Tag Archives: Learning

Effortless Mastery by Kenny Werner

I got so much out of this book that I made a bit of a more formal write-up: On Effortless Mastery

The Autobiography of Charles Darwin by Charles Darwin

  1. The life and accomplishments of Darwin through his own eyes
Key Takeaways
  1. I have attempted to write the following account of myself, as if I were a dead man in another world looking back at my own life. Nor have I found this difficult, for life is nearly over with me. I have taken no pains about my style of writing.
  2. The passion for collecting which leads a man to be a systematic naturalist, a virtuoso, or a miser, was very strong in me, and was clearly innate, as none of my sisters or brother ever had this taste.
  3. I have heard my father and elder sister say that I had, as a very young boy, a strong taste for long solitary walks; but what I thought about I know not. I often became quite absorbed, and once, whilst returning to school on the summit of the old fortifications round Shrewsbury, which had been converted into a public foot-path with no parapet on one side, I walked off and fell to the ground, but the height was only seven or eight feet. Nevertheless the number of thoughts which passed through my mind during this very short, but sudden and wholly unexpected fall, was astonishing, and seem hardly compatible with what physiologists have, I believe, proved about each thought requiring quite an appreciable amount of time.
  4. The school as a means of education to me was simply a blank. During my whole life I have been singularly incapable of mastering any language. Much attention was paid to learning by heart the lessons of the previous day; this I could effect with great facility, learning forty or fifty lines of Virgil or Homer, whilst I was in morning chapel; but this exercise was utterly useless, for every verse was forgotten in forty-eight hours.
  5. I believe that I was considered by all my masters and by my father as a very ordinary boy, rather below the common standard in intellect. To my deep mortification my father once said to me, “You care for nothing but shooting, dogs, and rat-catching, and you will be a disgrace to yourself and all your family.” But my father, who was the kindest man I ever knew and whose memory I love with all my heart, must have been angry and somewhat unjust when he used such words.
  6. Looking back as well as I can at my character during my school life, the only qualities which at this period promised well for the future, were, that I had strong and diversified tastes, much zeal for whatever interested me, and a keen pleasure in understanding any complex subject or thing. I was taught Euclid by a private tutor, and I distinctly remember the intense satisfaction which the clear geometrical proofs gave me.
    1. NOTE: recipe for learning
  7. I had many friends amongst the schoolboys, whom I loved dearly, and I think that my disposition was then very affectionate.
  8. With respect to science, I continued collecting minerals with much zeal, but quite unscientifically—all that I cared about was a new-named mineral, and I hardly attempted to classify them.
  9. This was the best part of my education at school, for it showed me practically the meaning of experimental science.
  10. I was sent there to commence them. But soon after this period I became convinced from various small circumstances that my father would leave me property enough to subsist on with some comfort, though I never imagined that I should be so rich a man as I am; but my belief was sufficient to check any strenuous efforts to learn medicine.
  11. I also attended on two occasions the operating theatre in the hospital at Edinburgh, and saw two very bad operations, one on a child, but I rushed away before they were completed. Nor did I ever attend again, for hardly any inducement would have been strong enough to make me do so; this being long before the blessed days of chloroform. The two cases fairly haunted me for many a long year.
  12. My zeal was so great that I used to place my shooting-boots open by my bed-side when I went to bed, so as not to lose half a minute in putting them on in the morning; and on one occasion I reached a distant part of the Maer estate, on the 20th of August for black-game shooting, before I could see: I then toiled on with the game-keeper the whole day through thick heath and young Scotch firs.
  13. After having spent two sessions in Edinburgh, my father perceived, or he heard from my sisters, that I did not like the thought of being a physician, so he proposed that I should become a clergyman.
  14. Considering how fiercely I have been attacked by the orthodox, it seems ludicrous that I once intended to be a clergyman.
  15. But I am glad to think that I had many other friends of a widely different nature.
  16. But no pursuit at Cambridge was followed with nearly so much eagerness or gave me so much pleasure as collecting beetles. It was the mere passion for collecting, for I did not dissect them, and rarely compared their external characters with published descriptions, but got them named anyhow. I will give a proof of my zeal: one day, on tearing off some old bark, I saw two rare beetles, and seized one in each hand; then I saw a third and new kind, which I could not bear to lose, so that I popped the one which I held in my right hand into my mouth. Alas! it ejected some intensely acrid fluid, which burnt my tongue so that I was forced to spit the beetle out, which was lost, as was the third one.
  17. I have not as yet mentioned a circumstance which influenced my whole career more than any other. This was my friendship with Professor Henslow. Before coming up to Cambridge, I had heard of him from my brother as a man who knew every branch of science, and I was accordingly prepared to reverence him. He kept open house once every week when all undergraduates, and some older members of the University, who were attached to science, used to meet in the evening. I soon got, through Fox, an invitation, and went there regularly. Before long I became well acquainted with Henslow, and during the latter half of my time at Cambridge took long walks with him on most days; so that I was called by some of the dons “the man who walks with Henslow;” and in the evening I was very often asked to join his family dinner. His knowledge was great in botany, entomology, chemistry, mineralogy, and geology. His strongest taste was to draw conclusions from long-continued minute observations. His judgment was excellent, and his whole mind well balanced; but I do not suppose that any one would say that he possessed much original genius. He was deeply religious, and so orthodox that he told me one day he should be grieved if a single word of the Thirty-nine Articles were altered. His moral qualities were in every way admirable. He was free from every tinge of vanity or other petty feeling; and I never saw a man who thought so little about himself or his own concerns. His temper was imperturbably good, with the most winning and courteous manners; yet, as I have seen, he could be roused by any bad action to the warmest indignation and prompt action.
  18. Looking back, I infer that there must have been something in me a little superior to the common run of youths, otherwise the above-mentioned men, so much older than me and higher in academical position, would never have allowed me to associate with them. Certainly I was not aware of any such superiority, and I remember one of my sporting friends, Turner, who saw me at work with my beetles, saying that I should some day be a Fellow of the Royal Society, and the notion seemed to me preposterous.
  19. During my last year at Cambridge, I read with care and profound interest Humboldt’s ‘Personal Narrative.’ This work, and Sir J. Herschel’s ‘Introduction to the Study of Natural Philosophy,’ stirred up in me a burning zeal to add even the most humble contribution to the noble structure of Natural Science. No one or a dozen other books influenced me nearly so much as these two.
  20. These gravel-beds belong in fact to the glacial period, and in after years I found in them broken arctic shells. But I was then utterly astonished at Sedgwick not being delighted at so wonderful a fact as a tropical shell being found near the surface in the middle of England. Nothing before had ever made me thoroughly realise, though I had read various scientific books, that science consists in grouping facts so that general laws or conclusions may be drawn from them.
  21. We had several quarrels; for instance, early in the voyage at Bahia, in Brazil, he defended and praised slavery, which I abominated
  22. The voyage of the “Beagle” has been by far the most important event in my life, and has determined my whole career; yet it depended on so small a circumstance as my uncle offering to drive me thirty miles to Shrewsbury, which few uncles would have done, and on such a trifle as the shape of my nose. I have always felt that I owe to the voyage the first real training or education of my mind; I was led to attend closely to several branches of natural history, and thus my powers of observation were improved, though they were always fairly developed.
  23. During some part of the day I wrote my Journal, and took much pains in describing carefully and vividly all that I had seen; and this was good practice.
  24. The above various special studies were, however, of no importance compared with the habit of energetic industry and of concentrated attention to whatever I was engaged in, which I then acquired. Everything about which I thought or read was made to bear directly on what I had seen or was likely to see; and this habit of mind was continued during the five years of the voyage. I feel sure that it was this training which has enabled me to do whatever I have done in science.
  25. Looking backwards, I can now perceive how my love for science gradually preponderated over every other taste. During the first two years my old passion for shooting survived in nearly full force, and I shot myself all the birds and animals for my collection; but gradually I gave up my gun more and more, and finally altogether, to my servant, as shooting interfered with my work, more especially with making out the geological structure of a country. I discovered, though unconsciously and insensibly, that the pleasure of observing and reasoning was a much higher one than that of skill and sport.
  26. As far as I can judge of myself, I worked to the utmost during the voyage from the mere pleasure of investigation, and from my strong desire to add a few facts to the great mass of facts in Natural Science.
  27. I think that I can say with truth that in after years, though I cared in the highest degree for the approbation of such men as Lyell and Hooker, who were my friends, I did not care much about the general public. I do not mean to say that a favourable review or a large sale of my books did not please me greatly, but the pleasure was a fleeting one, and I am sure that I have never turned one inch out of my course to gain fame.
  28. In July I opened my first note-book for facts in relation to the Origin of Species, about which I had long reflected, and never ceased working for the next twenty years.
  29. Because no other explanation was possible under our then state of knowledge, I argued in favour of sea-action; and my error has been a good lesson to me never to trust in science to the principle of exclusion.
  30. No other work of mine was begun in so deductive a spirit as this, for the whole theory was thought out on the west coast of South America, before I had seen a true coral reef. I had therefore only to verify and extend my views by a careful examination of living reefs.
  31. This excursion interested me greatly, and it was the last time I was ever strong enough to climb mountains or to take long walks such as are necessary for geological work.
  32. I saw more of Lyell than of any other man, both before and after my marriage. His mind was characterised, as it appeared to me, by clearness, caution, sound judgment, and a good deal of originality. When I made any remark to him on Geology, he never rested until he saw the whole case clearly, and often made me see it more clearly than I had done before. He would advance all possible objections to my suggestion, and even after these were exhausted would long remain dubious. A second characteristic was his hearty sympathy with the work of other scientific men.
  33. “What a good thing it would be if every scientific man was to die when sixty years old, as afterwards he would be sure to oppose all new doctrines.”
  34. His knowledge was extraordinarily great, and much died with him, owing to his excessive fear of ever making a mistake.
  35. —reminds me of Buckle whom I once met at Hensleigh Wedgwood’s. I was very glad to learn from him his system of collecting facts. He told me that he bought all the books which he read, and made a full index, to each, of the facts which he thought might prove serviceable to him, and that he could always remember in what book he had read anything, for his memory was wonderful. I asked him how at first he could judge what facts would be serviceable, and he answered that he did not know, but that a sort of instinct guided him. From this habit of making indices, he was enabled to give the astonishing number of references on all sorts of subjects, which may be found in his ‘History of Civilisation.’
  36. During the first part of our residence we went a little into society, and received a few friends here; but my health almost always suffered from the excitement, violent shivering and vomiting attacks being thus brought on. I have therefore been compelled for many years to give up all dinner-parties; and this has been somewhat of a deprivation to me, as such parties always put me into high spirits. From the same cause I have been able to invite here very few scientific acquaintances.
  37. My chief enjoyment and sole employment throughout life has been scientific work; and the excitement from such work makes me for the time forget, or drives quite away, my daily discomfort.
  38. I record in a little diary, which I have always kept, that my three geological books (‘Coral Reefs’ included) consumed four and a half years’ steady work;
  39. To understand the structure of my new Cirripede I had to examine and dissect many of the common forms; and this gradually led me on to take up the whole group. I worked steadily on this subject for the next eight years, and ultimately published two thick volumes
  40. From September 1854 I devoted my whole time to arranging my huge pile of notes, to observing, and to experimenting in relation to the transmutation of species. During the voyage of the “Beagle” I had been deeply impressed by discovering in the Pampean formation great fossil animals covered with armour like that on the existing armadillos; secondly, by the manner in which closely allied animals replace one another in proceeding southwards over the Continent; and thirdly, by the South American character of most of the productions of the Galapagos archipelago, and more especially by the manner in which they differ slightly on each island of the group; none of the islands appearing to be very ancient in a geological sense. It was evident that such facts as these, as well as many others, could only be explained on the supposition that species gradually become modified; and the subject haunted me. But it was equally evident that neither the action of the surrounding conditions, nor the will of the organisms (especially in the case of plants) could account for the innumerable cases in which organisms of every kind are beautifully adapted to their habits of life—for instance, a woodpecker or a tree-frog to climb trees, or a seed for dispersal by hooks or plumes.
  41. soon perceived that selection was the keystone of man’s success in making useful races of animals and plants. But how selection could be applied to organisms living in a state of nature remained for some time a mystery to me. In October 1838, that is, fifteen months after I had begun my systematic enquiry, I happened to read for amusement ‘Malthus on Population,’ and being well prepared to appreciate the struggle for existence which everywhere goes on from long-continued observation of the habits of animals and plants, it at once struck me that under these circumstances favourable variations would tend to be preserved, and unfavourable ones to be destroyed. The result of this would be the formation of new species. Here then I had at last got a theory by which to work; but I was so anxious to avoid prejudice, that I determined not for some time to write even the briefest sketch of it. In June 1842 I first allowed myself the satisfaction of writing a very brief abstract of my theory in pencil in 35 pages; and this was enlarged during the summer of 1844 into one of 230 pages, which I had fairly copied out and still possess.
  42. But at that time I overlooked one problem of great importance; and it is astonishing to me, except on the principle of Columbus and his egg, how I could have overlooked it and its solution. This problem is the tendency in organic beings descended from the same stock to diverge in character as they become modified. That they have diverged greatly is obvious from the manner in which species of all kinds can be classed under genera, genera under families, families under sub-orders and so forth; and I can remember the very spot in the road, whilst in my carriage, when to my joy the solution occurred to me; and this was long after I had come to Down. The solution, as I believe, is that the modified offspring of all dominant and increasing forms tend to become adapted to many and highly diversified places in the economy of nature.
  43. The success of the ‘Origin’ may, I think, be attributed in large part to my having long before written two condensed sketches, and to my having finally abstracted a much larger manuscript, which was itself an abstract. By this means I was enabled to select the more striking facts and conclusions. I had, also, during many years followed a golden rule, namely, that whenever a published fact, a new observation or thought came across me, which was opposed to my general results, to make a memorandum of it without fail and at once; for I had found by experience that such facts and thoughts were far more apt to escape from the memory than favourable ones. Owing to this habit, very few objections were raised against my views which I had not at least noticed and attempted to answer.
  44. I gained much by my delay in publishing from about 1839, when the theory was clearly conceived, to 1859; and I lost nothing by it, for I cared very little whether men attributed most originality to me or Wallace; and his essay no doubt aided in the reception of the theory.
  45. Whenever I have found out that I have blundered, or that my work has been imperfect, and when I have been contemptuously criticised, and even when I have been overpraised, so that I have felt mortified, it has been my greatest comfort to say hundreds of times to myself that “I have worked as hard and as well as I could, and no man can do more than this.”
  46. An unverified hypothesis is of little or no value; but if anyone should hereafter be led to make observations by which some such hypothesis could be established, I shall have done good service, as an astonishing number of isolated facts can be thus connected together and rendered intelligible.
  47. My ‘Descent of Man’ was published in February, 1871. As soon as I had become, in the year 1837 or 1838, convinced that species were mutable productions, I could not avoid the belief that man must come under the same law. Accordingly I collected notes on the subject for my own satisfaction, and not for a long time with any intention of publishing. Although in the ‘Origin of Species’ the derivation of any particular species is never discussed, yet I thought it best, in order that no honourable man should accuse me of concealing my views, to add that by the work “light would be thrown on the origin of man and his history.” It would have been useless and injurious to the success of the book to have paraded, without giving any evidence, my conviction with respect to his origin.
  48. During subsequent years, whenever I had leisure, I pursued my experiments, and my book on ‘Insectivorous Plants’ was published in July 1875—that is, sixteen years after my first observations. The delay in this case, as with all my other books, has been a great advantage to me; for a man after a long interval can criticise his own work, almost as well as if it were that of another person.
What I got out of it
  1. So many nuggets but Darwin’s recipe for learning is gold: concentrated self-study, keeping of a diary/journal, keeping indexed notes of relevant material, seeking to test and destroy beloved concepts by immediately scribbling down ‘unfavorable’ evidence/results and thinking through why this may be right, and learning lessons by heart

A Few Lessons From Sherlock Holmes by Peter Bevelin

  1. Bevelin takes quotes and examples from Sherlock Holmes as examples of several tools and techniques to improve thinking and decision making
Key Takeaways
  1. Observation and inference
    1. See things for what they are and report them truthfully
    2. Beware of first impressions – appearances can be deceiving
    3. More is missed by not looking than not knowing
    4. It is not the amount of information that counts by the relevant one
    5. Sometimes it helps to shift perspective
    6. The value of experience is not in seeing much but seeing wisely
    7. “By doing it many times over till it is done perfectly – for it is worth doing.”
    8. Checklist routines for critical factors to help
    9. Look as diligently for what is missing for what is there
  2. Deduction
    1. Reasoning backwards, working back from observations/effects to causes
    2. Use the simplest means first
  3. Analogies
    1. You cannot judge the relevance of an isolated fact. Experience has taught me, and must have taught you, that the most trivial, commonplace and seemingly irrelevant facts have a way of suddenly assuming a crucial importance by connecting, explaining or filling in the detail of later discoveries
    2. That process…starts upon the supposition that when you have eliminated all which is impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth. It may well be that several explanations remain, in which case one tries test after test until one or other of them has a convincing amount of support
  4. Test your theory
    1. If it disagrees with the facts, it is wrong
    2. There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact
  5. Patience
    1. Distance gives perspective – sometimes we need to remove ourselves from the problem and get a fresh perspective
  6. Put self in other’s shoes
    1. If we could see the world the way others see it, we easier understand why they do what they do
    2. Don’t make the world fit your tools and use the right tool for the job
  7. Criticize self
    1. Have you tried to find evidence against what you believe? Why might we be wrong? What have we overlooked? What (new) information or evidence is needed to make us change our mind?
    2. When we meet a fact which contradicts a prevailing theory, we must accept the fact and abandon the theory, even when the theory is supported by great names and generally accepted
  8. Learn from mistakes
    1. Update your beliefs in light of new information
    2. For one’s own training it is better to make an incorrect diagnosis than none at all – if you call yourself to account afterwards
  9. Know your limits
    1. Don’t think about how to get things done, instead ask whether they’re worth doing in the first place
    2. A lot of misery comes from what we allow ourselves to get dragged into
What I got out of it
  1. Really good, short read on some key characteristics necessary for deep thinking and better decision making

Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool

  1. An exciting and inspiring book which lays out a detailed process for how you can effectively improve and push past your potential in anything you want to undertake
Key Takeaways
  1. Mozart had something called perfect pitch but it is not some magical gift, rather he acquired it through extensive training and a very flexible and adaptable brain. We all are born with this gift to some degree. The brain can rewire itself based on the inputs it receives, though some of this flexibility disappears over time. This is an incredible thing! There are no predetermined limits and teaching and learning now becomes about reaching your full potential
  2. Ray Allen on people saying he was born with a beautiful jump shot – “Do not undermine the work I put in every day. Not most days. Every day.” Hard work alone does not lead to improvement. The right kind of practice over a long enough period of time leads to improvement – deliberate practice. Genetics of course plays a role, even to the amount somebody can sustain deliberate practice
  3. Principles of deliberate practice are the same regardless of which field you apply them in – harnessing the adaptability of the mind and body to incrementally do what you never were able to do before. Deliberate practice is all about creating efficient mental structures to help you deal with increasing amounts of information and better detect patterns
  4. Normal route of practice takes you to automaticity and at this point you stop improving unless deliberate practice is utilized
  5. Purposeful practice – having clear goals and a specific way to get there. Baby steps. Not as effective as deliberate practice. You must be willing to go outside of your comfort zone.
  6. Full focus and immediate feedback are two other key components of effective practice.
  7. When you come up against obstacles and things which push you out of your comfort zone, it’s important to try new techniques rather than bumping up against the same wall every time. Teachers, coaches and mentors are crucial at this juncture.
  8. Maintaining motivation, whether from intrinsic or extrinsic means, is important to long term success
  9. Creating mental structures to deal with large amounts of information (chunking) is crucial. Meaning aids memory
  10. As younger brains are more malleable, the earlier training starts, the more profound effect it will have
  11. Deliberate practice, unlike other types of practice, looks to push you beyond your potential by getting you out of homeostasis and forcing your brain and body to adapt
  12. There is no such thing as developing a general skill. You must train with specific movements, goals, outcomes, etc in mind
  13. Through training, experts have simply built extremely refined and specialized mental structures which help them absorb much more information than amateurs and this lets them focus on the truly important details. They can see patterns others cannot see as quickly
  14. Clear and effective mental representations help you recognize mistakes and correct them more quickly. Reducing the number of times you commit the same mistake is an important part of improving quickly 
  15. Skill and mental representations form a virtuous cycle. As one gets better, so does the other and on and on
  16. Solitary practice, sleep and afternoon naps are key differentiators between the good and the great. Both groups found the practice daunting, tiring and often not much fun. There are no shortcuts to greatness in any field no matter how talented you are
  17. A clear set of guidelines as to what constitutes superior performance and a good teacher who pushes you past your comfort zone is the difference between purposeful and deliberate practice. Informed and guided practice
  18. Subjective fields (wine experts, business managers, consultants…) are prone to biases and many “experts” in these fields are actually not when tested on objective criteria
  19. Conversing with experts in any field is helpful to try to understand how they approach their skill, training, obstacles and more. Understanding the differences between yourself and a superior performer in these ways is a great way to start your progress
  20. Knowledge vs skills. Must be able to act on your knowledge and this is part of what separates deliberate practice from other techniques. Author believes it will be necessary to replace knowledge-based training programs with skill-based programs in most fields in order to see drastic improvement
  21. It is much more effective to go 100% for a short time than 70% for longer
  22. 1 hour per day of full focus on whatever you want to improve is the minimum
  23. For children, it is important for sports or other skills to start out as fun and a game
  24. The author dispels the notion of savants and evidences that even those with great natural ability refine their skills through long, difficult, deliberate practice
  25. 3 F’s of improvement – focus, feedback, fix it
What I got out of it
  1. Ericsson’s findings are so exciting because it means that with the right mindset and training regiment, you can reach and push beyond your potential in any given field. Innate talent will only get you so far

The Art of Learning by Josh Waitzkin

I am trying to read more books on kindle and am still working through my system. Sorry for the extensive highlights here as I’m still figuring out the best way to go about this…


  1. Great read on how to apply universal learning techniques to any endeavor. You must learn the fundamentals so thoroughly that they become ingrained, allowing the brain to fully focus on minute details which help separate you from the rest of the competition
Key Takeaways
  1. One has to investigate the principle in one thing or one event exhaustively…Things and the self are governed by the same principle. If you understand one, you understand the other, for the truth within and the truth without are identical.
  2. I could spend hours at a chessboard and stand up from the experience on fire with insight about chess, basketball, the ocean, psychology, love, art. The game was exhilarating and also spiritually calming. It centered me.
  3. Tao Te Ching,
  4. My fascination with consciousness, study of chess and Tai Chi, love for literature and the ocean, for meditation and philosophy, all coalesced around the theme of tapping into the mind’s potential via complete immersion into one and all activities. My growth became defined by barrierlessness . Pure concentration didn’t allow thoughts or false constructions to impede my awareness, and I observed clear connections between different life experiences through the common mode of consciousness by which they were perceived.
  5. I had to come to a deeper sense of concepts like essence, quality, principle, intuition, and wisdom in order to understand my own experience, let alone have any chance of communicating it.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. Whenever there was a concept or learning technique that I related to in a manner too abstract to convey, I forced myself to break it down into the incremental steps with which I got there. Over time I began to see the principles that have been silently guiding me, and a systematic methodology of learning emerged.
  9. Each loss was a lesson, each win a thrill. Every day pieces of the puzzle fell together.
  10. was private about chess, as if it were an intimate fantasy world. I had to trust someone to let them into my thought process, and Bruce had to overcome this shield before the work could begin.
  11. For me, competitive chess was not about perfection. It was more of a mental prizefight, with two opponents trading advantages, momentum going one way and then the other.
  12. I was unhindered by internal conflict—a state of being that I have come to see as fundamental to the learning process.
  13. Confidence is critical for a great competitor, but overconfidence is brittle. We are too smart for ourselves in such moments. We sense our mortality like a cancer beneath the bravado, and when things start to go out of control, there is little real resilience to fall back on.
  14. I have come to understand that these little breaks from the competitive intensity of my life have been and still are an integral part of my success.
  15. virtually all situations can be handled as long as presence of mind is maintained.
  16. I responded to heartbreak with hard work. I was self-motivated and moved by a powerful resolve.
  17. Dweck’s research has shown that when challenged by difficult material, learning theorists are far more likely to rise to the level of the game, while entity theorists are more brittle and prone to quit.
  18. some of the brightest kids prove to be the most vulnerable to becoming helpless, because they feel the need to live up to and maintain a perfectionist image that is easily and inevitably shattered.
  19. Learning theorists, on the other hand, are given feedback that is more process-oriented.
  20. It is critical to realize that we can always evolve in our approaches to learning.
  21. 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.
  22. In my experience, successful people shoot for the stars, put their hearts on the line in every battle, and ultimately discover that the lessons learned from the pursuit of excellence mean much more than the immediate trophies and glory. 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.
  23. I was also gradually internalizing a marvelous methodology of learning—the play between knowledge, intuition, and creativity.
  24. From both educational and technical perspectives, I learned from the foundation up.
  25. I often sensed a logical thread to positions that seemed irrational—playing exciting chess felt like discovering hidden harmonies.
  26. One of the most critical strengths of a superior competitor in any discipline—whether we are speaking about sports, business negotiations, or even presidential debates—is the ability to dictate the tone of the battle.
  27. losing was part of my regular experience. I believe this was important for maintaining a healthy perspective on the game.
  28. I was a competitor who knew winning and losing and the hair’s breadth between. My rivals didn’t care about reputation—they just wanted to crush me and I had to keep it real.
  29. the first obstacle I had to overcome as a young chess player was to avoid being distracted by random, unexpected events—by
  30. This Soft Zone is resilient, like a flexible blade of grass that can move with and survive hurricane-force winds.
  31. He explained that in the climactic moments of the struggle, when I had to buckle down and patiently work my way through the complications to find a precise solution, this boy would start to tap a chess piece on the side of the table, barely audible, but at a pace that entered and slightly quickened my mental process. This subtle tactic was highly effective and I later found out that it was an offspring of the Soviet study of hypnosis and mind control.
  32. Sometimes noticing the psychological tactic was enough to render it harmless—but
  33. He would push me to the point of utter exasperation and I would often self-destruct. 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.
  34. Mental resilience is arguably the most critical trait of a world-class performer, and it should be nurtured continuously.
  35. 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.
  36. One idea I taught was the importance of regaining presence and clarity of mind after making a serious error.
  37. The first mistake rarely proves disastrous, but the downward spiral of the second, third, and fourth error creates a devastating chain reaction.
  38. At a high level, pressing for wins in equal positions often results in losing.
  39. As a competitor I’ve come to understand that the distance between winning and losing is minute, and, moreover, that there are ways to steal wins from the maw of defeat.
  40. have always visualized two lines moving parallel to one another in space. One line is time, the other is our perception of the moment.
  41. worked on the game tirelessly, but was now moved less by ambition than by a yearning for self-discovery.
  42. felt like I was living, breathing, sleeping in that maze, and then, as if from nowhere, all the complications dissolved and I understood. When I looked at the critical position from my tournament game, what had stumped me a few days or hours or weeks before now seemed perfectly apparent. I saw the best move, felt the correct plan, understood the evaluation of the position. I couldn’t explain this new knowledge with variations or words. It felt more elemental, like rippling water or a light breeze. My chess intuition had deepened. This was the study of numbers to leave numbers
  43. fascinating offshoot of this method of analysis was that I began to see connections between the leaps of chess understanding and my changing vision of the world. During my study of the critical positions, I noted the feeling I had during the actual chess game. I explained above how in the pressure of tournaments, the tension in the mind mounts with the tension in the position, and an error on the board usually parallels a psychological collapse of sorts. Almost invariably, there was a consistent psychological strain to my errors in a given tournament, and what I began to notice is that my problems on the chessboard usually were manifesting themselves in my life outside of chess.
  44. Once I recognized that deeply buried secrets in a competitor tend to surface under intense pressure, my study of chess became a form of psychoanalysis. I unearthed my subtlest foibles through chess, and the link between my personal and artistic sides was undeniable. The psychological theme could range from transitions to resilient concentration, fluidity of mind, control, leaps into the unknown, sitting with tension, the downward spiral, being at peace with discomfort, giving into fatigue, emotional turbulence, and invariably the chess moves paralleled the life moment.
  45. Whenever I noticed a weakness, I took it on.
  46. was no longer primarily refining the skill of playing chess, but was discovering myself through chess.
  47. *It is important to understand that by numbers to leave numbers, or form to leave form, I am describing a process in which technical information is integrated into what feels like natural intelligence. Sometimes there will literally be numbers. Other times there will be principles, patterns, variations, techniques, ideas.
  48. I think a life of ambition is like existing on a balance beam.
  49. A key component of high-level learning is cultivating a resilient awareness that is the older, conscious embodiment of a child’s playful obliviousness.
  50. This journey, from child back to child again, is at the very core of my understanding of success.
  51. believe that one of the most critical factors in the transition to becoming a conscious high performer is the degree to which your relationship to your pursuit stays in harmony with your unique disposition.
  52. By taking away our natural voice, we leave ourselves without a center of gravity to balance us as we navigate the countless obstacles along our way.
  53. The human mind defines things in relation to one another—without light the notion of darkness would be unintelligible
  54. 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. The path to artistic insight in one direction often involves deep study of another—the intuition makes uncanny connections that lead to a crystallization of fragmented notions.
  55. study fundamentals, absorb them and transced them
    He studied form to leave form.
  56. creative leaps are grounded in a technical foundation.
  57. 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.
  58. The Tao Te Ching’s wisdom centers on releasing obstructions to our natural insight, seeing false constructs for what they are and leaving them behind.
  59. My understanding of learning was about searching for the flow that lay at the heart of, and transcended, the technical.
  60. As I consciously released the tension from one part of my body at a time, I experienced a surprising sense of physical awareness. A subtle buzzing tickled my fingers. I played with that feeling, and realized that when deeply relaxed, I could focus on any part of my body and become aware of a rich well of sensation that had previously gone unnoticed. This was interesting.
  61. A huge element of Tai Chi is releasing obstructions so the body and mind can flow smoothly together. If
  62. A key movement at this stage of my Tai Chi learning experience was the coordination of breath and mind.
  63. William Chen’s humble vision of this issue is that breathing should be natural.
  64. In William Chen’s Tai Chi form, expansive (outward or upward) movements occur with an in-breath, so the body and mind wake up, energize into a shape.
  65. Then, with the out-breath, the body releases, de-energizes, like the last exhalation before falling asleep.
  66. It is Chen’s opinion that a large obstacle to a calm, healthy, present existence is the constant interruption of our natural breathing patterns.
  67. 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.
  68. the essence of Tai Chi Chuan as a martial art is not to clash with the opponent but to blend with his energy, yield to it, and overcome with softness.
  69. On a basic level, the idea of Push Hands is to unbalance your opponent,
  70. If aggression meets empty space it tends to defeat itself.
  71. The problem is that we are conditioned to tense up and resist incoming or hostile force, so we have to learn an entirely new physiological response to aggression.
  72. one of the most challenging leaps for Push Hands students is to release the ego enough to allow themselves to be tossed around while they learn how not to resist
  73. Investment in loss is giving yourself to the learning process. In Push Hands it is letting yourself be pushed without reverting back to old habits—training yourself to be soft and receptive when your body doesn’t have any idea how to do it and wants to tighten up.
  74. I have long believed that if a student of virtually any discipline could avoid ever repeating the same mistake twice—both technical and psychological—he or she would skyrocket to the top of their field.
  75. So the aim is to minimize repetition as much as possible, by having an eye for consistent psychological and technical themes of error.
  76. 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.
  77. 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.
  78. The theme is depth over breadth. The learning principle is to plunge into the detailed mystery of the micro in order to understand what makes the macro tick.
  79. Everyone races to learn more and more, but nothing is done deeply. Things look pretty but they are superficial, without a sound body mechanic or principled foundation. Nothing is learned at a high level
  80. with the fading of tension comes a whole new world of sensation.
  81. this way of learning resonantes so much with me. must do the fundamntals so many times until it is so absorbed that you do it so naturally and without a conscious thought
  82. So, in my Tai Chi work I savored the nuance of small morsels. The lone form I studied was William Chen’s, and I took it on piece by piece, gradually soaking its principles into my skin.
  83. break down anything into its small, core components and master one ar a time
  84. The next phase of my martial growth would involve turning the large into the small.
  85. My understanding of this process, in the spirit of my numbers to leave numbers method of chess study, is to touch the essence (for example, highly refined and deeply internalized body mechanics or feeling ) of a technique, and then to incrementally condense the external manifestation of the technique while keeping true to its essence. Over time expansiveness decreases while potency increases. I call this method “Making Smaller Circles.”
  86. We have to be able to do something slowly before we can have any hope of doing it correctly with speed.
  87. zen and art of archery
  88. I want to punch without punching. No intention.
  89. In both fields, players tend to get attached to fancy techniques and fail to recognize that subtle internalization and refinement is much more important than the quantity of what is learned.
  90. The fact is that when there is intense competition, those who succeed have slightly more honed skills than the rest. It is rarely a mysterious technique that drives us to the top, but rather a profound mastery of what may well be a basic skill set. Depth beats breadth any day of the week, because it opens a channel for the intangible, unconscious, creative components of our hidden potential.
  91. learn to create ripples in our consciousness, little jolts to spur us along, so we are constantly inspired whether or not external conditions are inspiring.
  92. a deep mastery of performance psychology involves the internal creation of inspiring conditions.
  93. The importance of undulating between external and internal (or concrete and abstract; technical and intuitive) training applies to all disciplines, and unfortunately the internal tends to be neglected.
  94. In all athletic disciplines, it is the internal work that makes the physical mat time click, but it is easy to lose touch with this reality in the middle of the grind.
  95. 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.
  96. One thing I have learned as a competitor is that there are clear distinctions between what it takes to be decent, what it takes to be good, what it takes to be great, and what it takes to be among the best.
  97. I have to take risks others would avoid, always optimizing the learning potential of the moment and turning adversity to my advantage.
  98. 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.
  99. Once we learn how to use adversity to our advantage, we can manufacture the helpful growth opportunity without actual danger or injury. I call this tool the internal solution —we can notice external events that trigger helpful growth or performance opportunities, and then internalize the effects of those events without their actually happening. In this way, adversity becomes a tremendous source of creative inspiration.
  100. Once we reach a certain level of expertise at a given discipline and our knowledge is expansive, the critical issue becomes: how is all this stuff navigated and put to use?
  101. the experience was profoundly calm with a razor’s edge—the epitome of what I think quality presence should be all about.
  102. nearly all of my revelatory moments emerged from the unconscious. My numbers to leave numbers approach to chess study was my way of having a working relationship with the unconscious parts of my mind. I would take in vast amounts of technical information that my brain somehow put together into bursts of insight that felt more like music or wind than mathematical combinations. Increasingly, I had the sense that the key to these leaps was interconnectedness—some part of my being was harmonizing all my relevant knowledge, making it gel into one potent eruption, and suddenly the enigmatic was crystal-clear.
  103. In my opinion, intuition is our most valuable compass in this world. It is the bridge between the unconscious and the conscious mind, and it is hugely important to keep in touch with what makes it tick.
  104. For much of this book I have described 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.
  105. The clearest way to approach this discussion is with the imagery of chunking and carved neural pathways . Chunking relates to the mind’s ability to assimilate large amounts of information into a cluster that is bound together by certain patterns or principles particular to a given discipline.
  106. in a nutshell, chunking relates to the mind’s ability to take lots of information, find a harmonizing/logically consistent strain, and put it together into one mental file that can be accessed as if it were a single piece of information.
  107. By “carved neural pathways” I am referring to the process of creating chunks and the navigation system between chunks.
  108. Soon enough, learning becomes unlearning. The stronger chess player is often the one who is less attached to a dogmatic interpretation of the principles.
  109. 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.
  110. This is a nuanced and largely misunderstood state of mind that when refined involves a subtle reintegration of the conscious mind into a free-flowing unconscious process. The idea is to shift the primary role from the conscious to the unconscious without blissing out and losing the precision the conscious can provide.
  111. he is looking at very little and seeing quite a lot.
  112. When the transition from the familiar to the foreign takes place, it feels like the mind is flying downhill over fresh snow and suddenly hits a patch of thick mud.
  113. The key is to understand that my trained mind is not necessarily working much faster than an untrained mind—it is simply working more effectively, which means that my conscious mind has less to deal with.
  114. The similarity is that a life-or-death scenario kicks the human mind into a very narrow area of focus. Time feels slowed down because we instinctively zero in on a tiny amount of critical information that our processor can then break down as if it is in a huge font. The trained version of this state of mind shares that tiny area of conscious focus. The difference is that, in our disciplines of choice, we cultivate this experience by converting all the other surrounding information into unconsciously integrated data instead of ignoring it. There is a reason the human mind rarely goes into that wild place of heightened perception: if an untrained fighter were to focus all his energy on his opponent’s breath pattern or blinking eye, he would get punched in the face or thrown on the ground.
  115. was during these years that I began to draw the parallels between people’s life tendencies and their chessic dispositions. Great players are all, by definition, very clever about what they show over the chessboard, but, in life’s more mundane moments, even the most cunning chess psychologists can reveal certain essential nuances of character.
  116. 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.
  117. If, through incremental training as described earlier in the book, your unconscious understanding of your discipline of choice has become sufficiently advanced, and you have learned how to trust your physical and intuitive intelligence to handle the technical components of your moment, then your conscious mind can zoom in on very small amounts of data
  118. In every discipline, the ability to be clearheaded, present, cool under fire is much of what separates the best from the mediocre.
  119. While more subtle, this issue is perhaps even more critical in solitary pursuits such as writing, painting, scholarly thinking, or learning. In the absence of continual external reinforcement, we must be our own monitor, and quality of presence is often the best gauge.
  120. Those who excel are those who maximize each moment’s creative potential—for these masters of living, presence to the day-to-day learning process is akin to that purity of focus others dream of achieving in rare climactic moments when everything is on the line.
  121. 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.
  122. Jim Loehr,
  123. Human Performance Institute)
  124. schwartz – the way we’re working isnt working
  125. 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.
  126. the better we are at recovering, the greater potential we have to endure and perform under stress.
  127. 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.
  128. 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. What is more, physical flushing and mental clarity are very much intertwined.
  129. 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.
  130. Fueling up is much more important than last-minute cramming—and
  131. The more seasoned competitors relax, listen to headphones, and nap. They don’t burn through their tanks before stepping on the mats.
  132. So how do we step up when our moment suddenly arises? My answer is to redefine the question. Not only do we have to be good at waiting, we have to love it. Because waiting is not waiting, it is life. Too many of us live without fully engaging our minds, waiting for that moment when our real lives begin.
  133. I believe an appreciation for simplicity, the everyday—the ability to dive deeply into the banal and discover life’s hidden richness—is where success, let alone happiness, emerges.
  134. The real power of incremental growth comes to bear when we truly are like water, steadily carving stone. We just keep on flowing when everything is on the line.
  135. My method is to work backward and create the trigger.
  136. The return to breath is the key to this form of meditation.
  137. Once the routine is internalized, it can be used before any activity and a similar state of mind will emerge.
  138. eat five almonds every forty-five minutes during a long chess game, to stay in a steady state of alertness and strength.
  139. At a high level, principles can be internalized to the point that they are barely recognizable even to the most skilled observers.
  140. The ideal for any performer is flexibility. If you have optimal conditions, then it is always great to take your time and go through an extended routine. If things are less organized, then be prepared with a flexible state of mind and a condensed routine.
  141. 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.
  142. The only way to succeed is to acknowledge reality and funnel it, take the nerves and use them. We must be prepared for imperfection. If we rely on having no nerves, on not being thrown off by a big miss, or on the exact replication of a certain mindset, then when the pressure is high enough, or when the pain is too piercing to ignore, our ideal state will shatter.
  143. Instead of denying my emotional reality under fire, I had to learn how to sit with it, use it, channel it into a heightened state of intensity.
  144. It has been my observation that the greatest performers convert their passions into fuel with tremendous consistency.
  145. Instead of being dominated by or denying my passions, I slowly learned how to observe them and feel how they infused my moment with creativity, freshness, or darkness.
  146. I believe that at the highest levels, performers and artists must be true to themselves. There can be no denial, no repression of true personality, or else the creation will be false—the performer will be alienated from his or her intuitive voice.
  147. Every dirty move made me just a little steelier, and what was interesting was that the less his rage affected me, the more flustered he got.
  148. The former World Chess Champion Tigran Petrosian was known by his rivals to have a peculiar way of handling this issue. When he was playing long matches that lasted over the course of weeks or even months, he would begin each day by waking up and sitting quietly in his room for a period of introspection. His goal was to observe his mood down to the finest nuance. Was he feeling nostalgic, energetic, cautious, dreary, impassioned, inspired, confident, insecure? His next step was to build his game plan around his mood. If he was feeling cautious, quiet, not overwhelmingly confident, he tended to choose an opening that took fewer risks and led to a position that harmonized with his disposition. If feeling energized, aggressive, exceedingly confident, he would pick an opening that allowed him to express himself in a more creative vein.
  149. Once you are no longer swept away by your emotions and can sit with them even when under pressure, you will probably notice that certain states of mind inspire you more than others.
  150. Once you understand where you lie on this spectrum, the next step is to become self-sufficient by creating your own inspiring conditions.
  151. In my experience the greatest of artists and competitors are masters of navigating their own psychologies, playing on their strengths, controlling the tone of battle so that it fits with their personalities.
  152. The beautiful thing about this approach to learning is that once we have felt the profound refinement of a skill, no matter how small it may be, we can then use that feeling as a beacon of quality as we expand our focus onto more and more material. Once you know what good feels like, you can zero in on it, search it out regardless of the pursuit.
  153. While this principle of penetrating the macro through the micro is a critical idea in the developmental process, it is also an absolutely pivotal foundation for a great competitor.
  154. Dan Caulfield.
  155. embrace the chaos,
  156. The technical afterthoughts of a truly great one can appear to be divine inspiration to the lesser artist.
  157. Tactics come easy once principles are in the blood.
  158. This happens all the time in chess at the highest levels; top players discover hidden resources in opening positions that had been considered theoretically weak. They become masters of a forgotten or undiscovered battleground and then guide opponents into the briar patch.
  159. To be honest, I also felt a lot of love for my opponent in this match. The whole stadium was against me, except for our U.S. contingent of ten. I didn’t blame the Taiwanese for wanting their man to win.
  160. In the end, mastery involves discovering the most resonant information and integrating it so deeply and fully it disappears and allows us to fly free.
What I got out of it
  1. Little circles critical – the more you practice something, the sooner it becomes part of your subconscious, freeing up your brain to focus on other, smaller details that can make all the difference