The Art of Learning: Takeaways and Key Points Summary

What if it was possible only to win by understanding that losing is never a bad thing?

The Art of Learning, written by chess champion and martial artist Josh Waitzkin discusses how to train yourself to become a superior performer. Josh walks us through his approach to learning, and how he managed to become world-class in multiple disciplines.

He writes: “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.

Outlining the best approach to learning, Waitzkin explains how to handle distractions, how to switch seamlessly between focus and relaxation (the two going hand-in-hand) and why we want to celebrate the everyday moments in between the big wins.

Key Points From The Art of Learning

  • The key to pursuing excellence is to embrace a long-term learning process, and not to live in a shell of static, safe mediocrity.
  • Mastery is its own reward. Fall in love with an activity, rather than the set path to achievement. As he writes: “In my experience, 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 than the immediate trophies and glory.”
  • Growth comes at the point of resistance. We learn by pushing ourselves and finding what really lies at the outer reaches of our abilities
  • Praise the process. Celebrate and appreciate the work that was done to get the outcome, instead of focusing solely on the outcome.
  • Invest in loss. Embrace vulnerability and mistakes. Once you learn to be at peace with failures, you can then learn to use their imperfections to your advantage when faced with adversity.
  • A telling feature of a dominant performer is the routine use of recovery periods. Resist sacrificing recovery. By allowing yourself time to rest and recover, you can jump back into your concentrated state after.
  • Treat disruptions as opportunities to grow your resilience. If you react by getting annoyed or stressed it means you were in the ‘hard zone’ and expected the world to cooperate with your state of mind. If you enter the ‘soft zone’ instead, you allow yourself to keep your concentration and your patience even in less-than-ideal circumstances whilst cultivating resilience.
  • Be OK with losing. Losing, despite being frustrating, does have its benefits as you can reflect on why you’ve lost.
  • Take a step back each time you make a mistake and bring presence so that you can regain clarity of mind and keep the positive energy flowing.
  • Taking an incremental approach helps you stay on track. Treating your goal with an incremental approach means you gain from the mistakes and shortcomings that you will inevitably face.
  • Routines get you into the zone. It’s possible to get into ‘peak performance mode’ and enjoy serene concentration by creating and practicing a routine.
  • Mastery involves discovering the most resonant information and integrating it deeply and fully that it disappears and allows us to fly free
  • When uncomfortable, do not avoid the discomfort. Instead learn to become at peace with it. Learn to flow with whatever comes and then use it to your advantage.

In-Depth Insight

Routines Get You Into The Zone

You might find it difficult to get into the right frame of mind to concentrate, unable to settle down and do what is needed despite the looming deadline, easily distracted and disturbed hence becoming increasingly frustrated. It’s possible to get into ‘peak performance mode’ and enjoy serene concentration by creating and practicing a routine.

Let’s say you’re writing a book. Prior to settling down at your computer, you need to create a 4-5 step routine which precedes this activity. Perhaps you’ll eat a snack, check messages, respond to any that are important, then turn your phone off, make your favorite beverage then go to your desk to do 5 minutes of breathing exercises. You’re now ready to settle down and write that report.

If you follow this routine every day you will create a powerful physiological connection between the routine and the task. The more you do it, the more natural it becomes so that you can easily get into the zone, even using the routine to help you achieve other tasks where you need concentration.

Eventually, you’ll be able to shorten the routine, perhaps incorporating the breathing exercises into your workout session and just making the hot drink before sitting down at the laptop to get to work on your book - and truly getting to work, no emails, no Facebook, no solitaire! When you’ve mastered the technique you’ll only have to think about a part of your routine to trigger a state of high-performance.



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Favorite Quote from The Art of Learning

"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 than the immediate trophies and glory."

― Josh Waitzkin, The Art of Learning: A Journey in the Pursuit of Excellence

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Editor and Founder

Tal Gur is a location independent entrepreneur, author, and impact investor. After trading his daily grind for a life of his own daring design, he spent a decade pursuing 100 major life goals around the globe. His most recent book and bestseller, The Art of Fully Living - 1 Man, 10 Years, 100 Life Goals Around the World, has set the stage for his new mission: elevating the next generation of leaders to their true potential.

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