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The Art of Bowling


I’m a candlepin bowler, on an unusual career path: I was very active as a youth bowler, then drifted away from the sport after high school and bowled only sporadically for most of my adult life, until I decided, at the age of 43, to return to bowling as an intensive competitor and see how much I could accomplish at this stage of life.  At 50, I’m bowling better than ever before – and much of the credit has to go to the principles detailed in Josh’s book.

The first two chapters, Innocent Moves and Losing to Win, speak to my experiences with instructors, my   approach to learning, and the way I handle adversity in competitive situations.


My bowling coach has a saying that identifies him as an incremental learning theorist: “You’ll get almost as good as you want to!”  I love that, because it means there’s no limit to how much you can improve, if you just keep raising the bar.  That’s what he does for me, when I see him for a lesson. He has a higher opinion of me than I have of myself, and he totally embraces the incremental theory of learning. This helps me to understand that I can get better and better, even at 50, if I want it badly enough to put in the work.

One of the questions in the Study Guide to TAOL asks, “Do you think you are emotionally prepared for both wins and losses?”

I often get my best results when I come into a tournament feeling a little bit tired or sick, possibly because my low expectations on those occasions make it easier to just be present and throw the ball.  But I’m not sure that I’m emotionally prepared for wins and losses. When I lose, I always try to come away with some knowledge that will help me next time – but this does not always happen.  Sometimes I’m not prepared for a win, either.  Several years ago, when I won a pro candlepin doubles tournament, I was so stunned afterwards that everything was a blur – I got in my car and drove about 20 miles in the wrong direction before I realized my mistake!  I have trouble believing that I’m good enough to compete with the best bowlers – I’m not sure why.  Even after winning a professional tournament, I still lacked (and lack) self-confidence and sometimes feel that I don’t belong, against the best bowlers.  This is part of what I’m trying to explore with Josh’s book.


In this chapter, one of the most important concepts is what Josh calls “commitment beyond fun – responding to heartbreak with hard work.”

When I’m discouraged after a bad tournament, what I try to do is to be patient.  I remind myself that as long as there’s a “takeaway” from every event, I haven’t wasted my time.

It’s not that winning isn’t important, but generally, my best takeaways are from losses.  Every spring, I compete in the Easter Classic, a 20-game candlepin tournament that takes all day and uses up pretty much all of my energy, both physical and emotional.  Last year, after around 13 or 14 games, I was extremely tired and sore – and was also not bowling very well, so I knew I wasn’t going to take home any money.  I was so fatigued and sore that I considered withdrawing from the tournament. But I thought, “What would Josh want me to do right now?”  The answer was simple – stay in the game, be present, keep grinding, and find a way to make the rest of the tournament a learning experience for the future.  So I got away from the lanes for a few minutes, washed my face, walked around a bit, and refocused on staying patient and trying to find a way to bowl well despite the fatigue and pain.

My right arm and shoulder were so stiff that I couldn’t swing the ball as high as I normally do in my backswing – but I figured out how to make it work and turned the last five games into my best five-game block of the tournament.  What’s more, I have retained the slightly lower backswing and find that it gives me more accuracy and consistency – as a result, this season has been my most successful ever, at the age of 50.  This is how Losing to Win works for me.

In the Easter Classic – or any pro tournament – there’s always a group of bowlers who throw in the towel when they reach the point where they’re out of the money. The quitters are protecting themselves from the pain that comes from giving your best and having it not be good enough. They’ll say, “I can’t get a break,” or worse, “I stink.”  They won’t be patient, because they don’t want to risk giving 100 percent all day and still having no reward.  Or they say “This isn’t important, who cares.” They’re not willing to invest in loss – and they’re denying that losing hurts.

My approach is to put my emotional self on the line and admit that losing hurts.  Josh describes chess parents who tell their kids that a loss doesn’t matter.  Well, it does matter.  Owning the emotional pain is an important part of learning from it.  And if I’d said, “Who cares?” at the Easter Classic, I wouldn’t have found the swing change that led directly to improved results this season.

The Art of Learning on Horseback


The principle that I truly identified with is “Loving the Game.” I’ve been passionate about horseback riding for a long time and I’ve probably worked harder at it than at anything else in my life because of my love for it. I’m so lucky to have found a pursuit I’m passionate about at a young age.

As an equestrian, The Art of Learning aided my progression as both a rider and a competitor. A few months ago, I was having trouble in competition. My horse and I would drop at least one rail every time we entered the show ring and, even more frequently than I was comfortable with, at home, in practice. Frankly, I was confused because I knew my horse had the physical ability, and yet, we could not have a clear round.


Horseback riding is essentially the mastery of very basic  concepts, as explained in the “Numbers to Leave Numbers”  chapter. The most complicated maneuvers come only after the basics have been perfected. After reading that chapter, I took myself back to the absolute basics.

I videotaped my riding and examined my horse’s jumping style along with my body motions as we approached and cleared the fences we took down. I found that the rails were coming down not as a result of my horse’s physical ability but as a result of my own incorrect position over the fences. I had been landing on his back before his rear legs had reached the highest point of the fence, thereby causing him to catch the rail. I began focusing on that one aspect of my riding until it was no longer an issue for us.

The “Power of Presence” is another principle that manifested itself in my riding. My trainer always expressed to me the importance of being, as she says, “in the zone”. But I had trouble concentrating inwardly in the midst of the chaos happening around me.

I had her read the chapter on presence and her reaction was to have me recite my every move out loud in order to shift my focus from what was going on around me to my horse and riding.

In time, I found that I could block out everything except my horse and our performance together. The advantages of being aware and alert in one’s surroundings during competition became even more evident to me. Now, before every competition, I resort to reading this one chapter so as to bring myself back to that calm presence I need to compete successfully.

A Journey Toward Losing to Win


Competition perpetually flows through my veins. All sporting and academic challenges I am presented with inevitably turn into battles, letting my competitive personality seep through. Going head to head with an opponent, regardless of the significance, lures me into the thrill of potential victory. While this seemingly unstoppable drive for winning can be useful, it can also consume me. Herein, as I discovered through The Art of Learning, lies my fatal flaw.

Even as a child, I was immensely competitive. I can still, to this day, recall lost foosball matches against my Dad that resulted in hysterical fits of tears and hours of self pity. I was so intent upon winning that losing, in my mind, meant complete and utter failure. Such an attitude is neither healthy nor beneficial for a competitive spirit.


After 10 years had passed, I would no longer break down into fits of tears upon losing to my Dad in foosball (yes, 10 years later my Dad could still beat me in foosball). However, I still found it difficult to accept my defeats—there seemed to be no gain in losing.

Then, I was introduced to The Art of Learning. I was fascinated to discover how a defeat could be used as a positive learning experience. Prior to delving into The Art of Learning, my ego had a tendency to block the potential usefulness of losing. While I had understood that losing isn’t always a negative occurrence and tends to be a part of life, I wouldn’t let myself truly recognize and, even more important, utilize the full constructive power of loss.

Today, I still aim to win but the vital information that I now carry, stemming from The Art of Learning, helps me understand that it is more than acceptable to lose and that loss can even be a crucially helpful tool. While I am not perfect at it, I now strive to constantly invest in my losses.

My ego no longer forbids me to look back at and analyze my defeats. Confronting my defeats has morphed into an exercise that allows me to uncover my weaknesses and consequently develop them into strengths. The Art of Learning has illustrated a way in which I am able to embrace my losses and turn them around so that they become personal victories. I now pride myself on losing to win.

Helping our Children Understand the Power of Presence

By Guest Blogger: Nicole Pomeroy

In The Art of Learning, Josh Waitzkin discusses the Power of Presence and how it applies to your child’s approach to their studies and other activities. Josh is asking us, as parents, to consider what things our children give their full attention to and the ways we can encourage less distraction and more awareness of presence. So I really started thinking about how I could translate this way of living to my kids. How can I teach them this important skill so this is all they grow up knowing? What I realized is that they already know it. They were born knowing it. We all were. At some point along the way, life just beats it out of us and we forget how to not let the pain and drama of yesterday and fear and uncertainty of tomorrow take us over.

So when I really thought about it, I came to see that more often than not, it was me that was pulling them out of their moments of presence. They aren’t thinking about what’s coming next or what needs to be done — only I am. While the kids are doing something, I always seem to be preparing them for what was coming next. I try to create excitement by talking about future events. I rehash things that have already happened. I seem to constantly send this message that says, stop focusing on what you’re doing now to think about the thing you’re going to do next. On one hand, they are kids and they need guidance and preparation and yes, a schedule to live by. They need notice so that transitions throughout the day happen smoothly. But instead of allowing them to fully enjoy the tasks currently at hand, I’m asking them to focus on something that has yet to happen. Mostly this is my own neurotic, list-making, busy bee self creating chaos where none exists. As with everything else, it’s not about what I tell my children, but what I show them. It stands to reason that if I am living in the present moment, then they will too.

Allowing Our Children to Fail

By Guest Blogger: Nicole Pomeroy

In several chapters of Josh’s book he discusses the concept of Investment in Loss and the idea that he has learned more from his failures than from his successes. One of the most difficult aspects of parenting that I have faced thus far is the challenge of allowing my children to experience disappointment and failure without stepping in to protect them. On an intellectual level, I understand the importance of allowing my kids to experience all that life has to offer, both the good and the bad. I know that allowing them to fail on their own terms builds character. Overcoming obstacles and facing adversity is what helps us grow into hard working, responsible adults that succeed against all odds, knowing that the hard fought journey is the means to the end.

Knowing this is one thing. Doing it is another.

We are hard wired to protect our children at all costs. We want to run to their defense when someone hurts them. We want to stick up for them when life is unjust. We want to kiss their boo boos and make them all better. It’s what we do! And some of this, of course, is necessary and needed. But where do we draw the line? In The Seven Spiritual Laws for Parents, Deepak Chopra says, “Innocence is the knowledge that you can guide your children but never control them. You must be open to the person within every child, a person who is bound to be different from you. In innocence this fact can be accepted with a peaceful heart.” So when does guiding become controlling?

I think when we stop parenting from our own places of pain and hurt, from our own experiences and our own failures, we can stop denying our children the right to have these experiences for themselves. How will they learn from their mistakes as we did if we don’t allow them to make any? Maybe we assume that their reaction to a failure would be the same as ours, that it would hurt them the same or cause them the same pain as it did for us. But maybe not. Maybe they’ll handle it better. And maybe we can teach them how.

Perhaps if we shift our focus to teaching our kids how to respond to their mistakes and failures it will result in raising children who know how to bounce back from disappointment, handle failure with grace and accept themselves as they are. We all make mistakes. We all fail sometimes. We have to! It’s what we do with that information that defines how we will face adversity in our lives. So the best thing we can do for them (and ourselves) is to allow our children to see us fail and to witness how we respond to that failure. By learning from those mistakes, making things right and, most importantly, forgiving ourselves. We need to teach them that mistakes shouldn’t be avoided or ignored, but embraced!

The Teacher’s Teacher

This year, Bruce Pandolfini received the Chess Educator Award of 2012, and in his acceptance speech, he reminded us here at The Art of Learning Project that his teachings are the teaching of our teachings. A humbling experience for Josh and the rest of us, which we want to share with you.

If you have already read The Art of Learning, you have met Bruce Pandolfini through the eyes of the heart of a small boy, Josh. Now we would like to introduce Bruce Pandolfini through his own words in his 2012 acceptance speech:

“Let me say this. I love teaching chess, revealing its beauty and truth, its pleasing patterns and elegant plans, its epiphanies and paradoxes. There’s something else. When I sit across from a talented young person, I’m aware how in time that individual may become one of the most important people in the world. I consider myself honor-bound to guide such minds on the way to full attainment of knowledge and power. Perhaps I can inspire them to make their own special commitment. But I temper and hold back. I never want to suggest the road to take. That path must be found on one’s own, whether because it is grassy and wants wear, or maybe because it’s the road less traveled by. And as much as I like to be appreciated for my skills and insight, I want students to know something else; they don’t need me to succeed. If I can show them that, then I’ve done my job as a teacher.”

To read Bruce Pandolfini’s acceptance speech:

Link to Bruce’s Speech Here.