PS: this is my version of the transcript of the Tim Ferriss podcast, episode #2 that took me a few, painstaking days to write down… I did that as a “fun experiement” to see how long it would be to do a podcast transcript and the work involved.
PPS: See an error? Please tell me in the comments below :). THANKS FOR READING!
TIM FERRISS: Hello you sexy people out there. This is Tim Ferriss and this episode of the Tim Ferriss Podcast has a special guest: Josh Waitzkin whom I met in 2007 after reading his spectacular book “The Art of Learning”. Josh you may know from “Searching for Bobby Fischer”. He was the subject of both the book and the movie.
He’s thought of as a chess prodigy, although that term “prodigy” I don’t believe applies to him at all because he has a method for learning, mastering, refining any skills whether that is chess, whether that is T’ai chi ch’uan in which he’s multiple times world champion, Brazilian jiu-jitsu in which he’s a black belt under the phenom, the Micheal Jordan of this sport Marcelo Garcia.
He’s worked with people ranging form Mark Messier, 6 times Stanley Cup winner to Carl Hopkins Jr to the top hedge fund manager in the world. He is a performance specialist and also a very dear friend of mine now at this point. I ended up loving his book “The Art of Learning” so much that I acquired the rights to his audiobook. If you want to check that, it’s read by Josh himself, you can go to http://fourhourworkweek.com/2014/03/20/the-art-of-learning-joshua-waitzkin/. Without further ado, let’s go straight to the meat of the interview.
TIM FERRISS: Josh, I figure that we might as well start at the top and do a little retrospective. What led you initially to write the “Art of Learning” and of course that’s how I was, in many ways, introduced to your work and then to our mutual friend Max and ended up connecting. So what was the reason you decided to write that book?
JOSH WAITZKIN: Hey you know, I initially started thinking about the idea of the book about 2 years into my martial art life. So I transition from chess, into studying, into meditating, into studying East Asian philosophy, then I started getting into T’ai chi ch’uan and ultimately into the martial application of it called “push hands”. And I start to experience this very interesting transition from the principles, my love in chess began to translate directly over into the martial arts.
I think it was primarily one experience I had, something around 2 years into my t’ai chi training I was giving a simultaneous chess exhibition in Memphis, Tennessee at a fund raiser, and I was playing 45 or 50 boards at once. So I’m walking down the middle of this big square of chess tables, everyone is playing one game and I’m playing each one of them. And about 40 min into the simul I had this experience that was so interesting. I began to feel like I was riding the energetic wave of the game like I was in my “push hands” training. I wasn’t playing chess, I wasn’t thinking in chess language, I wasn’t calculating variations. I was feeling the flow, feeling the space laying behind like I would in the martial arts. I had this realization: I was playing beautiful chess but I wasn’t consciously playing chess. The barriers between these two different arts had dissolved in my mind. And that’s when I conceived of the idea of the book and a lot of the process – I spent 5 years taking notes 500 pages of notes – before I actually sat down and wrote it. A lot of that process was deconstructing what i’ve been doing rather intuitively. So essentially, what felt like was a translation of parallel learning, these are two rather abstract terms (that’s the language I was using internally), when I was first thinking about the book. Because it felt like I was just taking the essence of one art and translating it over into another and the process of writing it involve deconstructing what i’ve been doing somewhat abstractly into something that could be replicated more systematically.
TIM FERRISS: The question that jumps out of my mind, which is a bit of a side note perhaps, is “simuls”: playing 10, 20, 30 boards simultaneously…. I’ll try to ask a better question than “how does someone do that” but at what point, what happens to chess players when they go from an inability to play multiple boards simultaneously to being able to play multiple boards simultaneously? What is the sort of framework of thinking, or experience, and so on that allows them to do something like that which, to the average person seems like a RainMan-like feat?
JOSH WAITZKIN: Well I think it’s different for every chess player. One of the beautiful thing about chess is that you can approach it in so many different ways. To be world-class, what you need to do essentially is express the core of your being through the art. I think that this is true of many arts.
So you can have a very mathematical person that plays chess mathematically, you can have a very musical person who plays chess musically. Someone might be much more kinesthetic like myself and sort of have feeling for flow and harmonies and almost have a physically energetic relationship to chess. When I first learned to play chess, when I was 6 years old at Washington Square Park, it was a battle. I loved the feeling of just going into a fight with someone and finding these hidden harmonies and finding where these animal passions mix with this technical complexity.
And much later, when I got much better, playing simuls, it was sort of a higher level manifestation of that same kind of dynamics. For me, playing simuls was, it was something akin to juggling a lot of balls: I wasn’t playing 40 different games for example separately. The flow of all 40 games would sort of coalesce into one larger sense of flow. It was actually very interesting: often, i’d give a simul and there’d be a youth competition and the winner of that competition would play against me. And so sometimes kids would cheat – they’d really want to beat me so they would cheat – and I’d be walking around this big thing and then i’d get to the table and they had moved chips into positions to try to win because if they could win that would be a big thing. My experience when that happened was of if you had, imagine 40 balls in the air, and suddenly they all crash on the floor. I would know that they would change the positions not by reaching the board and remembering what the positions where and then seeing they changed it. It was initially be this feeling of the energetic flow that had been interrupted, then i’d have to reverse engineer myself back to that one game, that one component of the flow and then i’d remember the game and then I would remember exactly the positions and say “hahaha! This is the position”. And then it would take me 2 or 3 turns going back around to get all the “balls” back up in the air to get back into the energetic flow.
Actually, for me giving simuls sort of felt similar to playing chess, one chess game. But that was my own relationship to it, I think that probably if you ask 10 different very strong chess players they’d all give a different answer.
TIM FERRISS: Got it. You know what blew me away was spending time with a friend of yours, Maurice, when we went to Washington Square Park and see him play a game – at least for the first portion – without looking at the board. And I won’t give away too much of the punch line since we captured it all on film it was pretty amazing. His ability to track the board – it seems like that by chunking portions of the board into sort of larger pieces… I don’t know if that’s the best way to express it but it seemed like his ability to seemingly remember all these disparate pieces was because he had the board broken down into component chunks as it were.
But I don’t want to take us too down that fine line… Let’s shift gear, I’m very curious to know, is at this point – I know of course a little bit of background about you – but I want to dig into the details. What type of people do you personally work with these days and why do they work with you, What type of things that you do with them?
JOSH WAITZKIN: Well I have 3 major dimensions to my creative life right now… well maybe 4 because my most important one is my son Jack who is little over 2 years old and the love of my life, so that’s maybe the most important part of my life, no question about it.
I run a non-profit organization educational foundation called the JW Foundation – the Art of Learning Project and we have a couple hundred programs in schools around the country and internationally as well. This is about integrating these principles that i’ve been developing in schools, working with teachers, parents and children around this individualized and thematic relationship to learning that i’ve been developing. So this is one dimension.
The other one is a martial art school: a Brazilian jiu-jitsu school with Marcelo Garcia who’s 9 times world champion. You know him well, Tim. He’s the Michael Jordan of the grappling world. So this is world-class athletes training there.
And then, I run a consulting business where I’m training people who are at the cutting edge of the finance world. And this is very interesting work because we’re focusing on that last 1 or 0.1 percent of the learning process which is really my specialty. It’s highly individualized, it’s cutting edge work on their learning process, their idea generation, their creativity, their performance psychology, their resilience. Fascinating work. You know, what that i’ve discovered… it’s interesting, because I wrote this book called the “Art of Learning” years ago and so people are always coming to me to speak about learning but much of what i’ve been focusing on in recent years has been unlearning.
When I think about that last movement: from the equivalent of being from number 10 to number 1 in the world, to number 5 to being number 1 in the world, it’s much more about finding subtle, obstructions, finding friction points and releasing them. I then define cognitive biases that are blocking your way. It’s the movement toward unobstructed self expression. If you think about your creative process has a hose with a big crimp in it. If you release it, there’s just unbelievable pressure that can be released.
And a lot of what I’m doing with people is trying to move them from very good to great or from great to truly elite by just deeply individualized work and helping them really to find ways to express the core of their being through their art. That is, as you know a big theme in my life and when I played chess at my highest level that’s what I was doing. When I had a period of being really locked up in my chess career – which we can go into in more details if you want – I was doing the opposite: I was trying to fit into someone else’s mold. And then ultimately when I transitioned away from chess and into the martial arts, I returned to that experience of self expression. And that’s when I really started to understand it very deeply. I think it was the crisis toward the end of my chess career which really laid the foundation for the work that I do today with brilliant mental performers trying to make that move to the equivalent of world champion.
TIM FERRISS: To jump back back to Marcelo Garcia for a second. I’ve of course met Marcelo, and he’s just…
JOSH WAITZKIN: …. and you’ve gone to war with him and i’ve watch you…
TIM FERRISS: …. and i’ve gone to war with him which, if there’s anything at stake, I don’t recommend. [laugh]
JOSH WAITZKIN: [laugh] He’s a though guy, he’s caused me a lot of pain over the years.
TIM FERRISS: He’s a though guy but also a sweet heart of a guy. And he’s so fluid… What i’d love to hear from you, of course because in the “Art of Learning” – which some people might be familiar with – you read about your experiences in chess, your experiences in T’ai chi and the parallels between them and this sort of over arching framework for optimizing mental and physical performance, if that’s a fair way to put it. And this is the “Art of Learning” with these different techniques and strategies.
What have you learned through this 3rd art of Brazilian jiu-jitsu? What are some insights or strategies that you’ve had since moving from T’ai chi which is in some ways similar but also very different from Brazilian jiu-jitsu, which a lot of people will be familiar with through the UFC and mixed martial arts.
JOSH WAITZKIN: To put it in context relative to my life: the “Art of Learning” ends with the 2004 World Championship. It ends with me describing the narrative of that. It was just absolutely a crazy experience. I won’t give the punch line but it was really intense. And after this, I decided that I wanted to become a beginner again, to put on a white belt, literately and figuratively.
And so I took on this 3rd major mountain in my life, Brazilian jiu-jitsu. I was training out in the west coast for about a year while I was actually writing the “Art of Learning”, I was training Brazilian jiu-jitsu twice a day. This was after I spent 5 years taking notes, then I had the 2004 World Championship, then I was writing it. I started training with John Machado and I came back to New York and it started training with Marcos
Santos and then I started this relationship with Marcelo, who’s just the greatest grappler to ever live. And we were doing a lot of private lessons, we developed a friendship. Then he moved to Florida and I would travel to Florida to work with him. ultimately I made the decision that I wanted to bring him to New York, mostly because I was at that point to make a run for the World Championship in this art. And there was no better way to do it then to get my ass kicked by the very best that ever lived in this sport. He’s just a wonderful guy and he’s just an unbelievable martial artist. And so we opened up this school together and i’ve been on the mats with him, other then when I was injured, and it’s been a lot of injuries in these sports all the time. And it’s been a fascinating experience, Marcelo is so profoundly different from me. I’m a really conceptual guy, I think abstractly, of course because of my foundation in chess. Marcelo is one of the most, or the most kinesthetically over developed person i’ve ever met and of course, overdevelopment and underdevelopment tend to come hand in hand conceptually.
TIM FERRISS: Can you give me an example of that?
JOSH WAITZKIN: Of overdevelopment and underdevelopment?
TIM FERRISS: Of kinesthetic and what it means to be kinesthetically…
JOSH WAITZKIN: His physical intelligence is mind-boggling. I mean when he come fishing with me, you throw him on a stand-up paddleboard in 3 foot chops and everyone just flies off of paddleboard on which you just stand up on them. And he’s just beautiful, he just find the balance points and i’ve never seen someone learn so quickly how to handle waves, boats, and a fishing line, being free-diving, being on riding waves on paddleboard. When you’re on the mush… I’ve been a stand-up fighter for many years, when I’m doing stand up training with Marcelo, I caught him with most of the throws in my repertoire one time. I don’t think i’ve ever caught him with a throw twice.
TIM FERRISS: Wow [laugh]
JOSH WAITZKIN: And I have guys who were world-class who I was training with, you know, I caught them thousands of times. This is a guy, he just… you almost never see Marcelo get caught more than once with something. And it’s amazing to see how he relates the world to his kinesthetic intelligence. For example, when we were looking for a space for our school, we’ve walked into a big room and I was thinking about the dimensions, the square footage, where this would be, where that would be, etc. Marcelo would know if it felt good or felt bad. If he meets you, he’s gonna know whether he feels good about you or bad about you. And his intuition is incredibly dead on. He navigates the world through this kinesthetic intelligence. And it’s been a really fascinating having a school with him, diving deep with him because we’ve been having conceptual dialogues during these 3 and a half years or so. He’s really deep conceptually. But i’ve learned even more deeply the importance of the lesson that there are many paths to greatness. To take a guy like Marcelo and to try to fit him into a chess player hyper-conceptual mold would be terrible. He’s so great because of his unbelievable commitment to doing it his way. He’s done things in extraordinary ways, for example: you know how in these competitive arts everyone is very secret about their repertoires?
TIM FERRISS: Yeah
JOSH WAITZKIN: When we had this program, which you know well, where jiu jitsu guys from around the world login to watch all Marcelos training sessions, his sparring session, his lessons, everything. When he was competing in Abu Dhabi, when he grabbed the world championship in Mundials, which is brazilian jiu jitsu world championship, we were streaming his sparring sessions every night. He was basically showing his competitors what he was about to use against them in 2 weeks, 3 weeks, 4 weeks [Tim laugh]. And his attitude about this, which is completely unique, is “if you’re studying my game, you’re entering my game and I’ll be better at it then you”. [Tim laugh] It’s so simple, so pure, and if you think about it, it’s really deep. It’s the opposite of what most chess players would do, and most jiu jitsu guys would do. So he’s wide open to constant learning. The other beautiful thing about Marcelo is, you know people call him the king of scramble, and if you watch his training style, he’s always in transition, which is a really interesting idea to think about in a cross-disciplinary manner. Most people get their ego involved in their training and they’re trying to dominate all the time. And to dominate in almost anything, you find that there is no dominance, and you keep it. But Marcelo always let the pond move and he’s constantly playing in transition. So, if you think about what world-class martial arts means, and you brought up for example Marissa Ashley and play chess at Washington Square, it’s similar. If you’re in a much higher level as someone, you can always seem mystical because you’re doing things which are outside of their conceptual scheme. The way that operate in martial arts is, if you think about it through the len of frames, if you and I are looking at a position and in your mind there’s this position, this position and this position. So there’s 3 positions. In my mind, if I’m constantly training at the transitions between these positions, these actually expand and these transitional frames become positions to me. So if I’m seeing 100 positions and you’re seeing, say 2 then I can play in your blind spot and it could seem mystical to you because you haven’t trained there. And that’s what Marcelo does by expanding all of his time in transition he’s cultivated the art of play in the in-between. And that is really what level is all about, one of the core thing that high level, world-class martial arts is all about: playing in transition, in gaps, in your opponent’s side pattern.
TIM FERRISS: Observing and practicing with Marcelo, say on the guillotine, or the “Marcelotine” just blew me away because if you look at it as an uninformed spectator or even just a moderately informed spectator you’re blown away by how fast he is, how effective he is. But the nuance of eliciting movement, allowing space to open, manufacturing space by say applying pressure and leaving it is so subtle and so incredibly effective and then you start to notice it from these principles you carry over to many many hundreds of possible positions. It’s really amazing. It reminds me of something I heard once from a musician… I don’t know who the original quote is from but he said: “Music is the space between the notes”. I was like: “huh, this is a really interesting way to look at it”. But what were you gonna say?
JOSH WAITZKIN: I was gonna say, I think it’s just a gorgeous quote. I think that most creative arts are defined by that space in between.
TIM FERRISS: Yeah, well it’s like: writing is the same way right? You know, “when in doubt, leave it out”.
JOSH WAITZKIN: Beautiful, beautiful. And the thing about Marcelo is that he can often seem initially that he’s moving so fast, but what’s incredible is that he can also move very slow. That’s 2 things that you don’t see. Just like a great artist who’s practicing the art of illusion when we’re not practicing. It’s amazing what can be done with intention, with controlling someone’s intention. And this is a lot of my training in “push hands” related to finding ways to essentially control someone’s intention, so that you’re ahead of them, even if they were ultimately moving first. You were there before they arrived, and this is a fascinating psychological component of high-level training in anything.
TIM FERRISS: Well I remember an interview with one of the top K1 fighters back in the day. And they were talking about Peter
Aerts, the “Dutch Lumberjack”, a huge guy. And he seemed fast and I remember what people said, what a number of opponents said that he’s actually not that fast, he’s kind of a big lumbering guy. But he’s so good at predicting timing that he sees you telegraph before you even have the thought to throw the punch. And he beats you to the punch as a result of that because, but it’s because he picks on the cues faster than other people. And I thought that was very interesting.
To try to bridge this to something else, you work with – of course I’m not going to mention names – but you work with some of the most stunningly successful and famous traders and people in finance. I mean some real master-of-the-universe type folks. What have you found unique about that group of people. Let’s just start with that… I’m curious to know what you’ve noticed, being as observant as you are about that group of folks.
JOSH WAITZKIN: That’s a big question.
TIM FERRISS: It is a big questions [laugh]
JOSH WAITZKIN: [laugh] First of all, as a core principle start with “there are many paths to greatness”. I mean each one of these guys who is really world-class is doing things his way. And he’s harnessing their eccentricities, he’s cultivating his or her strength as a way of life. There is not an excessive focus on weaknesses, there’s just an embracing of deep deep studying of the precondition of someone finest moment of expression. And their lifestyle surrounding it. And this is a lot of what I do is help people understand what makes them tick on a very very deep level relative to the cognitive biases, where they’re locked up and where their greatest intention come, what kind of external condition, what kind of external conditions, etc. The ones who are really at the top are people who have mastered this art of deep introspection and taken results of these introspective prophecies and turned them into training systems and into a way of life. This is fascinating how this process works. What I do with these guys is – after I do my initial diagnostic process – I have ways of revamping their daily architecture, the way they live their life. So that they’re, for example, aligning their peak energy period with their peak creativity work. They are building lifestyles that are just relentlessly proactive. As opposed to reacting to inputs, they’re building a daily architecture which is based on maximizing the creative process. When you think about this relative to most people – a simple case in point – is email checking. Most people when they finish a break, and even top guys in the industry, and they finish a break, whether they wake up first in the morning – what do most people do? They check their emails. When they come back from a workout, they check their emails. When they come back from lunch, they check their emails. So what you see is whenever they’re coming back from something after a break, they’re soaking in input and they’re living this reactive lifestyle. Their creative process is dominated by external noise as opposed to internal music. And a lot of what I work on with guys is creating rhythms in their life that really are based on feeding the unconscious mind, which is the wellspring of creativity, information and then tapping it.
So for example, ending the work day with high quality focus on a certain area of complexity where you could use an insight and waking up first thing in the morning, pre-input and applying your mind to it. Not so much to do a big brainstorm, but to tap what you’ve been working unconsciously overnight, which of course is a principle that Hemenway talked about, when he spoke about the 2 core principles in his writing process was: one was ending the work day with something left to write and…
TIM FERRISS: Yeah, often mid-sentence, even.
JOSH WAITZKIN: Right. Not doing everything he had to do, which most people do because they feel the sense of guilt because they’re not working. You and I have discussed this at length. But leaving something left to write… and then 2nd principle: release your mind from it, don’t think about it all night. Have a glass of wine and wake up first thing in the morning and re-apply your mind to it. And it’s amazing, because you’re basically feeding the mind complexity and then tapping that complexity, or tapping what you’ve done with it and this rhythm, the large variation of it is overnight, then you can do micro-burst of it throughout the day: before workout, pose a questions, do a workout and release your mind and after your workout return to it and do a creative burst. Before you go to the bathroom, before you go to lunch, before anything. And these are ways of systematically training yourself to generate the crystallization experience, the high moment, that can happen once a month or once a year. A lot of what I do is work on system that help it happen once a day or 4 times a day. When you’re talking about guys that run financial groups of 20 to 30 billion dollars for example if they have a huge insight, that can have unbelievable value. So if you can really train people to get systematic about nurturing their creative process, it’s unbelievable what can happen. Most of that work relates to getting out of your own way, at a very high level. It’s unlearning, it’s the constant practice of traction, reducing friction.
TIM FERRISS: What would be an example of – you’ve mentioned cognitive biases a few times – for those people who may not be familiar with that term, what would be an example of cognitive biases and how someone might work on them?
JOSH WAITZKIN: Right. Well there are a lot of cognitive biases that are specific to certain disciplines, like chess, finance, or philosophy. But if we just think about it in terms of everyday life, let’s say we make a decision and we then feel the need to justify that decision. And we make more decisions to justify that initial decision. And we basically get ourselves into this deep wormhole which is caused by the attempt to justify…
TIM FERRISS: The “sunk cost fallacy”
JOSH WAITZKIN: Exactly. So this is, in the financial group, when the world talk about is “ sunk cost fallacy”. Right. But this is very interesting for example a chess player, who makes a certain decision and there’s a certain emotional and intellectual and time component to the value we put into the thought process behind that decision. What we often have to do is to release it because the position changes shape. A very interesting way that this manifest in chess, which you can think about rather universally is: let’s say there is a certain evaluation of the positions. You and I are playing, Tim, and I have a slight advantage in the position and I’m nurturing that advantage, I’m nurturing, I’m nurturing it. There’s a lot of complexities and then I make a slight error and suddenly the position is equalized. Right? So if I’m holding on to the past evaluation, emotionally, where I had the advantage. Then when I’m gonna do very subtly is I’m gonna rejects positions that don’t give me that advantage. But if objectively I no longer have an advantage, then I’m going to be reaching too far. Right? And then I’m going to be rejecting the positions you accept which will make my position split more and more and more and you fall into what I call a downward spiral. So this relates to a lack of presence which really connects to a cognitive bias: an addiction to a past evaluation as opposed to a present one.
So that’s a very simple example of a cognitive bias, a mental addiction, a thought construct. It’s something that we hold to be true because of some complicated twist in our mind that is no longer actually true. And so of course, a very simple antidote to most of this is presence. If we can look at a moment or chess position or an investment decision or any decision with very clean presence outside of emotional inertia, then we can often slice through just amazing amounts of fat with just very very simple decisions. If you think about the learning process, for example – this is one thing that I love about your approach to learning – a language that you and I use: “i call you a master of deconstruction”. You look at the way people approach different sports and you find the biases, the false constructs and you find a way to learn a very straight path to learning as opposed to people getting mired in all sorts of tangled webs of complexities which are essentially caused by cognitive biases. Isn’t that how you put it?
TIM FERRISS: Yeah. I think that’s true, and honestly I appreciate the kind words. I think you and I have very complementary approaches, like I think you’ve said before. I tend to focus on the 80-20 analysis as it applies to people getting on and off the ground as quickly as possible to say be on top 5 to 10% of the general population. What is so cool about our conversations and what I enjoy so much is that you’re really focusing on that final leap: how do you go from being great to being the best. They’re very complementary skill-sets. I think that what I’m looking at is a way to unearth cognitive biases. And just as a side note to people who want to look into these, you can just go to wikipedia and search “cognitive biases”. There’s a long list which is pretty fun to read. And there are a number of books about these types of things too. “Think Twice” is one.
The question that I ask myself and I’m always interested in the questions that people ask themselves because I find it – to my mind – that those, that internal dialog is what defines your day-to-day thinking and what you think you become. And so it’s so critical that you ask yourself the right questions. In my mind, when I’m trying to deconstruct, let’s say a sport, all i’ll ask is to start with: “what rules are people following that are not required? Outside of the law and science and even within science and within law, reality is kinda negotiable”. So I mean, a good example of that is the high jump, the fosbury flop. Dick Fosbury was really the first guy to go backward over the high jump and up to that point, there’s been the straddle kick, and all sorts of different approaches. He was ridiculed at first and then he was called a cheat because he won the gold medal and now everybody uses that approach.
Having a list of questions like “who’s good at this but shouldn’t be?” is another one that I love to ask because you might find someone… For instance, you were talking about the different styles in chess or jiu jitsu, sort of a reference to the first book: you have attacking chess players, then you have very different stylistic differences, you have very quantitative players. For the TV show, “The Tim Ferriss Experiment”, I did an episode on poker. I’ve avoided poker my whole life because I viewed it as a game of chance and I had a former computer science guy that said “no no no, I’m not going to teach you to be lucky because I can’t teach you to be lucky. But I can teach you to run some probabilities and only bet when you have a good likelihood of a positive outcome”. What was so fascinating, is you look at a guy like that and you’ll find a highly quantitative hedge fund manager for example, or investors of different types, tech investors who go to the World Series of Poker and they run the numbers and that’s how they play. There are other guys that are completely, seemingly flying by the seat of their pants, they are very kinesthetic, they’re playing intimidation game, they’re very physical. So asking myself for instance “who’s good at this but shouldn’t be?” if the assumption is that you have to be very good at math to be good at poker. Who admits to using no maths, which might be miss-information, but let me look into how they do it.
And then the 2nd question is “have they replicated their results? Are there other people they’ve taught to do what they do?” to try to separate out the nature from the nurture where possible. But I want to come back to the finance guys just a second to ask you about rituals and routines then I’m gonna ask you about your own. What are some habits – and it doesn’t have to be across the board for all these guys because they have such different personalities and approaches. With some of these really super-high level finance guys who are managing tens of billions of dollar, what are some of the habits that you’ve observed that you find interesting, or rituals?
JOSH WAITZKIN: Let me answer that by describing some of the keystone habits that I recommend to people to internalize in the field. First of all, meditation. I mean we’re speaking about this theme of cognitive biases or by observing your mental dictions the moment they set in. Meditation is as deep and as powerful a tool as I can possibly describe. Six or seven years ago when I was first talking about meditation with guys in the finance world, it seems like some woo-woo strange thing for them to take on. But as more and more people are integrating it into their process, you wouldn’t believe how many of the most powerful “players” in the world are meditating very deeply. It’s just an amazing way of deepening the creative process, deepening presence, expanding your energetic relationship to the world, gaining insights and realizing that most of the thinking that we do, basically springs from mental addiction. Much of people’s lives are spent in an emotional swirl which is a reactive one. And having a relationship’s presence which allows you to see through the illusion of that emotional swirl, or those mental addictions. Meditation is an incredibly powerful tool. I know you know that i’ve been meditating since I was 17-18 years old, and I know it’s a big part of your life as well, Tim. So that’s a very very important habit. The idea of waking up first in the morning and turning your mind to creative work pre-input as opposed to checking emails and getting reactive. Open up your channels to the unconscious mind first thing when you wake up in the morning, doing the same later on: ending your work day with quality is hugely important.
I remember when I went skying with Billy
Kidd, who you might recall is one of the greatest downhill racers back in the 60’s Olympics ski team. Awesome dude, now he skis out in Colorado wearing a cowboy hat, just a timeless guy, brilliant dude. You know, he was saying to me years ago when I was first skied with him: “Josh, what do you think are the 3 most important turns of the ski run?” I’ve asked that question to a lot of people since and those people will say “the middle because it’s the hardest, the beginning just to get momentum”… He really describe the most important turns of the ski run are the last 3 before you get into the lift. And it is a very very subtle point. So those of you who are skiers, you know that’s when the slope is levelled off, there’s less challenge, most people are very sloppy and they’re taking their weight off the muscles they’ve been using and they have bad form. The problem with that is that on the lift on the ride up, unconsciously you’re internalizing bad body mechanics. As Billy points out, if your last 3 turns are precise than what you’re internalizing on the lift is “precision”. So I carry this on to the guys who I train in the finance world. For example. Ending the work day with high quality, which opens up… for one thing, you’re internalizing quality overnight and we’re nurturing themes as well as skills. It’s one thing to learn skills but higher artist learn themes and meta-themes that will ultimately spontaneously open into the internalization of hundreds of what I would call local habits. And so if you’re practicing quality, you’re deepening the muscle of quality and you’re also focusing the unconscious mind into an area of complexity which will then be tapped first thing in the morning. This is a core habit.
Certain postmortem processes, ending your day with a reflexion on the quality of the work, one of the cores of complexities that you’re wrestling with. Hugely important.
TIM FERRISS: Would you do that immediately after the end of the work day per say or before bed? How would you time that, if someone wanted to try this themselves?
JOSH WAITZKIN: I time it at the end of the work day… the problem with doing these things right before bed is that then you’re sort of consciously going into bed thinking about these things. A very core idea is that, when you go home, as best you can unless you’re red-hot inspired, release your mind from the work. It’s very important to give yourself some stress recovery. Core habits. You want to be turning it on, turning it off. And teaching people to turning it off is a huge part of teaching it on much more intensely. So stress and recovery workouts, intervals training, meditation together are beautiful habits to develop to cultivate the art of art of “turning it on, turning it off”. So if you’re undulating your heart-rate for example between 170-172-174, then say 144 – the practice of lowering your heart-rate over the course of say 45 seconds is akin to falling asleep, releasing your tension and then as you’re pushing your heart-rate back up, you’re learning to turn on. You’re using a physical metaphor to train at the art of turning on incredible intellectual energy, and then turning it off. Marcelo Garcia that we were talking about, once of my most beautiful memories of him in the World Championship, right before going into the semi-finals. He’s sleeping, he’s sleeping in the bleacher. [Tim laugh] He wake him up, he sort of stumble into the ring, you’ve never seen a guy more relaxed before going into a world championship fight. Then he can turn it off so deeply and man, when he goes to the ring, you can’t turn on with more intensity then he can. His ability to turn it off is directly aligned with how intensely he can turn it on. So training people to do this: have stress and recovery, undulation, throughout their day, and then thematically this ties in to again this internal proactive orientation. Building a daily architecture which is around understanding your creative process as opposed reacting to things, feeling guilty that they’re not working, really teaching people to tap into their internal compass. So these I suppose are the core themes and habits of that I would bring on first. I could spend 3 hours talking about this stuff [Tim laugh].
TIM FERRISS: Let’s do it! The meditation, I wanted to touch on for a second and as you know i’ve been taking that very seriously for particularly the last 6 months or so. I received an email the other day from the teacher that I use for transcendental meditation and there are many different types of meditation. I’m gonna ask you about how you format your own meditation in second but in many different types, I have my issues, my likes and dislikes as it relates to almost all of them. So I received an email with a link to an article and the title is “Bridgewater founder, Ray Dalio credits transcendental meditation for his success”. For those of you who don’t know, he’s the founder of the world’s largest hedge fund, Bridgewater Associates, they have a hundred billion plus under management I think. His quote is “Meditation, more than any other factors have been the secrets to whatever success i’ve had”. And that is a hell of an endorsement.
For me, it’s been getting over that resistance to what I perceived as sort of a “woo-woo new agey” type of thing and the ability to sort of view it as sort of a warm bath for the mind where I’m taking a mini vacation from my own brain in a way. That may or may not, depending on who you ask, be the most helpful way to look at it. But I found that to be a very useful lens through which to view it.
How do you – if there is a particular type of meditation you follow – what is it? Or how do you personally meditate? What do you think of or not think of? How long do you do it, etc?
JOSH WAITZKIN: When I was 17 or 18, I started studying very simple, contemplative buddhist meditation where I would focus on my breath. So this is when I was a late teenager. Then I started to getting involved with T’ai Chi and I started studying East Asian philosophy very deeply. This is where I got increasingly into moving meditation which is the practice that I have personally done the most deeply. The T’ai Chi form of meditation. So the meditating form of T’ai Chi is sort of the essence of the art and then the fighting application is what I was competing in.
I spent many years meditating 4-5-6 hours a day with T’ai Chi. Today, I combine my T’ai Chi practice with sitting meditation again. Most people, when they enter meditation, what I suggest is they practice very simple sitting meditation, following their breath. It’s a practice which doesn’t have to be very complex. They can for example just sit either cross-legged or comfortably in a chair and follow their breath. This is very interesting because they’ll notice after one or 2 seconds that their mind starts racing off. Usually what happens when you have really driven guys that starts to meditate for the first time and their mind races off, they get all pissed off [Tim laugh]. Angry, frustration… They feel like they’re failing at meditation and one of the most important thing to do is to embrace the fact that meditation isn’t about perfection, it’s about the return to breath. So when you find your mind racing, you observe that and you return to your breath. That’s a though emotional hurdle for a lot of guys. It’s very interesting because over time – you know the metaphor of “the mind is a wild stallion that over time you’re taming” and you ultimately learn to still it. It’s racing, it’s bucking, it’s pulling against any kind of line you put on it, but ultimately, the circles gets smaller and smaller and you learn to observe when your mind is getting caught up in some kind of mental or emotional addiction more and more quickly and fluidly. The return to breath becomes easier and easier. It’s very interesting by the way, as a competitor, because I relate to the theme of channelling emotions or fear, whatever rising in as a world-class competitor in very much the same way we speak about meditation.
I spoke at a conference on grit recently and it was very interesting for me. It is a core educational principle in a lot of charter schools these days. It’s hugely important to teach kids to be resilient. And it’s very interesting because when I hear people speak about resilience from – and we’re moving a bit aside of meditation but we’ll bring it back – the focus is on overcoming difficulties, suffering, learning basically to push through. What people don’t realize is that world-class performers have reoriented their relationship to suffering, to the point of resistance, they have learned to embrace it, they’ve learned to see the beauty in these moments where there’s pain because there’s incredible room for growth. I think that a lot of what you learn to do in meditation is observing the addictive way you might be defining something. If you want to, you can simply alter that definition and you can change your relationship to pain, the rain, a huge storm, or fear, or anger. For example, people from “the outside” will use the term “fearlessness” but if you speak to any great soldier, or SEAL team member or fighter, or UFC guy that are world-class fighters. They’ll tell you that they feel fear, they just know how to sit with their fear and how to work with it and how to channel it. So the idea of fearlessness is sort of a false idea which is imposed by the outside by a spectator. When you observe world-class performers, what they’ve learned how to do is harness fear, nerves, anxiety, bring them in, embrace them, have a working relationship with them and channel them into intensity. Meditation is an incredible form or vehicle in which you can do this because you learn to observe where you have addictive relationships. And you realize that they’re not absolute and you can actually transform your relationship to any of these thought patterns, thought constructs, cognitive biases or emotional patterns.
TIM FERRISS: I was looking up at a quote as you mention that, which is one of my favorite quotes from Cus D’Amato who trained boxers like Floyd Patterson, José Torres and most famously perhaps Mike Tyson. He would say that “the hero and the coward both feel the same thing but the hero uses his fear and projects it on to his opponent and the coward runs”. It’s the same thing: “fear”, but it’s what you do with it that matters.
I started meditating and gave up meditating many many times because I had the response that you mentioned about type A personalities. I’d be sitting there and I thought that the objective was to quiet my mind – and i’ll come back to that in a second – and so when I failed at quieting my mind because i’d be ticking off the todo list or be like “ah that f*cker who said A, B and C to me the other day” and I would just like harp on these ridiculous things and then i’d get pissed and then i’d get pissed that I was pissed and [Tim laugh] I would get up and have a cup of coffee and then storm out of the house [Josh laugh] which didn’t seem like a productive meditative sessions. I actually started doing it consistently when I kept it really short and a friend of mine recommended this where I would #1 be comfortable so I would sit down but to avoid back pain, I would lean against the wall, which is very commonly thought of as a big no no. So I was leaning against the wall to keep my back straight and I would listen to one music track, one song every morning, the same song as a cue and I would just pay attention to my breath. I would focus on being an observer of my thoughts but not trying to control them at all. So all I did was think about my todo list the entire time, that’s fine, as long as I’m paying attention to my breath. That non-attachment to an outcome, i.e. Controlling my thoughts, was very helpful. The format that I followed subsequent of that – and here we can have a longer conversation about the why it finally clicked, but the short answer is accountability: I had a teacher that would give me a hard time if I didn’t do my meditating and then report back – was 10 to 20 minutes, twice a day. What I found was that by allowing the thoughts to occur and not judging myself because let’s say I’m thinking about email, or the grocery shopping and the todo or whatever, just letting that happen but getting good at observing it, I was able to then have more emotional awareness which would prevent cognitive biases and bad judgments.
What I mean by that is, as a concrete example: I’m an impatient guy. I always have been, ever since I was literately a little kind of 12-13 years old. If I was at the restaurant with my mom and dad, and the server didn’t come over and pour water after we’ve been gone dry for 5 minutes i’d just get up and walk into the kitchen and grab a pitcher and walk out. [Tim, Josh laugh] I’m really impatient and I get angry about things that I view as deliberately slow and sloppy. And that anger can be harnessed sometimes in a really productive aggression but it also wears you down at both ends. What I found is that after meditating consistently for even a week or so, when that anger would start I was better at observing “Tim” as a 3rd person “Oh look at that, Tim is getting angry at something really small and stupid” as opposed to simply becoming angry and then causing problems for myself whether it was just internal or interacting with people. Yeah, so I agree with you completely on meditation…
JOSH WAITZKIN: I love that image of you as a 12 year old racing into the kitchen and bringing up the water. That is a great metaphor for your life. [Tim laugh] You find different examples of that as a process, you race in there, you get the water and you slice right through. That’s beautiful, I love it.
TIM FERRISS: Let’s do a couple rapid-fire questions that are all tied in to this stuff. We can just do short questions with a complement of short answers. Complete the following statement:
“My favorite time of day is BLANK”
JOSH WAITZKIN: My favorite time of day is holding my son in my arms after i’ve woke him up after i’ve done my 20-30 minutes session, I get my son, I bring him downstairs, I give him his bottle of milk and I hold him and I look at him in the eye and I tell him how proud I am and we talk about what he’s thinking about, what he’s working on and I think it’s the most magical part of my day, these days.
TIM FERRISS: And that’s in the morning?
JOSH WAITZKIN: Yeah, I wake up about half a hour before him, I do a big creative burst. You know as a parent your sleep pattern change pretty dramatically. But I found this rhythm where I wake up and I do that first and I just love that first morning energy time with him and we have this deep connection when he’s having his milk.
TIM FERRISS: I love it. What time do you wake up?
JOSH WAITZKIN: I usually wake up around 7 and usually I wake him up at 7:35.
TIM FERRISS: I’m endlessly fascinated by morning routines, so this might seem really like I’m digging into the minutia but when you wake up, it sounded like you wake up and you have 30 minutes to journal before bringing your son downstairs. Do you brush your teeth, drink a cup of coffee, any of that before you journal or do you roll out of bed and walk into the office and sit down to write?
JOSH WAITZKIN: my routine is that I roll out of bed, I brush my teeth, I go downstairs and I sit down with my journal and I start writing. I immediately apply myself to a reflection that I sort of targeted in my mind in the evening or late afternoon before. I just let it rip: I have a big creative surge. And then once I hear my son, I go get him, then I have my breakfast usually after he has his milk and then I have a cup of coffee a hour after that.
TIM FERRISS: Cool. You strike me as a happy guy. Obviously we all have our challenges then and again but like the place I’m getting remodelled at the moment, which I won’t go into dire tracks in the moment. I’m very excited about it, but it’s my 12 year old Tim wanting to go get the water pitcher, it’s not been very helpful right now. What are 2-3 things that you believe you need in order to be happy? I could be for you or it could be for people in general. I’m just curious how you would think of that question or answer that question.
JOSH WAITZKIN: One of the great things about you and I being dear friends and having conversations is that you tend to be very good at thinking into bullet points and “list of 3 things” [Tim laugh] and this is just not how my brain works. I can tell you the essence of how I relate to that question. I’m not gonna give you a 3 bullet answer because that’s just not how this brain operates. [Tim laugh] I mean i’ve built a lifestyle around being true to myself, largely, maybe because my mom used to always tell me as a kid to follow my heart, follow my dreams. I never made decisions for money or for external things and I always trusted that if I was true to myself these things would follow. So, my professional life, my foundation, my school, I only work with people who I feel are ethically aligned, who have a good energy, who I feel really good about intuitively. I keep empty space in my life, I rarely have more than 1 or 2 meetings per day. My life is about quality, and not quantity, it’s about depth and not breath. My business is based on doing very very deep and very excellent work with just a handful of people. And so I really like to cultivate quality as a way of life. I believe that when you’re not cultivating quality you’re essentially cultivating sloppiness. And so the idea of building the musculature of quality and being like a heat-seeking missile. And I take great pleasure in observing the beauty of the little moments in life. And so for me, my lifestyle is based on working out every day, I am just focussed on structuring to allow my creative process to be rich. I’m present with my son, I have my office in this home, I’m with him in the morning, I’m with him and I see him throughout the day, I’m with him giving his bath and reading stories. I’ve eliminated almost all travels that take me away from my boy. I’m going to a conference this weekend and I’m taking my wife and my baby are coming with me. I really build a life around being true and I don’t build it around anything material. And that’s really the essence of how I personally relate to that question. Of course there is a different solution for everybody, but that works for me.
TIM FERRISS: This is something that is – being true to oneself – I think that most people struggle with. I think it’s a goal that most people have, at least in the abstract, but i’d love to dig into some concrete details of that and perhaps you can share an example of something you changed. Like maybe where you got slightly off the path and you made a correction to be true to yourself and what that look like.
JOSH WAITZKIN: Well for me a very clear example is my public life. So I was a young kid and fell in love with chess, I won my first national championship when I was late 8 early 9 years old. When I was 11, a book came out: “Searching for Bobby Fisher” and then when I was 18, a movie came out about my life based on the same book that my dad initially wrote so I was really tossed under the spotlight without me wanting to. I was just a young, passionate kid, I loved playing chess and competing in chess. I was put out there and I had paparazzi following me everywhere. I was really living in the spotlight in a way I wasn’t necessarily emotionally prepared for. And I felt in my teens how that challenged my loved for this art because my art for it was so pure. That tension, that fight to stay true to my art taught me some very deep lessons and then after I finished high school, I took off and I left the country largely to study chess very deeply undistracted from publicity. I moved to eastern Europe. My girlfriend at the time was from Slovenia and no one knew me out there and it was a beautiful life and I just left the public world. Since then I have, when I came back, I had these periods where i’ve been exposed publicly and i’ve been in periods where i’ve been deep in a cave and moved away from it. And I think this is a very clean example. Other then you, very few people drag me out to public eye.
TIM FERRISS: Throw a net on the bear and drag him out of the cave. [Tim laugh]
JOSH WAITZKIN: You have a way of doing that to me, but in a beautiful way. I’ve found that the privacy of my life, not doing things, not being caught up in the swirl of fame, or seeking external adulation is a very important thing for me personally. And everyone is different. But for me, I mean maybe I have little bit of an oversensitivity to this because of my youth because I was out there so intensely as a young guy. I think it really challenged my love for the game. So this is an example of the kind of decision that i’ll make. I think it’s very important for me to live the vast majority of my life privately. I don’t do very much that will allow me to be recognized in the street or live my life as a celebrity because i’ve gone down that path and I love my privacy. And i’ve also built a career around, my businesses, working with people who are similar, who are not seeking the limelight, who are not out there on television every day, who are world-class but no one around them, other then people very close have any idea that they have been so incredibly successful from a monetary way. They try to raise their kids not to be spoiled, the kids are gritty kids, they’re great philanthropists, you know really good people. I love, I’m very drawn to people that have been enormously successful but don’t get caught up in the external crap that comes with success. And they’re real, you know, living their life tapped in to the love.
TIM FERRISS: What are some of your books, let’s just stick with books for a second, that you’ve either most gifted to other people or most recommended to other people. Because there are many people listening to this probably who won’t necessarily have the opportunity to interact with the types of high-level folks that you and I are so fortunate to have the chance to interact with but they can do that vis-à-vis books or narrative or documentaries etc. What are some books that have had a formative impact on you?
JOSH WAITZKIN: So if we go back to when I was 17-18 years old, Jack Kerouac had a huge impact on my life “On the Road”, “The The Dharma Bums”… His books originally tapped me in the idea that life could be ecstatically beautiful. And the I moved to studying Taoism so the “Tao Te Ching”, hugely, just unbelievably deep. But of course translation of that will be deformative and my favorite translation is by Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English. “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” is I think is one of the most important book ever written by Robert M. Pirsig who has become a very dear friend over the years. When “The Art Of Learning” came out, my publisher asked me “who would you love would read this book” and I said that the one person that i’d really want to read that book is Robert M. Pirsig. To me, that was just – you know, he lived a deeply secluded life – but they somehow managed to get him a copy of the book and he read it and he contacted me and I was so honored that he was moved by it. And over the year, he and I developed a really interesting dialog. So “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” I think is one of the most important books in the world that focus on quality, dynamic quality, on learning to find art in anything. Deeply deeply brilliant philosophical book. “Shantaram”, one of the most beautiful novels I found. And Gregory David Roberts is also someone I got to know very well. Just an ecstatically beautiful beautiful book. And you know I’m also a lover of fiction, I mean Ernest Hemingway has been, is probably one of the most important writer in my life.
TIM FERRISS: Any particular novel stand out for you?
JOSH WAITZKIN: I think “For Whom the Bell Tolls” is just an exquisite novel, “Green Hills of Africa” is amazing. His short stories are utterly magnificent. I think “Green Hills of Africa” is one of the most underrated book that he’s written. His complete collection of short stories is one magnificent gem after the other. Of course “The Old Man and The Sea” is the one everyone thinks about and a beautiful book. I guess that if I had to have a favorite it would be “For Whom the Bell Tolls”.
TIM FERRISS: Yeah, for those people listening that also want insights into his writing style: “A Moveable Feast” is…
JOSH WAITZKIN: Oh, magnificent book! That one really speaks to his writing process.
TIM FERRISS: Yeah, so fascinating.
JOSH WAITZKIN: Oh there’s a great book, by the way, Tim, which I think you’ve read: “Ernest Hemingway on Writing”.
TIM FERRISS: Yeah, I did read it. I also read that…
JOSH WAITZKIN: Ahhhh! I mean if someone would like to know Hemingway, it’s just a fantastic compilation of all of Hemingway’s writing, his letters and his books and his articles everywhere put together thematically. Basically Hemingway on the writing process. I think it’s one of the most important little collection on creativity that I ever ran into, absolutely brilliant.
TIM FERRISS: And it’s really short, I remember I read it on Kindle on a short flight that I had and just jammed through the whole thing. One of the recommendations was: “write drunk, edit sober” and I realized that “write drunk, edit sober” does not translate to podcast very well… The last podcast that I did with my buddy Kevin Rose… if you record drunk and edit sober, it doesn’t really actually work the same way. [Tim laugh]
Let’s do a couple more questions because this has been fun. If you had to run out of your house and just take a handful of things with you – but obviously your family is accounted for – what would you take and why?
JOSH WAITZKIN: In what kind of situation? In a very dangerous situation?
TIM FERRISS: No, you don’t have to fend for yourself with weaponry or create fire with flint or anything like that. There’s a fire in your house and you just have to get out in the street and then you’ll obviously sort things out later. But assuming your family is safe, what would you take with you? Just what you can cary basically.
JOSH WAITZKIN: That’s a really great question, I actually had that experience years ago when I was playing chess and it speaks at how crazy it was. I was studying chess with this brilliant grandmaster named Yuri Razuvaev who actually wrote about my book and I was on the 5th floor of a walk-up. This was a one-bedroom I had, my first apartment. We were deep deep into chess studying and suddenly there was a huge fire and there was 5 fire engines and dudes screaming at us and we had to go out by the fire escape and ended up going back in just to grab my computer with all my chess notes. It was just a random thing to do, it was so unimportant. [Tim laugh] It speaks out how different i’ve become. Then it ended up being seconds from being in an updraft and blowing the whole building up. So yeah, I wouldn’t do that. I don’t know man, when you ask me that question now and i’d think my family is safe, I have nothing material that I would grab.
TIM FERRISS: That’s great man. That’s a very stoic response in the most positive way. Alright my man, I’m gonna ask you one more… actually, I’m gonna give you a choice between 2 questions… let’s do that.
So the first option: What did you want to be when you grew up? So that’s when you’re a kid and now how do you answer that question.
Question number 2 is: if you had a committee of 3 people living or dead to help you make decisions, who would you choose and why?
JOSH WAITZKIN: These are great questions man.
TIM FERRISS: oh thanks! By the way I’m borrowing them really from every good interviewers i’ve ever come into contact with.
JOSH WAITZKIN: You want me to answer both or you want me to answer one of them?
TIM FERRISS: You can answer them both.
JOSH WAITZKIN: These are 2 very different questions I mean this is though man.
TIM FERRISS: I’m just trying to be reflective of your time… But if you have time and you have some thoughts on both then let’s go for it.
JOSH WAITZKIN: When I grew up I wanted to be a professional baseball player. There’s something about sport, and I spent a lot of my life as a competitor from the age of 6 until 35 I was basically a professional competitor. My mom always said to me that she felt like that was a phase and that I was a healer. That was always her language. And a lot of what I do today is try to figure out how to help people express themselves in as pure a way as possible artistically in a way that give them joy. I think that my plan is sometime in the next 4 or 5 years – I’m 37 now and I’m thinking about when I’m 40-41, well that’s 3-4 years now, I’m getting close [Tim laugh] – to turn my mind to taking everything i’ve been doing, these different laboratories and apply that to a world changing education initiative, helping children fulfil themselves in a very deep way. I think that’s an essential calling. I’m not going to say it’s my end game but that’s the next major chapter I think in my life that I’m building toward. I’ve been running my foundation for many years now and we do beautiful work but I have an allergy to scale that’s gonna dilute quality in any way. So i’ve been sort of building up the ground work to ultimately be able to do something hugely important in education. So I think that that’s gonna be the core of how I’m building toward that for the next few years.
In term of the committee of 3 people…
TIM FERRISS: Just to interject for a second, that’s also, I think, my calling and of course we’ve spoken at length about this. So if you need a co-conspirator, count me in for that one, certainly.
JOSH WAITZKIN: Yeah dude, let’s team on this. Say in 4 or 5 years let’s team up and take the world.
TIM FERRISS: Sounds like a plan man.
JOSH WAITZKIN: I love it, I love it. Sort of it taps that movement away from self. As a competitor, you’re constantly fighting in many ways, there’s something about the focus inward, on one self. I ahve definitely felt this movement away from that. My son is just… my love for him so transcends anything I ever felt before. It’s been very important to experience. When you become a dad man, we’ve gonna have some fun. All those sleepless nights.
TIM FERRISS: Oh man, yeah, you gonna see a battle weary Timbo. I need to work on my polyphasic sleep. So committee of 3 people, what are your thoughts?
JOSH WAITZKIN: Well one person who would be on that committee is someone who I know, a very deep friend of mine who happens to be in the finance world. His name is Dave – I can’t speak about what his last name is – and he’s just a deeply meditating spirit, with great wisdom, as insightful a human being as i’ve ever known in my life. I think that he would definitely be on that list. Can I say outrageous characters like Gandhi?
TIM FERRISS: yeah yeah yeah, go for it
JOSH WAITZKIN: I think about Gandhi Lhassa, the buddha. I don’t know man… I don’t know if I can answer this question very intelligently…
TIM FERRISS: that’s the perfect way to end! [Tim laugh]
JOSH WAITZKIN: I don’t know…. and Tim of course you man, you give me so much crap in life that i’d have to call you because you’d be the one to slice through all the nonsense. And my mom, that’s the most important one, my mom. She’s giving me the most deep advices in my life. I mean my mom is the one person who has really embraced these crazy decisions that i’ve made when I left arts, when I was at the top of those fields because of some strange things like that. My mom has to be on the top of any list like that, she’s my hero. My mom is the greatest person i’ve ever known in my life.
TIM FERRISS: awesome man. Well this is been a lot of fun. Obviously we’re going to have a lot more conversations. Is there anything you want to add, any parting thoughts, advices, suggestions, anything like that that you’d like to impart. If not, we can call it a day, but the mike is yours if there’s anything that you’d like to add.
JOSH WAITZKIN: No I love this, this has been really interesting to me. I guess that if I’m gonna close with a thought, it would be… you know one thing that i’ve been doing in the last years, since writing “The Art Of Learning”, is I’ve been exposed to the most brilliant thinkers from different fields, i’ve studied the patterns behind them and i’ve studied the people who study them. And one of the things we have to be weary in life is studying the people who study the artists as opposed to the artists themselves. Robert M. Pirsig, the author of “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” that I mention, he uses this great term: “the philosopher and the philosophologist”. The philosophologist are the ones who basically philosophy about the philosophers as opposed to doing philosophy. And the vast majority of philosophers today actually are philosophologists. Similarly, you and I have discussed: there’s the writer and the literary critic, there’s the artist and the art critic… And I think that we need to be very careful when we study excellence and we’re thinking about our own past excellence that we’re studying and then we’re tuning in the direct experience of the people that have actually been there as opposed to armchair professors who are talking about it. Because, you know, if we spend our life in the trenches and we spend our life studying that last .1 % of the learning process, what we see is that that final passage to excellence is really about navigating that razor’s edge where we have to be willing to go right up against a potential blunder (in chess). You have to improvise for example: trust your intuition in moments when all the objective, mathematical faculties you’ve developed tell you something else, but your intuition is operating at a higher level. You have to really be willing to go up to the brink of disaster to succeed in moments when you’re for example fighting in the finals of the World Championship or in the very last seconds of of a SuperBowl or NBA finals. And in navigating these things, the armchair professors will often have the exact opposite of good advice and so, what I would say is, for one thing listen deeply, internally to the core of your being and build your game plan from there, trust your gut and then build your lifestyle around listening to that and cultivate the love… and that’s the other thing i’d say: whether your talking about the beginning of the learning process or the very final surge or surges, it’s about the love, think about parenting, cultivating resilience, cultivating excellence, cultivating creativity. With the armchair professors they all forget about the love and that’s what I see consistently with the people who have found the most pleasure, the most happiness, is that they have a profound passion for what they do. Not only in the big moment but the small moments that others would call pain, they learn to love practice, they learn to love the point of resistance. I still forget about the love, I guess that’s what I need to say.
TIM : Well that’s a beautiful way to end this man. Well Josh, I’m sure that we’ll be talking. Next time we’ll have some wine and…
JOSH WAITZKIN: Sounds good Timbo
TIM FERRISS: yeah, I hope everybody checks out “The Art of Learning” and really keep an eye on what you have coming when you decide to push stuff out of the cave.
JOSH WAITZKIN: Thanks this was a blast, really enjoyed it.
JOEL side note: if you like Josh and would like to understand better how his mind work when playing chess or what he meant by “the importance of empty space”, take a look at this video of him explaining a chess game he had: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nEotVZ7fkBk