Fully Engaged: A Book Review



“‘The only constant in life is change,’ and if we want to be fully engaged in any moment, we need to embrace this simple statement,” writes Thomas M. Sterner in Fully Engaged: Using the Practicing Mind in Daily Life. 

But what exactly does it mean to be fully engaged? And how many of us actually are?

Sterner answers the first question thus: To be fully engaged in life means that we have clear goals as well as the focus and skills to accomplish those goals with ease and a sense of calm awareness.

I would guess the answer to the second question is not very many! But why not? Because it seems to be a complicated and convoluted process that we just don’t have time for! We are too busy working, rushing, and heading to the “next big thing” to make the time to actually live fully engaged.

However, as Sterner suggests, all of that mindless rushing is keeping us in a cycle of judgment, fear, attachment, regret, and stagnation.

He offers a simple, yet effective, antidote in Fully Engaged. Most of us call this antidote meditation, although Sterner prefers to call it by his term, Present Moment Functioning, or “thought awareness training.” Regardless of the label we choose, it’s all about learning to observe our thoughts without becoming a participant in them. We are the watcher of our thoughts, we can choose whether or not we become involved in them. In meditation we learn to observe without weaving storylines from our myriad thoughts. Simply observing as opposed to getting pulled into habitual thought patterns, frees up our mind to perform with more insight, clarity, and inspiration.

This is not a meditation how-to book, though. If you are looking for an in-depth guide to meditation styles and techniques, this is not your book. However, this is an excellent book for practical, real world application of simply being aware of your thoughts and your overanalyzing, judgmental brain and the resulting positive changes that will occur, if you keep up your practice. Sterner states his preference for phrase (mantra) or breath-based meditation over other types and offers a quick review of basic meditation procedure.

Sterner has a unique way of stating things simply and without adding too many superfluous details. I appreciate his conversational writing tone and the personal stories he shares from his life experience.

I found the section on interpretation and perspective especially helpful. Statements like:

“Your interpretation of this moment determines your experience of it, and it also determines your ability to perform your best.”

“Try to notice your interpretation of any given moment during the day.”

Also his thoughts on achieving vs. achievement were insightful. The way he explains the difference in the two similar words has helped me to work more efficiently and confidently towards my goals. He briefly discusses perfectionism and our human need for closure.

On what we judge as mistakes, he writes, “What we call a mistake is nothing more than a teaching tool.” And mistakes “Were just clues along the way that have helped me become who I am and get where I am today.” Imagine if we would adopt this healthy way of thinking. Failure takes on a whole new meaning.

For me, one of the most useful tools Sterner suggested for bringing your mind back to the present moment was simply asking the question, “And then what?” I have started using this phrase daily when my thoughts begin to spiral out of control. Any time that I find myself caught up in future events, or wanting something to be different than it is, I pause and ask myself: And then what? This helps me to see that I am right where I need to be in this moment, instead of reaching for the next moment to make me feel complete and happy.

One of my favorite takeaways from this book was the penultimate sentence:

As we all move down this path and become more fully engaged
in our lives, we find not only that life has more to offer us but
also that we all have more to offer each other. 

So, we don’t do this practice as an act of selfishness. We practice to be able to see and accept the rich blessings that life has to offer us and also so that we can offer up these same blessings to others.

I recommend this book to anyone who is seriously tired of self-sabotage and is ready to move toward living a more aware, successful, and fully engaged life. Imagine a life where you have enough energy to do all the activities you need and want to do, making more empowered decisions with less anxiety, and achieving the goals you set for your self. AND having more to offer to each other! Thomas Sterner gives us many useful tools for exactly this kind of life in his succinct and timely book, Fully Engaged: Using the Practicing Mind in Daily Life.

For more information and to read an excerpt from Fully Engaged, visit New World Library’s website here.

Find Fully Engaged at your local library or bookstore. Or to order from Quail Ridge Books, visit here:

*I received a galley of this book from New World Library for review. I was not financially compensated for this post. The opinions expressed are completely my own.

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