The Art of Learning

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

📚 GoodReads Info 📚

General Link to heading

Eye-opening and insightful, this book has profoundly changed how I view learning. Although I felt that I had the seeds and inklings of what Josh presented, his decades of experience will help guide my own approach to learning. His experience and views hit home at the right time, with the right words, and with the right framing for what I personally needed.

I listened to this book at 0.8x (which felt normal) and rewound sections multiple times to take notes. Every chapter was filled with gold. I genuinely believe that what this book presents about the art of learning is what modern education systems around the world are missing and will hopefully adopt in the future. If not, I’ll make it my life’s mission to ensure mindfulness is part of the school curriculum.

Key Takeaway Link to heading

Any topic, regardless of one’s background and experience, can be learned and mastered as long as one is attentive, focused, persistent, patient, avoids repeating mistakes by learning from them, and approaches things with a beginner’s mindset. It’s not just about the hours you put in, but the quality of those hours from the perspective of focus and attention.

Quick Background Link to heading

Many have heard of the infamous film Searching for Bobby Fischer based on a book written by Josh’s father and released when he was 15. It led to a life of fame alongside the pressure to continue performing as an elite Chess Player. All of this after growing up living a simple life as a poor child in New York. Later, Josh became a Tai chi push hands world champion and a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt. He is now a teacher, an author, a public speaker, and a coach. Throughout the book, Josh reminds us that he is not an expert in any specific domain, but a master of learning.

One of the cool things he mentioned is that people knew he was going to be a grandmaster after his first “pickup game” in the park as a young child.

Favorite Quotes Link to heading

Chinese martial arts tend to focus more on energy than pattern recognition. My goal was to find a hybrid—energetic awareness, technical fluidity, and keen psychological perception. Chess meets Tai chi Chuan.

As I matured as a chess player, there were constant leaps into the unknown. Because of my growth curve, my life was like that hermit crab who never fits into the same shell for more than a few days. Constantly evolving, adapting, becoming.

When we are present to what is, we are right up front with the expansion of time, but when we make a mistake and get frozen in what was, a layer of detachment builds

Most people would be surprised to discover that if you compare the thought process of a Grandmaster to that of an expert (a much weaker, but quite competent chess player), you will often find that the Grandmaster consciously looks at less, not more. That said, the chunks of information that have been put together in his mind allow him to see much more with much less conscious thought. So he is looking at very little and seeing quite a lot. The Grandmaster looks at less and sees more because his unconscious skill set is much more highly evolved.

Muscles and minds need to stretch to grow, but if stretched too thin, they will snap

Favorite Moments Link to heading

Lawn Mower: There was a moment in the book when Josh discussed one’s ability to focus and tune out distractions. It was ironic that as he was discussing this, a lawn mower started up outside his window, which he chose to mention. Small things like this make the book feel real.

Tai chi Master: Josh discussed that as he matured as a Tai chi student, his master would fix his form by simply looking at him, adjusting his form through movement and eyes, and then going back to the practice. For some reason, I was able to visualize and even feel what he must’ve felt in those moments.

Car Accident: While he was focusing on Chess and also tutoring younger students, he saw a woman get into a severe car accident. He was able to visualize the entire event in slow motion and draw analogs to playing chess. It was eerie and mesmerizing at the same time.

Earthquake: During one of his chess matches where he lost direction, an earthquake acted as a trigger to realign his focus and creativity. I’ve had similar experiences where a change in environment or a change in routine has helped me get out of a rut.

Broken Arm: During one of his Tai chi matches, he broke his arm. He was able to visualize the entire event in slow motion and ultimately won the match! Even better, his arm did not atrophy while he had a cast on through deliberate mindful and visualization practices. He ended up winning the championship just three days after it came off by continuing to visualize the movements and training.

The Importance of Teachers Link to heading

Father figure: Josh speaks fondly of his father, as a friend, a coach, and a support system. I would love to be the type of father he was to Josh.

Mentors: Josh discusses how a good teacher/mentor finds a balance between creating rigid guidelines and also celebrating deviations in just the right amount. This is more of an art than a science, and the balance is always changing.

The Importance of Rest Link to heading

It’s no secret, in today’s “burn out society,” that rest is important. Josh goes at length about the summer family trips they would take to the ocean to regain creative thoughts and be in nature. However, it is important to note that these provide the most value when they are superseded by great bouts of physical and mental exertion.

In fact, I was just listening to the interview between Lex Fridman and Yuval Noah Harari and learned that Yuval meditates for 2 hours a day and goes on 60-day meditation retreats just to create space to really rest the mind and think.

The Mind Body Connection Link to heading

Muscles and minds need to stretch to grow, but if stretched too thin, they will snap.

The mind is not any different. If we get into a “comfortable spot” in our learning, we won’t grow. If we push ourselves too hard, we will snap.

Josh delves into a deep discussion about the practice of meditation and how he learned to release all tension in his body. His Tai chi classes, though physical in nature, were lessons in awareness. Blurring the line between physical and mental introspection enabled him to manage whatever life threw at him and control his mindset.

One other insightful takeaway I had was: You have to be able to do something slowly in order to do it with speed.

Fear as a Master Link to heading

Josh provided a perspective on fear that only those who are at the top of their field ever experience. Being a beginner, or simply having a beginner’s mindset, allows one to make mistakes and have fun while enjoying learning and growing from them. As a renowned master or expert, the expectations are much higher. The chasm between an expert’s expectations and a beginner’s mistake is what most people fear most, to varying scales.

One sentence that truly resonated with me was when he stated that he couldn’t afford to lose after the movie’s release. Ambition requires aiming for the stars, inherently expecting numerous losses, pain, and trade-offs along the journey.

Mindset Link to heading

The liberating and exhilarating feeling of being a beginner is incomparable. Preserving this beginner’s mindset is difficult but necessary in achieving excellence and finding happiness. When we’re truly novice at something, we care less about the results and more about the experience. As we gain recognition and experience, the stakes increase and we become more results oriented. Striking a delicate balance is essential to prevent the loss of learning is key.

Josh emphasized the importance of mental resilience and the art of becoming comfortable with pain. That requires navigating through and becoming comfortable with pain. How one gets through pain varies, but an external trigger (a teacher, a friend, an earthquake) could help. Learning to channel the strength of externalities through intrinsic triggers is what creates unbounded opportunities.

Follow Ups Link to heading

👂 I listened to all of the interviews that Tim Ferris conducted with Josh (here’s one, but there are several). They felt like a more interactive and natural extension of the book and I highly recommend them to anyone who enjoyed the book.

🤔 It was refreshing to discover that Josh doesn’t maintain any social media accounts.

🤞 I’m hoping that my request for William Green to interview Josh Waitzkin for the “Richer, Wiser, Happier” podcast becomes a reality one day.

👀 I watched one of Josh push hands competitions. I was surprised to see how aggressive and physical it is. The image I had created in mind hand of having no resistance was completely different from what I saw.

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