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:
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.
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?
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.
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