How to Learn

By: Jim Murphy

How to Learn


  1. Inner Excellence is an in-depth system on how to be fully engaged in the moment, heart, mind and body, to facilitate not only extraordinary performance, but more importantly, the best possible life. This system has one overarching goal every day: learn and grow.
  2. Most professional athletes (and the rest of us) have misused our time, focusing on low-hanging fruit like short-term wins and temporary transactions when entire orchards await. Rather than pursuing the much more powerful long-term strategy of continuous improvement and skill development, we’ve used the wrong barometer to evaluate our progress and short-changed ourselves.
  3. The crucial component in learning, for performance and life, is what to learn.
  4. Everything you’ve ever wanted is enhanced and made possible by becoming a certain type of person, one that lives in the flow of resonance, connected to beauty and creativity.

NOTE: The Inner Excellence audiobook is now available on Barnes and Noble, Google Play and multiple other websites. ( should have it in a week or so). See links at the bottom. ?

“I realize now I was actually handed the gift of that way of thinking by one of my heroes, the great cellist Pablo Casals. I played for him when I was seven and afterwards asked for his autograph. He gave me some advice: ‘Always make time for baseball.’ Well I failed at that, but I was always guided by what he said… that he thought of himself as a human being first, a musician second, a cellist third.” – Yo Yo Ma, 19-time Grammy award winner, from the (free) audiobook Beginner’s Mind

The vast majority of us adults have spent our entire lives chasing our tales. We’ve run around in circles, on an endless treadmill, pursuing PALMS (possessions, achievements, looks, money and status) and yet so often come up empty.

Most of us don’t realize it (that we’re chasing our tales) because the PALMS are so enticing. They’re shiny and exciting and bring instant gratification, so we get lost in the pursuit. We think we’re pursuing the best possible life, the one we’ve imagined, while the whole time we’ve been chasing emptiness.

What’s really happened is we’ve spent our lives doing our best to navigate a narrative that has lost its way; we’ve spun a tale that’s got no hero, no champion to inspire us. Instead, we’ve been seeking short term gains, temporary transactions that tell an outer story of (hopefully) great success, while on the inside the real story unfolds. So, like Rover, (or Murphy–our border collie puppy named after my sister), we think we’re on the right path but the reality is we’ve just been chasing our tails.


We’ve lost our way because we’ve lost sight of the extraordinary life. We’ve been seduced by a life that offers amazing riches which turn out to be temporary transactions. We’ve become the teenager who deletes a social media post after 15 minutes if it hasn’t reached the minimum required likes.

We’re lost in large part because we’ve forgotten how to learn, and especially, what we’re supposed to learn. So, we dive into chasing numbers or money or looks… a bigger house… nicer car… trips to Europe… and then if we ever do get those things, we realize we’re the same person in the nicer car, bigger house, or cafe in europe. And that person can be hard to deal with.

The story (tale) we’ve created in our minds (and hearts) is that “life is hard but I’m doing my best,” not realizing we’ve created a story with blinders on. We wear glasses that dim the world of possibilities, enlarging failures from the past, all the while trying to project some culturally defined and always changing narrative of success.

So, we must learn. But first…

How to learn:

In a study published by the Journal of Psychological Science, students had better test scores when they studied once and tried to recall the material three times, versus studying all four sessions. (You can read about it here.) In other words, thinking through what we’re learning is very important, even more important than re-reading our notes.

Many of you are likely familiar with the book Outliers: The Story of Success, by Malcom Gladwell. In it he shares the 10,000 hour rule, which states that primary common characteristic of experts in any field is that they have incredible persistence and sitck-to-itiveness over many years. They are very practiced at practicing, and they practice very deliberately.

Gladwell actually got that idea from a professor at Florida State University, K. Anders Ericsson, who is an expert on expertise.*

In the Harvard Business Review, Ericsson and associates shared this (from The Making of an Expert):

It will take you at least a decade to achieve expertise, and you will need to invest that time wisely, by engaging in “deliberate” practice—practice that focuses on tasks beyond your current level of competence and comfort. You will need a well-informed coach not only to guide you through deliberate practice but also to help you learn how to coach yourself. Above all, if you want to achieve top performance as a manager and a leader, you’ve got to forget the folklore about genius that makes many people think they cannot take a scientific approach to developing expertise.

Ok, so how to learn:

  1. Lots of deliberate practice (to overcome weaknesses)
  2. Immediate, clear, truthful feedback
  3. Regular review what you’ve learned

Extreme athlete and 4x world champion Ryan Dodd shared with me this morning, “Most athletes [skiers] just ski. They don’t do all the routines. Skiing (as a professional) has to be the epicenter of your day (i.e take a scientific approach). You have to have a cool down (after practice) and document what you did so your subconscious can start working on it.”

We must also let go of the past and not take things personally, otherwise the big 3 obstacles to the flow of resonance (and learning) will get you:

  1. overthinking
  2. negative thinking (judging the situation/result)
  3. self-consciousness (concern for self)

What to learn

Inner Excellence has five skills:

  1. How to believe (in your dreams; in living the best possible life)
  2. How to compete (with freedom and passion–the willingness to suffer).
  3. How to focus (under pressure, fully present on and off the field; narrow awareness).
  4. How to relax (under pressure, deeply content on and off the field; broad awareness).
  5. How to adapt (expect nothing, handle anything; get comfortable being uncomfortable).

The greatest thing one can learn, however, is wisdom.

Wisdom is keen insight on how to live with absolute fullness of life; an expanded vision that sees unobstructed views of beauty, opportunities, and connection with others; to know who God is and therefore who you are, what He’s doing in the world and how you can join in.

With wisdom, every skill is enhanced and empowered.

With wisdom we learn that the best possible life has one foot in joy and one foot in suffering.

With wisdom we learn that humility (an accurate view of self) is the foundation for gaining wisdom.

With wisdom we learn to grow into our true selves, and so above all we seek a transformed heart, one that loves most what is permanent and powerful.

So how can we increase in wisdom and learn the five skills?

  • Develop our true selves–our whole selves–so we can be fully integrated, and thus fully engaged in our lives, in skill development.
  • Master our egos, so we can hear the truth when it’s spoken to us, so we can recognize wisdom when we’re around it, and so we can have the humility to ask empowering questions.
  • Develop non-judgmental awareness. That is, develop a heightened awareness of possibility, of your surroundings, especially through your senses; be in the moment without judging the moment.
  • Curate curiosity. (Judgment – laying down a negative verdict – throws curiosity out the window).
  • Connect with the universal life force that grows the grass, spins the earth, and holds the stars in place, and study the lives that have done so before you.
  • Keep a journal and write down what you’re learning each day, in each of the five skills.

As Yo Yo Ma said, we need to see ourselves as humans first, then musicians (performers), then whatever our sport or skill is (last). This powerful perspective allows us to have a beginner’s mind, where we’re willing to fail and look foolish in order to learn.

Perhaps it’s fitting to finish with words from Dallas Willard:

“What’s running your life at any given moment is not your circumstances, not your thoughts, not your intentions, not even your feelings; it’s your soul. The soul is that aspect of your whole being that correlates, integrates and enlivens anything going on in the various dimensions of the self. You don’t direct the soul, you feed it, then the soul directs you.” From Soul Keeping, by John Ortberg

Love Jim

*I interviewed Dr. Ericsson (for Inner Excellence) about a year before Outliers came out, and he shared his 10,000 hours idea with me as well.

Further reading:

The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance. K. Anders Ericsson and Associates.


Retailers who currently have the Inner Excellence audiobook:

(Note: Spotify should have it by the time you receive this.)


This week I’m in Dallas, Texas here to lead an Inner Excellence retreat. The next article, coming out June 2, 2023 will be from Tahiti, French Polynesia where I’ll be sailing and working on my next book: Pedro’s Pickleball Problem: A story about the deep connection between mental toughness, freedom and joy.

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