When it comes to my own professional and personal development, there are a ton of areas where I would like to improve. The problem is that most of the time I look forward to when I have more skills. The true joy of self-development comes from the practice - enjoying the learning journey for what it is.
It's easy to look at successful people and say, "That person is so talented!". But there's an issue with this mindset: it focuses on the end results. More importantly, how did that person get to where they are? Well, lots and lots of practice.
The Practicing Mind
The only way to consistently get to where you want to be is through work. Focused and dedicated practice. But if we only look forward to the results, the "end goal", actually doing the work becomes more difficult. How will you get yourself to sit down at your computer to actually write or code? How will you put on your workout clothes and hit the gym?
It's not the destination, it's the journey.
We need to embrace the practice. Discover the joy that comes from a hard day's work or focused effort over a long enough period of time.
In The Practicing Mind, author Thomas M. Sterner outlines the "four S words" that are crucial for staying focused on the process:
- Simplify. Break down your work into easy-to-understand sections. Don't over-complicate.
- Small. Similar to James Clear's idea of atomic habits: doing the smallest bits of work will help you to develop some momentum. Open up your word or code editor. Put on your workout clothes. Doing the tiniest task towards your goal will help you get into the groove.
- Short. Go into your practice with the mindset that you'll only need to do a little bit of work before you can stop. You'll most likely end up doing more than you expected! But also make sure to stop when you need to take a break to recover, whether physically or mentally.
- Slow. Practicing slowly is the key for an effective process. Focused on what you're doing. It's okay to listen to music in the gym on occasion. But try to really focus on your exercises for the most part. I'm sure you'll notice a significant improvement in your technique and overall workout.
Product and Impostor Syndrome
It's been difficult for me lately to keep the practice in mind. I'm at a stage in my career where I can't consider myself junior anymore. At the same time, there's a part of me that worries I'm not competent enough relative to my experience. Classic impostor syndrome.
When feeling this way about myself, it leads me to think more product or end-goal minded. I think about my lack of expertise in certain areas and how I wish I was skilled or talented enough to not feel like an impostor. And it's a tough line of thinking to break.
These are some of the techniques that I've used to get back into a practicing, process-focused mindset:
- Start doing the work. When you feel inexperienced about something, just start working on something. Open up that tutorial you've been putting off and start working at it. Dust off the guitar and start playing. Simply starting the work will flip a switch in your brain and you'll be off the to the races in no time.
- Find your tribe. Your tribe is out there, no matter how niche your area of study, work or focus. Join a Discord server. Follow and engage with people on Twitter that you look up to. Find local meetups and network with like-minded individuals. Not only will like-minded people inspire you, but they'll provide you with valuable feedback on how to improve your craft.
- Clear your mind. Finding a way to clear your mind helps you to stop thinking about the future and directs your attention to now. Whether it's going for a walk, meditating or writing down your thoughts, do what works for you. A clear mind paves the way for a practicing mind.
Practice Over Process
It's not easy to focus on the journey for what it is. Most of the time people share only their best moments on social media. Society sees successful people as talented instead of hard-working, diminishing the importance of the practice.
When we keep the practice at the forefront of our minds, we find joy in what we do. We put out great work. We learn a new hobby. We live in the present moment.