5 Tips from Josh Waitzkin About Mastering The Art of Learning and Ultimately, Yourself

Josh Waitzkin is a black belt under the masterful grappler and BJJ prodigy, Marcelo Garcia.

Remember the movie Searching for Bobby Fisher? It’s based on his life as a chess prodigy.

He has also won a World Championship title in Tai Chi Chuan.

I’ve come to realize that what I am best at is not Tai Chi, and it is not chess. What I am best at is the art of learning.”
–Josh Waitzkin

His book was recommended to me and I haven’t even finished it because I got so many insights, I decided to put it down and apply them. It’s rare to see masterful levels of metacognition, awareness, and exploration of “learning how to learn,” let alone being able to explain them simply. I think he’s my older, much wiser long lost brother.

He recently did an interview with Tim Ferris that will blow your wig back with insight after insight. He elucidates the habits, processes, and mindset of what it takes to go from good to great to elite. I’m going to share those in this 3 part series. I took notes, wrote lots of quotes, and figured you want a dose.

If you want to know how to learn, refine, and master a skill while becoming a calmer, more powerful person…

Kick back and Buckle up.

5 Tips for Mastering Learning and Yourself

They may seem esoteric or “new age” unless you are deeply involved in introspection, contemplation, athletics, and/or martial arts. So what? Forget labels if the information helps you. They aren’t in any particular order.

#1: Figure out how you “navigate the world”

In the interview, JW mentioned how there are a multitude of ways to relate to chess:

  • Kinesthetic
  • Mathematically
  • Musically

He said he mainly relates kinesthethically to it. He described it as “a feeling [intuitive?] for flow, hidden harmonies, the energetic relationship to chess.” I went big picture and thought “there are probably different ways and patterns of behavior that determining how we relate to the world and other people as well. Why not apply it further than the context of chess?”

Why figure out how you relate to and navigate in the world?

  • The power and satisfaction of being able to swiftly adapt by switching modes to solve problems
  • To strengthen and go deeper into that way of relating
  • Being able to align your time with your energy for optimal performance

Need to solve a problem? How do you typically default to solving problems? Is is mathematically? Using the numbers as a compass? Or maybe you solve problems musically, using rhythms and patterns. If your default way of solving problems isn’t working, try switching to a different way of relating to the problem. Self-awareness is key though, in order for the switching to be a strength rather than an Achilles’ heel.

#2: Focus on Unlearning

To channel Bruce Lee for a minute, and probably all the elite performers in the world, mastery is strongly related to negation. A process of subtraction rather than addition. Removing bad habits. Removing weak and limiting beliefs. Removing superfluousness. What remains is powerfully pure. Pure awareness. Pure and honest self-expression.

Finding subtle obstruction points. Finding friction points and releasing them, identifying cognitive biases blocking your way. It’s sort of the movement toward unobstructed self-expression.

You can become stronger by learning new skills, but did you think about the fact that you can become stronger by removing the obstacles from your current skill set/movements/way of thinking?

#3: Cultivate being predominantly internally motivated and proactive

Rather than letting external motivations, external adulation, and external stimuli perturb, control, and predict your behavior and emotions…turn inward. Cultivate inner strength and proactivity via changing your habits and mindset. Here’s what JW had to say:

Build lifestyles that are relentlessly proactive […] as opposed to reacting to inputs, they are building a daily architecture which is based on maximizing the creative process
@24:12 minutes: Most make the mistake of “soaking in inputs [reacting to external stimuli at the expense of your ‘flow’]” and thus “living a reactive lifestyle” having your creative process “dominated by external noise as opposed to internal music”
“Create rhythms in their life that, really, are based on feeding the unconscious mind, which is the wellspring of creativity information and then tapping it.

For example, ending the work day with high quality focus on a certain area of complexity where you could use an insight and then waking up first thing in the morning, pre-input, and then applying your mind to it, journalling on it. Not so much to do a big brainstorm, but to tap into what you’ve been working on unconsciously overnight.”

Focus on becoming internally oriented, and the less you will be swayed by external circumstances. At a high level, this is about cultivating imperturbability and presence of mind. Both lead to laser-like focus, better thinking, and an internal calm like you wouldn’t believe.

#4: Train yourself to “get systematic about nurturing your creative process.”

Don’t leave your creativity and mastery up to chance and your unconscious mind. Take conscious control of the processes and habits that govern them. Create and use a system. Build a routine that allows you to thrive from a health and creativity standpoint.

Most of that work relates to getting out of your own way, at a high level. It’s unlearning. It’s the constant practice of subtraction. Reducing friction.

It allows you to build your lifestyle in such a way that a self-sustaining momentum (positive, unconscious habits) is created and your creative work and self-mastery continually evolve.

#5: “Align your peak energy periods with your peak creativity work”

Are you doing your most important work when you have the most creativity and energy? Pay attention to your energy level and how it fluctuates through the day, the week, et cetera. Do you work best for certain blocks of time? Are you a night owl or early bird? Ride that wave by syncing things up for an added power boost.

Let these sink in and go apply it. Re-read it. I know I am.

In part 2 you’ll learn:

  • Hemingway’s 2 core principles of generating and sustaining “creative power momentum”

Part 1: [You are here]
Part 2: Hemingway’s Secret to Maintaining “Creative Power Momentum”
Part 3: How to Become a Better Thinker
Part 4: The 4 Key Habits for Mastery Josh Waitzkin Recommends Everyone Internalize

Till next time…

Thrive in freedom,

JW’s book “The Art of Learning” is required reading if you are walking the path of self-mastery and arete. If you aren’t…this site’s probably not for you.

1. All the “blue boxes” are Josh Waitzkin quotes from the podcast interview
2. All the brackets inside quote boxes are my additions, putting things into context, or attempts at clarity.
3. Get Tim Ferriss’ own show notes and listen to the interview with Josh Waitzkin. No iTunes? No problem.

P.P.P.S. Think about how these 5 tips can be applied in other areas of your life. Think big picture. Put them into different contexts and see how they work for you. I gave specific instances, but they are by no means confined or limited to those.

For example, apply these to improving your sex life.

Or your finances.


Using these timeless principles just became fun as hell.

Your bank account and your sex partner(s) will thank you.