The Art of Learning
An Inner Journey to Optimal Performance
Author: Josh Waitzkin
Where to get: Amazon
Who should read: Those who want a glimpse into the mind of a multiple-time World Champion in two different disciplines (chess and Tai Chi Chuan). Anyone interested in becoming a mental giant and consistently performing under pressure.
Who shouldn’t read: People who aren’t really interested in the mental game or those who already always perform at the highest level possible (if this is you, please share your secret).
Overall idea: The only way to truly become great is to regularly “invest in loss”. You can train yourself to get into The Zone consistently. The difference between good, great, and the best most often lies in mastering the mental game.
“The secret is that everything is always on the line. The more present we are at practice, the more present we will be in competition, in the boardroom, at the exam, the operating table, the big stage. If we have any hope of attaining excellence, let alone of showing what we’ve got under pressure, we have to be prepared by a lifestyle of reinforcement. Presence must be like breathing.”
– Josh Waitzkin
Josh Waitzkin, the inspiration behind Searching for Bobby Fischer, became the youngest National Chess Master ever at the age of 13. He won his first National Championship at the age of nine, a title that he went on to win another seven times. He then turned his attention to martial arts, becoming a Tai Chi Chuan master and eventually winning several World Championships. Along the way he also became a master of performance psychology, with insights into the mental game that very few other people have.
One of the major themes of the book is how to be able to consistently gain valuable information from losing, and then how to use it to your advantage. This concept is explored extensively and it reinforces the idea that losing should be viewed as a tool and not as the end of the world. Waitzkin also delves deep into the world of psychological battle, teaching you how to assess an opponent’s mental status, how to use it against them, and most importantly, how to not get rattled by anything your opponent does. He gets across the importance of insane amounts of preparation, while also stressing how crucial it is to be able to deal with the inevitability that is adversity.
These ideas and more are explored through Waitzkin’s numerous stories of loss and triumph. Besides providing an incredible amount of useful information, the stories are also very dramatic and entertaining. Even if you aren’t a fan of chess or martial arts you will still get a ton out of this book. I first heard about The Art of Learning from Tim Ferriss, and it turned out to be one of the best books on the mind and learning that I’ve ever read.
I personally have never been a huge fan of chess. Since reading this book I’ve become obsessed with it and it’s proven to be one of the best tools out there for exploring my own mental game. Now you may or may not pick up a chess habit from reading The Art of Learning, but either way I promise that it’ll have a positive impact on you and you’ll gain many powerful tools for enhancing your performance in any aspect of your life.
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