The Art of Learning - Josh Waitzkin

The Art of Learning - Josh Waitzkin

Is it possible for the same person to succeed in totally opposite niches? The author of today's book has succeeded in doing this and has shared his secrets with us!

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Learn in this summary of the book "The Art of Learning" how to cultivate versatility so that you can move between different niches whenever you need to.

As a child and teenager, Josh Waitzkin was a chess champion and celebrity, so much so that he became the subject of the movie "In Search of Bobby Fischer" (1993).

And he was 21, he moved to the world of martial arts, more precisely Tai Chi Chuan, and was also the champion in competitions of the sport.

But what would be the secret to being able to excel at something as intellectual as chess as something as physical as martial arts?

For the author, this involves the art of learning. And, luckily for us, the chess player turned martial arts fighter decided to share the bases of his art with us.

About the book "The Art of Learning"

Over 20 chapters, the author shares his secrets about the art of learning by narrating his own history and life experience with chess and martial arts. Cool, isn't it?

About the author Josh Waitzkin

Eight-time national chess champion when younger, Josh Waitzkin is a spokesman for his own computer chess program. He is also a martial arts champion and it was from experience in both areas that the work was born.

Josh is president of the JW Foundation, a nonprofit educational organization.

To whom is this book indicated?

For the professional who wants to be flexible and apply the art of learning in different areas. The work is also useful for educators and parents who want to do well in teaching.

Main ideas of the book "The Art of Learning"

  • If having confidence is important, having too much confidence is harmful;
  • The author credits much of his success to the short breaks he takes from the competitive intensity of his life;
  • When things get tough it is worth going back to the beginning to make the activity fun again;
  • Dweck's theories of intelligence explain that there are two groups: one that fixes on intrinsic knowledge and one that turns to hard work to learn new things;
  • Achieving excellence requires an organic and long-term learning process;
  • Lessons learned in the pursuit of excellence are worth more than immediate glory and trophies;
  • Maintaining a healthy attitude to the good and bad things in life to learn from them is the foundation of the art of learning;
  • Setting the tone of battle is one of the critical strengths to compete in any area.
  • The fear of failure cannot be more intense than the passion for what one does;
  • Take advantage of victories without sticking to them: appreciate the trajectory that led to the achievement, learn the lessons it brings, and move on;
  • The key component of high-level learning is to cultivate a resilient consciousness, which is the older, conscious incarnation of a child's unconscious playfulness;
  • Sometimes learning something new requires unlearning an old pattern.

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[Book Summary] The Art of Learning - Josh Waitzkin

Overview: Part 1 - A compatible method

As a child, whenever Josh made a fundamental mistake, Bruce Pandolfini, his chess coach, cited the principle he had violated.

If Josh refused to tamper with the game, the coach would take advantage of the student's mistake until he changed position. Over time, Bruce gained Josh's respect as the boy saw that the teacher's ideas were right.

The fitting

Josh was a passionate child who had been encouraged to express his opinions and reflect on the ideas of others without blindly following the authorities.

For the author, Bruce's approach fit him, for the coach did not behave like an omniscient person and was more of a guide than an authority.

The learner as part of the process

When there was a disagreement, Bruce would not lecture: instead, the teacher and student would talk. He slowed Josh by asking questions and whenever the boy made a decision, good or bad, the coach would ask him to explain his thinking process. All this without spoiling the student.

Overview: Part 2 - Lessons

After a winning streak, 8-year-old Josh missed his first national title. But this gave gim an important lesson: Confidence is critical for a competitor, but overconfidence is bad.

The help of the sea

After the bitter defeat, Josh Waitzkin went fishing with his parents. From the sea, where the author still resorts to putting things in perspective, he came back full of new ideas and a stock of energy and determination.

Nautical life teaches you important lessons such as:

  • At sea, you can handle just about everything as long as the presence of mind is maintained;
  • When you lose your temper while miles from dry land or swimming with sharks, there will be no safety net to save.

Fun + hard work

Josh was a child in transition who needed help.

Seeing that mechanical analysis of chess was not what the boy needed, the coach made training more fun with quick chess games and breaks to play ball. The boy also returned to play in the park with old friends.

Once Josh had fun with chess again, they returned to a more analytical and technical work of the game. That's when the boy responded to his hurt by hard work.

"I came to a commitment to chess that was about much more than fun and glory. It was about love, pain, passion and pushing me to get over it," says the author.

The importance of painful losses

They can be more valuable than victories. Those who have a healthy attitude toward life and can extract wisdom from both good and bad experiences, get ahead and are happier along the way.

The author describes in the book "The Art of Learning", that the task of maintaining this perspective as he deals and suffers from problems as the biggest obstacle and at the same time as the basis of the art of learning.

Competition raises the bar

At age 10, Josh Waitzkin also played adult chess tournaments. One thing he learned was that good competitor grow at the level of their opponents: the experience has strengthened him, made him a player always on the lookout for improvements and brought him confidence.


Josh teaches you to regain the presence and clarity of mind after making a serious mistake. Changes in psychological advantage create victories and defeats.

Thus, in order not to lose momentum, one must tame the psychological wave while it is around and be mentally present again when clarity of mind begins to be overwhelmed.

Without losing sight

Critical to high-level activity is the degree of harmony between the relationship with what one seeks and one's unique disposition.

When testing new ideas and unleashing current knowledge is inevitable, it is crucial that new information is integrated without violating who you are.

By taking your natural voice, you lose a center of gravity that gives you balance when dealing with the numerous obstacles that come your way.

Speaking of balance

As a child, you learn that focus is the important and lacking focus is seen as a bad thing. This creates a barrier to releasing tension in the pauses of life's challenging moments, as there is a fear of not being able to regain that focus.

The problem with focusing on yourself until you can't take the pressure anymore is having an emotional crisis.

Josh defines the tendency for competitors to run out between tournament rounds as self-defeating. For him, the ability to recover is crucial.

Unlearning to learn

The human being is conditioned to tense and resist a hostile or external force. Thus, a whole new physiological response to aggression had to be learned. He had to unlearn his current physical paradigm before learning the bodily mechanisms of nonresistance.

Overview: Part 3 - Intelligence Theories

"The Art of Learning" cites the distinction made by developmental psychology researcher Carol S. Dweck between two types of intelligence theory or two teaching approaches: entity and incremental.

Entity theory

It involves those who have been influenced by their parents and teachers to think this way. They tend to say, "I'm good at it", and credit their success or failure to a rooted and unalterable level of skill.

Your intelligence and skill are seen as a fixed entity that cannot evolve. Faced with challenges, they are more likely to give up.

Incremental theory

Members of this group often say "I did it because I worked so hard" or "I should have tried harder." They tend to notice that with hard work even difficult content can be understood.

The idea is that step by step, incrementally, the beginner can become the master. Faced with challenges, they are more likely to grow at the level of what is proposed.

Start from childhood

A person's "entry" into one of these groups occurs in childhood. A child begins with entity theory by hearing that one discipline is his or her beach and another is not.

In order to enter the incremental theory group, by not doing so well in a particular subject, the child must hear from an adult what he needs to do to improve.

These theories greatly influence the future of a small:

"The key to striving for excellence is to adopt an organic, long-term learning process and not to live in a shell of static and mediocrity. Generally, growth comes at the cost of prior comfort and safety," explains Josh Waitzkin.

Overview: Part 4 - Distractions

The author cites performance training, which first involves learning to flow with whatever comes up. Then you learn to use anything that comes your way to your advantage.

Then one learns to be completely self-reliant and to create one's own unexpected events to feed the mental process with explosive inspirations without the need for external stimuli.

Soft zone x hard zone

According to Josh Waitzkin in his book "The Art of Learning", the person is focused on a task until something occurs and stops it, such as someone's arrival or a traffic accident. If she gets tense and her whole-body struggles to combat distraction, her state is a hard zone. In the hard zone, it takes cooperation from around the world to make it work.

The soft zone is like a flexible blade of grass that moves and survives the winds of a hurricane. One does not succumb to external forces; The solution is internal.

The soft zone is not based on success in a submissive world or dominating forces, but in intelligent preparation and the cultivation of resilience.

How to get to this point?

As a child, Josh suffered from distractions in the form of sounds and music.

"The more I tried to block the distraction, the higher it got in my mind," says Josh Waitzkin.

Until, when playing a tournament, he saw that he could dance to the beat - his calculations began to move with the rhythm of the song, and he had an inspired game.

That's when the author realized that if he couldn't make the world quiet, he should make peace with the noise. He decided to train to have a more resilient concentration.

As? A few times a week while studying chess, he would play loud music; sometimes the music I liked, in other songs I didn't like. The author also went on to play fast chess near smoke, something he hated.


In front of opponents cheating to take advantage of the game, Josh saw that he had to deal with his emotions. Like getting angry, he left the game, the alternative was to try to stay lucid.

The problem is that one of his rivals pushed him to total rage, leading the boy to self-destruction. He concluded that the solution to such cases is not to deny emotions but to learn to take advantage of them.

Rather than suffocating, the solution is to channel humor into high focus, something the author learned only after years in the martial arts where rivals also tried to cheat.

Continuous work

Josh has been working his whole life on this issue. For him, mental resilience is the most critical trait to perform excellently, which must be cultivated continuously.

He tries to turn pain into a feeling that is not necessarily negative and seeks challenges rather than avoiding them.

Dealing with chaotic situations

Josh cites 3 crucial steps to the evolutionary relationship to chaotic situations one must take when performing an activity:

  1. Be at peace with imperfection;
  2. Use this imperfection to your advantage - as in the author's example with noises;
  3. Learn to create waves in consciousness, small stimulus jolts to be constantly inspired regardless of external conditions.

What do other authors say about it?

In the book "Make Time", authors Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky present us with the 4 steps that must be followed daily to make time to do what is really important. These steps are highlighting, focus, energy, and reflection.

In his work "Focus", Daniel Goleman says that the more our focus is interrupted, the worse our performance against the task we are performing. On the other hand, our ability to learn improves with focused attention.

In "Out of the Maze", Spencer Johnson shows you how to become a winner by overcoming the mazes that keep you from reaching bigger goals, understanding your mistakes and what led you to them.

Okay, but how can I apply this to my life?

  • Find a teaching method that fits you;
  • Have moments off after periods of intense competitiveness;
  • Respond with hard work to difficult and disappointing moments;
  • Do not limit yourself to your intrinsic knowledge, but strive to learn new things;
  • Extract lessons and wisdom from good and bad times;
  • Try to face stronger competitors to grow at their level;
  • Have short term goals towards your ultimate goal;
  • Enjoy victories without clinging to them and do not deny the pain of defeat;
  • Make peace with distractions and train to work well with them around you;
  • Don't lose sight of who you are by learning something new;
  • Put into practice the author's steps to deal with chaotic situations;

Did you like this summary of the book "The Art of Learning"?

Only with the summary can you - with forgiveness of redundancy - learn a lot about the art of learning, right? But to dive right into it, it's worth buying the complete book you can get by clicking on the following image:

Book 'The Art of Learning'.