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GabbyWallace9

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How to Become an Expert at Any Skill – Lessons from The Art of Learning

This is my second post that references Josh Waitzkin’s book The Art of Learning. To read the first one, click here.

Using vivid personal stories in his book The Art of Learning, Josh Waitzkin describes four main tenants to becoming an expert in any subject:

1. Lay a solid groundwork by studying less complex, basic tenants of the subject.
2. Take a single technique or idea and practice it until you internalize it.
3. Focus on a group of techniques or ideas and practice them until you internalize them.
4. Cultivate the first three principles and develop your intuition on the subject.

Also, once we understand the basics, Josh encourages us to learn more by focusing on one part of a subject at a time and going as deep as we can. From there, we can build and add our creativity.

The four steps mentioned above remind me of when I was learning salsa and samba dance. It’s fun to improvise and be creative with your movements. But that kind of advanced creativity doesn’t work if you don’t already have the fundamental steps and rhythm ingrained in your movements.

Ideas like essence, principles, intuition, quality and wisdom are rooted in a deep understanding of the basic forms of an art and the practice and repetition that leads to study of more complex forms, which leads finally to an unconscious and sped-up performance. Ironically, once you pass into the unconscious area of performance, it becomes difficult to remember what it was like to be a beginner. This is why it is difficult for native/fluent speakers of a language to explain grammar rules – they are intuitive.

Josh also encourages us to study the opposite of what we want to learn. What he suggests is that we can learn more if we have knowledge of a complimentary, different subject. He says, “Learn the hard from the soft.” This is because our minds define things in relationship to each other.

So, as another personal example, I found it easier to teach my native language, English, after I had learned and taught Spanish. Whatever you already know will help you develop a framework for new skills. We automatically want to make connections between what we already know and new information. Use these connections to inspire new ideas, creativity, and learning.

Josh makes a suggestion about how to go about learning. Basically, there are two ways — you can follow experts who are like you or not like you.

Be true to your natural disposition in learning. Integrate the way you study with the way you are. Josh encourages us to let our true personality shine in any subject we are learning. He is against trying to be or do something just like someone else, unless that person has your same disposition. If someone else has great success doing something in an aggressive way but you are a calm person, it won’t work for you.  Go with the flow. When you train yourself or others, make sure you play to cooperation and integration. You will get better results than if you try to change, conquer and dominate. A champion is a person who can exploit his uniqueness.

[Tweet “A champion is a person who can exploit his uniqueness.”]

Nowadays, we have a lot of choices. Who will you choose as your teacher? What materials will you find to help you learn? You may experience information overload before even beginning to learn the new subject or skill. An easy and intuitive way to choose a mentor or materials is to select them based on quality and on the way your personality fits with them.

If you prefer to be creative, choose an expert who is also creative and allows you to express yourself and think outside the box. If you prefer to learn through strict rules and regiments, choose an expert who will give you strict guidelines and make you color inside the lines.

To sum up:

  • Master the basics, then go on to study advanced techniques deeply, one at a time
  • Try learning something different or opposite to inform your learning of your target subject / skill
  • Consider your personality and learning preferences when selecting a mentor and materials

 

Photo credit: Tela Chhe