Books, essay

Books: The Art of Learning

Josh Waitzkin’s “The Art of Learning: An Inner Journey to Optimal Performance” is a revelation. It’s a stunning read that I could’ve devoured in one sitting, but I wanted to savor it, so I read it over a few days. This is definitely a book that I will go back to time and again. I can’t sing its praises enough. I wish I had found it when it first came out in 2007.

Why am I so taken with it? Because he articulates principles that make up a foundation for life-long learning and mastery.

Evolution is a perpetual goal of mine. To evolve, you have to learn. “The Art of Learning” lays out how to deepen knowledge in your chosen fields of interest.

Waitzkin was the kid the movie “Searching for Bobby Fischer” is based on (which is based on a book written by Waitzkin’s father). He was a chess prodigy and eight-time National Chess Champion. After his chess career, he studied the martial art of Tai Chi Chuan Push Hands and went on to win a slew of National and World Championship titles. He has expanded his martial arts career to include a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and is co-founder of the Marcelo Garcia Academy. His current focus is e-foiling (surfing via an electric hydrofoil board).

Even if you’re not looking to be a world champion, this book is invaluable for offering guidance on how to channel your ambition effectively. It’s specifically about performance psychology and encourages you to get to know your own psychology–what your strengths, tendencies and weaknesses are–so that you can use/transform them to your advantage.

He includes advice on how to manage intense emotions such as anger and frustration as well, so that, instead of being overwhelmed by their intensity, you can harness and direct the energy of your emotions and practice “neutralizing attacks.”

Waitzkin emphasizes repetition of the fundamentals in your field so that you internalize the feeling of the movements to the point where they become second nature. This is when intuition comes into play, bridging the conscious and the unconscious, thus paving the path for creativity to flow. Practicing over and over again will enable your brain to make connections between fundamental pieces of information, and the connections will happen faster the more practiced you are in the basics. Then, you can really fly; you can truly express yourself.

Beyond performance psychology, “The Art of Learning” can give you food for thought about the art of living:

“So how do we step up when our moment suddenly arises?

“My answer is to redefine 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 … 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….

“The real power of incremental growth comes to bear when we truly are like water, steadily carving stone. We just keep on flowing when everything is on the line.”

Reading this book has reminded me that you’ve got to light your own fire inside, and keep it lit, so that you can truly be alive.