Josh Waitzkin Might Be T...
Josh Waitzkin Might Be T...

Josh Waitzkin Might Be T...

Josh Waitzkin might be the most INTERESTING person alive.

He doesn't have Twitter. And he barely uses the internet.

I've compiled my favorite 5 MENTAL MODELS of his below.



His life so far:

Chess prodigy + National champ

2x world champion in Tai Chi push hands

The 1st black belt in Jiu-Jitsu under Marcelo Garcia (GOAT)

He's now in an unknown ocean town mastering surfing + advising elite investors

The Waitzkin paradox:

He's achieved more WIDTH across disciplines in 43 years than most could in 100 lives


His obsession with DEPTH over WIDTH.

His life is the testimony to deep work and singular focus.

He spends 5-10 years of his life dedicated to each craft

Even when he approaches a new discipline, he goes for DEPTH within the DEPTH

E.g. Chess

Most just play countless games

Instead, Josh insists on having only 3 pieces on the board - King & Pawn vs King

He drills micro positions until he understands them from first principles

“I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times” - Bruce Lee

Waitzkin's theory is that once you've understood one thing so deeply in the discipline - you understand the principles

You can then copy & paste them

Waitzkin turns the discipline into a video game

He then identifies what level 1 of that video game is (e.g. Guillotine in BJJ)

He doesn't start level 2 until he understands the principles of level 1 at a fundamental level

He continuously expands his circles of competence

Learning phases:

Unconscious incompetence - "I don't know how bad I am"

Conscious incompetence - "This sucks. I know how bad I am"

Conscious competence - "I can do this if I focus"

Unconscious competence - "I don't remember the last 10 minutes of driving my car"

The area where most of us quit is No.2:


The feedback says you suck

So the ego comes up with numerous reasons to quit

Waitzkin defeats this stage early on by deeply understanding level 1 before moving on to level 2

In contrast, we often try and play level 100 of the video game

There's so much complexity at level 100

We don't feel like we're progressing + understanding it

Conscious incompetence hits us

So we quit

I'm always struck by the fact the LAST TIME most adults ever push through conscious incompetence is DRIVING LESSONS

A combination of:

Being busy The embarrassment of conscious incompetence

We shut down the learning process after driving

Waitzkin is the polar opposite


Waitzkin argues that we internalise an external locus of control in our childhood


The first way is our parent's language around the weather:

"It's bad weather. We can't go outside!"


"It's good weather. We can go outside!"

"We're externally reliant on conditions being perfect in order to be able to go out and have a good time." - Waitzkin

Josh flips this on its head.

He insists he and his young son NEVER miss a single storm, rain, or snow.

They always go outside and have fun together in it.

His son now says to him: "Look Dada, it's such a beautiful rainy day"

Contrast this with the misery that sits in most households when it's grey, wet and cold outside

Josh uses the weather as a tool to teach his son about having an internal locus of control

During his martial arts career, Josh used to seek out the dirtiest training partners

And if they weren't dirty, he would actively encourage them to eye gouge and go for his groin

He wanted to be prepared to keep his composure in the worst possible conditions


"Most people in high-stress, decision-making industries are always operating at this kind of simmering six, as opposed to the undulation between deep relaxation and being at a 10." - Waitzkin

👆 This is the best critique of hustle culture

Josh argues that in order to be at a 10/10 with focus, you have to be able to hit a 0/10 via relaxation & recovery

In order to switch ON intensely, you need to switch OFF intensely

If you never switch off, you can never truly turn it on

You end up burnt out and fatigued

Waitzkin uses the example of the 5x Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu world champion Marcelo Garcia

He states that he saw Marcelo deeply asleep 5 minutes before his world championship bout

He woke up, turned it up to a 10 and won the competition

He wasn't sat there burning adrenaline at a 6

When Waitzkin takes on a hedge fund client, he engrains this principle of stress & recovery via HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training)

He gets them to undulate between every few minutes:

A. 10/10 - Full out sprint

B. 0/10 - Complete relaxation

The beauty of stress & recovery is that:

You perform better

Life is more fun

You're less likely to die of an early death

Reminds me of @naval's advice to his younger self:

"Relax. You’ll live longer and perform better."

I'm bullish on the relaxation industry as the pendulum swings away from hustle culture

📈 Float tanks, sauna's and 'Think Weeks' are just the tip of the iceberg

The false dichotomy people make is that you can't grind if you relax

The evidence shows that you can grind harder


"I find that most great thinkers are slicing through complexity like a knife through butter.

And then they arrive in an area of stuckness and they’ll spend a long time on that stuckness." - Waitzkin

"But they can also study everything involved with that stuck point, sleep on it, wake up, and just slice right through it." - Waitzkin

Waitzkin looks at an area of complexity at the end of the day

He identifies the most important question he needs to within it

He then goes for dinner and completely switches his mind off for the evening. He leaves it with the subconscious

He wakes up first thing and journals on the question before any input

He says using this formula he's managed to get "AHA" breakthroughs daily

Most people report their best ideas come from the shower - not the board room


The mind is completely switched off and the subconscious is free to bubble away

One of the best comics of our generation - Jerrod Carmichael - says he takes 35-minute showers because of it!


"It’s not just what were our false constructs 20 years ago... but what are the common root structures to my current constructs and my false constructs 20 years ago?" - Waitzkin

Waitzkin wants not just to understand the mistake he made

He also wants to understand the gap between making the mistake and avoiding it

E.g. If you could've prevented a mistake by speaking to 5 experts beforehand - how can I ensure I speak to 5 experts moving forward?

Once Josh has identified previous gaps - he looks to see if he can see that common root structure with what he's currently doing

E.g. What mistake am I in the process of making that could be prevented by speaking to 5 experts?

A common root structure of mistakes according to Josh is:

"I didn't know before but I know it today"

Waitzkin tells the story of Tai Chi expert who had been training for decades who said:

"When I had been studying for 1 year I thought I knew what I was doing..."

"But after two years of studying, I realised my 1 year self was wrong. But now I understand

After 4 years of studying , I realised my 2-year self was wrong. But now I understand

After 8 years of studying, I realised my 4 year self was wrong. But now I understand"

"It’s so easy to think that we were in the dark yesterday but we’re in the light today... but we’re fucking in the dark today too" - Waitzkin

The same way you look back at yourself 5 years ago and laugh

You will almost definitely look back at yourself 5 years from now and laugh


He's a very private person but @tferriss does a wonderful job of getting his message out into the world

Episode 1-4 can be found on YouTube -

His book Art of Learning is also fantastic:

If you enjoyed this thread, you might enjoy my occasional newsletter "Return of the Mack"

Pure high signal content on mental models, marketing and underrated content I've found 👉