The Entrepreneurial MD for Women

Finding the balance between medicine and business

"The Practicing Mind" -- a primer for physician happiness?

As a recent attendee at the Creativity and Personal Mastery program (CPM) that I have previously written about, I was tickled to receive and read a review copy of "The Practicing Mind" (A) by Thomas Sterner. His book is an active reminder of the value I derived from the program, as it echoes much of the content. It's also foretells the huge payoffs that come with learning how to "practice".

What does "practice" really mean?

If I were to focus on the intended outcome of this article, I would be thinking about and worrying whether you were going to read it, and how you might act upon it for your and even my good. That would have me focused on the future. And then I might interrupt my train of thought by fretting about how my last newsletter article was received, and whether any of this writing even matters. And I'd be consumed with the past.

Instead, as an adherent to Sterner's beliefs expressed in his book, I am "practicing". I am deeply engaged in the task at hand. Tapping out the words on my iPad, crafting sentences as I write, sifting through ideas as they flit into my brain, all the while strapped into my seat in a bouncy airplane flying home from a short vacation in New York City. I am doing this imperfectly, as I catch my mind wandering -- to our homecoming, to all the work I'll have awaiting me this week ... and on and on. But I keep returning to the exercise, and therefore I am practicing at getting better, training my mind to stay on task, learning how to do the "staying present" thing better.

Why bother with practicing?

In his short and fairly pithy book, Sterner writes:
"Everything in life worth achieving requires practice. In fact, life itself is nothing more than one long practice session, an endless effort of refining our motions. When the proper mechanics of practice are understood, the task of learning something new becomes a stress-free experience of joy and calmness, a process which settles all areas in your life and promotes proper perspective on all of life's difficulties".

High-flying stuff indeed! But Sterner should know -- he is an accomplished musician, concert piano technician, pilot, student of philosophy and sports psychology, archery practitioner and golfer, all of which have demanded discipline, focus and enormous amounts of practice!

What he writes is the following:

  • The principles of practice include picking a goal and applying steady effort to achieve it. There is no "add water and stir for instant results"

  • When we shift toward focusing on and finding joy in the process of achieving the goal, instead of having the goal (the new car, the perfect job, the big salary, the ideal house), we have gained a new invaluable skill

  • the most useful skill to acquire is self-awareness, the ability to observe our thoughts, feelings and behaviors. It is only with self-awareness that we are free to choose our responses and actions

    His how-to's include (with my interpretations in parentheses):

    • focus on process, not product (I'm on this plane writing my reactions to this book and wanting to share some of Sterner's insights)

    • be deliberate and act with intention (I'm going to think this through, and be done with it before we land)

    • think of this as creating new desirable habits -- much repetition is required (despite my distractions, I'm going to keep coming back to my writing)

    • use his 4 "S"s:
      simplify the task at hand (I'm using a few notes I made while reading the book)
      - break the goal into small steps (one paragraph at a time)
      - keep the time you devote to practicing short at first, maybe 45 minutes (ok, so this is going to be written in 45 minutes!)
      - do things slowly by working at a pace that allows us to pay attention to what we are doing (the blessing of being trapped on a plane is I have nowhere else to rush to and no other pending tasks)

    • practice by using DOC -- do, observe, correct.
      Be the person who throws 100 balls at the hoop each day, making tiny adjustments each time he misses the hoop. Or the writer who diligently writes the three "morning pages" daily just to get the blood flowing before settling down to write the book. Or the physician who methodically works through a long list of patients or procedures each day with the intention of achieving both professional satisfaction for herself and her patients.

    I highly recommend this book for those of you looking to escape the mind's minefields of "not good enough", "I need it now" or "I'll never be able to do that..." I suspect that is most of us!

    BTW, here's a link to the inspiring book trailer for The Practicing Mind if you are interested to learn more.

    Philippa Kennealy ran a private family practice, and a hospital, before building her coaching business helping MDs launch and run successful practices and businesses. Visit her online at to learn more.
    Preventing physician burnout - is there a secret r...
    And the band plays on

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