The Art of Learning, Josh Waitzkin

Dr. Carol Dweck, a leading researcher in the field

“Wow, great job Julie! You’re really becoming a wonderful writer! Keep up the good work!” And if she does badly on a math test, her teacher might write “Study a little harder for the next one and you’ll do great! And feel free to ask me questions any time after class, that’s what I’m here for!” So Julie learns to associate effort with success and feels that she can become good at anything with some hard work. Josh Waitzkin, The Art of Learning, loc. 513-516

The key to pursuing excellence is to embrace an organic, long-term learning process, and not to live in a shell of static, safe mediocrity. Usually, growth comes at the expense of previous comfort or safety. Josh Waitzkin, The Art of Learning, loc. 525-527

wins—those who are armed with a healthy attitude and are able to draw wisdom from every experience, “good” or “bad,” are the ones who make it down the road. They are also the ones who are happier along the way. Josh Waitzkin, The Art of Learning, loc. 534-536

understanding of how to transform axioms into fuel for creative insight. Josh Waitzkin, The Art of Learning, loc. 544-545

are all about results, not effort. Josh Waitzkin, The Art of Learning, loc. 561-561

They try to avoid challenges, but eventually the real world finds them. Their confidence is fragile. Losing is always a crisis instead of an opportunity for growth—if they were a winner because they won, this new losing must make them a loser. Josh Waitzkin, The Art of Learning, loc. 575-577

have come to believe that the solution to this type of situation does not lie in denying our emotions, but in learning to use them to our advantage. Instead of stifling myself, I needed to channel my mood into heightened focus—and I can’t honestly say that I figured out how to do this consistently until years into my martial Josh Waitzkin, The Art of Learning, loc. 834-836

Mental resilience is arguably the most critical trait of a world-class performer, and it should be nurtured continuously. Josh Waitzkin, The Art of Learning, loc. 838-839

When uncomfortable, my instinct is not to avoid the discomfort but to become at peace with it. When injured, which happens frequently in the life of a martial artist, I try to avoid painkillers and to change the sensation of pain into a feeling that is not necessarily negative. My instinct is always to seek out challenges as opposed to avoiding them. Josh Waitzkin, The Art of Learning, loc. 840-842

One idea I taught was the importance of regaining presence and clarity of mind after making a serious error. This is a hard lesson for all competitors and performers. The first mistake rarely proves disastrous, but the downward spiral of the second, third, and fourth error creates a devastating chain reaction. Josh Waitzkin, The Art of Learning, loc. 865-867

tackled transitions in both chess and life. In chess games, I would take some deep breaths and clear my mind when the character of the struggle shifted. In life, I worked on embracing change instead of fighting it. With awareness and action, in both life and chess my weakness was transformed into a strength. Josh Waitzkin, The Art of Learning, loc. 1019-1021

A key component of high-level learning is cultivating a resilient awareness that is the older, conscious embodiment of a child’s playful obliviousness. My chess career ended Josh Waitzkin, The Art of Learning, loc. 1058-1059

I have long believed that if a student of virtually any discipline could avoid ever repeating the same mistake twice—both technical and psychological—he or she would skyrocket to the top of their field. Josh Waitzkin, The Art of Learning, loc. 1361-1362

I didn’t give myself the room to invest in loss. My response is that it is essential to have a liberating incremental approach that allows for times when you are not in a peak performance state. Josh Waitzkin, The Art of Learning, loc. 1428-1430

distinguish success from failure in the pursuit of excellence. The theme is depth over breadth. The learning principle is to plunge into the detailed mystery of the micro in order to understand what makes the macro tick. Our obstacle is that we live in an attention-deficit culture. We Josh Waitzkin, The Art of Learning, loc. 1446-1448

The key was to recognize that the principles making one simple technique tick were the same fundamentals that fueled the whole expansive system of Tai Chi Chuan. This method is similar to my early study of chess, where I explored endgame positions of reduced complexity—for example king and pawn against king, only three pieces on the board—in order to touch high-level principles such as the power of empty space, zugzwang (where any move of the opponent will destroy his position), tempo, or structural planning. Josh Waitzkin, The Art of Learning, loc. 1474-1478

Once I experienced these principles, I could apply them to complex positions because they were in my mental framework. Josh Waitzkin, The Art of Learning, loc. 1478-1478

They have condensed large circles into very small ones, and made their skills virtually invisible to the untrained eye. Josh Waitzkin, The Art of Learning, loc. 1533-1534

how to control the center without appearing to have anything to do with the center. He has made the circles so small, even Grandmasters cannot see them. Josh Waitzkin, The Art of Learning, loc. 1539-1540

This concept of Making Smaller Circles has been a critical component of my learning process in chess and the martial arts. Josh Waitzkin, The Art of Learning, loc. 1541-1542

players tend to get attached to fancy techniques and fail to recognize that subtle internalization and refinement is much more important than the quantity of what is learned. Josh Waitzkin, The Art of Learning, loc. 1542-1543

mysterious technique that drives us to the top, but rather a profound mastery of what may well be a basic skill set. Depth beats breadth any day of the week, because it opens a channel for the intangible, unconscious, creative components of our hidden potential. Josh Waitzkin, The Art of Learning, loc. 1547-1548

The Soft Zone, I mentioned that there are three critical steps in a resilient performer’s evolving relationship to chaotic situations. First, we have to learn to be at peace with imperfection. I Josh Waitzkin, The Art of Learning, loc. 1574-1576

we learn to use that imperfection to our advantage—for example thinking to the beat of the music or using a shaking world as a catalyst for insight. The third step of this process, as it pertains to performance psychology, is to learn to create ripples in our consciousness, little jolts to spur us along, so we are constantly inspired whether or not external conditions are inspiring. Josh Waitzkin, The Art of Learning, loc. 1577-1579

After these periods of reflection, I’ll almost invariably have a leap in ability because my new physical skills are supercharged by becoming integrated into my mental framework. The importance of undulating between external and internal (or concrete and abstract; technical and intuitive) training applies to all disciplines, and unfortunately the internal tends to be neglected. Josh Waitzkin, The Art of Learning, loc. 1602-1605

had an idea that I might be able to keep my right side strong by intense visualization practice. Josh Waitzkin, The Art of Learning, loc. 1636-1637

My method was as follows: I did a daily resistance workout routine on my left side, and after every set I visualized the workout passing to the muscles on the right. My arm was in a cast, so there was no actual motion possible—but I could feel the energy flowing into the unused muscles. I admit it was a shot in the dark, but it worked. Josh Waitzkin, The Art of Learning, loc. 1637-1639

If I want to be the best, I have to take risks others would avoid, always optimizing the learning potential of the moment and turning adversity to my advantage. Josh Waitzkin, The Art of Learning, loc. 1650-1651

You should always come off an injury or a loss better than when you went down. Josh Waitzkin, The Art of Learning, loc. 1654-1655

It is all too easy to get caught up in the routines of our lives and to lose creativity in the learning process. Josh Waitzkin, The Art of Learning, loc. 1655-1656

Once we learn how to use adversity to our advantage, we can manufacture the helpful growth opportunity without actual danger or injury. I call this tool the internal solution—we Josh Waitzkin, The Art of Learning, loc. 1662-1663

In my opinion, intuition is our most valuable compass in this world. Josh Waitzkin, The Art of Learning, loc. 1694-1694

chunking relates to the mind’s ability to take lots of information, find a harmonizing/logically consistent strain, and put it together into one mental file that can be accessed as if it were a single piece of information. Josh Waitzkin, The Art of Learning, loc. 1715-1717

the Grandmaster consciously looks at less, not more. That said, the chunks of information that have been put together in his mind allow him to see much more with much less conscious thought. So he is looking at very little and seeing quite a lot. This is the critical idea.I Josh Waitzkin, The Art of Learning, loc. 1770-1773

The similarity is that a life-or-death scenario kicks the human mind into a very narrow area of focus. Time feels slowed down because we instinctively zero in on a tiny amount of critical information that our processor can then break down as if it is in a huge font. The trained version of this state of mind shares that tiny area of conscious focus. Josh Waitzkin, The Art of Learning, loc. 1824-1826

At the opponent’s slightest move, I move first, as pertaining to intention—reading and ultimately controlling intention. Josh Waitzkin, The Art of Learning, loc. 1864-1865

My two appears to be a one. At the opponent’s slightest move, I move first. Josh Waitzkin, The Art of Learning, loc. 1931-1932

build a game around the simple principle of weight redistribution. There are two intertwined components to this process. The first is condensed technique. The second is enhanced perception. Our goal is to take advantage of the moment our opponent is switching his weight from one foot to another. Josh Waitzkin, The Art of Learning, loc. 1974-1975

The secret is that everything is always on the line. The more present we are at practice, the more present we will be in competition, in the boardroom, at the exam, the operating table, the big stage. If we have any hope of attaining excellence, let alone of showing what we’ve got under pressure, we have to be prepared by a lifestyle of reinforcement. Presence must be like breathing. Josh Waitzkin, The Art of Learning, loc. 2110-2113

Players who are able to relax in brief moments of inactivity are almost always the ones who end up coming through when the game is on the line. Josh Waitzkin, The Art of Learning, loc. 2191-2192

Remember Michael Jordan sitting on the bench, a towel on his shoulders, letting it all go for a two-minute break before coming back in the game? Jordan was completely serene on the bench even though the Bulls desperately needed him on the court. He had the fastest recovery time of any athlete I’ve ever seen. Josh Waitzkin, The Art of Learning, loc. 2194-2196

found that, regardless of the discipline, the better we are at recovering, the greater potential we have to endure and perform under stress. Josh Waitzkin, The Art of Learning, loc. 2209-2210

keeping my RPMs over 100, at a resistance level that made my heart rate go to 170 beats per minute after ten minutes of exertion. Then I would lower the resistance level of the bike and go easy for a minute—my heart rate would return to 144 or so. Then I would sprint again, at a very high level of resistance, and my heart rate would reach 170 again after a minute. Next I would go easy for another minute before sprinting again, and so on. Josh Waitzkin, The Art of Learning, loc. 2213-2216

clear physiological connection when it comes to recovery—cardiovascular interval training can have a profound effect on your ability to quickly release tension and recover from mental exhaustion. What is more, physical flushing and mental clarity are very much intertwined. Josh Waitzkin, The Art of Learning, loc. 2220-2222

Interval work is a critical building block to becoming a consistent long-term performer. Josh Waitzkin, The Art of Learning, loc. 2260-2261

The point to this system of creating your own trigger is that a physiological connection is formed between the routine and the activity it precedes. Josh Waitzkin, The Art of Learning, loc. 2334-2335

all we had to do was set up a routine that became linked to that state of mind Josh Waitzkin, The Art of Learning, loc. 2335-2336

had learned from Jack Groppel at LGE to eat five almonds every forty-five minutes during a long chess game, to stay in a steady state of alertness and strength. Josh Waitzkin, The Art of Learning, loc. 2363-2364

Where we left off, his routine was as follows: 1. Eat a light consistent snack for ten minutes 2. 15 minutes of meditation 3. 10 minutes of stretching 4. 10 minutes of listening to Bob Dylan Josh Waitzkin, The Art of Learning, loc. 2371-2374

This process is systematic, straightforward, and rooted in the most stable of all principles: incremental growth. As for me, the Tai Josh Waitzkin, The Art of Learning, loc. 2390-2391

utilizing the incremental approach of small changes, I trained myself to be completely prepared after a deep inhalation and release. I also learned to do the form in my mind without moving at all. The visualization proved almost as powerful as the real thing. This idea is not without precedent—recall the numbers to leave numbers, form to leave form, Josh Waitzkin, The Art of Learning, loc. 2405-2408

principles can be internalized to the point that they are barely recognizable even to the most skilled observers. Josh Waitzkin, The Art of Learning, loc. 2408-2409

The first step I had to make was to recognize that the problem was mine, not Frank’s. There will always be creeps in the world, and I had to learn how to deal with them with a cool head. Getting pissed off would get me nowhere in life. Josh Waitzkin, The Art of Learning, loc. 2496-2498

On the learning side, I had to get comfortable dealing with guys playing outside the rules and targeting my neck, eyes, groin, etc. This involved some technical growth, and in order to make those steps I had to recognize the relationship between anger, ego, and fear. I had to develop the habit of taking on my technical weaknesses whenever someone pushed my limits instead of falling back into a self-protective indignant pose. Once that adjustment was made, I was free to learn. Josh Waitzkin, The Art of Learning, loc. 2510-2513

If someone got into my head, they were doing me a favor, exposing a weakness. They were giving me a valuable opportunity to expand my threshold for turbulence. Josh Waitzkin, The Art of Learning, loc. 2513-2514

The only way to succeed is to acknowledge reality and funnel it, take the nerves and use them. We must be prepared for imperfection. If we rely on having no nerves, on not being thrown off by a big miss, or on the exact replication of a certain mindset, then when the pressure is high enough, or when the pain is too piercing to ignore, our ideal state will shatter. Josh Waitzkin, The Art of Learning, loc. 2527-2530

Instead of being dominated by or denying my passions, I slowly learned how to observe them and feel how they infused my moment with creativity, freshness, or darkness. Josh Waitzkin, The Art of Learning, loc. 2571-2573

We are built to be sharpest when in danger, but protected lives have distanced us from our natural abilities to channel our energies. Josh Waitzkin, The Art of Learning, loc. 2579-2580

highly recommend that you incorporate the principles of Building Your Trigger into your process. Once you are no longer swept away by your emotions and can sit with them even when under pressure, you will probably notice that certain states of mind inspire you more than others. Josh Waitzkin, The Art of Learning, loc. 2619-2621

For some it may be happiness, for others it may be fear. To each his own. Petrosian was very flexible. Miller, Hernandez, and Robinson worked well with anger. Kasparov and Jordan were intimidators: they inspired themselves by wilting opponents. Once you understand where you lie on this spectrum, the next step is to become self-sufficient by creating your own inspiring conditions. Kasparov triggered his zone by acting confident and then creating the conditions on the chessboard and a dynamic with his opponent in which he played his best. Josh Waitzkin, The Art of Learning, loc. 2621-2624

Once you understand where you lie on this spectrum, the next step is to become self-sufficient by creating your own inspiring conditions. Kasparov triggered his zone by acting confident and then creating the conditions on the chessboard and a dynamic with his opponent in which he played his best. Josh Waitzkin, The Art of Learning, loc. 2622-2624

First, we cultivate The Soft Zone, we sit with our emotions, observe them, work with them, learn how to let them float away if they are rocking our boat, and how to use them when they are fueling our creativity. Then we turn our weaknesses into strengths until there is no denial of our natural eruptions and nerves sharpen our game, fear alerts us, anger funnels into focus. Next we discover what emotional states trigger our greatest performances. This is truly a personal question. Some of us will be most creative when ebullient, others when morose. Josh Waitzkin, The Art of Learning, loc. 2628-2632

the greatest of artists and competitors are masters of navigating their own psychologies, playing on their strengths, controlling the tone of battle so that it fits with their personalities. While Josh Waitzkin, The Art of Learning, loc. 2639-2641

Tom Otterness, who is William Chen’s senior student and one of the most powerful internal martial artists Josh Waitzkin, The Art of Learning, loc. 2680-2680

While this principle of penetrating the macro through the micro is a critical idea in the developmental process, it is also an absolutely pivotal foundation for a great competitor. Josh Waitzkin, The Art of Learning, loc. 2747-2749

At the highest levels of any kind of competitive discipline, everyone is great. At this point the decisive factor is rarely who knows more, but who dictates the tone of the battle. For this reason, almost without exception, champions are specialists whose styles emerge from profound awareness of their unique strengths, and who are exceedingly skilled at guiding the battle in that direction. Josh Waitzkin, The Art of Learning, loc. 2749-2751

When I think about creativity, it is always in relation to a foundation. We have our knowledge. It becomes deeply internalized until we can access it without thinking about it. Josh Waitzkin, The Art of Learning, loc. 2814-2815