‘Losing to Win’ and ‘The Downward Spiral’

‘Losing to Win’ and ‘The Downward Spiral’ are the titles of two chapters of a book written by Josh Waitzkin which was the subject of recent ABC Radio National program. Josh may well be in a unique position in terms of achievement. At 16 he achieved the status of Chess International Master, began studying Tai Chi Chuan when he was 21 and became world champion in this field at the age of 29.

While the program discussed how principles from Josh’s book, The Art of Learning: An Inner Journey to Optimal Performance, are relevant to the world of business, the principles apply more widely.

By relating his own experiences and insights, Josh explains a number of principles which he attributes to being able rise to such high levels of performance in such differing areas. The principles have broad application, and Josh doesn’t claim we can all become the best in a given field.

Josh refers to his experience in chess competitions to illustrate the principle of the ‘Downward Spiral’. Although the natural reaction after making a mistake when ahead in a chess game might be to focus on trying to regain the upper hand, Josh explains this approach leads to risky moves and further mistakes. Rather than focussing on the negative emotion caused by making a mistake, Josh explains that he instead recognised that the error had merely bought him back to an equal footing with his opponent. This allowed him to focus better on the game and regain the advantage over time.

The principle of ‘Losing to Win’ is a familiar one which emphasises the importance of seeing challenges as opportunities for growth. However, we can hopefully relate to the principle of losing to win without the degree of intensity Josh describes: 'These moments in my life were wracked with pain, but they were also defining gut-checks packed with potential'.

Both principles indicate that how we respond to situations can make a real difference to how we experience life. So too, both principles can be consciously developed through practice.

Having been quite taken by the radio program, I was pleased to find a copy Josh’s book in the Carey library. I was also very pleased to discover the book was located among titles including The Science of Health, Strength Training, Fitness Swimming and The Anatomy of Running. These books all suggest a mindset of self-improvement, determination and resilience. The location of Josh’s book reinforces the message that our ability to learn and acquire knowledge is something we can always develop further.

Graeme Young
Deputy Head of Senior School – Student Learning