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.

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