Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Art of Learning

Josh Waitzkin
The Art of Learning P. 112-113:

"Thinking back on my competitive life, I realize how defining these themes of Beginner's Mind and Investment in Loss have been. Periodically, I have had to take apart my game and go through a rough patch. 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. A gifted boxer with a fabulous right and no left will get beat up while he tries to learn the jab. Or take the talented high school basketball player learning how to play point guard at the college level. He may have been able to dominate schoolyards in his past, but now he has to learn to see the whole court, share the ball, bring the best out of his teammates. If a young athlete is expected to perform brilliantly in his first games within this new system, he will surely disappoint. He needs time to internalize the new skills before he will improve. The same can be said about a chess player adjusting to a new opening repertoire, a martial artist learning a new technique. Or a golfer, for example Tiger Woods, taking apart his swing in order to make a long-term improvement.

How can we incorporate these ideas into the real world? In certain competitive arenas -- our working lives, for example -- there are seldom weeks in which performance does not matter. Similarly, it is not so difficult to have a beginner's mind and to be willing to invest in loss when you are truly a beginner, but it is much harder to maintain that humility and openness to learning when people are watching and expecting you to perform. True enough. This was a huge problem for me in my chess career after the movie came out. Psychologically, I didn't give myself the room to invest in loss.

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.

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."

Josh Waitzkin
The Art of Learning P. 112-113

No comments: