Stefan Knapen

PhD-student – Co-assistent

The Art of Learning – Josh Waitzkin

I read the book The Art of Learning: A Journey in the Pursuit of Excellence by Josh Waitzkin. Here are my notes and thoughts.

The Art of Learning – Josh Waitzkin

ISBN: 0743277465
Read: January 2017
Amazon page for more details and reviews.
Bol.com page for Dutch readers.

I got this book after listening to Josh on the podcast of Tim Ferriss, the Tim Ferriss Show. Furthermore Josh got a chapter in Tools of Titans, a great book which is condensed from the Tim Ferriss Show. The podcast I cannot recommend enough, it contains great in-depth interviews with amazing people. You can find the episode with Josh (first one) here. And you can read the chapter from Tools of Titans here.

On to the notes and thoughts. First I’ll share my thoughts, afterward the notes I made on my kindle. All these notes are directly from the book, cursive text are my thoughts.

My Thoughts

This is a great book, if you are liking this type of book. Josh is an amazing guy, he was one of the best chess players in the world from very early in his life. After being the center of attention for a long while due to being the subject of the book, and movie, Searching for Bobby Fischer he shifted gears to other sports. He changed to Tai Chi push-hands, where he became the world champion as well. How? Well, he perfected the Art of Learning.

Now, it is a narrative self-help type of book. He approaches everything from his view-point, which is of course ok, but he can come across very arrogant. Furthermore, as he tells a story the learning points are sometimes hard to take out of the material. Still, there is a lot to learn and after having read the book a while ago, the content of the book made me understand what he wrote a little better.

If I have to give a three sentence summary:

You can learn whatever you want, you can be better than you are now, no matter how bad you are (growth mindset vs fixed mindset). You can do so by going in deep, very deep to understand fundamentals of whatever you are learning. By going deep, you learn patterns, these patterns allow you to think in patterns, instead of the building blocks they consist of.

Now, these sentences are by no means a good summary of the book, but they are what the book is distilled to, for me.

My Notes on Kindle:

First of: I did not seem to have highlighted a whole bunch of stuff. This is probably related to the problem mentioned earlier, that I had troubles getting the meat out of the book. Still, the book had a pretty big impact on me, which maybe more caused by the whole picture, instead of a highlight here and there. Enjoy!

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.

Layer by layer we built up my knowledge and my understanding of how to transform axioms into fuel for creative insight.

While a fixation on results is certainly unhealthy, short-term goals can be useful developmental tools if they are balanced within a nurturing long-term philosophy.

In performance training, first we learn to flow with whatever comes. Then we learn to use whatever comes to our advantage. Finally, we learn to be completely self-sufficient and create our own earthquakes, so our mental process feeds itself explosive inspirations without the need for outside stimulus.

Mental resilience is arguably the most critical trait of a world-class performer, and it should be nurtured continuously. Left to my own devices, I am always looking for ways to become more and more psychologically impregnable. 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.

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.

I believe that one of the most critical factors in the transition to becoming a conscious high performer is the degree to which your relationship to your pursuit stays in harmony with your unique disposition.

The Defense. According to JW a good book on a chess genius.

In most everyday life experiences, there seems to be a tangible connection between opposites.

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.

The learning principle is to plunge into the detailed mystery of the micro in order to understand what makes the macro tick.

Depth beats breadth any day of the week, because it opens a channel for the intangible, unconscious, creative components of our hidden potential.

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.

When aiming for the top, your path requires an engaged, searching mind. You have to make obstacles spur you to creative new angles in the learning process. Let setbacks deepen your resolve. You should always come off an injury or a loss better than when you went down.

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

If you want to check out the book, you can get it from Amazon or Bol.