Josh Waitzkin on Beginner’s Mind, Self-Actualization, and Advice from Your Future Self (#412)

“I think of learning as unobstructed self-expression.”
— Josh Waitzkin

Josh Waitzkin, author of The Art of Learning: An Inner Journey to Optimal Performance, is an eight-time national chess champion, a two-time world champion in Tai Chi Chuan Push Hands, and the first Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt under nine-time world champion Marcelo Garcia.

For the past 12 years, Josh has been channeling his passion for the outer limits of the learning process toward training elite mental performers in business and finance and to revolutionizing the education system through his nonprofit foundation, The Art of Learning Project. Josh is currently in the process of taking on his fourth and fifth disciplines, paddle surfing and foiling, and is an all-in father and husband.

Please enjoy!

You can find the transcript of this episode here. Transcripts of all episodes can be found here.

Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, Stitcher, Castbox, Google Podcasts, or on your favorite podcast platform. 

#412: Josh Waitzkin on Beginner’s Mind, Self-Actualization, and Advice from Your Future Self

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Want to hear another conversation with Josh Waitzkin?In this episode (his most recent previous appearance on The Tim Ferriss Show), we discussed cramming two months of learning into one day, what Ernest Hemingway and Marcelo Garcia could teach us about letting go, the mediocrity of the “simmering six,” and lots more. (Stream below or right-click here to download):

#375: Josh Waitzkin — How to Cram 2 Months of Learning into 1 Day


  • Connect with Josh Waitzkin:

Website | The Art of Learning Project


  • What is Josh’s history with chess Grandmaster Maurice Ashley, and how have their shared and individual ideas about assumptions and shared constructs changed in the past 20 years? [04:45]
  • How Josh’s approach to learning differs from his friend and fellow athlete Dan Caulfield. [10:16]
  • What is foil boarding, and how does it overcome the conditions that restrict traditional surfing in a way that makes it a metaphor for Josh’s relationship to learning? [11:38]
  • eFoiling, one-wheeling, and the importance of learning how to fall safely. [13:14]
  • Foils and boils: practicing the art of falling from a practical vs. an Instagram-ready standpoint. [15:37]
  • How volunteering to care for people going through difficult psychedelic experiences at a music festival was my version of learning to navigate boils. In both cases, we’re really practicing the ability to be comfortable around extraordinary circumstances in order to fully experience what follows. [18:49]
  • How designing a learning process around the meta can build skills applicable to countless circumstances — and why an observer with a lifetime of surfing under their belt might consider Josh’s approach to learning the craft odd. [22:16]
  • The benefits of being a beginner. [26:10]
  • Josh says: “The internal spirit is the teacher or myself 20 years from now.” What does he mean by this? [32:44]
  • What young Tim once learned from talking to an old Tim at a ski lodge fireside, and why asking for advice from another version of one’s self is a worthwhile thought exercise. [36:02]
  • A short retelling of the time Josh almost died doing Wif Hof breathing in a swimming pool, how surviving the event inspired the way he and his family live now. [39:58]
  • Writing exercises that have gotten me in the mindset — without putting myself in actual danger — to make decisions under the weight of imminent mortality. [42:02]
  • “Firewalking” with Josh: How to physiologically embody something we’re trying to learn in a way that mere observation can’t instill. [43:38]
  • The importance of feedback loops and the game-changing difference it can make to have them on tap in unlimited, accurate doses. Can Josh tell me about the feedback loops he consults in his own life without referring to foiling in some capacity? When might he not want to reflect on the scrutiny of a feedback loop? [46:59]
  • When a coach or trainer’s feedback might be counterproductive. [53:39]
  • As someone who isolates himself by design except for interactions with employees, family, and friends and doesn’t rely on social media, how does Josh stress-test the integrity of his own thinking and positions? [55:10]
  • To separate the wheat from the chaffe of your ideas, cultivate a close ecosystem of people you can trust to be honest with you in their pushback — or a partner whose thought processes complement rather than compliment your own. [58:54]
  • Examining the confidence that Josh describes as being “a little bit crazy and messianic” in the character of many high-acheivers who seem to chart a record of success regardless of the opinion of their lessers — like nine-time BJJ World Champion Marcelo Garcia. [1:00:24]
  • The unexpected rewards of approaching skill acquisition in an unorthodox way: when Josh and Dan’s eFoil training translated to foil as they expected — and as none of the “experts” would have. [1:03:37]
  • I offer some pushback on the point that Josh would have rejected the notion of that translation if he had stress-tested it. [1:05:17]
  • Reps hidden in plain sight. [1:05:46]
  • In what other arts — chess, BJJ, push hands, or investing — might reps be similarly hidden in plain sight or lend themselves to deliberate practice? [1:07:30]
  • Conceptual or thematic reps hidden in plain sight. [1:09:02]
  • Of course Josh’s method of teaching my girlfriend and me how to surf flies in the face of how most instructors would do it. I think it also happens to be right — and in line with the empathetic methods of another exceptional coach I know, Kelly Starrett. [1:10:04]
  • Who is Robert Kegan, and why is he interesting to Josh? [1:15:29]
  • Parting thoughts. [1:18:35]


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20 Replies to “Josh Waitzkin on Beginner’s Mind, Self-Actualization, and Advice from Your Future Self (#412)”

  1. Tim – there was a little piece of discussion in Josh’s book an in your conversation with him (the earlier episode) where he talked about teaching himself how to totally relax and reset in something like 1 minute – it was between rounds of the martial arts competitions. That fascinated me because it was the opposite of the active-accomplishments he’s engaged in and its different from meditation. It’s like a focused release….

    Could you ask him to share more – teach the technique even? – for those of us who would benefit from a turbo-relaxation skill?

  2. Would have loved to hear more about his current life. How he gives back or lives more fully for himself and his loved ones by isolating himself. How is that isolation impacting his parenting. what is his plan for the next decade of his life.

  3. Josh is the single most annoying person to appear on Tim’s show. I’ve listened to almost every interview, and no guest is more arrogant, self-important, delusionally narcissistic than this guy. Please don’t bring him back.

  4. Helpful insights. I’m currently somewhat stuck in a stage where visualization of where I am going has been very hard to conjure. I think I forgot that future self imagining is a creative process, not a “task” per se. Thanks as always.

  5. Tim, Josh is by far one of my favorite recurring guests on your show. I always take some actionable nugget of wisdom or much needed perspective away from your discussions with him to apply to my own life.
    Looking forward to digging into this episode.

  6. Having trouble receiving your 5-Bullet Friday e-mails. Not receiving them anymore and they are not going to junk. Can you help?

    1. Hi, Brian –

      Thanks for letting us know. I just sent you an email, but it got blocked, so I’m hoping you’ll see this. That blocking, I suspect, may be the reason you’re not getting “5-Bullet Friday.” It appears that emails from us are not making it to your account. Could you try adding “” to your trusted contacts list to see if that rectifies the situation? Also, if the address you signed up with is a business address with stricter-than-typical spam-blocking software, you may want to try signing up with a different email account. And then confirm your email address. Feel free to reply here if we can be of further help.

      Thanks and best (and thank you for being a subscriber!),

      Team Tim Ferriss

  7. Given his interest in learning it’s very interesting that he mentioned Kegan´s adult development model. There are some correlation studies between it and Elliot Jaques Capability / Complexity model that link capability and maturity levels bringing a whole new dimension to understanding the meaning creation process and learning. It’s a path worth exploring to understand new perspectives on how the world is constructed according to the level from which you are looking at it.

  8. I have to say I’m with Chip on this one: totally insufferable. He talks like a Vulcan from star trek, seems to have no responsibilities whatsoever, even to a pet, and is such a one-percenter he can spend 6 days a week — all day, everyday — learning to surf. To achieve “self-actualization through an art.” When I heard him say that I thought this would make a great Onion parody. And those of us who have real lives and no time to pursue silly projects like mastering the “art of foiling” (I mean, really?) we are supposed to look to him for advice? I don’t think he’s qualified to advise anyone. Even surfers.

  9. It’s just not worth the mental slog to get through the overwhelming amount of surfing jargon to get to whatever general lessons may be in this episode.

    Future meta-learning episodes may be better if you start with the valuable principles and show how they apply to exploring the field being discussed rather than diving into an impenetrable discussion of an obscure subject.

  10. @tferriss. interview with [Moderator: Twitter handle for Sadhguru/Jaggi Vasudev removed.], a fully realized being, would bring light and clarity to many subjects/questions discussed – contemporary & perennial

  11. I couldn’t get into this one. I don’t care about foil at all, unless it a slap shot reference. Also gives off an, “I’m the smartest guy in the room” vibe.

  12. You guys mention a location where you are and it’s described well enough to know know it’s on Pacific Ocean and there’s waves there. Could you fill us in on approximate location? Sounds nice 🙂

  13. Tim, there was a line of thought that seemed to get lost in the flow of the conversation, and I was wondering if you you knew where Josh was going with it…

    He was talking about Marcelo Garcia, and started to say (paraphraising) that there is a difference between “self belief” (that is almost “messianic” in its power over others) and the quality of ‘not knowing’ how things will turn out.

    In your discussions outside the podcast did you explore this notion of when ‘not knowing’ might yield better/different results than self belief?

  14. Hi Tim, Thanks for this interview. I write a blog and have been deep diving into the world of happiness over the last few weeks. This discussion really helped put me in the right state of mind for understanding the role of perspective in building beliefs that are both strong and flexible. I was particularly inspired with the discussion of channeling our future-self to future-proof our beliefs as much as possible. Excellent thought-provoking discussion between friends, thanks for letting us listen in.

  15. Love this! Anything with Josh Waitzkin is always a must-listen, the way he talks about learning mechanics is phenomenal. Please feature him more!

    Tim, I know you’ve used Scrivener, and probably already have a good note-taking system but if you haven’t already heard of it yet, check out Roam [Moderator: link removed.]. It’s a note-taking tool built on a simple but powerful concept — bi-directional linking.

    Not affiliated with them in any way. Just think it’s a cool tool.