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Category: The Power of Presence

The Art of Bowling, part 2


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.

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.

The Art of Teaching

Guest Blogger: Nick Rubinfier

Something that every teacher must face at some point is the inevitable interpretation that his or her job is one that is not really a highly qualified profession. We have all heard the saying “those who can’t do, teach” and realize that there is a belief out there that teachers become educators because they couldn’t find success in some more “real” field. And even when the person outside the field looks in and accepts that the job is one “I could never do,” it is often quickly followed with, “I just don’t have the patience for kids.” Again, the implication being that the hard part of being a teacher is having patience, not skill.

When I read The Art of Learning I found myself understanding how wrong it is to look at teaching as anything other than a highly skilled profession. I suppose those who ‘can’t do’ can become teachers, but they won’t be anything but really bad teachers. When reading in The Art of Learning Josh’s description of professional athletes and champion chess players (and in my mind I added doctors and commercial jet pilots whose skills can mean the difference between life and death), I could see how the skills I have run absolutely parallel.

In the educator-as-artist role I need to constantly fine-tune the lessons I teach and must adjust for the unique needs of all the students looking to me to lead them to the knowledge they are seeking. To truly teach well I must be absolutely present. Like Josh “seeing” moves ahead or like Capt. Sullenberger landing a plane safely in the Hudson, I am constantly slowing down time to bring to each and every student that which they need at that moment to make the discoveries which will empower them. I see that when I am at the top of my form I am that extremely skilled professional, and though no one will live to die in my classroom, the life of learning of my students can weigh precariously in my hands. It would seem impossible that I reach 30 students at a time, differentiating the lesson to suit their complex and individual needs while engaging them, making it fun, and allowing them to take ownership of the learning. And yet, that is exactly what I do.


What I have found in Josh’s analysis of his story and the process of reaching a higher level of performance is a way to look at my life as an educator not as a job of manual labor but as an art form that requires going deep—a professional job that in Josh’s words requires being present, slowing down time, making use of adversity, finding a zone, and putting it all together.

My copy of The Art of Learning is well worn. I go back to it time and again, not just to remind me that my job is an art form and a serious profession, but to help me continue to grow as a learner and a facilitator of learning. Books like this are a gift for they  tell you a story that gives you a new perspective about how we live and show you ways to understand your own story and to tell it to the world by living it better.