The Art Of Learning – Part I

Here I am presenting notes from the book “The Art of learning” by Josh Waitzkin. These notes are applicable to any skill/discipline you are trying to master.

1) Bruce nurtured my love for chess, and he never let technical material smother my innate feeling for the game.
– You should trust your guts at first to learn new things, how would you approach something if you didn’t know how to do that thing from technical information.
2) As a six and seven year old boy I had two powerful currents to my chess education, and the key was to make them coexist peacefully – the street tough competitor had to fuse with the classically trained, patient player that Bruce was inspiring.
3) They kept me out of tournaments until I had been playing chess for a year or so, because they wanted my relationship to the game to be about learning and passion first, and competition a distant second.
– You must learn the game first for process and be passionate about learning, results and competitions don’t matter.
4) I thrived under adversity.My style was to make the game complex and then work my way through the chaos.
5) I was unhindered by internal conflict – a state of being that I have come to see as fundamental to the learning process. Bruce and the park guys had taught me how to express myself through chess, and so my love for the game grew every day.
6) 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.
7) 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 while swimming with big sharks, there is no safety net to catch you.

8) a) What is the difference that allows some to fit into that narrow window to the top?
b) What is the point? If ambition spells probable disappointment, why pursue excellence?
ANS – In my opinion, the answer to both questions lies in a well-thought-out approach that inspires resilience, the ability to make connections between diverse pursuits, and day-to-day enjoyment of the process.

9) Two theories of intelligence a) Entity  b) incremental
10) Children who are entity theorists are prone to use language like “I am smart at this”. They see their overall intelligence or skill level at a certain discipline to be a fixed entity, a thing that can not evolve. Incremental theorists are prone to use language like “I got it because I worked very hard at it”. A child with a learning theory of intelligence tends to sense that with hard work, difficult material can be grasped. 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”.
11) What is compelling about this is that the results have nothing to do with intelligence level.
12) Entity theorists tend to have been told that they did well when they have succeeded, and that they weren’t any good at something when they have failed.
13) Learning theorists, on the other hand, are given feedback that is more process oriented. Julie learns to associate efforts with success and feels that she can become good at anything with some hard work.
14) 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.
15) In the long run, painful losses may prove much more valuable than 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.
16) Author was gradually internalizing a marvelous methodology of learning – the play between knowledge, intuition, and creativity.
17) For children who focus early on openings, chess becomes about results.
18) Their dialogues with teachers, parents and other children are all about results, not effort. They consider themselves winners because so far they have won.
19) I have used chess to illustrate this entity/incremental dynamic, but the issue is fundamental to the pursuit of excellence in all fields.
20) A key ingredient to my success in those years was that my style on the chessboard was a direct expression of my personality.
21) I was a free flow performer, unblocked by psychological issues and hungering for creative leaps.
22) Just as muscles get stronger when they are pushed, good competitors tend to rise to the level of the opposition.
23) My whole career, 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.
24) 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
25)How can we balance long-term process with short-term goals and inevitable setbacks?
26) There is nothing like a worthy opponent to show us our weaknesses and push us to our limit.
27) Internalize a process-first approach by making everyday feedback respond to effort over results. Praise good concentration, a good day’s work, a lesson learned. When one wins a tournament game, the spotlight should be on the road to that moment and beyond as opposed to the glory. It is ok for a child (or adult) to enjoy a win.
28) We enjoy the win fully while taking a deep breath, then we exhale, note the lesson learned, and move on to the next adventure.
29) If someone loses, how should his/her mom handle this moment? First of all, she shouldn’t say that it doesn’t matter, because that person knows better than that and lying about the situation isolates that person in his/her pain. So empathy is a good place to start.
30) Disappointment is a part of the road to greatness.
31) Through introspective dialogues, one will learn that every loss is an opportunity for growth. He will become increasingly astute psychologically and sensitive to bad habits.
32) Growth comes at the point of resistance. We learn by pushing ourselves and finding what really lies at the outer reaches of our abilities.
33) I dove deeper and deeper into chess. Of course there were plateaus, periods when my results leveled off while I internalized the information necessary for my next growth spurt, but I didn’t mind.
34) The Soft Zone – A man wants to walk across the land, but the earth is covered with thorns. He has two options – one is to pave his road, to tame all of nature into compliance. The other is to make sandals. Making sandals is the internal solution. Like the soft zone, it does not base success on a submissive world or overpowering force, but on intelligent preparation and cultivated resilience.
35) If your opponent is pushing you, making you angry – I have to 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 arts career when dirty opponents tried to take out my knees, target the groin or head-butt me in the nose in competition.
36) When uncomfortable, my instinct is not to avoid the discomfort but to become at peace with it.
37) In game after game, beginners fall to pieces after making the first mistake. With older, more accomplished players the mistakes are subtler, but the pattern of error begetting error remains true and deadly.
38) 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. Then an error triggers fear, detachment, uncertainty, or confusion that muddies the decision-making process.
39) Numbers to leave numbers OR form to leave form – A process in which technical information is integrated into what feels like natural intelligence. Sometimes, there will literally be numbers. Other times there will be principles, patterns, variations, techniques, ideas.
40) During my study of the critical positions, I noted the feeling I had during the actual chess game. I explained above how in the pressure of tournaments, the tension in the mind mounts with the tension in the position, and an error on the board usually parallels a psychological collapse of sorts.
41) I was having trouble with the first major decision following the departure from prepared opening analysis and I was not keeping pace with sudden shifts in momentum. My whole chess psychology was about holding on to what was, because I was fundamentally homesick. When I finally noticed this connection, I 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.
42) A key component of high-level learning is cultivating a resilient awareness that is the older, conscious embodiment of a child’s playful obliviousness.
43) This journey from child back to child again, is at the very core of my understand of success.
44) The most critical factor 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. There will inevitably be times when we need to try new ideas, release our current knowledge to take in new information- but it is critical to integrate this new information in a manner that does not violate who we are.
45) The path to artistic insight in one direction often involves deep study of another– the intuition makes uncanny connections that lead to a crystallization of fragmented notions.
46) Two ways of taming a wild horse. One is to tie it up and freak it out. This is the method some like to call shock and awe.
47) Then there is the way of the horse whisperers.
48) A competitor needs to be process-oriented, always looking for stronger opponents to spur growth, but it is also important to keep on winning enough to maintain confidence. We have to release our current ideas to soak in new material, but not so much that we lose touch with our unique natural talents. Vibrant creative idealism needs to be tempered by a practical, technical awareness.
49) When I watched my first tai chi class, was that the goal was not winning, but, simply, being.
50) The idea is that a particular art has created a superior method of breath control and this method should be followed religiously. William Chen’s humble vision of this issue is that breathing should be natural. Or, more accurately, breathing should be a return to what was natural before we got stressed out by years of running around a hectic world and internalizing bad habits.
51) It is Chen’s opinion that a large obstacle to a calm, healthy present existence is the constant interruption of our natural breathing patterns.
52) Tai Chi Meditation is among other things, a haven of unimpaired oxygenation.
53) The essence of Tai Chi Chuan as a martial art is not to clash with the opponent but to blend with his energy, yield to it, and overcome with softness.
54) The martial philosophy behind Push Hands, in the language of the Tai Chi Classics, is “to defeat a thousand pounds with four ounces”.
55) If aggression meets empty space it tends to defeat itself.
56) The problem is that we are conditioned to tense up and resist incoming or hostile force, so we have to learn an entirely new physiological response to aggression.
57) 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.
58) In order to grow, student needs to give up his current mind-set. He needs to lose to win. The bruiser will need to get pushed around by little guys for a while, until he learns how to use more than brawn. This is called as Investment in loss.Investment in loss is giving yourself to the learning process.
59) So the aim is to minimize repetition as much as possible, by having an eye for consistent psychological and technical themes of error.
60) In those early Tai Chi years, my mission was to be wide open to every bit of information. I tried my best to learn from each error, whether it was my own or that of a training partner.
61) A large part of Tai Chi is releasing tension from your body through the practice of the meditative form.
62) With practice, the stillness is increasingly profound and the transition into motion can be quite explosive-This is where the dynamic pushing or striking power of Tai Chi emerges.
63) First as I got used to takings shots from Evan, I stopped fearing the impact. My body built up resistance to getting smashed, learned how to absorb blows, and I knew I could take what he had to offer. Then as I became more relaxed under fire, Evan seemed to slow down in my mind. I noticed myself sensing his attack before it began. I learned how to read his intention, and be out of the way before he pulled the trigger. As I got better and better at neutralizing his attacks, I began to notice and exploit weaknesses in his game, and sometimes I found myself peacefully watching his hands come toward me in slow motion.
64) It’s clear that if in the beginning I had needed to look good to satisfy my ego, then I would have avoided that opportunity and all the pain that accompanied it.
65) Most critically, Evan was unwilling to invest in loss himself. He could have taken my improvement as a chance to raise his game, but instead he opted out.
66) Two most important concepts in any skill – Beginner’s mind and Investment in loss.
67) 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.
68) This was a huge problem for me in my chess career after the movie came out. Psychologically, I didn’t give myself the room to invest in loss.
69) 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.
70) What is not so well known, is that Jordon also missed more last-minutes 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. He was willing to look bad on the road to basketball immortality.
71) The learning principle is to plunge into the detailed mystery of the micro in order to understand what makes the macro tick.
72) The most common error in the learning of martial arts: to take on too much at once.
73) The Tai Chi system can be seen as a comprehensive laboratory for internalizing good fundamentals, releasing tension, and cultivating energetic awareness.
74) 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.
75) My understanding of process, in the spirit of numbers to leave numbers method of chess study, is to touch the essence of a technique, and then to incrementally condense the external manifestation of the technique while keeping true to its essence. Over time expansiveness decreases while potency increases. This is called as “Making Smaller Circles”
76) Sometimes you have to watch in slow motion, over and over, to see any punch at all. They have condensed large circles into very small ones, and made their skills virtually invisible to the untrained eyes.
77) Michael Adams knows 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.
78) 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.
79) Distraction should be converted into fuel for high performance. In the chess scene, the shaking jolted my mind into clarity and I discovered the critical solution to the position. In the push hands moments, my broken hand made time slow down in my mind and I was able to reach the most heightened state of awareness of my life.
80) There critical steps in a resilient performer’s evolving relationship to chaotic situations. First we have to learn to be at peace with imperfection.
Next, in out performance training, we learn to use that imperfection to our advantage. 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. So a deep mastery of performance psychology involves the internal creation of inspiring conditions.
81) It is very important for athletes to do visualization work, in a form appropriate to their discipline, but often when we are caught up in the intense routine training and competition, it feels like we have no time for internal stuff.
82) 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.
83) In all athletic disciplines, it is the internal work that makes the physical mat time click, but it is easy to lose touch with this reality in the middle of the grind.
84) Any moment that one piece can control, inhibit, or tie down two or more pieces, a potentially critical imbalance is created on the rest of the board. On a deeper level, this principle can be applied psychologically whenever opposing forces clash. Whether speaking of a corporate negotiation, a legal battle, or even war itself, if the opponent is temporarily tied down qualitatively or energetically more than you are expending to tie it down, you have a large advantage. The key is to master the technical skills appropriate for applying this idea to your area of focus.

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One thought on “The Art Of Learning – Part I

  1. Pingback: The Art of learning – Part II | Code Junkie

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