Art of Learning - Josh Waitzkin Study Notes

These are my study notes from Josh Waitzkin's superb book 'The Art of Learning'. Click on links for tutorials on the Investment Masters thoughts on the highlighted topics....


Like Financial Markets, there is No Perfection in Chess...

"For me competitive chess was not about perfection"

"It is my nature to revel in apparent chaos"

Chess is an Art not a Science

"As I got deeper into the heart of chess, the art became a riveting window of self-exploration"

High Level Performers thrive in Complexity

"My style was to make the game complex and then work my way through chaos. When the position was wild, I had huge confidence"

Understanding Psychology is Critical

"The boating life has also been a wonderful training ground for performance psychology. Living on the water requires constant presence, and the release of control. A boat is always moving with the sea, lurching beneath your feet, and the only way to survive is to sink into rhythm with the waves and be ready for anything. I learned at sea that virtually all situations can be handled as long as presence of mind is maintained. On the other hand, if you lose your calm when crisis hits seventy miles from land, or when swimming with big sharks, there is no safety net to catch you"

"These moments, where the technical and psychological collide, are where I directed my study of the game"

"Immediately after each of my [chess] games, I quickly entered the moves into my computer, noting my thought process and how I felt emotionally at various stages of the battle"

You need a Process

"Those on the road to success keep steady on their paths"

Being Bright doesn't guarantee Success

"Some of the brightest kids prove to be the most vulnerable to becoming helpless [in chess games], because they feel the need to live up to and maintain a perfectionist image that is easily and inevitably shattered"

Keep Learning

"The key to pursing excellence is to embrace an organic, long-term learning process, and not to live in a shell of static, safe mediocrity"

Learn from Your Mistakes

"In the long run, painful losses may prove much more valuable than wins"

"If a young basketball player is taught that winning is the only thing winners do, then he will crumble when he misses his first big shot"

"If a businessperson cultivates a perfectionist self-image, then how can she learn from her mistakes?"

Understand Mistakes are Inevitable

"My father and I searched out opponents who were a little stronger than me, so even as I dominated the scholastic circuit, losing was part of my regular experience. I believe this was important for maintaining a healthy perspective on the game"

Success Requires Hard Work

"The road to success is not easy or else everyone would be the greatest at what they do - we need to be psychologically prepared to face the unavoidable challenges along our way, and when it comes down to it, the only way to learn to swim is by getting in the water"

"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 reach of our abilities"

Don't Dwell on Mistakes

"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"

Be Creative

"Musicians, actors, athletes, philosophers, scientists, writers understand that brilliant creations are often born of small errors"

Embrace Change

"In life, I worked on embracing change instead of fighting it"

Remain Humble - Know what you Know

"I saw the art as a movement closer and closer to an unattainable truth, as if I were travelling through a tunnel that continuously deepened and widened as I progresses. The more I knew about the game, the more I realised how much there was to know. I emerged from each good work session in slightly deeper awe of the mystery of chess, and with a building sense of humility"

Be Prepared for the Unexpected

"We have to learn to be at peace with imperfection. I mentioned the image of a blade of grass bending to hurricane-force winds in contrast to a brittle twig snapping under pressure"

"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"

Be Open-Minded

"A key component of high-level learning is cultivating a resilient awareness that is the older, conscious embodiment of a child's playful obliviousness.. I rediscovered a relationship to ambition and art that has allowed me the freedom to create like a child under world championship pressure. This journey, from child back to child again, is at the very core of my understanding of success"

Study Broadly - Develop Mental Models

"I have found that if we feed the unconscious, it will discover connections between what may appear to be disparate realities. The path to artistic insight in one direction often involves deep study of another - the intuition makes uncanny connections that lead to a crystallisation of fragmented notions.  The great Abstract Expressionist painters and sculptors, for example, came to their revolutionary ideas through precise realist training. Jackson Pollock could draw like a camera, but instead chose to splatter paint in a wild manner that pulsed with emotion. He studied form to leave form"

Be Curious

"I'd watch a leaf falling or rain pelting the Hudson River, and I'd be in ecstasies about the raw beauty"

Be Flexible

"Soon enough, learning becomes unlearning. The stronger chess player is often the one who is less attached to a dogmatic interpretation of the principles"

Accept You will Lose - Learn from Losses

"One of the most challenging leaps for Push Hands students is to release the ego enough to allow themselves to be tossed around while they learn how not to resist. William Chen calls this investment in loss. Investment in loss is giving yourself to the learning process"

"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"

"It is not so difficult to have a beginner's mind and to be willing to invest in loss when you are truly a beginner, but it is much harder to maintain that humility and openness to learning when people are watching and expecting you to perform"

"Great ones are willing to get burned time and time again as they sharpen their swords in the fire. Consider Michael Jordan. It is common knowledge that Jordan made more last-minute shots to wins the game for his team than any other player in the history of the NBA. What is not to sell known, is that Jordan also missed more last-minute shots to lose the game for his team than any other player in the history of the game. What made him the greatest was not perfection, but a willingness to put himself on the line as a way of life"

More Information is of little value without Introspection

"In both [martial arts and chess] players tend to get attached to fancy techniques and fail to recognise that subtle internalisation and refinement is much more important than the quantity of what is learned"

"The fact is that when there is intense competition those who succeed have slightly more honed skills than the rest. It is rarely a 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. "

"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"

Don't follow the Crowd

"If I want to be the best, I have to take risks others would avoid, always optimising the learning potential of the moment and turning adversity to my advantage"

Seek Alternative Viewpoints

"You have to make obstacles spur you to create new angles in the learning process. Let setbacks deepen your resolve"

"A basketball player should play lefty for a few months, to even out his game. A soccer player who favours his right leg should not take a right-footed shot for an extended period of time"

"Adversity becomes a tremendous source of creative inspiration"

Understand Yourself

"When two highly trained minds square off, in any field, the players are in a fight to enter each other's heads"

"Feelings of anger and fear of elation emerge from deep inside of us and I think blocking them out is an artificial habit"

"I believe that at the highest levels, performers and artists must be true to themselves"

Control Your Emotions

"In every discipline, the ability to be clearheaded, present, cool under fire is much of what separates the best from the mediocre"

Take a Break - Meditate

"In virtually every discipline, one of the most telling features of a dominant performer is the routine use of recovery periods. 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"

"If you are at work and find yourself running out of mental stamina, take a break, wash your face, and come back renewed. It would be an excellent idea idea to spend a few minutes a day doing some simple meditation practice".

"The unconscious mind is a powerful tool, and learning how to relax under pressure is a key first step to tapping its potential"

Seek Simplicity

"I believe an appreciation of simplicity, the everyday - the ability to dive deeply into the banal and discover life's hidden richness - is where success, let alone happiness, emerges"

Adopt your own Style

"In my experience the greatest 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"