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Life is full of random, unexpected events and demands. It is vital that we gain awareness and understanding of our reactions to these intrusions in order to cultivate an ability to remain calm and collected when they arise. To maximize our ability to develop and draw on our knowledge base, we should not brace against disruptions and the emotions they stir, but rather adopt a nonresistant attitude. This allows us to absorb information, process it smoothly and quickly, take appropriate action, and grow from the experience; we become resilient in the way a flexible blade of grass can bend and sustain most any kind of assault. With a stiffened and strained approach to upheaval, however large or small, we cannot sustain focus and call on our full wisdom; we become brittle and lose our ability to clear the hurdles, like a dry stick snapping under pressure.

In Josh’s Words:


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The nature of your state of concentration will determine the first phase of your reaction- if you are tense, with your fingers jammed in your ears and your whole body straining to fight off distraction, then you are in a Hard Zone that demands a cooperative world for you to function. Like a dry twig, you are brittle, ready to snap under pressure. The alternative is for you to be quietly, intensely focused, apparently relaxed with a serene look on your face, but inside all the mental juices are churning. You flow with whatever comes, integrating every ripple of life into your creative moment. This Soft Zone is resilient, like a flexible blade of grass that can move with and survive hurricane force winds.
p. 54

Further reading: Chapter 2: Losing to Win, Chapter 5: The Soft Zone

From THE ART OF LEARNING by Josh Waitzkin. Copyright © 2007 by Josh Waitzkin LLC.
Reprinted by permission of Free Press, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.


  1. Tony says:

    Hi Josh,

    I just started to read your book, “The art of learning”. I am so excited about the possible influence that it can bring to my life.

    I can totally relate to your description of sound/noise in your mind when thinking or doing other mentally challenging works. I hope to learn to solve it from the experiences and learning you shared in the book.

    Thanks again.

  2. gbzaid says:

    This is the central concept in “The inner game of Tennis” by Timothy Galeway, my question is, how do you sustain this state of being? It’s very easy to fall back into being tense and stifled.

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