Joshua Waitzikin hat als Sechsjähriger mit Schach angefangen und war mit 16 bereits Internationaler Meister. Sein frühes Leben wurde in Searching for Bobby Fischer (dt. Das Königsspiel) verfilmt. Darüber hinaus ist er Weltmeister in Taijiquan und hat einen schwarzen Gürtel im brasialianischen Jiu-Jitsu. In diesem Buch spricht er über seine Erfahrungen aus Schach und Kampfsport. Besonders bemerkenswert ist jedoch seine Herangehensweise an das Lernen an sich.
Gelesen im März 2017.
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A chess student must initially become immersed in the fundamentals in order to have any potential to reach a high level of skill. (Applies to any discipline)
The student will learn the principles of endgame, middlegame, and opening play. 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.
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.
Each loss was a lesson, each win a thrill. Every day pieces of the puzzle fell together.
Whenever I made a fundamental error, my coach would mention the principle I had violated.
I was taught to express my opinion and to think about the ideas of others — not to follow authority blindly.
Bruce slowed me down by asking questions. Whenever I made an important decision, good or bad, he would ask me to explain my thought process. Were there other ways to accomplish the same aim? Had I looked for my opponent’s threats? Did I consider a different order of operations?
When I made a bad move, Bruce asked me what my idea was and then helped me discover how I could have approached the decision-making process differently. He did not want to feed me information, but to help my mind carve itself into maturity.
Many very talented kids expected to win without much resistance. When the game was a struggle, they were emotionally unprepared.
Respond to heartbreak with hard work.
My dad periodically told me that it was okay if I wanted to quit. They didn’t understand that quitting was not an option.
Incremental theorists, who have picked up a different modality of learning (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.”
Children who are “entity theorists” (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.
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. 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.
Children who associate success with hard work tend to have a “mastery-oriented response” to challenging situations, while children who see themselves as just plain “smart” or “dumb,” or “good” or “bad” at something, have a “learned helplessness orientation.”
What is compelling about this is that the results have nothing to do with intelligence level. Very smart kids with entity theories tend to be far more brittle when challenged than kids with learning theories who would be considered not quite as sharp.
Often subtle differences in parental or instructional style can make a huge difference.
Entity theorists tend to have been told that they did well when they have succeeded, and that they weren’t any good at something when they have failed.
So a kid aces a math test, comes home, and hears “Wow, that’s my boy! As smart as they come!” Then, next week Johnny fails an English test and hears “What’s wrong with you? Can’t you read?” or “Your Mommy never liked reading either — obviously, it’s not your thing.” So the boy figures he’s good at math and bad at English, and what’s more, he links success and failure to ingrained ability.
Learning theorists, on the other hand, are given feedback that is more process-oriented. After doing well on an English essay, a little girl might be congratulated by her teacher with “Wow, great job Julie! You’re really becoming a wonderful writer! Keep up the good work!” And if she does badly on a math test, her teacher might write “Study a little harder for the next one and you’ll do great! And feel free to ask me questions any time after class, that’s what I’m here for!” So Julie learns to associate effort with success and feels that she can become good at anything with some hard work.
In one study, children were given different instructions about what the aim of their task was. Some kids were told that solving certain problems would help them with their schoolwork in the future, and other kids were told that they would be judged based on their results. In other words, half the kids received “mastery-oriented” instructions, and half the kids received “helplessness-producing” instructions. Needless to say, the kids who were temporarily mastery-oriented did much better on the tests.
Hermit crab example: That learning phase in between shells is where our growth can spring from.
Someone stuck with an entity theory of intelligence is like an anorexic hermit crab, starving itself so it doesn’t grow to have to find a new shell.
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.
His winning streak and the constant talk of it had him all locked up — he was terrified of shattering the façade of perfection. This child was paralyzed by an ever-deepening cycle of entity indoctrination. In this case, losing is always a crisis instead of an opportunity for growth — if they were a winner because they won, this new losing must make them a loser.
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 businessperson cultivates a perfectionist self-image, then how can she learn from her mistakes?
The setbacks taught me how to succeed.
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.
Just as muscles get stronger when they are pushed, good competitors tend to rise to the level of the opposition.
Praise good concentration, a good day’s work, a lesson learned. When a child wins a tournament game, the spotlight should be on the road to that moment and beyond as opposed to the glory. On the other hand, it is okay for a child (or an adult for that matter) to enjoy a win.
In case of a loss, do not say that it doesn’t matter. Because your child knows better than that. Lying about the situation isolates him in his pain.
If it didn’t matter, then why should he try to win? Why should he study chess and waste their weekends at tournaments? It matters and your child knows that. So empathy is a good place to start.
Give her your child a hug. If he is crying, let him cry on your shoulder. Tell him how proud of him you are. You can tell your child that it is okay to be sad, that you understand and that you love him. Disappointment is a part of the road to greatness. When a few moments pass, in a quiet voice, you can ask your child if he knows what happened in the game.
Growth comes at the point of resistance. We learn by pushing ourselves and finding what really lies at the outer reaches of our abilities.
There is the careful balance of pushing yourself relentlessly, but not so hard that you melt down. Muscles and minds need to stretch to grow, but if stretched too thin, they will snap.
A competitor needs to be process-oriented, always looking for stronger opponents to spur growth, but it is also important to keep on winning enough to maintain confidence.
I saw the art as a movement closer and closer to an unattainable truth, as if I were traveling through a tunnel that continuously deepened and widened as I progressed. The more I knew about the game, the more I realized how much there was to know.
Figure out what was important apart from what we are told is important.
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.
You need to lose to win.
A student of virtually any discipline would skyrocket to the top of their field if he could avoid ever repeating the same mistake twice. Unfortunately, we are bound to repeat thematic errors, because many themes are elusive and difficult to pinpoint. For example, in my chess career I didn’t realize I was faltering in transitional moments until many months of study brought the pattern to light. So the aim is to minimize repetition as much as possible, by having an eye for consistent psychological and technical themes of error.
Everyone races to learn more and more, but nothing is done deeply.
Learners 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.
It was this understanding that won me my first Push Hands National Championship in November 2000, after just two years of Tai Chi study. Surely many of my opponents knew more about Tai Chi than I did, but I was very good at what I did know.
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. If your goal is to be mediocre, then you have a considerable margin for error. If you hurt your toe, you can take six weeks watching television and eating potato chips. In line with that mind-set, most people think of injuries as setbacks, something they have to recover from or deal with. If you want to be the best, you have to take risks others would avoid, always optimizing the learning potential of the moment and turning adversity to your 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.
Once we learn how to use adversity to our advantage, we can manufacture the helpful growth opportunity without actual danger or injury.
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.
Soon enough, learning becomes unlearning. The stronger chess player is often the one who is less attached to a dogmatic interpretation of the principles. This leads to a whole new layer of principles — those that consist of the exceptions to the initial principles.
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.
When things got rocky, my habit was to hit the gas and blow my opponent and myself out of the water with wildly energetic focus. This was clearly less than an ideal approach for the long term. Burn out.
Dave 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.
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.
The better we are at recovering, the greater potential we have to endure and perform under stress. This is where the mind-body connection comes in.
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. What is more, physical flushing and mental clarity are very much intertwined.
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.
Once the act of recovery is in our blood, we’ll be able to access it under the most strained of circumstances, becoming masters of creating tiny havens for renewal, even where observers could not conceive of such a break.
In your performance training, the first step to mastering the zone is to practice the ebb and flow of stress and recovery. This should involve interval training as I have described above, at whatever level of difficulty is appropriate for the age and physical conditioning of the individual. This training could, of course, take many forms: I have already mentioned biking and resistance work, but let’s say you enjoy swimming laps in a pool. Instead of just swimming until you are exhausted and then quitting, push yourself to your healthy limit, then recover for a minute or two, and then push yourself again. Create a rhythm of intervals like the one I described with my biking.
If you are interested in really improving as a performer, incorporate the rhythm of stress and recovery into all aspects of your life:
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.
Interval work is a critical building block to becoming a consistent long-term performer.
The next step is to create your trigger for the zone.
To have success in crunch time, you need to integrate certain healthy patterns into your day-to-day life so that they are completely natural to you when the pressure is on.
My method is to work backward and create the trigger. I asked Dennis when he felt closest to serene focus in his life.
Whether you feel most relaxed and focused while taking a bath, jogging, swimming, listening to classical music, or singing in the shower, any such activity can take the place of Dennis’s catch with his son.
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. Dennis was always present when playing ball with his son, so all we had to do was set up a routine that became linked to that state of mind (clearly it would have been impractical for Dennis to tow his son around everywhere he went). Once the routine is internalized, it can be used before any activity and a similar state of mind will emerge.
So we created the following routine: Eat a light consistent snack for 10 minutes → 15 minutes of meditation → 10 minutes of stretching → 10 minutes of listening to Bob Dylan → Play ball.
If Dennis had so chosen, he could have done cartwheels, somersaults, screamed into the wind, and then taken a swim before playing catch with his son, and over time those activities would become physiologically connected to the same state of mind. I tend to prefer a routine like Dennis’, because it is relatively portable and seems more conducive to a mellow presence, but to each his own.
I have used routines before competitions for the last ten years of my life. At chess tournaments, I would meditate for an hour while listening to a tape that soothed me, and then I would go to war. When I started competing in the martial arts I already knew how to get into a peak performance state under pressure and had little trouble dealing with less competitively experienced opponents.
In life, things don’t always go according to schedule. Ideally we should be able to click into the zone at a moment’s notice. This is where my system for condensing the routine comes in.
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.
Next, for a few days, Dennis meditated for twelve minutes instead of fifteen. He still came out in the same great state of mind. Then he stretched for eight minutes, instead of ten. Same presence. Then he changed the order of the stretch and meditation. No problem. Over time, slowly but surely, Dennis condensed his stretching and meditation routine down to just a few minutes. Then he would listen to Bob Dylan and be ready to roll. If he wasn’t hungry, he could do without the snack altogether. His routine had been condensed to around twelve minutes and was more potent than ever. Dennis left it at that because he loved Dylan so much, but the next step would have been to gradually listen to less and less music, until he only had to think about the tune to click into the zone. This process is systematic, straightforward, and rooted in the most stable of all principles: incremental growth.
Incrementally, I started shortening the amount of form I did before starting my training. I did a little less than the whole form, then 3/4 of it, 1/2, 1/4. Over the course of many months, utilizing the incremental approach of small changes, I trained myself to be completely prepared after a deep inhalation and release. I also learned to do the form in my mind without moving at all. The visualization proved almost as powerful as the real thing.
One of the biggest roadblocks to releasing the tension during breaks of intense competition or in any other kind of challenging environment is the fear of whether we will be able to get it back. If getting focused is hit or miss, how can we give up our focus once we’ve finally got it? Conditioning to this insecurity begins young. As children, we might be told to “concentrate” by parents and teachers, and then be reprimanded if we look off into the stars. So the child learns to associate not focusing with being “bad.” The result is that we concentrate with everything we’ve got until we can’t withstand the pressure and have a meltdown.
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. Years pass in boredom, but that is okay because when our true love comes around, or we discover our real calling, we will begin. Of course the sad truth is that if we are not present to the moment, our true love could come and go and we wouldn’t even notice.
I 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. In martial arts tournaments, I now tend to snack on Clif Bars, bananas, and protein shakes whenever necessary. Or, if I know I have at least an hour, I might have a bite of chicken or turkey.
To walk a thorny road, we may cover its every inch with leather or we can make sandals.
When hit with surprises, if you have a solid foundation, you should be fine. Tactics come easy once principles are in the blood.
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.
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