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Book cover for The Art of Learning

The Art of Learning

Author: Josh Waitzkin

Rating: ★★★★★

Genre: Self-improvement

Themes: Learning, Performance, Psychology

Format: Kindle

Finished: February 27, 2017

Purchase link

Overview

There is a lot of wisdom in this book, but you have to sift through a lot of biographical stuff to find it. If you aren’t into chess or Tai Chi, you might have a problem getting through this. I expected this book to be a guide to learning, but instead it ended up being the story of how Josh Waitzkin became world-class in two different competitive events. I kept expecting the personal storytelling to end and the lessons to begin, but they are completely intertwined.

The most concise quote about Josh Waitzkin’s method:

I have talked about style, personal taste, being true to your natural disposition. This theme is critical at all stages of the learning process. If you think about the high-end learning principles that I have discussed in this book, they all spring out of the deep, creative plunge into an initially small pool of information. In the early chapters, I described the importance of a chess player laying a solid foundation by studying positions of reduced complexity (endgame before opening). Then we apply the internalized principles to increasingly complex scenarios. In Making Smaller Circles we take a single technique or idea and practice it until we feel its essence. Then we gradually condense the movements while maintaining their power, until we are left with an extremely potent and nearly invisible arsenal. In Slowing Down Time, we again focus on a select group of techniques and internalize them until the mind perceives them in tremendous detail. After training in this manner, we can see more frames in an equal amount of time, so things feel slowed down. In The Illusion of the Mystical, we use our cultivation of the last two principles to control the intention of the opponent—and again, we do this by zooming in on very small details to which others are completely oblivious. – loc. 2693-2702

Notes

  • Form to leave form. One must learn the fundamentals of any subject to have any potential to reach a high level. Then these need to be internalized in order to build intuition move on to more complex problems.
  • Themes can be internalized, lived by, and forgotten.
  • Work on building confidence and live by it, but steer away from overconfidence, which is brittle.
  • Times of rest and renewal are critical to gain creative new angles on the problems you are working on and the areas you want to grow in.
  • Everything can be handled indefinitely as long as presence of mind is maintained.
  • Structure learning around having fun and growing in the ways you want to grow, not doing things you dread because you think you should.
  • Entity theorists vs Learning theorists: “I am smart at this” vs “I’m good at this because I worked hard at it”. 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. Learning theorists are given process-oriented feedback.
  • Excellences comes with embracing a long-term learning process.
  • Examine the incentives teachers are placed under. If they are measured by the number of tournaments their students win and they get get students each year, you’ll get gifted entity-theorists instead of long-term learners.
  • Mental resilience is arguably the most critical trait of a world-class performer
  • Find ways in everyday life to incorporate learning and mental resilience. For instance: When playing gin rummy, rearrange the cards in your head, not in your hand.
  • You can either break a student with shock and awe, or you can gain the student’s trust and lead them.
  • Learning is exploration.
  • Regaining presence of mind after making a serious error is critical. Avoid the downward spiral.
    • Sometimes exercise helps this. Change the body, change the mind.
  • The foundations of Tai Chi are closely related to meditation. Body, mind, and form.
    • Doing movements over and over so they become second nature to you.
    • On posture: “Head should float as though it were suspended by a string from the crown point”
  • The humble message of “If I can do it, you can do it” is powerful.
  • Investment in loss is giving yourself to the learning process.
  • “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.”
  • “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.”
  • The learning principle is to plunge into the detailed mystery of the micro in order to understand what makes the macro tick
  • Instead of long, elaborate projects and tasks, fall back to quick, fundamentally sound wins.
  • Depth beats breadth any day of the week because it allows you to internalize the basics and free up the mind to work on more difficult things.
  • Take the risks others avoid.
  • Spend a month working solely on your weakest elements to even out your game.
  • The most sophisticated techniques tend to have their foundation in the simplest of principles. The key is to make smaller circles. Start with the widest circle, condense, condense, condense, until you have its essence.
  • In every discipline, the ability to be clearheaded, present, cool under fire is much of what separates the best from the mediocre.
  • Relaxation during stress is critical to peak performance. 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.
  • Physical flushing and mental clarity are very much intertwined. Change the body, change the mind.
  • Look for ways to incorporate the rhythm of stress and recovery into all aspects of your life.
  • Don’t search for your flow trigger. Find what makes you flow and Work backward to create the trigger.
  • During long, intense sessions, eat 5 almonds every 45 minutes to stay in a steady state of alertness.
  • Incremental growth.
  • To walk a thorny road, we may cover its every inch with leather or we can make sandals. First, we learn to flow with distraction, like that blade of grass bending to the wind. Then we learn to use distraction, inspiring ourselves with what initially would have thrown us off our games. Finally we learn to re-create the inspiring settings internally. We learn to make sandals.
  • If you feel bad, act as if you were your normal, confident self. You gradually build it back up and the confidence becomes real and you don’t need to pretend anymore. The Garry Kasparov method.
  • True masters have control.
  • The difference between third place and first place is mountainous. But you climb from 3 to 2 to 1 the same way: Step by step.
  • You can find study guides for Josh Waitzkin’s method here

Kindle Highlights

In both my chess and martial arts lives, there is a method of study that has been critical to my growth. I sometimes refer to it as the study of numbers to leave numbers, or form to leave form. A basic example of this process, which applies to any discipline, can easily be illustrated through chess: A chess student must initially become immersed in the fundamentals in order to have any potential to reach a high level of skill. He or she will learn the principles of endgame, middlegame, and opening play. Initially one or two critical themes will be considered at once, but over time the intuition learns to integrate more and more principles into a sense of flow. Eventually the foundation is so deeply internalized that it is no longer consciously considered, but is lived. This process continuously cycles along as deeper layers of the art are soaked in. – loc. 147-154

The same pattern can be seen when the art of learning is analyzed: themes can be internalized, lived by, and forgotten. – loc. 159-160

Confidence is critical for a great competitor, but overconfidence is brittle. – loc. 331-332

Times at sea are periods of renewal, coming together with family, being with nature, putting things back in perspective. I am able to let my conscious mind move away from my training, and to gain creative new angles on the next steps of my growth. – loc. 345-346

I learned at sea that virtually all situations can be handled as long as presence of mind is maintained. – loc. 351-351

few weeks into the fall, Bruce saw that rushing through mechanical chess analysis was not what I needed, and so he took a step back and reconceived our chess life. Our lessons now included raucous speed chess sessions with breaks to toss a football outside. We began to laugh and connect as human beings as we had in our first sessions years before. I went back to playing in Washington Square Park with my old buddies. The game became less haunted. I was having fun again. – loc. 399-403

Two questions arise. First, what is the difference that allows some to fit into that narrow window to the top? And second, what is the point? If ambition spells probable disappointment, why pursue excellence? – loc. 469-470

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 and 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. – loc. 475-482

Learning theorists, on the other hand, are given feedback that is more process-oriented. – loc. 503-504

It is clear that parents and teachers have an enormous responsibility in forming the theories of intelligence of their students and children—and it is never too late. It is critical to realize that we can always evolve in our approaches to learning. – loc. 511-512

The key to pursuing excellence is to embrace an organic, long-term learning process, and not to live in a shell of static, safe mediocrity. Usually, growth comes at the expense of previous comfort or safety. – loc. 517-519

In the long run, painful losses may prove much more valuable than wins—those who are armed with a healthy attitude and are able to draw wisdom from every experience, “good” or “bad,” are the ones who make it down the road. They are also the ones who are happier along the way. Of course the real challenge is to stay in range of this long-term perspective when you are under fire and hurting in the middle of the war. This, maybe our biggest hurdle, is at the core of the art of learning – loc. 526-529

understanding of how to transform axioms into fuel for creative insight. – loc. 536-537

Why not begin from the beginning, especially if it leads to instant success? The answer is quicksand. Once you start with openings, there is no way out. Lifetimes can be spent memorizing and keeping up with the evolving Encyclopedia of Chess Openings (ECO). They are an addiction, with perilous psychological effects. – loc. 545-547

Each year, the teachers are expected to provide results because having a nationally ranked chess team is prestigious for the school. So the coaches create a legion of entity-theorizing, tactically gifted young chess players who are armed to the teeth with a brutal opening repertoire. It doesn’t matter if these kids will hit a crisis in seventh grade, because all that counts for the coach are the primary and elementary school divisions and there are always more first-graders coming up the pipe. Clearly, parents bear an enormous responsibility in navigating these issues and choosing the right teacher for their child. – loc. 576-581

If a young basketball player is taught that winning is the only thing that winners do, then he will crumble when he misses his first big shot. If a gymnast or ballet dancer is taught that her self-worth is entirely wrapped up in a perfectly skinny body that is always ready for performance, then how can she handle injuries or life after an inevitably short career? – loc. 581-584

A key ingredient to my success in those years was that my style on the chessboard was a direct expression of my personality. – loc. 602-603

My whole career, my father and I searched out opponents who were a little stronger than me, so even as I dominated the scholastic circuit, losing was part of my regular experience. – loc. 625-626

A heartfelt, empathetically present, incrementally inspiring mom or dad or coach can liberate an ambitious child to take the world by the horns. As adults, we have to take responsibility for ourselves and nurture a healthy, liberated mind-set. – loc. 674-675

In performance training, first we learn to flow with whatever comes. Then we learn to use whatever comes to our advantage. Finally, we learn to be completely self-sufficient and create our own earthquakes, so our mental process feeds itself explosive inspirations without the need for outside stimulus. – loc. 753-756

I was having terrible and hilarious noise problems, and then one day I had a breakthrough. I was playing a tournament in Philadelphia with a Phil Collins song rattling away in my brain when I realized that I could think to the beat of the song. My chess calculations began to move to the rhythm of the music, and I played an inspired game. After this moment, I took the bull by the horns and began training to have a more resilient concentration. I realized that in top-rank competition I couldn’t count on the world being silent, so my only option was to become at peace with the noise. – loc. 781-785

I have come to believe that the solution to this type of situation does not lie in denying our emotions, but in learning to use them to our advantage. Instead of stifling myself, I needed to channel my mood into heightened focus— – loc. 822-824

Mental resilience is arguably the most critical trait of a world-class performer, and it should be nurtured continuously. Left to my own devices, I am always looking for ways to become more and more psychologically impregnable. When uncomfortable, my instinct is not to avoid the discomfort but to become at peace with it. When injured, which happens frequently in the life of a martial artist, I try to avoid painkillers and to change the sensation of pain into a feeling that is not necessarily negative. My instinct is always to seek out challenges as opposed to avoiding them. – loc. 826-830

For example, since my teens, when I play cards, say gin rummy, I rarely arrange my hand. I leave the melds all over the place and do the organization in my head. I’ve never been a neat guy by nature, and I furthered my messiness for years by consciously leaving my living area chaotic so I could practice organizing things mentally and being mellow in the madness. – loc. 833-835

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. – loc. 851-853

Top-rate actors often miss a line but improvise their way back on track. The audience rarely notices because of the perfect ease with which the performer glides from troubled waters into the tranquility of the script. Even more impressively, the truly great ones can make the moment work for them, heightening performance with improvisations that shine with immediacy and life. – loc. 870-873

Problems set in if the performer has a brittle dependence on the safety of absolute perfection or duplication. Then an error triggers fear, detachment, uncertainty, or confusion that muddies the decision-making process. – loc. 873-875

I have always visualized two lines moving parallel to one another in space. One line is time, the other is our perception of the moment. I showed my students these lines with my hands, moving through the air. When we are present to what is, we are right up front with the expansion of time, but when we make a mistake and get frozen in what was, a layer of detachment builds. Time goes on and we stop. Suddenly we are living, playing chess, crossing the street with our eyes closed in memory. And then comes the taxicab. That chess lesson was surely the most emotional I’ve ever taught. – loc. 904-908

These moments, where the technical and psychological collide, are where I directed my study of the game. In the course of a nine-round chess tournament, I’d arrive at around four or five critical positions that I didn’t quite understand or in which I made an error. Immediately after each of my games, I quickly entered the moves into my computer, noting my thought process and how I felt emotionally at various stages of the battle. Then after the tournament, armed with these fresh impressions, I went back to Vrholvje and studied the critical moments. – loc. 968-972

While a child can make the beam a playground, high-stress performers often transform the beam into a tightrope. – loc. 1037-1038

A key component of high-level learning is cultivating a resilient awareness that is the older, conscious embodiment of a child’s playful obliviousness – loc. 1040-1041

Along the same lines, I have found that if we feed the unconscious, it will discover connections between what may appear to be disparate realities. – loc. 1106-1107

Bonnie explains that there are two basic ways of taming a wild horse. One is to tie it up and freak it out. Shake paper bags, rattle cans, drive it crazy until it submits to any noise. Make it endure the humiliation of being controlled by a rope and pole. Once it is partially submissive, you tack the horse, get on top, spur it, show it who’s boss—the horse fights, bucks, twists, turns, runs, but there is no escape. Finally the beast drops to its knees and submits to being domesticated. The horse goes through pain, rage, frustration, exhaustion, to near death . . . then it finally yields. This is the method some like to call shock and awe. Then there is the way of the horse whisperers. My mother explains, “When the horse is very young, a foal, we gentle it. The horse is always handled. You pet it, feed it, groom it, stroke it, it gets used to you, likes you. You get on it and there is no fight, nothing to fight.” So you guide the horse toward doing what you want to do because he wants to do it. You synchronize desires, speak the same language. You don’t break the horse’s spirit. My mom goes on: “If you walk straight toward a horse, it will look at you and probably run away. You don’t have to oppose the horse in that way. Approach indirectly, without confrontation. Even an adult horse can be gentled. Handle him nicely, make your intention the horse’s intention. “Then, when riding, both you and the horse want to maintain the harmony you have established. If you want to move to the right, you move to the right and so the horse naturally moves right to balance your weight.” Rider and animal feel like one. They have established a bond that neither wants to disrupt. And most critically, in this relationship between man and beast, the horse has not been whitewashed. When trained, he will bring his unique character to the table. The gorgeous, vibrant spirit is still flowing in an animal that used to run the plains. – loc. 1122-1136

To my mind, the fields of learning and performance are an exploration of greyness—of the in-between. There is the careful balance of pushing yourself relentlessly, but not so hard that you melt down. – loc. 1146-1148

Vibrant, creative idealism needs to be tempered by a practical, technical awareness. – loc. 1150-1151

numbers to leave numbers. – loc. 1192-1192

The man explained that my head should float as though it were suspended by a string from the crown point. This felt good. – loc. 1215-1216

He was very mortal. No fancy words. No spiritual claims. He didn’t expect the bowing and scraping usually associated with Chinese martial arts—“If I can do it, you can do it,” was his humble message. – loc. 1230-1231

I’ve seen many emerge bored from Chen’s most inspiring classes, because they wanted to be spoonfed and did not open their receptors to his subtleties. – loc. 1244-1245

William Chen’s humble vision of this issue is that breathing should be natural. Or, more accurately, breathing should be a return to what was natural before we got stressed out by years of running around a hectic world and internalizing bad habits. – loc. 1248-1250

For a glimmer of this experience, hold your palms in front of you, forefingers a few inches apart, shoulders relaxed. Now breathe in while gently expanding your fingers, putting your mind on your middle fingers, forefingers, and thumbs. Your breath and mind should both softly shoot to the very tips of your fingers. This inhalation is slow, gently pulling oxygen into your dan tien (a spot believed to be the energetic center—located two and a half inches below the navel) and then moving that energy from your dan tien to your fingers. Once your inhalation is complete, gently exhale. Release your fingers, let your mind fall asleep, relax your hip joints, let everything sag into soft, quiet awareness. Once exhalation is complete, you reenergize. Try that exercise for a few minutes and see how you feel. – loc. 1254-1260

It was remarkable how developing the ability to be physically introspective changed my world. Aches and pains dissolved with small postural tweaks. If I was stressed out, I did Tai Chi and was calmed. Suddenly I had an internal mechanism with which to deal with external pressures. – loc. 1268-1270

On a basic level, the idea of Push Hands is to unbalance your opponent – loc. 1292-1293

If a big strong guy comes into a martial arts studio and someone pushes him, he wants to resist and push the guy back to prove that he is a big strong guy. The problem is that he isn’t learning anything by doing this. In order to grow, he needs to give up his current mind-set. He needs to lose to win. The bruiser will need to get pushed around by little guys for a while, until he learns how to use more than brawn. – loc. 1325-1328

William Chen calls this investment in loss. Investment in loss is giving yourself to the learning process. – loc. 1328-1329

So the aim is to minimize repetition as much as possible, by having an eye for consistent psychological and technical themes of error. – loc. 1342-1343

First, as I got used to taking shots from Evan, I stopped fearing the impact. My body built up resistance to getting smashed, learned how to absorb blows, and I knew I could take what he had to offer. Then as I became more relaxed under fire, Evan seemed to slow down in my mind. I noticed myself sensing his attack before it began. I learned how to read his intention, and be out of the way before he pulled the trigger. As I got better and better at neutralizing his attacks, I began to notice and exploit weaknesses in his game, and sometimes I found myself peacefully watching his hands come toward me in slow motion. – loc. 1377-1382

In all disciplines, there are times when a performer is ready for action, and times when he or she is soft, in flux, broken-down or in a period of growth. Learners in this phase are inevitably vulnerable. It is important to have perspective on this and allow yourself protected periods for cultivation – loc. 1394-1396

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. – loc. 1406-1408

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. – loc. 1408-1413

The learning principle is to plunge into the detailed mystery of the micro in order to understand what makes the macro tick. – loc. 1424-1425

From very early on, I felt that the moving meditation of Tai Chi Chuan has the primary martial purpose of allowing practitioners to refine certain fundamental principles.I – loc. 1439-1440

Large fancy movements like cinematic spinning back-kicks usually don’t work. They are too telegraphed and take too long to reach the target. A boxing jab is much more effective because it covers little distance, it’s quick, and it’s fundamentally sound. – loc. 1467-1469

Depth beats breadth any day of the week, because it opens a channel for the intangible, unconscious, creative components of our hidden potential. – loc. 1525-1526

I had an idea that I might be able to keep my right side strong by intense visualization practice. My method was as follows: I did a daily resistance workout routine on my left side, and after every set I visualized the workout passing to the muscles on the right. My arm was in a cast, so there was no actual motion possible—but I could feel the energy flowing into the unused muscles. I admit it was a shot in the dark, but it worked. – loc. 1613-1616

In line with that mind-set, most people think of injuries as setbacks, something they have to recover from or deal with. – loc. 1623-1624

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. – loc. 1627-1630

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. – loc. 1630-1631

Ultimately we should learn how to use the lessons from this type of experience without needing to get injured: a basketball player should play lefty for a few months, to even out his game. – loc. 1635-1636

The question of intuition relates to how that network is navigated and used as fuel for creative insight. – loc. 1678-1679

So let’s say that now, instead of launching from the standard starting position, we begin on an empty board with just a king and a pawn against a king. These are relatively simple pieces. I learn how they both move, and then I play around with them for a while until I feel comfortable. Then, over time, I learn about bishops in isolation, then knights, rooks, and queens. Soon enough, the movements and values of the chess pieces are natural to me. I don’t have to think about them consciously, but see their potential simultaneously with the figurine itself. – loc. 1708-1712

Everyone at a high level has a huge amount of chess understanding, and much of what separates the great from the very good is deep presence, relaxation of the conscious mind, which allows the unconscious to flow unhindered. – loc. 1734-1735

But as with all skills, the most sophisticated techniques tend to have their foundation in the simplest of principles. – loc. 1845-1846

This particular illusion is very much in line with the controlling of intention that a martial artist might employ. The key is the subtle manipulation of the volunteer’s conscious and unconscious minds. It all happens before the “magic” begins. As the two men stand before one another, in conversation, the illusionist engages the volunteer. This interaction is dictated by the magician. The volunteer is answering questions, following, trying to look good onstage. In the midst of all this, and in a blur that no one in the audience notices, the illusionist flashes a card. This is the sleight of hand. The critical point is that the volunteer must unconsciously notice the card without the observation registering in his conscious mind. He is engaged in the banter of the illusionist, and then suddenly has a seed planted in his mind. When asked to envision a card, that choice has already been made for him. – loc. 1910-1916

In virtually every competitive physical discipline, if you are a master of reading and manipulating footwork, then you are a force to be reckoned with. – loc. 1944-1945

To master these psychological battles, it is essential to understand their technical foundation. Contrary to the ego-enforcing descriptions of some “kung fu masters,” there is nothing mystical about controlling intention or entering the mind of the opponent. These are skills to be cultivated like any other, and the last few chapters have been my attempt to lay out the road map to their internalization – loc. 2003-2006

In every discipline, the ability to be clearheaded, present, cool under fire is much of what separates the best from the mediocre. – loc. 2072-2073

after a few hours of conversation in which I described my life, my career, my current issues, Dave sat back, scratched his head, and asked me whether or not I believed the quality of a chessic thought process was higher if it was preceded by a period of relaxation. This simple question led to a revolution in my approach to peak performance. – loc. 2147-2149

Looking back over my games, I saw that when I had been playing well, I had two- to ten-minute, crisp thinks. When I was off my game, I would sometimes fall into a deep calculation that lasted over twenty minutes and this “long think” often led to an inaccuracy. What is more, if I had a number of long thinks in a row, the quality of my decisions tended to deteriorate. – loc. 2156-2158

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. – loc. 2159-2161

The most immediate change I made was my way of handling chess games when it was not my turn to move. Instead of feeling obligated to stay completely focused on the chess position while my opponent thought, I began to let my mind release some of the tension. – loc. 2170-2171

The physical conditioners at LGE taught me to do cardiovascular interval training on a stationary bike that had a heart monitor. I would ride a bike keeping my RPMs over 100, at a resistance level that made my heart rate go to 170 beats per minute after ten minutes of exertion. Then I would lower the resistance level of the bike and go easy for a minute—my heart rate would return to 144 or so. Then I would sprint again, at a very high level of resistance, and my heart rate would reach 170 again after a minute. Next I would go easy for another minute before sprinting again, and so on. My body and mind were undulating between hard work and release. The recovery time of my heart got progressively shorter as I continued to train this way. As I got into better condition, it took more work to raise my heart rate, and less time to lower my heart rate during rest: soon my rest intervals were only forty-five seconds and my sprint times longer. What is fascinating about this method of physical conditioning is that after just a few weeks I noticed a tangible difference in my ability to relax and recover between arduous thought processes in a chess game. At LGE they had discovered that there is a clear physiological connection when it comes to recovery—cardiovascular interval training can have a profound effect on your ability to quickly release tension and recover from mental exhaustion. – loc. 2181-2190

What is more, physical flushing and mental clarity are very much intertwined. There was more than one occasion that I got up from the board four or five hours into a hugely tense chess game, walked outside the playing hall, and sprinted fifty yards or up six flights of stairs. Then I’d walk back, wash my face, and be completely renewed. – loc. 2191-2193

When I began this form of interval training, if I was doing 3 sets of 15 repetitions of a bench press, I would leave exactly 45 seconds between sets. If I was doing 3 sets of 12 repetitions with heavier weights, I would need 50 seconds between sets, if my sets were 10 reps I would take 55 seconds, and if I was lifting heavy weights, at 3 sets of 8 reps, I would take one minute between reps. This is a good baseline for an average athlete to work with. In time, with consistent work, rest periods can be incrementally shortened even as muscles grow and are stressed to their larger healthy limits. – loc. 2195-2199

If you are interested in really improving as a performer, I would suggest incorporating the rhythm of stress and recovery into all aspects of your life. 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. So, if you are reading a book and lose focus, put the book down, take some deep breaths, and pick it up again with a fresh eye. If you are at work and find yourself running out of mental stamina, take a break, wash your face, and come back renewed. It would be an excellent idea to spend a few minutes a day doing some simple meditation practice in which your mind gathers and releases with the ebb and flow of your breath. This will help connect your physical interval training to the mental arenas. If you enjoy the experience, gradually build up your mental stamina and spend more time at it. When practiced properly, Tai Chi Chuan, Yoga, or many forms of sitting meditation can be excellent vehicles for this work. – loc. 2214-2222

I would suggest incorporating the rhythm of stress and recovery into all aspects of your life. – loc. 2215-2215

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. – loc. 2215-2217

Most of my young rivals had coaches who treated tournaments like military camp. Teachers and parents would make kids analyze their games extensively between rounds, trying to wring a chess lesson out of every moment, while I would be outside having a catch with my dad or taking a nap. Maybe it is no accident that I tended to surge at the end of tournaments. – loc. 2239-2241

My method is to work backward and create the trigger. – loc. 2271-2272

So we created the following routine: 1. Eat a light consistent snack for 10 minutes 2. 15 minutes of meditation 3. 10 minutes of stretching 4. 10 minutes of listening to Bob Dylan 5. Play ball For about a month, Dennis went through his routine every day before playing catch with his son. – loc. 2292-2296

The next step in the process is the critical one: after he had fully internalized his routine, I suggested that he do it the morning before going to an important meeting. So Dennis transplanted his routine from a prelude to playing catch with his son to a prelude to work. He did so and came back raving that he found himself in a totally serene state in what was normally a stressful environment. He had no trouble being fully present throughout the meeting. The point to this system of creating your own trigger is that a physiological connection is formed between the routine and the activity it precedes. – loc. 2297-2301

had learned from Jack Groppel at LGE to eat five almonds every forty-five minutes during a long chess game, to stay in a steady state of alertness and strength. – loc. 2328-2330

The next step of the process is to gradually alter the routine so that it is similar enough so as to have the same physiological effect, but slightly different so as to make the “trigger” both lower-maintenance and more flexible. The key is to make the changes incrementally, slowly, so there is more similarity than difference from the last version of the routine. This way the body and mind have the same physiological reaction even if the preparation is slightly shorter. – loc. 2342-2346

This process is systematic, straightforward, and rooted in the most stable of all principles: incremental growth. – loc. 2353-2354

To walk a thorny road, we may cover its every inch with leather or we can make sandals. – loc. 2390-2391

Then there are those elite performers who use emotion, observing their moment and then channeling everything into a deeper focus that generates a uniquely flavored creativity. This is an interesting, resilient approach based on flexibility and subtle introspective awareness. Instead of being bullied by or denying their unconscious, these players let their internal movements flavor their fires. – loc. 2398-2401

please keep in mind the three steps I described as being critical to resilient, self-sufficient performance. First, we learn to flow with distraction, like that blade of grass bending to the wind. Then we learn to use distraction, inspiring ourselves with what initially would have thrown us off our games. Finally we learn to re-create the inspiring settings internally. We learn to make sandals. – loc. 2404-2407

Incidentally, young NBA players learned the same lesson during the Michael Jordan era. Jordan was a notorious trash talker on the court. He would goad defenders into dialogue, but the problem was that if you talked back it inspired Jordan to blow you off the court. The only thing to do was to let Jordan talk and play your game. Try to keep some of the beast asleep. Then he would just score his thirty points and move on to the next game. But if you woke the beast, Mike would score fifty and then do it again next time you played him. – loc. 2502-2506

So if Garry was feeling bad, but puffed up his chest, made aggressive moves, and appeared to be the manifestation of Confidence itself, then opponents would become unsettled. Step by step, Garry would feed off his own chess moves, off the created position, and off his opponents’ building fear, until soon enough the confidence would become real and Garry would be in flow. If you think back to the chapter Building Your Trigger and apply it to this description, you’ll see that Garry was not pretending. He was not being artificial. Garry was triggering his zone by playing Kasparov chess. – loc. 2573-2577

Often, supposedly great martial artists will avoid demonstrating their “power” by offering the explanation: “If you and I were to spar, I might kill you.” Whenever I hear this I know that I am listening to a charlatan—true masters have control. – loc. 2628-2630

The difference between numbers 3 and 1 is mountainous. I would have to become a whole other kind of athlete. Step by step. – loc. 2688-2689

I have talked about style, personal taste, being true to your natural disposition. This theme is critical at all stages of the learning process. If you think about the high-end learning principles that I have discussed in this book, they all spring out of the deep, creative plunge into an initially small pool of information. In the early chapters, I described the importance of a chess player laying a solid foundation by studying positions of reduced complexity (endgame before opening). Then we apply the internalized principles to increasingly complex scenarios. In Making Smaller Circles we take a single technique or idea and practice it until we feel its essence. Then we gradually condense the movements while maintaining their power, until we are left with an extremely potent and nearly invisible arsenal. In Slowing Down Time, we again focus on a select group of techniques and internalize them until the mind perceives them in tremendous detail. After training in this manner, we can see more frames in an equal amount of time, so things feel slowed down. In The Illusion of the Mystical, we use our cultivation of the last two principles to control the intention of the opponent—and again, we do this by zooming in on very small details to which others are completely oblivious. – loc. 2693-2702