One of the best books on learning I’ve read is Josh Waitzkin’s The Art of Learning. Josh is a champion in two distinct sports – chess and martial arts.
In his book, Josh recounts his experiences and shares his insights and approaches on how you can learn and excel, using examples from his personal life. Through stories of martial arts wars and tense chess face-offs, Josh reveals the inner workings of his everyday methods, cultivating the most powerful techniques in any field, and mastering the psychology of peak performance.
One of my favourite chapters from the book is titled – Making Smaller Circles – which stresses on the fact that it’s rarely a mysterious technique that drives us to the top, but rather a profound mastery of what may well be a basic skillset. As Josh writes in this chapter, depth scores over breadth when it comes to learning anything –
The learning principle is to plunge into the detailed mystery of the micro in order to understand what makes the macro tick. Our obstacle is that we live in an attention-deficit culture. We are bombarded with more and more information on television, radio, cell phones, video games, the Internet. The constant supply of stimulus has the potential to turn us into addicts, always hungering for something new and prefabricated to keep us entertained. When nothing exciting is going on, we might get bored, distracted, separated from the moment. So we look for new entertainment, surf channels, flip through magazines.
If caught in these rhythms, we are like tiny current-bound surface fish, floating along a two-dimensional world without any sense for the gorgeous abyss below. When these societally induced tendencies translate into the learning process, they have devastating effect.
Connected to this thought and, in fact, offering a solution to the problem of going deep into something than hovering around the breadth, I read something interesting late last year. This came from David Cain who wrote about the idea of “Depth Year” –
…you take a whole year in which you don’t start anything new or acquire any new possessions you don’t need.
No new hobbies, equipment, games, or books are allowed during this year. Instead, you have to find the value in what you already own or what you’ve already started.
You improve skills rather than learning new ones. You consume media you’ve already stockpiled instead of acquiring more. You read your unread books, or even reread your favorites.
The guiding philosophy is “Go deeper, not wider.”
2019 is where I am challenging myself to apply Josh’s idea of going deeper into whatever I want to do and learn and become better at. In short, picking up from David, the idea is to make 2019 my Depth Year by placing a few constraints on myself.
I anyways don’t like to have many choices. They get overwhelming. As I recently wrote about the 40th big lesson I’ve learned in life, I would rather spend my future subtracting things than adding. True to what Bruce Lee said –
It is not daily increase but daily decrease, hack away the unessential.
So, in 2019, here is a simple plan (I hope making it public should keep me at it) to add depth to my life and learning –
- No new possessions (except when absolutely necessary),
- No new hobbies, and
- No new books (plan to read the ones I already possess, and especially the supertexts I’ve already read).
I hope these constraints will help me go deeper into what I already want to focus on. Like learning more about the high-quality businesses I have already studied in the past, improving upon a few existing skills like investment decision making and writing well, work I already do at Safal Niveshak, becoming healthier, practicing yoga and meditation, and deepening existing relationships.
If only I can manage to do these well, it should be a great year.
Like David wrote in his post –
When we give ourselves fewer places to dig, we go deeper, and what we uncover is more rare and valuable than the usual stuff near the surface.
To start with, as far as reading and learning is concerned, here’s my first target for 2019 – Read all five books of Nassim Taleb, and nothing else –
- Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets
- The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable
- Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder
- Skin in the Game
- The Bed of Procrustes: Philosophical and Practical Aphorisms
What about you? What do you want to become great at? What skills do you want to develop in 2019? Most important, what constraints can you place upon yourself to get there? In short, where can you dive deep?