I love books about practice and learning.
I’ve selected a few of my favorites.
The ideas in these books can help you increase your ability to fully absorb and apply what you learn.
Topics range from big ideas like learning mindset (hard work trumping talent) to ways to stay focused in the face of the inevitable emotional turmoil that comes with being a beginner.
I hope you find my list helpful and if you have recommendations of your own please let me know in the comments.
Josh Waitzkin is a famous chess prodigy whose life was chronicled in the movie Searching for Bobby Fischer.
In his book, Josh talks about the mental side of practice and learning. I really enjoyed the book.
Hard work trumps talent – There’s a point where Josh talks about teaching chess to children. He notes that some children have internalized the idea that they are naturally good at Chess, while other children have internalized the idea that if they work hard they can become good at chess. The second group out-performs the first group in the long run.
Focus is a skill that can be learned – There’s a point where Josh talks about having to learn to deal with distraction. He’s playing chess against opponents who use psychological tricks to disturb his concentration. The takeaway for me is that one can train one’s mind to focus in the face of distraction.
The first half of this book is about business, but the second half is about practice and learning. Kathy believes the goal of businesses’ is to make ‘badass’ users and the way to do that is to upgrade users’ skills.
The learning journey – People are always learning new skills. They start out as beginners and gradually build skills as long as they stay motivated. Roadblocks and problems can derail the learning journey.
The skill building process – Big new abilities (learning to snowboard, photography, etc.) are made up of individual little skills. Mastery involves breaking down big skills (learning Mandarin) into small skills (Learning to read at a 3rd grade level) and leveling up these skills.
This book will give you a mental framework you can use to improve your own learning process. Highly recommended!
Thomas is a musician and learned the value of practice when he was young. His book talks about what it feels like to focus.
His approach to practice – Thomas talks about a time when he joined a golf class. He applied the practice techniques he had learned in music to mastering golf. There are some good ideas about time management, how to review and the results of a good practice routine.
Ideas on focus – Thomas compares the mind to a horse-drawn carriage. Thoughts are constantly showing up and carrying us away from the work at hand. He talks about how focus feels.
In this book, Russ Harris writes about a psychology approach called acceptance and commitment (ACT) therapy. Psychologists use ACT to treat depression and anxiety but I find the ideas very applicable to learning and practice.
It is possible to choose the thoughts we pay attention to – we all have thoughts running through our heads (example: ‘oh there’s my web browser… I need to go check Facebook). While we often mindlessly act on thoughts, it is possible to learn to observe thoughts, choose the helpful ones and ignore the unhelpful ones.
Thinking can get in the way of acting – real skill and progress comes from action – you’re fluent in a language when you speak it without thought, you get a job when you stop overanalyzing and start sending out resumes. In these examples thinking isn’t helpful, focus and action is. In a world where emphasis is placed on ‘learning’ and ‘thinking’ this idea is super valuable.
We can learn to focus by clarifying values – values are rules of thumb for how we’d like to to spend our life. I can value being productive or sleep or hanging out with my friends. Getting clear on values helps us avoid distractions. When it’s midnight and the ‘I should go check Facebook thought’ pops up we can let it slide away since we value getting a good nights sleep.
Focus, distraction and procrastination are the enemies of practice and learning. Nir Eyal wrote a book called Hooked in which he talked about how technology companies design products to ‘hook’ us. In Indistractable he talks about how people can learn to stay focused in the face of distraction.
Dealing with distraction = dealing with feelings – when we tackle challenges (learning new skills, stepping out of our comfort zone etc.) we face emotional turmoil. Emotional turmoil causes us to seek out distractions. Nir provides some ideas for staying focused in the face of this emotional turmoil.
Time blocking – mastering skills requires us to master time. Time blocking provides a simple way to choose how to allocate time.
What books about practice and learning have you read? Let me know in the comments below.