Friday, April 30, 2010

The Art of Learning : Part 2

In this post you will my notes from the second part of The Art of Learning: An Inner Journey to Optimal Performance by Josh Waitzkin.

Part 2 : My Second Art

Investment in loss is giving yourself to the learning process. Put your ego on the side. Aim to minimize the number of times you make the same mistake, by having an eye for consistent psychological and technical themes of error.
Essential to have a liberating incremental approach that allows for times when you are not in a peak performance state.
Great ones are willing to get burned time and again as they sharpen their swords in the fire.

Have a beginner's mind and invest in losses.

Depth over Breadth

Plunge into the detailed world of the micro in order to understand what makes the macro thick. Our attention deficit culture is an obstacle to this. We are bombarded with more an more information (TV, internet, ...). There is a constant supply of stimulus -> potential to turn us into addicts, always hungering for something new and prefabricated to entertain us.
Then when nothing exciting is going on, we might get bored, distracted, separated from the moment -> so we look for new entertainment.
If caught in this rhythmes, we are like tiny current-bound surface fishes, floating along a two-dimensional world without any sense for the gorgeous abyss below. When these socially induced tendencies translate into the learning process, they have a devastating effect.

Making smaller circles : subtle internalization and refinement is much more important than the quantity of what is learned. Depth beats breadth any day of the week, because it opens a channel for the intangible, unconscious, creative components of our hidden potential.

3 critical steps in a resilient performer's evolving relationship to chaotic situations :

  • 1. learn to be at peace with imperfection.
  • 2. learn to use that imperfection to your advantage.
  • 3. learn to create ripples in your consciousness, little jolts to spur us along, so we are constantly inspired whether or not external conditions are inspiring.

It's important to undulate between external and internal (concrete vs abstract, technical vs abstract) training. If your opponent is temporarily tied down qualitatively or energetically more than your are expending to tie him down, you have a large advantage. You have to make obstacles spur you to new creative angles. You should always come off an injury or a loss better than when you went down.

Intuition is our most valuable compass in this world. It's the bridge between the conscious and unconscious mind.
Road to mastery :

  • start with the fundamentals
  • get a solid foundation fueled by understanding the principles of your discipline
  • expand and refine your repertoire, guided by your individual predipositions while keeping in touch with what you feel abstractly to be the essential core of the art.
The result of this is a network of deeply internalized, interconnected knowledge that expands from a central, personal locus point.

Chunkin : mind's ability to assimilate large amounts of information into a cluster that is bound together by certain patterns or principles.
Carved neural pathways : process of creating chunks and the navigation between chunks.
The conscious mind can only take in and work with a certain limited amount of information in a unit of time. Making networks of chunks by practicing moves huge piles of data to the unconscious. That way your consciousness has less to deal with and can focus on details. The key is practice.

This was part 2. I left out all the personal stories which greatly exemplifies the advices. On to the last part.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Art of Learning : Introduction

The second book I want to talk about here is The Art of Learning: An Inner Journey to Optimal Performance by Josh Waitzkin. This book is all about the road to excellence and how he managed to first become a chess master and then a World Champion martial artist.

I really enjoy reading this book. Its an easy and entertaining book with examples and stories from his life coupled with the insights he gained throughout all these years of learning. But lets get started with my first notes.

Part 1 : The Foundation

Advice to teachers :

  • first get to know one another
  • don't only tell, but prove it (show it)
  • earn respect, win trust
  • keep balance between personal style of the student and formal training
  • keep love for the field alive, don't let technical material kill it
  • be a guide, discuss instead of lecturing
  • ask questions (about the thought process)
  • help the decision making process, make them think

Deliberate practice is the key. Practice a lot, experiment, try out, take the lessons, repeat.
Take breaks from the intensity of practice.

"Entity" and "incremental" theories of intelligence

enity theorist incremental theorist
intelligence and skill level perceived as a fixed entity with hard work, difficult material can be grasped
more brittle and prone to quit when challenged step by step the novice can become a master
"learned helplessness orientation" "mastery oriented response" when presented challenging situations
It's a parenting responsibility.
Smart boy! Great job !
It's not your thing Study a little harder

It's never too late

The key to pursuing excellence is to embrace an organic long-term learning process, and not to live in a shell of a static, safe mediocrity. Usually growth comes out at the expense of previous comfort or safety.

Successful people shoot for the stars, put their hearts on the line in every battle, and ultimately discover that the lessons learned from the pursuit of excellence mean much more then the immediate trophies and glory.

  • draw wisdom from every experience, "good" or "bad"
  • first focus on the essentials, for example in chess focus on end games instead of openings
  • see losing as an opportunity to grow
  • critical strength of a superior competitor is the ability to dictate the tone of the battle
  • good competitors tend to rise to the game of the opposition

Process-first approach : praise good concentration, a good day's work, ... When winning, spotlight on the road to that moment and beyond opposed to the glory. But when we have worked hard and succeeded at something, we should be allowed to smell the roses. When losing, disappointment is a part of the road to greatness, try to learn the lessons.

As adult we need to put ourselves out there, give it our all, and reap the lesson, win or lose. We learn by pushing ourselves and finding what really lies at the outer reaches of our abilities.

Hard zone vs Soft zone

Learn to flow with whatever comes.
Mental resilience is a critical trait of a world class performer.
Don't avoid discomfort but become at peace with it.

Important to regain presence and clarity of mind after making a serious error (take a deep breath, ...).
Brilliant creations are often born of small errors.

Study form to leave form

Learn the hard from the soft, learn this from that.
In fields of learning and performance:

  • Careful balance of pushing yourself relentlessly, but not so hard that you melt down. Muscles and mind need to stretch to grow, but if stretched too thin, they will snap.
  • Competitor should always look for stronger opponents to spur growth, but also keep winning enough to maintain confidence.
  • Release current ideas to soak in new material, but not so much that we lose touch with our unique natural talents.

This are my notes from the first part of three from The Art of Learning: An Inner Journey to Optimal Performance. On to the next part.