Monday, May 3, 2010

The Art of Learning : Part 3

This my last post with my notes from The Art of Learning: An Inner Journey to Optimal Performance by Josh Waitzkin.

Part 3 : Bringing It All Together

The better we are at recovering, the greater potential we have to endure and perform under stress. Cardiovascular training can have a profound effect on your ability to quickly release tension and recover from mental exhaustion. When doing interval training (e.g. weightworkouts) monitor precisely how much time to leave between sets so that your muscles have ample time to recover, but are still pushed to improve their recovery time e.g. 3 sets of 15 reps -> 45 s. rest, 3 sets of 12 reps -> 50 s. rest, 3*10 -> 55 s., 3*8 -> 1 min. In time with consistent work, rest periods can be incrementally shortened.

1st step to mastering the zone is to practice the ebb and flow of stress and recovery => interval training. With practice, increase the intensity and duration of your sprints, and gradually condense rest periods. Incorporate the rhythm of stress and recovery into all aspects of your life.

Spend a few minutes a day doing some simple meditation practice in which your mind gathers and releases with the ebb and flow of your breath. Get better at releasing tension and coming back with a full tank of gas in your everyday activities, both physical and mental. Learning how to relax under pressure is a key first step to tapping into the potential of the unconscious mind.

A roadblock to release the tension during breaks of intense competition is the fear of whether we will be able to get it back. Important to relax between two matches. In long tournaments, the ability to sleep at night is one of the most decisive factors.

Simplicity, the everyday is where success, let alone happiness emerges.

Building a trigger for the zone :

  • when are you closest to serene focus ? (e.g. taking a bath, jogging, swimming, listening to music, ...)
  • create a four- or five-step routine that builds up to this activity: e.g.
    1. eat a light consistent snack for 10 min
    2. 15 min of meditation
    3. 10 min of stretching
    4. 10 min of listening to music you like (always the same long song)
    5. perform the activity you chose
  • go through this routine everyday for at least a month
  • after that replace step 5 by an activity for which you want to be in the zone

The result is that a physiological connection is formed between the routine and the activity it precedes. Once the routine is internalized, it can be used before any activity and a similar state of mind will emerge. Determine your personal routine by your individual taste.

Next step is to gradually alter the routine so that it is similar enough so as to have the same physiological effect, but slightly different so as to make the "trigger" both lower maintenance and more flexible. Key is to make the changes incrementally. This type of condensing practice can do wonders to raise our quality of life, once a simple inhalation can trigger a state of tremendous alertness, our moment-to-moment awareness becomes blissful.

Key to nutrition in unpredictable environments is to always be prepared for exertion by being nourished, but never have too full a stomach and thereby dull your senses.

3 steps to resilient, self-sufficient performance :

  1. learn to flow with distraction, like a blade of grass bending in the wind
  2. learn to use distraction, inspire yourself with what initially would have thrown you off your game
  3. learn to re-create the inspiring settings internally
Only way to succeed is to acknowledge reality and funnel it, take the nerves and use them. We must be prepared for imperfection. If we rely on having no nerves, on not being thrown off by a big miss, or on the exact replication of a certain mindset, then when the pressure is high enough, or when the pain is too piercing to ignore, our ideal state will shatter.

Soft zone approach is much more organic and useful than denial. Instead of running from our emotions or being swept away by their initial gusts, we should learn to sit with them, become at piece and with their unique flavors and ultimately discover deep pools of inspiration.

Introspect. Discover what states work best for you and build condensed triggers so you can pull from your deepest reservoirs of inspiration at will.

Once you have found the profound refinement of a skill, no matter how small it may be, we can then use that feeling as a beacon of quality as we expand our focus onto more and more material. The technical afterthoughts of a truly great one can appear to be divine inspiration to the lesser artist. Create a body of theory around a fleeting moment of inspiration.

This where my notes from the last part of The Art of Learning: An Inner Journey to Optimal Performance by Josh Waitzkin. As in part 1 and part 2 does the last part contain lots of personal stories from Josh with as last chapter a great story about Josh becoming a Push Hands World Champion.

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