The Art of Learning by Josh Waitzkin (Review, Summary & Takeaways)

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I had to read The Art of Learning by Josh Waitzkin multiple times through to catch every single perspective shifting piece of wisdom. To date, this is the best book I’ve read on the learning process. josh-waitzkin-art-of-learning-audio-book

In the book, Josh asserts that the disciplined, highly intentional learning process is what breeds mastery. Not only that, but learning is to never stop. It’s not just in your craft or in your sport, but you must live a lifestyle that fuels learning. Everything is interconnected (see below), and if you don’t live attentively and presently you are missing out on the opportunity to absorb valuable lessons.

Josh explains his process for learning through the narrative of both his chess and martial art careers. I highly recommend you read this book for yourself, but read further and you’ll get my largest takeaways related to the learning process, below.

The Art of Learning Summary, Takeaways & Key Quotes

  • Cultivate Presence of Mind

"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.”

  • Bring your Unique Self

"Our natural voice is what grounds us as we encounter challenges and opportunities along the learning process."

Me: You must become your style of: a CEO, salsero, bi-lingual, etc. spending your time trying to become someone else’s will only create exhaustion and make you weak in the face of disruption and challenge. Be very open-minded, but don’t lose yourself.

  • Begin with the Foundational Principles

"Tactics become easy once the principles are in blood."

"The objective is to have the most basic principles, patterns, ideas, techniques, etc. feel like natural intelligence (or essence)."

"Deeply internalized concepts can be accessed without thinking."

Me: Immerse yourself in the Fundamentals first. Perhaps the most present theme throughout The Art of Learning, Josh pushes for focusing on never jumping too far ahead. If you can't dribble a basketball with your left hand, you shouldn't be trying spin moves yet. 

  • Depth over Breadth, understand the Macro from the Micro

"It is rarely a mysterious technique that drives us to the top, but rather a mastery of what may be a basic skill set. Study positions of reduced complexity (micro), to develop and understand the principles or the larger picture (macro)."

Me: Similar concept to focusing on the fundamentals...but different in that it's possible to learn the fundamental principles and concepts of any field through one situation. Josh uses the example of learning all the fundamental principles of chess, through focusing voraciously on one game-like scenario. 

  • Develop a Growth Mindest

"Investing in loss is giving yourself to the learning process. A learner with a growth mindset will be more concerned with the learning...vs. the identity and ego concepts that are associated with losing."

"When aiming for the top, your path requires an engaged, searching mind. You have to make obstacles spur you to creative new angles in the learning process. Let setbacks deepen your resolve. You should always come off an injury or a loss better than when you went down.”

Me: Josh calls the growth mindest, "investing in loss." Winning or losing is not important, what's most important is what you learned from each experience.

  • All things are connected, and to see things this way will accelerate your ability to learn

“Truth be told, this is what my entire approach to learning is based on—breaking down the artificial barriers between our diverse life experiences so all moments become enriched by a sense of interconnectedness.”

Me:  There is always a connectedness between our many life experiences. There is potential to unearth a lesson anywhere, that can tie back to any practice.  A hike in the woods or a dance lesson with your girlfriend can help you to unlock a truth or push through a roadblock in your sport, skill or art.

This is also to say, how you do anything is how you do everything. It's much easier to snap into focus and concentration while on the soccer field or in a meeting, if you live your life outside of your sport or work with a similar present, focus.

  • Take Diligent Notes

Me: This is more from some of Josh's interviews, but Josh preaches the importance of taking notes and keeping records of your growth and learning process. If you aren't tracking your development intentionally, making improvements is much more like guesswork.

Josh's Process on Learning in One Quote

“My vision of the road to mastery—you start with the fundamentals, get a solid foundation fueled by understanding the principles of your discipline, then you expand and refine your repertoire, guided by your individual predispositions, while keeping in touch, however abstractly, with what you feel to be the essential core of the art. What results is a network of deeply internalized, interconnected knowledge that expands from a central, personal locus point. The question of intuition relates to how that network is navigated and used as fuel for creative insight.”

Learn How to Learn

Again, The Art of Learning has been the best book on the learning process I've found to date.

The 4-Hour Chef, by Tim Ferriss has a great opening section on learning, and I would highly recommend that as well, but Josh's book still stands out to me as the leader.

Have you read this book? What did you think about it?

About the author

Cory Ames

Cory is the Co-Founder of Open Book SEO where he and his team help businesses capture more free traffic from Google. Cory lives in San Antonio, TX with his brilliant and beautiful girlfriend and their sometimes cute sometimes monster of a puppy.

Who is Cory?

Cory believes he has an obligation to leave the world a better place than he found it. He runs an agency specializing in SEO, writes, and goes on road trips in his van with his girlfriend whenever he can.
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