Archive for November, 2010

Secrets from a wunderkind

Posted in health and fitness, optimal performance with tags , on November 25, 2010 by gohelpyourself
Josh Waitzkin ist ein Wunderkind!

Josh Waitzkin ist ein Wunderkind!

By Anthony O. Alcantara

Josh Waitzkin’s credentials say it all: eight-time National Chess Champion in his youth, subject of the book and movie “Searching for Bobby Fischer,” published his first book, “Josh Waitzkin’s Attacking Chess,” at 18, and became international chess master.

On top of that, he also held 21 national championship titles and several world championships in a physically-demanding martial art called Tai Chi Chuan as well.

It’s rare to find brains and brawn in one human being. And it’s much rarer to find a person performing these feats at world-class levels.

That certainly makes Josh an authority on optimal performance. The following tips are based on his book, “The Art of Learning: An Inner Journey to Optimal Performance” (265 pages, Free Press, 2007).

I don’t guarantee they will work, and neither does Josh in his book. But it’s worth a try.

1) Become an incremental theorist.

In the chapter “Two Approaches to Learning,” Josh describes the findings of Dr. Carol Dweck, a leading expert in developmental psychology. Dweck, he said, made a distinction between “entity” and “incremental” theories of intelligence.

Children have been made to think in ways that make them either “entity theorists” or “incremental theorists.” “Entity theorists,” Josh said, “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,” he added.

“Incremental theorists” or “learning theorists,” however, tend to “sense that with hard work, difficult material can be grasped—step by step, incrementally, the novice can become master.”

Josh ascribes really successful people to this “incremental” theory of intelligence.

2) Find your “soft zone.”

In the chapter “Soft Zone,” Josh tells about his peak zone, where full concentration and optimal learning takes place. It is where people lose themselves in whatever they are doing and come out refreshed and energized nevertheless.

The trick, he said, is to recreate the moments when you are totally immersed in an activity. Study them and find out how you can duplicate this “soft zone” to improve your performance.

3) Think of “chunking” and “carved neural pathways.”

In the chapter “Slowing Down Time,” Josh tells about intuition. He said he developed his intuition through years of training and he has found that it may have something to do with the theories of “chunking” and “carved neural pathways.”

“Chunking” refers to grouping chunks of information into a single “chunk” for easier recall. In chess, for example, grandmasters don’t memorize distinct and separate moves or positions. They memorize manageable chunks that recreate intricate chess positions and sequence of moves.

As for “carved neural pathways,” this can be developed through conscious, focused and deliberate repetition or practice. If you continuously stretch yourself and deal with complex information, you eventually build “pathways” that will make it easier for you to access this complex information.

4) Develop your focus and concentration.

In the chapter “The Power of Presence,” Josh makes a case for focus and concentration.

“In every discipline, the ability to be clearheaded, present, cool under fire is much of what separates the best from the mediocre,” said Josh.

“The secret is that everything is always on the line. The more present we are at practice, the more present we will be in competition, in the boardroom, at the exam, the operating table, the big stage. If we have any hope of attaining excellence, let alone of showing what we’ve got under pressure, we have to be prepared by a lifestyle of reinforcement. Presence must be like breathing,” he explained.

5) Make it a HIIT.

High Intensity Interval Training or cardiovascular interval training can improve mental performance as well.

In the chapter “Searching for the Zone,” Josh tells us about what he learned from a performance training center that revolutionized his approach to peak performance. It was about “stress and recovery.”

He said the routine use of recovery periods distinguished the dominant performer in virtually every discipline. He mentioned Michael Jordan sitting serenely at the bench for two minutes before coming back to the game, Tiger Woods walking in a relaxed way before making his next shot, Pete Sampras calmly picking up his racket even though he lost some points… they all show this effective use of recovery periods.

Cardiovascular interval training, which involves varying intense physical strain with rest periods, can do wonders for physical as well as mental performance, according to Josh.

6) Build your trigger.

Josh tells about how to dive into the zone in the chapter “Building Your Trigger.” He suggests developing a routine before a pleasurable activity. For example, if a father enjoys playing basketball with his son, he can come up with a routine that can perhaps involve a few minutes of meditation, a few minutes of stretching, eating a light snack, listening to music, etc., before playing basketball.

Doing this routine before playing basketball, and before a challenging task at the office, will help develop this trigger. Of course, as the months pass, the routine is truncated up to a point that you only have to imagine the music or just take a few deep breaths in order to go in your “soft zone.”

“This process is systematic, straightforward, and rooted in the most stable of all principles: incremental growth,” Josh said. He explains the process at length in the book.

In a nutshell, Josh has one overarching message: optimal performance can be learned.

If we want to learn to be the best, then we might as well learn from the best. Josh Waitzkin is one of them.




Decision-making and Aikido’s 5 martial arts steps

Posted in health and fitness, martial arts on November 18, 2010 by gohelpyourself


That's me trying to look fierce.

By Anthony O. Alcantara

To the uninitiated, Aikido may appear to be a graceful, dance-like martial art taught by men fond of wearing black skirts. And to those who know Steven Seagal, that great popularizer of Aikido, it may appear to be a brutal form of self-defense that involves breaking fingers and arms like twigs.

As an Aikido practitioner for 13 years, I’ve often wondered about the sound of breaking arms. But then I never got willing and enthusiastic volunteers for my live experiments.

In any case, Aikido can be both graceful and brutal. It’s very effective, too. But it’s a long story and I’m here to discuss the parallels of great decision-making and Aikido’s five martial arts steps.

Recently, my Aikido sensei, or teacher, announced via email that there is a video about these Aikido steps for sale. I think the video is a great idea. But having recently attended a seminar on analytical thinking at the company I work for, I thought of using decision analysis.

Should I buy or not?

That’s when the idea hit me. Why not use the five Aikido footsteps as a framework for decision-making?

It may appear silly, but who knows what may come of it. So here are the results:

1. okuri-ashi – Some rough basics first. When you assume the basic stance In Aikido, one foot is in front of the other. In okuri-ashi, the front foot or the leading foot initiates the movement and moves forward. The hind foot follows, and you end up in the same stance.

In decision-making, sometimes we need to initiate the move to come up with a good decision. We initiate the research and gathering of information. In this case, I did a little research and I found out there is no other similar video about the five Aikido steps made here in the Philippines. If there is one, please let me know.

2. tsugi-ashi – Now this involves the hind foot initiating the movement, moving forward until it reaches just behind the leading foot. The leading foot then quickly moves forward and you end up in the same stance. In making decisions, sometimes we are pushed by events and ideas. We don’t initiate the movement. We are pushed and forced to make a decision. The stimulus that we receive forces us to think about the situation and take action.

In deciding whether to buy the video or not, I was pushed or influenced by my sensei, who can be very very persuasive. He’s a 5th dan black belt and has almost 30 years of experience in teaching Aikido.

3. ayumi-ashi – This is just like walking. From the ready position, the hind foot moves forward and overtakes the leading foot, which subsequently takes a similar quick step forward so that you end up in the same initial stance.

Sometimes, when making decisions, we are not pushed by other people but led or directed to certain directions. Other people initiate the move and lead us to certain decisions.

In my case, I was also pulled and led by my sensei to make a certain decision. Of course, the promise of a great product attracted me, too.

Another "warrior-like" pose.

4. tentai – From the ready position, you just turn 180 degrees or face in the opposite direction, with your feet turning but still on the same two spots on the floor.

In decision-making, you also consider opposing views or perspectives. I’ve turned 180 degrees and thought that the video won’t really make a significant difference in my Aikido.

5. tenkan – This also involves a 180-degree turn. But there is a difference. You plant one foot in place and turn your body and swing your other foot behind you until you face the opposite direction.

Sometimes you just have to look at it from all directions or perspectives. In any decision there are always other perspectives, and all of them can  be valid.

In deciding whether to buy the video or not, I had to look at different perspectives: from the perspective of the learner, the skeptic, the know-it-all, the open-minded, the spend-thrift, the curmudgeon, the gullible, etc.

In the end, after considering these five Aikido steps in my decision analysis, I decided to buy the video.

Why? Simply because it is a well-made video and a pioneering video for my club, which is the Makati Aikido Club. And I wholeheartedly support any worthwhile and great product.

I know I didn’t have to use the five Aikido steps to make a decision. But then again, would you like to volunteer for my experiment? The five Aikido steps can help you decide.


(For those interested in Aikido or the Five Aikido Steps video, visit the Makati Aikido Club website