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

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

Looking for insight on The Art of Learning? 

You’ve come to the right place. 🙂

The Art of Learning by Josh Waitzkin

I had to read The Art of Learning: An Inner Journey to Optimal Performance, 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 and performance psychology.

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. See this book on Amazon for purchase and more reviews

Before we dive into the takeaways, I should share some more on Josh.

Brief Background on Josh Waitzkin

Josh grew up in New York City where he began playing chess at the age of 6 in Washington Square Park. Josh became a furious chess player. Called a chess prodigy, Josh won multiple National Championship Titles in elementary school.  In 1993 Paramount Pictures released the movie Searching for Bobby Fischer, made out of a book written by Josh’s father, which depicted Josh’s first run at winning a National Chess Championship.


After he accomplished all he wanted to in the chess world, Josh moved into the world of martial arts. At the age of 21, he started with learning Tai Chi Chuan. Josh went on to win multiple Tai Chi Chuan Push Hands National Championships as well as compete and win in  Push Hands World Championships in countries like Brazil and Taiwan.

Today, Josh still focuses on teaching others how to achieve peak performance, but in small quantities at a private Brazilian Ju Jitsu gym in New York.

Bio Source: http://www.joshwaitzkin.com/josh/ Photo Source: http://www.joshwaitzkin.com/photos/ 



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Josh’s take on learning is made up of universally applicable, timeless principles. This book contains not just lessons on learning, but many profound life lessons as well. If there was anyone you wish could be your mentor, I think it would be Josh Waitzkin.

  • Cultivate Presence of Mind – To perform at a high level, we must diligently and consistently, focus on being present. It’s not a state we can just “turn on,” if we aren’t practicing it. Our everyday lives must reinforce how we hope to perform, when we are called to perform at the highest level.

“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.


“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.”



Again, The Art of Learning: An Inner Journey to Optimal Performance has been the best book on the learning process I’ve found to date.

Josh’s book has received acclaim from high performers like; Mark Messier, 6-Time Stanley Cup Champion, Cal Ripken, Jr. a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame, and Jim Loehr, CEO of the Human Performance Institute.

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.

If you have read Josh’s book, what did you think? Were you not able to put the book down, like me? What was one of your favorite life lessons Josh shared?

Let me know in the comments below!

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