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Category: Beginner’s Mind

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.

Debate and The Art of Learning: A Reflection

Tian Yan 2

Guest Blogger: Tian Yan

This article is about how I apply the practice of debate and the ideas discussed in Josh Waitzkin’s “The Art of Learning” to my own personal development. Like Josh, I’m writing as honestly as I can, and in doing so, am sharing with you the most personal aspects of my life—things I’ve not even told my closest friends.

My name is Tian Yan. I’m a final-year software engineering undergraduate from Malaysia.

Three years ago, I dropped out of a top-20-world-ranking university because I was failing my academic course. I returned to Malaysia and continued my education in the Asia Pacific University College of Technology and Innovation (UCTI).

For more than a year, I battled personal demons because I got kicked out from the university I worked so hard to enter. I was more disappointed in myself than other people were and I wasn’t sure if I could ever accomplish anything difficult again. Having to restart my education with much younger peers did not help matters.

But then I discovered debating.

DEBATE

A friend asked me to participate in an upcoming debate tournament. I was scared as hell because I had scars from debating back in high school. Fortunately, I quickly agreed to participate before my mind gave me excuses not to go. I needed to regain a sense of accomplishment.

I learned to love the game. We got killed in that first tournament, but I made many close friends who took me under their wings and taught me the foundational skills of debate.

In my second tournament, we broke through the quarter-finals as underdogs. A debate adjudicator thought we had potential and trained us for free in a one-day crash course.

In my third tournament, we gave it everything we had. Even though we had had only four months of debating, we managed to emerge in the octo-finals of the Asian British Parliamentary debating championship. I hadn’t felt so alive in a very long time.

More important, I always meet someone new in every tournament. When we compete against each other, it feels almost like a reunion. In his book, Josh says that “Experience is what you get when you don’t win.” I would add: “Friendships are what you get just for trying.”

I discovered Josh’s “The Art Of Learning” through an interview he did with Dave Lakahni and Dr. Ben Mack. When Josh shared his insights in winning world chess championships and Tai Chi Push Hands tournaments, they resonated with my own debating experience: How Josh found his love for chess and described the experience as “reconnecting with a lost memory”….How he turned down the offer to share the world championship title with a draw because it was not a meaningful win….And how he transfered his excellence from chess to Tai Chi, a sport outside his domain.

All that felt just like my experience with debating.

Like white chess pieces, the Government team has the strategic advantage over the Opposition team in deciding the first move.

As in Tai Chi, we tempt our opponents to overextend their case beyond the limits of their arguments and use their admissions to prove our own case in no definite order.

Like Josh, debaters create chaos in debates and trap our opponents with an unexpected attack.

After studying Josh’s ideas, debating took on a whole different meaning for me. I now see it as a vehicle for developing mental discipline and keeping my mind even and focused during critical moments. The practice influenced my debating philosophy and taught me to love my rival opponents, even the ones who played dirty. In Josh’s words:“Your opponent is your enemy, yet there is no one who knows you more intimately, no one who challenges you so profoundly and pushes you so relentlessly.”

Since we’re stuck without a coach, it can be intimidating to debate against world champions and other seasoned debaters. And so, part of our practice is to learn everything we can from every opportunity we get. The pressure I feel to win lies in the fact that my career started late. I’ve only six months left to debate and if I can accomplish something worthwhile, I will have no reason to believe I cannot master anything difficult again – even though I was a university drop-out once.

Yet, too many peop3d human with a red question markle enter debate tournaments not to win, but to “not to lose.” And that’s a shame because they never strive to win and therefore miss out on the cumulative benefits that can make them better. Unfortunately, some people see winning as the only option and can never accept their loss. And that’s a shame too because they don’t understand that losses are an important investment in self-discovery. That’s why we always remember our most humbling losses.

Finally, I learned to ask myself this question: “Does my debating make me a better person?” Being a debater does not mean I have the license to be rude and right all the time. Instead, the practice of debate has only gone to show me how the many months I spent in debate training failed to make me a better person. That’s why my passion for learning to debate better now includes teaching it to others – this makes me feel like a better person and fulfills my sense of accomplishment.

I challenge you to strive for a similar sense of achievement through your own pursuits.

TEACHING THE ART OF LEARNING IN A RURAL WYOMING ELEMENTARY SCHOOL (PART THREE)

Heather Danforth
Heather Danforth

Guest Blogger: Heather Danforth

Heather, an elementary school teacher in rural Wyoming, is working with The Art of Learning and sharing her classroom experiences…

Lesson Two: Value Process Before Results

This lesson began with a short video of a hermit crab changing shells. The students watched as the hermit crab quickly made the leap from one shell to another, and then we discussed what they had witnessed. Even my youngest students understood the significance of the quick transition; because the hermit crab is most vulnerable when it is outside its shell, it makes these changes quickly to minimize the time that it leaves itself open to attack. Then I posed the question: If leaving its shell makes it vulnerable, why does the hermit crab do this? We discussed the fact that, if the crab were to stay in the same shell, it could never grow.  The hermit crab must make itself vulnerable in order to grow.
Following our hermit crab talk, it was easy to shift the direction of the discussion to the relevance of this metaphor to our ownCIMG2313-742119 lives. I told my students the story of my first ballroom dance class, admitting to them that I felt frightened and embarrassed when, on the first day, I realized that I was easily the worst student in the class. Everyone seemed to master the steps more quickly than I did! When I returned home, I was tempted to drop the class. It would have been easy not to return. I could have gone back to the things that I felt comfortable with, such as reading and writing, and left this art to those that (I supposed) were born with the natural talent to be successful. However, I really wanted to learn this skill, so I didn’t give up. Instead, I found the best dancer in the class and asked him if he would be willing to partner with me – under his tutelage, I often felt clumsy and slow, but I learned. Even if something took me 50 tries to master, while it only took someone else 5 tries, I put in the necessary time and effort. Four years later, after many more classes, I was no longer the worst dancer in the room. In order to grow, I had to make myself vulnerable. There were no shortcuts. Growth only came when I was willing to step outside of my comfort zone and take on someone that was outside my current level of ability.
After I shared my story of feeling like a shell-less hermit crab, my students were eager to share their own stories. Tae kwon do, skiing, ballet, long division, interpreting poetry … they each described times when they had felt as vulnerable as the hermit crab making the jump to a larger shell. We discussed the kind of self-talk that can naturally follow in these experiences: “Wow, I

brainguess I’m not as smart as I thought I was” or “I’m just bad at this, there’s no hope for me.” We brainstormed a list of things we could tell ourselves to change this negative self talk. Class favorites included “I guess I’m changing shells, and that’s a good thing!” or “If I were lifting weights, I’d have to “max out” to make any growth. I guess I’m “maxing out” my brain!” Now, I often remind students that we need to take opportunities to change our shells – stepping out of our comfort zones and going beyond our current abilities in order to grow. Even more powerful, I have noticed students reminding one another of the same thing. Recently, I watched one of my young students start to cry because he was struggling with a difficult math problem. Another student put her arm around him and said, “It’s okay – you’re just a hermit crab changing shells.”