The ninth selection of Half Half Man’s book club was Josh Waitzkin’s The Art of Learning: An Inner Journey to Optimal Performance. I originally read the book last year and thought it was one of the best books I'd read in 2014.
At the time, I aimed to try out many of his ideas, like journaling and paying attention to what sparks creativity in me and finding ways to trigger that myself. In addition, I wanted to develop a similar focus on quality as he discusses it.
Since then, I’ve spent time journaling (mostly via the Five Minute Journal) and developing my creativity and focus on quality in my magic. My daily Card College practice routine as well as the fifteen minute set I put together and performed for numerous groups have been my own way of putting his ideas into practice, and I’ve felt so appreciative of and excited about my progress.
There are so many areas of his book that have direct theoretical and practical applications for magicians striving for mastery. Below is a collection of takeaways from the book and how they apply to our art.
- Fame is hollow: This should not be the goal.
- Search for excellence: This should be the goal.
- Study of numbers to lead numbers: Focus on the details and first principles and build on those.
- Learning from teachers in person: This (in addition to books) is the best way all of the masters have learned.
- Entity vs Incremental theories in mind while learning
- Entity: fixed intelligence
- Incremental: all about effort and work and progress being possible
- This is what we need in magic.
- Embrace organic long-term learning process
- Need to be driven by love for learning
- Intuition, Quality, Philosophy
- When learning from masters, pay more attention to their use and understanding of psychology, not the technicals and moves. Josh did this with his masters in his fields, and the same idea applies directly to magic.
- Integrate technical info into intuition: Practice so much that you can do the moves and lines in your sleep.
- Study of chess as psychoanalysis of self: What do your effects say about you and your subconscious choices?
- Discovering self through game: What is your personal style? What themes appeal most to you? What message do you want to deliver to your audience, and what feeling/experience do you want them to have? You discover all of these through actual practice, performance, and study.
- How to keep our natural voice while perfecting skill
- Create ripples in our consciousness to spark creativity: Mental exercises to come up with new ideas. Consider things from other angles. Learn from other fields.
- Soft zone: when calm and serene on outside but focused on inside and can flow with outside disturbances. Perfect way to perform!
- Can't count on world being silent: Hecklers, etc.
- Find way to be at peace with the noise and use it: Improvise!
- Mental resilience to discomfort and cheaters
- Importance of regaining presence and clarity after an error: Making a mistake in magic is inevitable, especially while learning. And spectators can mess up too. Use these opportunities to regain presence, learn, and maybe go into a surprise direction.
- Don't let mistakes pile up: Go back and retrain if the quality isn’t there. Don’t rush. Take your time.
- Use mistake as wake up call to be alert
- Don't cling to emotional comfort zone of what was: Time passes; you change; the world changes. Embrace this, and use it to grow and constantly improve.
- Maintain humility and openness to learning even when you have to perform.
- Beginner’s Mind (Zen)
- Releasing of tension: So many moves become easier and look more natural with less tension. But paradoxically, sometimes learning to do some things with less tension comes with practice and lots of effort over time.
- Physical awareness
- Coordination of breath and mind: Timing moves (like the Pass) with the outbreath. Coordinating breaths to beats (downbeat).
- Return breath to natural
- Making smaller circles
- Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
- Persig's Brick
- Writer’s block working on your script? Start with a tiny element and just write about that. Start with a small narrative or story and come up with what effect would complement/demonstrate/enhance it.
- To spark creativity: Start writing about the top left brick of the opera house door in your city
- Depth over breadth
- Start with simplest
- Practice at home for hours
- Focus on smallest and quickest techniques: Don’t need to focus on “new” or “fancy.” Focus instead on small and effective.
- Key is honing skills
The ninth selection of Half Half Man’s book club contained some very meaningful messages that I have been trying to apply directly to my magic. The way Josh goes from field to field and becomes a world-class expert and aims to actually push each art forward resonated a lot with me. Josh has been able to go extremely deep into a couple fields, whereas before my latest deeper dive into magic, I found myself having gone only somewhat deep (like to the level of basic competency) in a whole bunch of fields. Luckily, I’ve had the chance to focus in more deeply over the past year, striving more for mastery and quality (depth) than breadth. There is still so much for me to learn and improve on, and Josh’s example and ideas provide a really nice theoretical and practical framework for doing exactly that.