The Art of Learning

By: Josh Waitzkin

The author, Josh Waitzkin, is a genius (literally). He's the subject of the movie, Searching for Bobby Fischer which chronicles his meteoric rise as a childhood chess prodigy. After winning a ridiculous amount of national titles in chess, Josh applied the same learning techniques to master martial arts and won a world title in the Tai Chi Push Hands. Bringing together philosophy and practicality of learning, he created the bible for those who seek to hone any skill further and better.

I ordered The Art of Learning after repeatedly hearing people I look up to mentioning it over and over again. I think it was Ryan Holiday and Tim Ferriss talking about the book that finally pushed me to purchase it.

My 10 Favorite Index Cards:

Initially one or two critical themes will be considered at once, but over time the intuition learns to integrate more and more principles into a sense of flow. Eventually the foundation is so internalized that it is no longer consciously considered, but is lived. This process continuously cycles along as deeper layers of the art are soaked in.
Children who associate success with hard work tend to have a ‘mastery-oriented response’ to challenging situations, while children who see themselves as just plain ‘smart’ or ‘dumb,’ or ‘good’ or ‘bad’ at something, have a ‘learned helplessness orientation.’
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.
We need to put ourselves out there, give it our all, and reap the lesson, win or lose. The fact of the matter is that there will be nothing learned from any challenge in which we don’t try our hardest. Growth comes at the point of resistance. We learn by pushing ourselves and finding what really lies at the outer reaches of our abilities.
Musicians, actors, athletes, philosophers, scientists, writers understand that brilliant creations are often born of small errors. Problems set in if the performer has a brittle dependence on the safety of absolute perfection or duplication.
In most everyday life experiences, there seems to be a tangible connection between opposites. Consider how you may not realize how much someone’s companionship means to you until they are gone—heartbreak can give the greatest insight into the value of love. Think about how good a healthy leg feels after an extended time on crutches—sickness is the most potent ambassador for healthy living. Who knows water like a man dying of thirst? The human mind defines things in relation to one another—without light the notion of darkness would be unintelligible.
We must take responsibility for ourselves, and not expect the rest of the world to understand what it takes to become the best that we can become. Great ones are willing to get burned time and time again as they sharpen their swords in the fire.
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.
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 showing what we’ve got under pressure, we have to be prepared for a lifestyle of reinforcement. Presence must be like breathing.
We don’t live within a Hollywood screenplay where the crescendo erupts just when we want it to, and more often than not the climactic moments in our lives will follow many unclimactic normal, humdrum hours, days, weeks, or years. So how do we step up when our moment suddenly arises?

My answer is to define the question Not only do we have to be good at waiting, we have to love it. Because waiting is not waiting, it is life. Too many of us live without fully engaging our minds, waiting for that moment when our real lives begin Years pass in boredom, but that is okay becuase when our true love comes around, or we discover our real calling, we will begin. Of course the sad truth is that if we are not present to the moment, our true love could come and go and we wouldn’t even notice. And we will have become someone other than the you or I who would be able to embrace it. I believe an appreciation for simplicity, the everyday—the ability to dive deeply into the banal and discover life’s hidden richness—is where success, let alone happiness, emerges.

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