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Plato’s Republic and The Art of Learning in modern education

by DENNIS DALTON
I first met Josh Waitzkin before he had written The Art of Learning but after he had established his spectacular achievements in chess. Josh was an undergraduate in my Political Theory Barnard College course at Columbia University that I had taught there since 1969. This was a large lecture class but it was followed by small discussion sessions that I led. There, in this intimate but vigorous exchange of ideas, I became well acquainted with Josh’s ideas. Of course, I couldn’t have known then that many of his thoughts about education that he shared in those discussions would appear only a few years later in his book.
The political theory course started with an ample examination of Plato’s Republic, the foundation of western philosophy. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, in his own classic on educational theory, Emile, called The Republic “the finest treatise on education ever written.”
A central element in Plato’s theory is the way that he framed, for the first time in philosophy (western or eastern), the nature-nurture paradigm that continues to be discussed as a key concern of education. Although I had taught this class for decades before Josh joined it I didn’t realize until he came that his example aptly demonstrated Plato’s thesis.
Plato grounded his educational philosophy in two major concepts, first, the idea of arete, defined as an inherent excellence or natural gift in a person; and, second, techne, the skill subsequently developed in that individual through proper nurturing of arete. These two elements in a student constitute his or her essence. Acting together, they form the product of mind and character that may come only from a right education, or “art of learning”. All of this was first expounded in The Republic.
Although interpretations of Plato’s nature-nurture theoretical model have swung back and forth like a pendulum, to either put the two concepts at variance or emphasize one over the other, Plato carefully portrayed them as inextricably interwoven, insisting that only a firm understanding of how they worked together could produce the result intended, of a soundly educated person, whether the student develop an expertise in crafts, medicine or philosophy. In the end, the happiness of a community depended on the nurturing and implementation of a scrupulously conceived and applied system of education.
The presence of an individual’s inherent gift or inborn type of excellence is basic, yet if this quality is not discerned and cultivated by discerning teachers, then the system must fail. This is why Rousseau asserted that to view Plato’s Republic as a book about politics rather than education missed its fundamental purpose and meaning. As Plato emphasized when he introduced the nature-nurture paradigm, “education or nurture is the one thing that is an absolute requisite.” (Republic. IV. 423)
I believe that there’s no better explanation of the validity of Plato’s thesis about education than The Art of Learning, from the very first page, when Josh opens with a narrative that will forecast his future as a chess master. He describes his revelation on a day when he is walking with his mother in Washington Square Park in New York. It’s important to note that he’s only six years old, with no previous exposure whatsoever to chess. In fact, he had been mainly under the spell of “Spider-Man, sharks, dinosaurs, sports and driving[ his] parents crazy with mischief.”
Then without warning the epiphany occurred: “We had taken this walk dozens of times. I loved to swing around on the monkey bars and become Tarzan, the world my jungle. But now something felt different. I looked over my shoulder, and was transformed by mysterious figurines set up on a marble chessboard.” The sensation was “magical”.
Soon he began to play with an old man despite his mother’s apologetic admonition that he had no knowledge of chess at all. Instantly, his inner sensation of somehow knowing the game guided his moves. An inborn competence, a gift of excellence, an unmistakable display of arete shone forth at that early age. Josh relates how “My mom was confused, a little concerned about what had come over her boy. I was in my own world.” Yet the old player quickly intuited that something special was on display. He predicted from that one chance encounter that he would “read about you[Josh] in the paper someday.”
Following Plato’s theory, it’s easy to see that if Josh’s arete had been left at that moment, even as he would repeatedly return to Washington Square, now consumed with the game, then no one would have read about his subsequent achievements. The prerequisite to all the rest came with techne or the art of learning that he relates in riveting detail. It’s precisely the method found in “the art of learning” that determines the outcome of any person’s arete. This is why the main excitement of the book lies not merely in the discovery at the beginning but in the careful explanation that follows of how techne works through the educators who helped develop Josh’s talent.
In the ideal world of Plato’s Republic, the story would not be as random as Josh tells it here. The role of his loving father and mother would be replaced from the start by rigorously tested equivalents of Bruce Pandolfini, the master-level chess teacher that serendipitously recognized Josh’s unique gift one afternoon in the park. Plato’s community is tightly structured, organized around the paradigm that he pronounced so that no gift is left undiscerned because teachers are eminently qualified to perceive and elicit the excellence of each student. Of course, in our very different system of education, the tragedy from a Platonic perspective, is that so many minds are wasted. It’s ultimately a society that doesn’t care enough to cultivate concern for each achieving her or his potential excellence.
Now, I’d like to shift to my own attempts to take further the vital lessons contained in both The Republic and The Art of Learning. Following my classes with Josh and reading his life-changing book, I retired from teaching college in 2008 and moved first to St. Croix and then to Portland, Oregon. My sole purpose was to be near my two granddaughters, Mia and Sierra, then ages 5 and 3 respectively in order to be personally involved in their education.
I began teaching in their elementary schools from pre-K and then advanced with them to where they are presently enrolled, a Portland public high school. I wasn’t only concerned with them, of course, but with the students in sometimes large classes, attempting to discern their relative strengths and weaknesses in one subject or another.
My question was whether Plato was correct about each child, regardless of sex (because Plato’s theory was gender-neutral, a revolutionary ideal in ancient Athens), having an arete or special excellence that should be developed by a particular mode of education, Josh’s “art of learning”? Although my experiment hasn’t had the systematic quality of a proper scientific study and is surely influenced by personal bias, I have come to appreciate its value throughout the last eight years. Above all, I’m gratified that after teaching Plato’s Republic since 1965 (first, at the University of London), I’m pleased that in certain ways it’s applicable in the real world of education rather than dismissed as a utopia. As I’ve said, Josh’s theory and practice show the way.
In the ethics class that I’m now teaching in high school, we employ the Socratic dialogue to instruct students in various moral philosophies, from Plato to the present. An art of learning is applied that stresses not competition but co-operative discourse in the way that Josh describes. In contrast to the adversarial style of debating, our classes foster conversational civil discourse.
Specifically, the philosophies that we examine begin with classical Greek thought (Plato and Aristotle), then move to ethics of Kant (deontology), theories of Bentham and Mill (utilitarianism), feminist care (Carol Gilligan and Nell Nodding), contract theory (Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Rawls) and finally the ethics of nonviolence ( M.K.Gandhi and Martin Luther King). The aim is to teach each of these six ethical philosophies by using excerpts from primary texts, supplemented by Michael Sandel’s Justice (together with his video lecture series).
We direct these readings at “cases” of moral issues or ethical problems, e.g., of racism, sexism, xenophobia. There is no effort to find a final solution for remedying these various afflictions but to subject them to civil discourse or, as I said, in the spirit of a Socratic dialogue that resembles Plato’s classic style.
Josh’s crucial emphasis throughout the book on the value of a non-aggressive art of learning, recognizing and imparting a plurality of theories, becomes an indispensable guideline.
In the fall semester of 2017, I intend to return to Barnard College to offer a first year seminar called “Ethics” that will further test this experiment at a university level. Wish me luck.

-Dennis Dalton, Professor Emeritus of Political Science, Barnard College, Columbia University, N.Y.

An Actor’s Journey Into The Art of Learning

by MATT RYAN

I first came across The Art of Learning in my junior year in college. After about a year pondering Josh’s principles, as well as those of Tim Ferriss, and experimenting with them in my own acting work, I decided to test my knowledge and see if I understood them well enough to teach them to a group of people who were completely unfamiliar with them, and build the foundation of an acting company and show around the principles.

I used one of my favorite plays, A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams, to facilitate this process. I knew this show would work well because in order to work with it at all you need to strip away the crushing preconceptions of famous productions that have come before it, and thus are forced to operate from first principles. I also knew doing the show would get better actors to audition and more people in the audience come performance time.

I used Tim Ferriss’ Meta Learning Principle DiSSS (Deconstruction Selection Sequencing Simplification Stakes) to set the ground rules and operating principles for the company and show. In order to work as a team we needed to come up with unified terminology and operating rules. There are so many misconceptions and traps that come along with acting and acting technique, and it is easy for a seven-member cast like ours to all be operating on different frequencies. After a few days of heated debate we came to the conclusion that our goal was the goal set by the forefathers of modern acting, Constantin Stanislavski and Michael Chekhov, which is Creative Self Expression. This is achieved through the way of Form-Transformation-Creative Self Expression; meaning once the form is mastered, then one can transform oneself, once transformation is mastered, true Creative Self Expression can ensue. This goes hand in hand with what Josh teaches in The Art of Learning over and over again. It rang the most true for me when he told the story of forcing The Buffalo to play Chess with him in the Push Hands World Championship.

It was important for this that I not only challenged everyone’s perceptions of what they thought acting was, but even more importantly, showed them that the process they were being taught was not conducive to mastery. I did this by flipping the process they knew so well completely on its head. Instead of the traditional hierarchical process of Director, Assistant Director, Stage Manager, Actors, etc., we would remove the hierarchy and run this like a lean startup, or better yet, like an elite sports team. An NFL team, for instance, trains together, practices together, studies together, plays together, and then when the time comes, performs together. Every player not only plays their position, they are also teacher and coach simultaneously. So for our production everyone was Director, Stage Manager, and Actor. This not only allowed us to be as efficient as possible, it taught us through constant application some of our most important principles. It taught candor with one another as well as with oneself, which then could lead to the most important principle: awareness of process.

We only had three and half weeks from casting to performance to achieve our objective. It is said that it takes an actor 20 years of training to be able to achieve true creative self-expression. So I knew I would have to sacrifice something somewhere. I decided that the technique that it takes to be able to transform oneself completely was far too vast and difficult to teach to a group of varying ability and experience in under 4 weeks. I felt that if I put our energy in the right places, enough transformation would occur through exploring depth with the other principles. So that meant we had to focus solely on awareness and givens of the story (meaning what clues does the playwright give to the actors on what their characters are supposed to do and how they do it.)

For the givens aspect of this, I decided to use Josh’s principle of “Learning the Macro from the Micro.” From personal experience I have noticed that when most actors create a character they only do it from limited perspective – either from their own life experience or from a two dimensional interpretation of character. What I mean by this is that we as people are almost entirely different people based on who we are around, but when people act on stage or screen it seems to be a person reacting exactly the same no matter where they are or who they are around. So we decided to create characters based on their interactions with other characters and other characters only, such that they should be an almost different person based on whom they are around. This taught us who these people were and leads me to my next principles.

“Form to Leave Form”, “Making Smaller Circles”, and “The Power of Presence” pervaded everything we did within these three weeks. Most importantly, they all centered around teaching one of the techniques that is the toughest to teach in acting and a quality that all great actors have, which is making every moment seem like it is the first time it has ever happened. “Living in the Present Moment” is tough when you have experienced that particular moment a hundred times over in rehearsal. We taught this by incorporating it into everything we did. We practiced daily mindfulness meditation. We played what I called the “Surprise Game” – during a scene, any time one actor felt like another was operating on autopilot, they had to surprise them in some way driven by their character. We also would come together as a company after every scene and we would answer a few questions I adopted from Jeff Sutherland’s SCRUM: “What worked? What didn’t work? How am I going to fix it? How am I going to put myself in a position to fail again next time?” These questions helped the cast quickly put themselves in a third person perspective so they could accurately gauge their work and progress over time. The last question, derived from Josh’s ‘Investment in Loss”, became a sort of mantra of ours. We used failure as an objective learning point rather than a subjective learning one. This not only made every acting moment interesting, it caused us to learn much more quickly because we were valuing the process over the results.

In the actual performance we made sure we kept this idea of process over results going. We had each actor performing some sort of an experiment while performing his or her part (I found in my own work that experimenting when the stakes were the highest led to massive learning jumps.) We would then break between each scene and answer our questions in front of the audience. The end result had a tremendous effect on all that attended and especially all that were part of the company. My goal from the beginning of this was that if I inspired one actor enough to realize their full potential or to head himself or herself into the journey of higher learning through Josh’s work, I would have succeeded. I am proud to say that almost every member in the company and a vast majority of the audience (about 40 in attendance) expressed their interest in delving into the world of higher learning.

For me the biggest thing that I realized through this workshop and my own studies with The Art of Learning was that finding this book was like finding a priceless artifact that has been tucked away in your basement for centuries. The more that you explore the artifact and its limits, you find that not only is the artifact the actual foundation of the house, it is the house. The Art of Learning is the key to a world that seems like fantasy, but is actually directly at your fingertips if you only reach for it.

Loving the Game of Making Music

By NIKOLA TOŠIC

There is a powerful memory, which always resurfaces when I am helping people make music. It is of my brother, my sister and myself, ages 7, 6 and 5, digging through a crate of Legos, working on whatever it is our minds were determined to build. In that serene setting we found ourselves making something a little less touchable.. It would be a wonderful, completely spontaneous and improvised song, comprised of tongue clicks, whoops, tiki-tikis, nhya-nhye-nhyes and a whole array of sounds from our imaginary languages. It was a sort of trance-like ritual of our little tribe and I can never tell how long this composition lasted. It was so enchanting that we had a hard time bringing it to an end. We laughed so hard as each tried to put a silly punctuation to it.

I’ve seen this exhilarating creativity many times, not only in children, but in grown-ups as well. And I mean solemn grown-ups, dealing with adversities, all of which seem to crumble away while making music, as if they stepped through a portal to their childhood curiosity and excitement. As a musician and a workshop facilitator, the principle Loving the Game resonates with me in a powerful way.

In my experiences with music education, I’ve had difficulty reconciling with the dryness of the learning process. Through all of it, I’ve come to believe that learners relate best to the great composers and their work if they themselves are encouraged to be artists.

What I do is guide groups to make their own music. The groups vary in age and musical experiences. My task is to guide them out of their sphere of knowledge, into an open place where it’s safe to “not know”. Here there is room for abstract thought, for silliness, for darkness, for music they are not required to analyze, label or explain.

A crucial aspect of the process is the absence of written music. The workshop is an aural experience, which creates a powerful connection to the artwork and to the other artists.

One approach is by starting off the process with abstract content that is within their grasp, like rhythms using assigned numbers per some visual parameters, introducing color coded groups of notes, discussing topics from other areas etc.

After the introduction of the abstract, the participants split up into smaller groups and are left with a somewhat open task. Their minds can now tinker with the material they’ve been introduced to. They are then discovering other building blocks of music and seeing how they work alone or together, then inverted, reversed, stretched out, squeezed, mangled etc.

While they are working on their pieces, my role is to ask questions, offer different points of view and carefully nudge them if needed. This is often the time to encourage them to follow through with some ‘crazy’ impulse, if they were having second thoughts. As they swing between the open, explorative realm and everyday social habits and fears, validation can give them a much needed boost to take their composition further than they might have thought possible.

It’s important to emphasize the uniqueness of each artist and help them understand there aren’t any bad ideas, though some work better with others. Much like my, siblings each of us contributing a layer to the chant, it can be magical when these unique voices/ideas find their way to fit together.

As the music makers enter this open space, a natural process has been activated. Now there is a sense of camaraderie among the group, people are supporting each other, teaching each other little bits of music, combining, trying out, changing and improving. Honestly, sometimes it’s mind-blowing how fast things can move in the open space.

It’s easy (and valuable) to get lost for a while in the endless ocean of musical possibilities. There might be a moment a group needs someone to “translate” their open ideas into clear tasks. I find short time constraints to be a wonderful challenge, especially now that the group is working together against the clock.
One of the most beautiful results of the creative process is the focus on quality and intention. Most of the time, it comes completely naturally, as the artists assume ‘ownership’ of their compositions. It’s a powerful thing to observe and the intensity of a performance is hard to describe. It can even be too intense, as I’ve gotten into serious trouble with some fourth graders when my phone went off during a recording of their piece.

There is a tremendous source of energy to be found in Loving the Game. I believe this to be a sustainable energy, which can keep the creative mind returning to the timeless realm, where presence and selflessness bring beautiful art into existence. Moreover, when the music making is a shared experience, it opens up a whole world of connections between the artists.

Making Smaller Circles with Visual Design

By ALAN DOMIC

Visual design is a field drastically under-supplied with good learning resources. This could be of absolutely no relevance to you, but it was crucial to me when I started trying to learn it systematically. In that attempt, I came across The Art of Learning and gradually got much better at learning; along the way, I picked up some lessons that may turn out to have relevance for you. Writing about them all would fill a booklet, so in this article I’ll only give you some thoughts on the principle from The Art of Learning that has been the most consistently helpful to me at every level – Making smaller circles.

My initial use of Making smaller circles was for learning the macro from the micro. In my case, that meant designing the least complex element that requires the same kind of choices as a full-scale work (such as a printed page or webpage, for example). Using web design as an example, the humble webpage button is a good choice for this, since designing one entails decisions about typography (the design of text), color and layout; for the same reasons, a paragraph with a title works well. After designing many iterations of those basic elements, I was surprised how considerably my grasp of the fundamental principles was strengthened: earlier, I thought these elements would be too trivial to focus on. But I found that my workflow sped up greatly and a slowness I hadn’t even been aware of had disappeared – as if I’d been wading through molasses and suddenly broke free. I found the takeaway for learning abundantly clear: there is no “too trivial” element of the whole to focus on.

After many exercises involving just one element, I moved on to small-scale pieces consisting of a few elements, as a way of probing the understanding of my principles in a controlled environment. While doing these exercises, Tim Ferriss’ thought from The 4-Hour Chef that “the burden on working memory is what makes something easy or hard” kept popping into my head. It seemed absolutely true to me the first time I’d read it – but now I felt I understood it on a visceral level. A better understanding of fundamental principles also led me to appreciate design in a new way: a beautiful design now seemed to be simply one whose elements are in harmony. This isn’t a new idea, but I couldn’t appreciate it viscerally or experience it influencing my work before I’d refined my understanding of the key principles to a finer level. I should note that grasping what “being in harmony” means for any group of elements is arguably the stuff of being a great designer – it wasn’t that I achieved this, but I found the mark to aim at.

I eventually realized that this approach made me better attuned to the interplay of various elements. In many cases, a good design has a fractal-like quality: its parts mirror the whole. I now regularly work “from the inside out”, planning a piece not from its frame or the most visually dominant feature, but from the element that “carries most of the load” of conveying the message. This is analogous to planning a story from the most important element (the one carrying most of the narrative load) outward – which could be the characters, the setting, or the story arc, or some other element. Why this approach? Because I find the characteristics of this element determine most of the other relationships between elements, and these are what makes up the entire work. In many cases, these relationships mirror those within the main element – and those of the main element with secondary elements may mirror those between elements further out, and so on. This is how the work gets the fractal-like quality I spoke about earlier. In this way, using Making smaller circles for learning was a stepping stone for using it to learn about the structure of a full work. Broad usefulness of this kind, at any degree of proficiency, is the reason I’ve found this principle so universally helpful.

Winning in New Ways

By SHELBY HOYT

It has been about 6 months since I have completed reading The Art of Learning. Josh’s story really got me thinking because his story is very similar to mine. My journey started off as an elementary school student with some big shoes to fill. I come from a family of athletes, swimmers to be exact. My grandfather competed in backstroke events at VMI, my parents met on the swim team at the University of Georgia, and my mother competed for Canada at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. To make a long story short, I was born with the swimming gene.

However, the idea of competitiveness was something that I had to learn. When I first started swimming, I participated because I loved being in the water and goofing around with my friends. My parents have always believed in nurturing my love for the water, so we spent every summer up in Canada visiting relatives. My coaches always thought my parents were crazy because they never made me train while we were away. Those summers were the best gifts that my parents could have ever given me.

As I grew older, my parents understood that it was time to shorten our visits and become more focused on swimming, only at my request. Throughout high school, I became extremely dedicated to the sport and found success in my hard work. I became the Georgia State Champion in the 500 yard Freestyle and achieved All-American status. Later that year, I signed to compete at NC State in the distance freestyle events. I graduated from high school at the top of my swimming game and excited to compete at a NCAA division I level.

When I first got to school the training and schoolwork became much more difficult. I started training twice a day and started lifting weights, something that I had not done in high school. I also had to adapt to being coached by new people and getting to know my new teammates. With all of the added stress, my body had a difficult time keeping up. A few months into school, I caught pneumonia and had to take a few weeks off. I eased back into swimming around December and I knew that I was behind with the training. In order to get back into peak shape, I began training harder than ever, but my body still couldn’t keep up. One month later, I was in the emergency room with a severe respiratory infection. With the rest of my freshman season in the bucket, I was not off to a good start and my confidence knew it.

Going into my sophomore year, things did not get better. My body continued to succumb to respiratory problems and my coaches started to become frustrated. I, however, became my harshest critic. I couldn’t understand how I had gone from State Champion to not even being able to make the travel team. My confidence was at all all-time low and I began to hate swimming. It wasn’t fun anymore. It’s a crazy feeling, losing something that has always been your passion.

At the end of my sophomore season, I knew that it was time for me to retire from the sport. I was no longer excited about competing and I didn’t enjoy practice anymore. With my new-found freedom, I was excited to enjoy my last two years of college. I changed my major from Animal Science to Education and I was excited to explore my new life. At the beginning of my junior year I started to have different problems. I would show up to the gym to workout and would never enjoy myself. I hated being there because it reminded me of my swimming life. I didn’t feel good about myself because I was no longer in “good shape” and I was afraid of reaching hard levels because I didn’t want to get sick again. Exercise always reminded me of pain and I began to stay away from it all together.

At the end of my junior year, my professor handed my class The Art of Learning to read over the summer. She told us to read the book and just shoot her a quick email when we finished. As I was reading, I began to really relate to Josh’s story. He had managed to put all of my feelings into writing. He had chosen to leave something that had great meaning to him. Not only that but he had learned how to ignite passion into something new, how to make things exciting. After finishing the book in three days, I began a summer-long experiment: I was going to figure out how to like exercising again.

What I learned from Josh and my earlier days of swimming was that I needed to start slowly. I didn’t want to just throw myself into something because the overwhelming feeling would not be helpful. So I decided to take hour-long walks in the afternoons. No running, no intervals, no time standards; just walking. I would sometimes go by myself or with a few friends and I would just enjoy being outside. I did this for a few weeks and began to feel great because I was being healthier and it wasn’t too difficult. This was when I decided that I would make things more challenging, but not by too much. So I set a goal of being able to run one mile without stopping. I found that the challenge was difficult at the time but it began to get easier and easier. I was beginning to have fun with exercise again!

With the summer coming to an end, I was pleased with my results. I was able to run four miles without stopping and I began to practice yoga for stress-relief. However, when school began again things started to get harder. I wasn’t able to keep up with my strict summer regiment, but I never let things fall into shambles. The fall was a learning experience. I was doing well in the classroom and I still found time for exercise. I can honestly say that I did not train at NCAA division I level, but I did enough to satisfy myself and that is what I am excited to build upon. This past Thanksgiving I ran my first-ever four mile Turkey Trot and I finished with my chin held high. It was, and still is, a difficult journey that I am handling to this day.

The next question is, how does this enhance my teaching abilities? Although “teaching” is the name of my profession, “learning” and “understanding” are what the profession is all about. My experience with The Art of Learning has taught me that the concept of “learning” and “education” is an on-going journey. There will be good days and there will be bad days. What will you make of them? Learning to find comfort in exercise was something that has plagued me for a long time because of how overwhelmed I felt. When I was able to break it apart and take my time, I realized that I was able to really enjoy the activity and the whole experience. This approach is central to my educational philosophy now. Currently, I am a middle grades student teacher in an American Social Studies classroom. Instead of throwing big concepts at my students, I plan on starting small. When I am teaching I want them to find an aspect of history that they relate to so that they start to become more immersed on their own. When we start to hit on the larger topics and ideas, they will have a point of reference if they become confused or overwhelmed

All in all, I can say that this has been the most difficult piece that I have had to write in my four years of college because this story has made me who I am today. The Art of Learning is a book that will always be in the back of my mind when I am trying to understand and grow with my middle school students. By starting small and building upon new interests, my goal is to make my students into life-long learners.

The Art of Bowling, part 2

By JOHN KAFALAS

Earlier this month, I recorded a 4th-place finish in the Candlepin Pro Series playoffs, a season-ending tournament involving the top 40 bowlers in the pro tour standings. I started as the #36 seed and went to the semifinals before losing to the eventual champion. Along the way, several of Josh’s principles came into play.

 

Staying in the present

The day’s agenda: a preliminary round for seeds 25-40, then five rounds of bracket match play. I felt anxious in the preliminary round and had to use a lot of self-talk: Stay in the moment. Believe in yourself. Trust your game – you know it works; do not try to force it. I survived and moved on to match play, where I beat three of the best bowlers in the game, before bowing out.

I know that my game can and will get the job done. But I tend to be too excitable in competition and have sometimes had a problem Josh describes from chess tournaments: investing so much emotion and energy in one match that you’re too spent and lose the next one. I’ve been working on keeping that in check and pacing myself better, trying to avoid putting everything into one match as an end in itself. Josh says, “the solution does not lie in denying emotions, but in learning to use them to our advantage.” That means channeling my excitability into determination and focus. I don’t talk with or even look at my opponent often during a match. After a win (in bowling, when you lose a match, you go home), I try not to react too much or talk about it with other bowlers or spectators; I just drink some water and prepare for the next match.

 

The Soft Zone

In the Pro Series playoffs, my second-round opponent was one of the top bowlers in New England – the winner of this year’s 20-game Easter Classic, in fact. I got off to a quick start and after the first game of the two-game match, had a healthy lead. But early in the second game, just as I was delivering a ball, the public-address system interrupted with a loud announcement related to another tournament going on at the same time. That broke my concentration badly and threw me off my game for a couple of frames, while my opponent threw two spares to cut my comfortable lead to a tenuous one. It was like that moment Josh describes in a chess game, when you have an advantage but then make a small mistake and find yourself in an even game all of a sudden.

At a moment like that, the immediate reaction is to think, “Why does she have to keep interrupting us on the PA? Now I’m in trouble. I had this lead, and the distraction made me screw up and lose it. How am I supposed to get it back against this guy?”

But that’s not what happened. I thought of Josh and said to myself, “Time to make sandals. Stay patient and just get back to business.” I had to trust that my game – which, after all, had staked me to a lead in the first place – was perfectly capable of doing it again. Which is exactly what happened — I got back in gear, defeated my opponent, then won one more match against another of the top bowlers. I finally lost in the semifinal round – but the tournament was my high-water mark as a tour bowler. It also reinforced the incremental theory of learning and the idea that you can always keep getting better. This season was my best ever… but there is still room for improvement.