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Words of a Chess Prodigy
I’ve long been an admirer of Josh Waitzkin, the world famous chess prodigy, and martial artist. Any time you look into advanced learning techniques, you will see his name cropping up time and again.
What makes Josh so different to others that teach learning techniques is his intuitive grasp of what he had to do to achieve the feats he did. Often times, success cannot be accurately reflected upon, and people tend to overlook the actual actions that determined the end result.
Before I even get into talking about what I learned in his book The Art of Learning: An Inner Journey, I want to first point out how intuitive learning was to him. At the age of just ten years old, Waitzkin began playing chess against adults. He would lose badly. Rather than wallow in self-pity, he analysed his losses to see why he was unable to win. He ultimately determined that his losses were due to the adult matches lasting twice as long, and his mental endurance wasn’t yet up to scratch.
At ten, this boy knew to learn from failure and identify areas of weakness. That is big.
One of the first things Waitzkin hits upon is that successful people take an incremental approach, whereas those that aren’t, focus on an entity approach.
What does that mean?
An entity approach identifies some skill or ability as an entity. An entity just is. If you fail a maths test with this approach, it is because you’re not good at maths, you never will be and you should try a different path.
An incremental approach takes the opposite view. It says that just because you’re not the best at something now, doesn’t mean you won't ever be. If you fail a maths test, it is because you didn’t study enough and you'll do better next time.
Taking an incremental approach means seeing that the world and what you're capable of is not fixed. It means that with the right plan, the right attitude, and enough effort, you can achieve anything.
Intuition as a Learned Response
Often, intuition is looked upon as some mystical ability that is granted to only a handful in our society. That isn't the case. Intuition is little more than being so well versed, so well educated, on a certain topic that problem solving becomes more of a habit than a conscious effort. Things make sense because they have been run through so many times.
This brings me to the next cliché but accurate point, practice makes perfect. The more you practice something, the more ingrained it becomes in who you are. Martial artists can make split second movements to block an attack, not because they're special, but because they have trained that movement so many times.
If you want to excel in any area, you really must sacrifice your time to practice. To become world class, you must devote yourself to training.
He moved on to talk about the importance of embracing distractions as oppose to fervently avoiding them. The problem with avoiding distractions, as Josh sees it, is that when a distraction does eventually crop up it holds a lot of power over you. You don’t possess the skills necessary to perform at an optimum level while the distractions persist.
Surely, though, if you can avoid the distractions, they're not a problem? Waitzkin tells a story about how he lost a chess match because he was distracted. The distraction was his own thoughts, and more specifically a song that managed to wedge itself in his mind.
Rather than fight the possibility of songs getting stuck in his head, he began to train while listening to music. He utilised his weakness to ultimately make him an even stronger player and competitor.
So, next time you’re complaining that you keep getting distracted, maybe you should consider how best you could utilise it to your advantage. The less that has the power to distract you, the better you concentration and focus is in general. Use distractions to cultivate resilience.
If you have a deep interest in increasing your ability to learn, which I personally feel should be a fundamental drive within everyone, this book is worth a read. I thoroughly enjoyed the way it was presented and I have certainly learned a number of new techniques.
Tomorrow, rather than talking about anything new that I’ve learned, I'm going to spend the time to combine all of what I've learned thus far. I am going to attempt to create a system that will allow me to learn anything I want, with the minimal amount of effort and time commitment.
While one of my most important goals is currently academic success, I want to impress upon you that this is not a blog about education. This is a blog that will document how I became the most successful person on the planet. To do this, though, academic excellence will be one of my most vital tools.