How to Use the Practicing Mind in Daily Life

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We are beginning to understand and accept the fact that personal power, real peace, and optimum productivity lie on a path that has always been here in front of us and is deceptively simple. Call it what you will — peace; productivity; profit; joy from being immersed in the present moment, from being in the process of achieving your goals, from being fully engaged in the experience of expanding your life — it is a new paradigm that is taking us human beings to the next level. – Thomas Sterner

“Be in the moment,” or “Be present in the now.” How many times have you heard them already? What do these statements really mean and how do they affect the quality of our life?

To better grasp the essence, I always like to start with a question, a game if you will, which I often ask myself:

“What did I eat for dinner last night?”

…Got it!

Your turn. What did you have for dinner last night?

…Hmmm. See? That’s how easy for us to get lost, to be not present in the moment.

Learning from Make Peace with Your Mind, it was a bit alarming to find out in one study that participants were not present 46.9% of the day. Translate that and you can imagine how much time we could be wasting if we do not become aware of it.

And that’s the first step to turning it all around — awareness. Without awareness, there can be no chance for any transformation.

Boys, I really believe that the “What-did-you-have-for-dinner-last-night?” question will be the universal pick-up line for the coming new age. Better start asking our crush tonight and see if we can get Fully Engaged afterward. 😉

Meanwhile, let’s turn to the veteran, “Uncle Tom” (reading the book felt like talking to grandpa for advice, but Tom seemed too young to be grandpa when I saw his author profile, so let’s stick with uncle, hehe) and listen to what he has to say.

Fully Engaged

We are only here in the now doing just what we are doing. We are absorbed in the process of what we are doing, not contemplating the future or the past and not judging how well or poorly we are doing. As long as we are working at that, we are successful.

I am only currently typing this sentence, but I can easily get distracted by thoughts about what else is on my to-do list for the day, or for the week, and many other distracting thoughts that constantly ring in my head.

Similar to having dinner, we are doing one thing but our attention tends to wander easily someplace else. We eat, but our attention is on the news on TV or radio. We do one thing, while our mind does another.

It’s the reason why we can hardly remember last night’s dinner. We were not fully engaged in eating. Our mind’s attention is divided into many other things all at the same time. That’s what the ego is — a split mind. And conflict is what it’s habituated to do. It doesn’t know how to be in the present moment, where peace and happiness reside.

Unc Tom says this is the old paradigm. We think and feel that there’s always something missing, a sense of incompleteness. And we believe that what will make us complete is something outside of us, a place we have to get to before we can experience happiness. This feeling can burn within us leading to a point of exhaustion in life.

It’s the point where we had to exhaust our outward search in order to find out that what we were looking for was always with us. And we realize that in this moment, being fully engaged with what we’re doing, whether we’re eating, or working on the task at hand, we are and have always been complete.

fully engaged mindfulness

Thought Awareness Training

The key to becoming immersed in what I call “Present Moment Functioning,” or PMF, is growing your connection to the observer within you, and you do this by what I’m calling “thought awareness training.” You must learn to operate from the perspective that you are not your thoughts; you are the one who experiences your thoughts. Without thought awareness you can’t accomplish any real personal growth, and you have no authentic power.

Present Moment Functioning, as Tom defines it, is about how we can accomplish more with less effort in the least amount of time, without struggle.

How can we do that? Enter “Thought Awareness Training.” Remember, no awareness, no transformation.

In achieving our goals, most of us become impatient. To be immersed in PMF, first, we have to be aware of ourselves when we are becoming impatient. Without that awareness, we become immersed in our impatience, not separate from it.

Take writing to finish a book for example. Impatience may arise from thinking about the amount of time it will take to finish and publish the book. With awareness, I can separate myself from my impatience by thinking better-feeling thoughts, shifting my attention to what I can write about for today, and being fully engaged in my writing process.

Now, how do we develop this awareness? There’s only one exercise in Thought Awareness Training: Meditation. And as with any training, we have to practice it on a consistent basis.

As we become more of the observer, our thought awareness also grows. The greater the awareness, the greater the power. And with great power, comes great response-abilitythe ability to respond to whatever experience we are having.

fully engaged mindfulness

Skill Expansion

Any time we develop a new skill, we begin at a place that we will call “no skill.” Moving along the path of mastery is like moving along a time line representing “increments of skill expansion.” I call it this because anything past “no skill” is some level of skill. If you start with nothing, anything you add to that becomes something. Most of the time mastering a skill is not a place that you get to; it is an ever-expanding awareness and understanding of what is possible in the skill itself and of how to execute it more effortlessly.

Mastery is not a place we get to. It is an ever-expanding process that never ends. When we think we are already at our best, we feel that we can still get better.

No one is born a master. Even Jesus lived a human experience to master himself. He showed by living example that anyone can become a master because mastery is a skill that can be practiced.

And all of us begin at the “no skill” level. Every experience we have in life adds up to something. We become better both from good and bad experiences.

Our goals — #careergoals, #relationshipgoals, #businessgoals, etc. — serve as our guiding star to guide us in The Path to Awesomenessthe path to becoming the best we can be.

Tom clarifies that the learning process in itself is a neutral value, neither good nor bad. It’s up to us how we will experience learning and how we interpret it. We make judgments about it.

Judgments happen outside the process, outside the experience. When we are fully engaged in the learning process, fully present in the moment, we experience life without judgment. We experience it as it is.

fully engaged mindfulness

Interpret in Your Favor

Not only does our interpretation of the moment determine whether we can perform at our best (or even at all), but also, especially in less crucial activities, it can be instrumental in determining whether we become bored, impatient, or frustrated. It either creates or diminishes the energy we need to sustain our effort. Try to notice your interpretation of any given moment during the day. The opportunities to do that will constantly increase as you become more connected to the observer and more aware of your thoughts. You will find yourself more actively conscious during your day and more empowered with the privilege of choice.

Tom shares the walking-the-board analogy as a common example to demonstrate how our interpretation plays in any experience. Take a board, 12in wide by 20ft long, lay it on the ground, and ask someone to walk on it. Easy breezy, right?

Now, take the same board and hang it atop two buildings that are 50ft high, and ask the same person to walk the board. Totally changes the game! Same person, same board, different perspective view. The interpretation of the experience suddenly creates fear and disables the person to perform.

Similarly, we can also change the game by changing our interpretation of an experience. When we feel bored or impatient, it’s a good indication that we are not fully present in the activity. We are physically present, but mentally absent, in someplace else.

Those moments provide us the opportunity to improve our mastery skill. Changing our interpretation at any given event, even the difficult ones, can help revitalize our focus and keep us inspired to move forward.

fully engaged mindfulness

Focus on Progress

Most of us, when we are setting goals, disempower ourselves at the get-go by investing little or no effort into understanding a realistic time frame for accomplishing those goals. Instead we make an unconscious and uninformed assumption about what the time frame should be. We then begin judging our progress based on where we are in relationship to that time frame. This can very quickly erode our confidence in our ability to achieve the goal, even when in reality we may be excelling in the process. It blinds us to the progress we have made and sabotages our ability to remain fully engaged in our effort.

Relative to the goal you’re trying to achieve, how would you assess yourself? Not so good? It’s OK.

Let’s re-interpret the question: Relative to where you once were when you set the goal and how far you’ve already gone, how would you assess yourself? Better?

Our common problem is we tend to be too farsighted that we are losing sight of what’s right in front of us. We prefer the destination to the journey, without enjoying the process along the way.

Tom reminds us that in every moment of life, we are achieving something, even when it feels insignificant. We have to understand the difference between achieving versus achievement. Achieving is a verb, a process. Achievement is a noun, a stagnant moment in time.

Yes, for that moment of goal achievement, we feel exhilarated. And then what? We realize that we struggled for a very long time just to experience that one fleeting moment of success.

What if the goal became only the punctuation mark to a very long joyful experience of the journey getting there? What if we can find joy in the process of “succeeding” more than the moment of “success”?

I love how Abraham Hicks clearly states this: we came here to enjoy the manifesting, more than the manifestation. We are here for the joy of creating, more than the creation.

mindfulness quote

Premeditated Procedures

The clarity you need to see the optimum actions for you to take is much easier to find when you are outside the situation. That is when you have the time to run several scenarios through your mind, which is exactly what you should do. Weigh the pros and cons for each scenario, and decide which one is best. What you are after here is being able to control yourself in the situation, to stay oriented to the observer, aware of the subtleties of the situation as it unfolds. If you do this, you will be successful.


If you are to enter a dark room and on your fifth step someone grabs you on your shoulders, catching you off guard, your fight-or-flight response will either make you unintentionally hit the person or scream and run away.

But if you had an idea of what’s going to happen when you take your fifth step, you are less likely to react and able to respond better to the situation.

We cannot control what could happen for any given occasion, but what Tom’s suggesting is to have some sort of contingency plan. He calls them “premeditated procedures.”

Consider the “what if’s.” Picture out all possible scenarios. How would you react if this or that happens? Re-act means repeating an act you did before or you usually do, maybe because it became an ingrained habit of yours.

Knowing beforehand what situations trigger those undesirable reactions allows you to respond consciously instead of reacting without awareness. Situations lose their power over you because they cannot control you anymore. You are in control of yourself.


fully engaged

And Then What?

Our natural desire to expand who we are and what we are capable of is an asset, not an indicator of what we are lacking. When we experience these feelings we should exhale and say to ourselves, “It’s good to know that all my systems are functioning correctly. I can relax and get on with the process of expansion and just enjoy the experience.”

Growth is a natural experience we have. However, we mistake the feeling of wanting to grow for the feeling of incompleteness.

Tom explains that we are trying internally to get someplace other than where we are at this moment. We are trying to be someplace we have not yet arrived, to experience something that has not yet happened, or to gain something we don’t have yet.

We think something needs to change in our lives in order for everything to be just right. This feeling robs us of being able to fully experience the moment. What really needs to change is our perspective, from without to within.

Tom says the “And then what?” mantra can reset our perspective. It allows us to ask ourselves, “Will this feeling of lack go away once I have this or once I achieve that?” It makes you realize that the feeling really emanates from your natural desire to grow, to expand, and not from the misperceived sense of incompleteness.

You are perfection in progress. A perfect being that is still perfecting. Is, was, and always will be.

fully engaged mindfulness

Change is Change

As I have become more fully engaged in my own life I can honestly say that I feel phrases like “difficult situations” or “negative experiences” stem from internal judgments. Those judgments are based on what is comfortable and what is uncomfortable. When we are confronted by change, we need to stay oriented to our observer. Otherwise, we label the change based on our emotions, and we quickly become absorbed in those feelings.

Change is just that — change. It’s up to us how we perceive the change happening in our lives. How we perceive it becomes our experience.

If we believe ‘change is difficult’ then ‘difficult’ it will be. If we believe ‘life is hard’ then ‘hard’ it will be.

What if we shift our perspective from ‘difficult and hard’ to ‘ease and flow’? Would it also shift our experience of change?

Shifting our perspective allows us to see what change has to offer us. This is why Unc Tom insists we keep up with a meditation practice. It increases our awareness and gives us a better, wider perspective to choose which thoughts serve us and which do not.

As we move farther down The Path to Awesomeness, the more it feels just a learning experience. And we learn to enjoy it!

fully engaged


The reason being fully engaged is a life’s work is because it is boundless in its offerings. Remember, true perfection has no limits. We are never as good at being fully engaged in our life and executing a practicing mind as we could be, and that is a blessing, not a punishment meant to discourage us.

Tom writes that the word “mistake” has really gotten a bad rap. Mistakes are bad. Mistakes are wrong. So we try to avoid them. And if ever a person commits one, how easy it is to judge that person by the mistakes he made? “He made a bad mistake, therefore he is a bad person.”

Mistakes only happen in the doing, not in the being.

What we call a mistake is nothing more than a teaching tool, Tom adds, and they are just points of learning. Viewed from this perspective, mistakes can be seen as clues to help us find whatever we are seeking, and not as obstacles to reaching our goals.

Don’t be afraid of making mistakes. It only means that you are learning something new.

fully engaged mindfulness

You Have to Be There

We can talk about all kinds of strategies to help you deal with that situation, but in order to execute them you have to be in the situation. If you want to learn how to play in the rain, it has to be raining. If you want to learn how to play in gusty conditions, the wind has to be gusting, and if you want to learn how to deal with yourself when the wheels have come completely off, you have to be in that situation, and guess what, you’re there.

We do thought awareness training. We meditate. We practice, practice, practice. But the real game happens in the actual experience. In order for us to learn, we have to be there.

We can practice peace through meditation. But we can learn peace when we are confronted by chaos and still be able to remain calm. We have to be there.

We can’t read a book about The Path to Awesomeness and then all of a sudden become awesome. We become awesome by actually walking the path. We have to be there.

fully engaged

You prayed for strength? God allows experiences that weaken you. From that, you can learn to be strong.

You prayed for abundance? God allows experiences that impoverish you. From that, you can learn to be abundant.

I’m praying for you to get to your goal. But maybe it’s more than just getting to your goal. Maybe it’s about being fully engaged in each and every experience that comes your way while getting there.

And guess what? You’re getting there!

Fully Engaged: Using the Practicing Mind in Daily Life


THOMAS M. STERNER is the founder and CEO of the Practicing Mind Institute. As a successful entrepreneur, he is considered an expert in Present Moment Functioning, or PMF™. He is a popular and in-demand speaker who works with high-performance industry groups and individuals, including athletes, helping them operate effectively in high-stress situations so that they can break through to new levels of mastery.

Other Books by Thomas Sterner

The Practicing Mind: Developing Focus and Discipline in Your Life — Master Any Skill or Challenge by Learning to Love the Process

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