The Art of Learning - Josh Waitzkin

The Art of Learning - Josh Waitzkin

 Video Book Summary

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Book Summary Notes

The Art of Learning

"My chess life began in Washington Square Park in New York’s Greenwich Village, and took me on a sixteen-year-roller-coaster ride, through world-championships in America, Romania, Germany, Hungary, Brazil and India, through every kind of heartache and ecstasy a competitor can imagine."

"In recent years, my Tai Chi life has become a dance of meditation and intense martial competition, of pure growth and the observation, testing, and exploration of that learning process. I have currently won thirteen Tai Chi Chuan Push Hands National Championship titles, placed third in the 2002 World Championship in Taiwan, and in 2004 I won the Chung Hwa Cup International in Taiwan, the World Championship of Tai Chi Chuan Push Hands."

"A lifetime of competition has not cooled my ardor to win, but I have grown to love the study and training above all else. After so many years of big games, performing under pressure has become a way of life. Presence under fire hardly feels different from the presence I feel sitting at my computer, typing these sentences. What I have realized is that what I am best at is not Tai Chi, and it is not chess—what I am best at is the art of learning. This book is the story of my method.”

The book shares not only his personal story of becoming world class in two very different disciplines but also his insights on how we too can master the art of learning. 

Very entertaining read and I recommend you pick it up if your interested in hearing more about Josh's Story.

Two Approaches

“Developmental psychologists have done extensive research on the effects of a student’s approach on his or her ability to learn and ultimately master material. Dr. Carol Dweck, a leading researcher in the field of developmental psychology, makes the distinction between entity and incremental theories of intelligence. Children who are ‘entity theorists’—that is, kids who have been influenced by their parents and teachers to think in this manner—are prone to use language like ‘I am smart at this’ and to attribute their success or failure to an ingrained or unalterable level of ability."

"They see their overall intelligence or skill level at a certain discipline to be a fixed entity, a thing that cannot evolve. Incremental theorists, who have picked up a different modality of learning—let’s call them learning theorists—are more prone to describe their results with sentences like ‘I got it because I worked very hard at it’ or ‘I should have tried harder.’"

"A child with a learning theory of intelligence tends to sense that with hard work, difficult material can be grasped—step by step, incrementally, the novice can become the master.”


This comes up a lot in our Mind Maps

  • James Clear talks about 1% improvement
  • Darren Hardy talks about the compound effect
  • Learning happens the same way!

Growing a Growth Mindset

Remember that how you view your skills/talent/potential matters a lot!  It makes the difference between wether you will work hard enough to succeed or not..  

  • This is something pernicious now adays because we see everything as immediate results..  Instead of the years and perhaps decades it took to accomplish..  
  • Instead of valuing the process we tend to value the outcome

Embracing growth means committing to the long term process.. and from there cultivating..

  • Resilience 
  • Persistence 

Think about places in your life where you may have resigned that your 'just not that good' or 'can't seem to understand it' and think..

  • What if you committed fully to working on those things?
  • Could you eventually overcome them?

The Downward Spiral

“One idea I taught was the importance of regaining presence and clarity of mind after making a serious error. This is a hard lesson for all competitors and performers. The first mistake rarely proves disastrous, but the downward spiral of the second, third, and fourth error creates a devastating chain reaction. Any sports fan has seen professional football, basketball, and baseball games won and lost because of a shift in psychological advantage.”

Teaching Kids Chess

This story comes from when Josh was coaching a kids chess team

Imagine being taught that wisdom as a kid who just wants to play chess..  

Same rules apply to our lives; it's not about the first mistake..  But the downward spiral after that.. Leading to the second and third that matters!

We Will Make Mistakes

We need to know we will make mistakes..  In almost anything we intend to do..  Learning, business, relationships or health and fitness..  There will always be mistakes

But much more important than those mistakes is how you react to them!

Do you turn around and quit?  Or acknowledge it and move on?

Unique Disposition

“I believe that one of the most critical factors in the transition to becoming a conscious high performer is the degree to which your relationship to your pursuit stays in harmony with your unique disposition. There will inevitably be times when we need to try new ideas, release our current knowledge to take in new information—but it is critical to integrate this new information in a manner that does not violate who we are. By taking away our natural voice, we leave ourselves without a center of gravity to balance us as we navigate the countless obstacles along our way.”

The 80/20 Principle

80% of your efforts lead to only 20% of your results but 20% of your efforts lead to 80% of your results..  

This is true in many areas of life and learning is definitely one of them..  

One of the key takeaway's from that book by Richard Koch is echoed here..  Follow what is easy for you but hard for others..  Develop your own path and not that of the people around you

Choosing a Path

Josh tells us a story of his chess career where he had the choice between two master-level teachers

  • One who let the students develop their own style
  • One who forced students into a structured program
  • Unfortunately he chose the one with a structured program and eventually quit playing chess

Where are you letting someone else dictate the path for you?

  • There are of course best practices and teachers who know much more than you..  
  • But if those best practices and teachers are taking you in a direction that is away from your own path you need to be cautious..  Become great in your own way

Investment in Loss

“How can we incorporate these ideas into the real world? ..."

"My response is that it is essential to have a liberating incremental approach that allows for times when you are not in a peak performance state."

"We must take responsibility for ourselves, and not expect the rest of the world to understand what it takes to become the best that we can become."

"Great ones are willing to get burned time and again as they sharpen their swords in the fire."

"Consider Michael Jordan. It is common knowledge that Jordan made more last-minute shots to win the game for his team than any other player in the history of the NBA. What is not so well known, is that Jordan also missed more last-minute shots to lose the game for his team than any other player in the history of the game. What made him the greatest was not perfection, but a willingness to put himself on the line as a way of life. Did he suffer all those nights when he sent twenty thousand Bulls fans home heartbroken? Of course. But he was willing to look bad on the road to basketball immortality.”

Willing to Fail

Jordan was willing to fail more than any other player..  So he was able to take the most potential game winning shots..  

That willingness to put the whole team on his back..  and potentially fail - made him the greatest basketball player of all time!

Are You Willing

What do you want to accomplish?

Are you willing to fail hundreds or thousands of times in order to accomplish that?

What's Your Goal?

“One thing I have learned as a competitor is that there are clear distinctions between what it takes to be decent, what it takes to be good, what it takes to be great, and what it takes to be among the best"

"If your goal is to be mediocre, then you have considerable margin for error. You can get depressed when fired and mope around waiting for someone to call with a new job offer. If you hurt your toe, you can take six weeks watching television and eating potato chips. In line with that mind-set, most people think of injuries as setback, something they have to recover from or deal with."

"From the outside, for fans or spectators, an injured athlete is in purgatory, hovering in an impotent state between competing and sitting on the bench. In my martial arts life, every time I tweak my body, well-intended people like my mother suggest I take a few weeks off training."

"What they don’t realize is that if I were to stop training whenever something hurt, I would spend my entire year on the couch. Almost without exception, I am back on the mats the next day, figuring out how to use my new situation to heighten elements of my game. If I want to be the best, I have to take risks others would avoid, always optimizing the learning potential of the moment and turning adversity to my advantage. That said, there are times when the body needs to heal, but those are ripe opportunities to deepen the mental, technical, internal side of my game.”

Decent/Good/Great/Among The Best

What is your goal?

Let's get right to the point.. What do you want to be?

  • Decent
  • Good
  • Great
  • Among The Best

If you're committed to being just decent or good then you have room too complain about the challenges in from of you.. 

But if you want to be great or among the best you need to get right back up after you fall..  Use those challenges as spring boards!  As stepping stones..  As building blocks!

Stress + Recovery

“The next morning, Striegel and Loehr told me about the concept of Stress and Recovery. The physiologists at LGE had discovered that in virtually every discipline, one of the most telling features of a dominant performer is the routine use of recovery periods." 

"Players who are able to relax in brief moments of inactivity are almost always the ones who end up coming through when the game is on the line."

"This is why the eminent tennis players of their day, such as Ivan Lendl and Pete Sampras, had those strangely predictable routines of serenely picking their rackets between points, whether they won or lost the last exchange, while their rivals fumed at a bad call or pumped a fist in excitement."

"Remember Michael Jordan sitting on the bench, a towel on his shoulders, letting it all go for a two-minute break before coming back in the game? Jordan was completely serene on the bench even though the Bulls desperately needed him on the court. He had the fastest recovery time of any athlete I’ve ever seen."

"The notion that I didn’t have to hold myself in a state of feverish concentration every second of a chess game was a huge liberation."


This is necessary whenever you are trying to accomplish something.. There will be periods where you have to be uncomfortable!

In fact the more uncomfortable you're willing to get the more likely you are to succeed..  Remember investment in loss?

But all stress all the time clouds you mentally..  That's why we need recovery..


Most people think of recovery on a large scale..  Like week long vacations or sabbaticals! 

While those can be useful tools the real champions can recover in just a moment..  And we should learn that as well!

While it's important to work (stress) hard it's important to recover EQUALLY as hard..

Test yourself.. How quickly can you let go?

  • When you take a break from work can you stop thinking about it?
  • When you go home at the end of the day have you let the work you did that day go?
  • Do the failures you have in any given moment haunt you to the next one?

My Story

I used to be the type of person who didn't shut it off..  Always thinking about work and business..

  • During my workday I would work 8 hours straight..  
  • During my off time I would think talk and dream about work..  
  • I never took vacations because I wanted to become successful..  

I thought that what it took! 

But ever since starting this YouTube channel I have focused equally on recovery..  Here are a few of my tricks!

Egg Time

• I have a $4 egg timer sitting on my computer in front of me..

• I set that egg timer for 30 minutes during my work block..

• After that timer goes off I get up and try to quickly forget about whatever I was working on.. 

• When I've been able to forget and feel like I've relaxed I come back to my desk and set the timer again..  Could be 5 minutes could be 20

Daily Walks

• I take two daily walks in natures during my work day one for 30 minutes and one for an hour

• During those walks I attempt to clear my head of work as much as possible

• After I start working after those walks I have so much more energy, clarity and ideas flow much easier

Hard End Times

• I will shut off my computer by 5pm NO MATTER HOW MUCH I GOT DONE

• This not only gives me time to rest but puts a little more stress on my day..  I have to get done what I want to get done by 5pm or it's not going to get done that day..

Always on The Line

“In every discipline, the ability to be clearheaded, present, cool under fire is much of what separates the best from the mediocre." 

"While more subtle, this issue is perhaps even more critical in solitary pursuits such as writing, painting, scholarly thinking, or learning. In the absence of continual external reinforcement, we must be our own monitor, and quality of presence is often the best gauge. We cannot expect to touch excellence if ‘going through the motions’ is the norm of our lives."

"On the other hand, if deep, fluid presence becomes second nature, then life, art, and learning take on a richness that will continually surprise and delight."

"Those who excel are those who maximize each moment’s creative potential—for these masters of living, presence to the day-to-day learning process is akin to that purity of focus others dream of achieving in rare climactic moments when everything is on the line."

"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.”


Developing presence inside your study, work or practice allows you to bring a deeper presence to your competition..  Whatever that might look like!

Cultivate presence in private and it will show in public


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