5 Joshua Waitzkin Quotes That Will Revolutionize The Way You Learn and Compete
Author. Child chess prodigy. Tai-chi master.
Josh Waitzkin has been the subject of a hit movie (Searching for Bobby Fischer), an international champion in not one but two disciplines, and is today a performance psychology coach for other world-class high-achievers.
In his book, The Art of Learning, Waitzkin describes the lessons he has learned from mastering both chess and martial arts before the age of 30.
Part memoir, part how-to guide, The Art of Learning contains many words of wisdom for people interested in learning how to learn and compete at the highest levels, including:
1. “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.”
The modern generation is at a decided advantage. Why? Because we’ve seen too many Disney movies. Disney princesses embody this kind of wasteful waiting.
The Little Mermaid spent all her time hanging out above the sea, hoping to one day be a human with legs. Snow White , each one was always waiting for an adventure, or a prince, to save them from their boring every day lives.
In reality, the boring everyday life is life. Too often we see so-called overnight successes and even though we know better, assume that they must have been lucky.
2. “To walk a thorny road, we may cover its every inch with leather or we can make sandals.”
When life gets difficult, painful, or unfair, we can try to change it, or we can choose to change ourselves.
In Waitzkin’s book, he spoke of competing in chess tournaments against unethical players who kicked him or tapped the table during crucial moments to distract and anger him. Waitzkin soon realized that if he got angry at their psychological tricks, they would win.
Complaining to the authorities didn’t help — most of the tricks were so subtle, others couldn’t see them. Even if they could, they couldn’t really stop Waitzkin’s opponents from coming up with other ways to piss him off and distract him from the game.
Instead, Waitzkin used their tricks against them. Instead of losing control of his temper thus allowing competitors to take advantage of his loss of focus, Waitzkin channeled the anger into greater focus and beat his opponents at their own game.
3. “Mastery involves discovering the most resonant information and integrating it so deeply and fully it disappears and allows us to fly free.”
In theater, improvisation is a critical skill — when fellow actors forget their lines, or a set piece falls, or some other unanticipated mishap occurs, actors have to keep going until the curtain falls or the director yells “Cut!”
Some of the most famous movie scenes are, in fact, improvised. For instance, when Princess Leia tells Han Solo “I love you” at a climactic moment during Star Wars Episode IV, the cocky captain of the Millenium Falcon replies, “I know.”
In reality, Solo’s character was supposed to say “I love you” back, but George Lucas felt that the line would not work with Solo’s character. So he gave Harrison Ford free reign to come up with his own line, and the actor came up with this brilliant response.
What differentiates a master actor from an amateur is the master’s ability to roll with the punches and integrate their craft so deeply into their psyche that they are able to do naturally what amateurs do with great difficulty.
As an old music teacher of mine once said: “Amateurs practice until they get it right. Professionals practice until they can’t get it wrong.”
4. “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.”
There are no shortcuts in life. No magic tricks — those are just illusions. The most successful people got to where they were by learning the basics of their craft so well that it is second nature.
It’s why musicians must learn scales, ballerinas learn basic foot positions, and writers must learn grammar rules.
These things aren’t just the first step toward an illustrious career in music, dance, or writing. They form the foundation of everything you do from day one until the day you die.
Jascha Heifetz, arguably the best violinist of all time, always started his practice sessions with basic scales, which he worked on for an hour or so every morning before working on his actual repertoire in the afternoon.
Don’t overlook the basics in your field, whatever they are. You never “graduate” from practicing them — the stronger the root, the greater the tree. The basics form the foundation of your success.
5. “When we have worked hard and succeed at something, we should be allowed to smell the roses. The key… is to recognize the beauty of those roses lies in their transience. It is drifting away even as we inhale.”
Perhaps the most important lesson we all must learn and remember is that no achievement lasts in this world. No matter how hard you work to earn your trophy — whether that’s a literal trophy, or a million dollars, or popular recognition — it will all fade away in time.
That doesn’t mean we should not try to attain those things, but that we should not expect them to deliver the ultimate satisfaction, because they won’t. We have to learn to, as Waitzkin advises, “recognize the beauty” even as it is drifting away.
So whatever your goal is in life, whatever your definition of success, remember to enjoy the process and not get too hung up on the results. It is, in the end, the journey that counts.
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