks
simplify: small, short, and slow.
when you work at a specific project or activity, *simplify* it by breaking it down into sections. don't set goals that are too far beyond your reach. the success of attaining *small*, short-term goals will generate the motivation to keep going.
ask yourself to focus for *short* periods of time. don't overwhelm yourself with huge blocks of practice.
incorporating *slow*ness means working at a pace that allows you to pay attention to what you're doing. the pace will differ depending on what you are doing, your predisposition, and your skill level. if you are aware of what you are doing and you are paying attention to what you are doing, you are probably working at a good pace.
It’s a funny feeling when you try this.
At first, your internal dialogue is howling at you to get going and pick up the pace.
It is screaming at you, “We’ll never get this done, you are wasting time.”
It is reminding you of the whole day’s worth of work you have to get done to meet everybody’s approval.
You can feel the anxiety start to build and the emotions floating up to the surface.
However, your ego quickly loses ground to the simplicity of doing one thing at a time and doing it slowly, on purpose.
It has no place to build stress and work up internal chatter.
That is because working slowly in today’s world goes against every thought system.
You can only work slowly if you do it deliberately.
Being deliberate requires you to stay in the process, to work in the present moment.