So far, we have seen a several books with messages relating to the psychology of motivation, particularly to the conditions under which people have greater motivations to do difficult tasks (Drive, Punished by Rewards), as well as what kinds of attitudes lead to greater learning and improvement (Mindset). In The Practicing Mind, we get a look at the phenomenology of these conditions, i.e. what does it feel like to be intrinsically motivated and have a growth mindset?
Thomas Sterner is a jazz pianist and piano restorer. As a child he found practice to be boring and frustrating, but with time he came to both enjoy it and see greater progress, which he puts down to an originally mostly subconscious understanding of how practice should be carried out. He was particularly struck by the need for a greater public understanding of practice when he took up golf in his mid-thirties.
On the golf course, he would see people who had been playing golf for ten or twenty years who still didn't look much better than beginners. They would be terrible at the game, and yet not know why, or how to change their game. He compares them to musicians who have been playing the piano for twenty years and yet still didn't know that they were supposed to play with their fingers, not their elbows.
Sterner shows us his philosophy of the power and meaning of discipline, focus, and the quieting of the mind. Laced with insights from eastern philosophies, the author shows us the futility of expecting perfection, and the contentment we can gain from an honest relationship with what we are doing. His ideas are applicable in almost any domain of life, if we are to believe, as he does, that "all of life is practice".
The Practicing Mind is something of an unusual book for this podcast in that it proposes ways of practicing better without any evidence other than the author's own experiences to back up its claims. In a bookshop, it would quite possibly be filed under "self-help" rather than "education". And yet, I find this first-person account to be refreshing after speaking about these issues at length from a detached, scientific standpoint. I hope that taking the personal perspective of this individual expert will be something that benefits you as much as it has me.
Enjoy the episode.