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True learning occurs through a process of hard and sustained effort and a nuanced understanding of each challenge, gain, and loss along the way. Therefore, it is more important to draw insights from every step we take rather than focus on any end reward or goal. Labels like “winner”, “loser”, “smart” or “dumb” ignore this fact and should be avoided. They lock our sense of ourselves in place, strip us of motivation, and make it difficult, if not impossible, to keep going and evolving.

In Josh’s Words:


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The key to pursuing excellence is to embrace an organic, long-term learning process, and not to live in a shell of static, safe mediocrity.
p. 33

The issue is fundamental to the pursuit of excellence in all fields. If a young basketball player is taught that winning is the only thing that winners do, then he will crumble when he misses his first big shot. If a gymnast or ballet dancer is taught that her self-worth is entirely wrapped up in a perfectly skinny body that is always ready for performance, then how can she handle injuries or life after an inevitably short career? If a businessperson cultivates a perfectionist self-image, then how can she learn from her mistakes?
p. 38

Further reading: Chapter 3: Two Approaches to Learning, Chapter 4: Loving the Game, Chapter 10: Investment in Loss

This next quote from The Art of Learning is based on research from Dr. Carol Dweck, a developmental psychologist and leading researcher in the field.

Children who are “entity theorists”…are prone to use language like ‘I am smart at this.’ And to attribute their success or failure to an ingrained and unalterable level of ability. They see their overall intelligence or skill level at a certain discipline to be a fixed entity, a thing that cannot evolve. Incremental theorists, who have picked up a different modality of learning, are more prone to describe their results with sentences like ‘I got it because I worked very hard at it’ or ‘I should have tried harder.’ A child with a learning theory of intelligence tends to sense that with hard work, difficult material can be grasped- step-by-step, incrementally, the novice can become the master.
p 30

Further reading: Chapter 2: Losing to Win, Chapter 3: Two Approaches to Learning

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. Yasmin Eastwood says:

    I am a retired teacher that tutors now and I was amazed at what you were saying. You are absolutely correct. You can approach the student with the glass have empty or half full. I prefer the half full.

  2. Jacob Mirra says:

    This is amazing. Who curates this website? Is it Josh, or are there others involved? I’ve just about to finish the Art of Learning, which I was pointed to by an acquaintance (Grant Sanderson, creator of the YouTube channel 3Blue1Brown). What an amazing, even life-altering book. I am also a tutor, Yasmin, and I’ll be using this. I’m surprised how few comments here… do people even use this? I hope so.

  3. Maurice says:

    Excellent philosophy! My daughter and I were having a discussion about mastering the art of learning. We’ll definitely make use of these resources going forward.

    I love the comparisons made between the different theories: learning theory of intelligence all the way!!

  4. Pamela Hubbs says:

    This is a wonderful site! We need more of this to spread into our school systems and more importantly in the homes, where parents have a deliberate, dynamic effect on their children with these beautiful ideas.

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