Saturday, October 18, 2008

Psychology & Chess

Me

I was away for a week on a business trip. It was a blast enjoying prime steaks, T3 Townshend, and Crown Royal with usually faraway colleagues. But the workdays were long and in the evenings I suffered from insomnia.

A couple interesting books helped me to pass those long nights:


       

The Books

There are two models that explain how people succeed, and which one you subscribe to has a dramatic impact on your chess and life success.

Entity Theorists hold that factors beyond our control mostly determine whether we succeed--such as talent, luck, or a wealthy upbringing. Instead, Incremental Theorists attribute most success and failure to things within our sphere of influence such as effort or using optimal strategies.

You may be thinking you are a bit of both. Most people are. The key question is, which side of the continuum do you lean towards?

Carol's Take

Carol Dweck is a leading researching in developmental psychology. She gave 400 kids an easy exam, a difficult exam, and then an easy exam.

Group #1 was told after the first exam, "You must be smart at this". When given a choice, they opted out of the second exam. When not, they were demoralized by it and scored 30% worse than expected on the third exam.

Group #2 was told after the first exam, "You must have worked really hard at this." When given a choice, they opted for the second exam. When not, they found it educational and scored 20% better than expected on the third exam.

Similar experiments have yielded similar results in adults.

Josh's Take

Josh Waitzkin, who is both an IM and a world champion in the martial arts, agrees with Carol's research. In the martial arts there is a special phrase for being an incremental theorist--having a Beginner's Mind.

He adds that one trap that incremental theorists fall into is being ego-less, viewing each game as a lesson and not caring whether they win or lose. A true competitor is confident and cares intensely about the result of the game.

At first this may seem paradoxical, but it makes perfect sense. We stand to learn the most from our games when we put everything on the line. Clearly, we should aim for a mix of successes and failures in our practice games that boost our confidence while helping us learn.

11 comments:

chesstiger said...

I agree that psychology is a big tool in (sport)competitions. The person who is able to learn from trial and error will usually improve more and quicker then he/she who is affraid to try things out regardless what the result will be.

chesstiger said...

To add, those that think positive will have a happier life then those that think negative and call the law of Murphy over themself.

likesforests said...

I won my at least my last 6 online and last 6 OTB games. What this is telling me is that is actually a very bad score. By avoiding tough challenges I'm stunting my growth. At the very least, in practice games I should be willing to lose.

chesstiger said...

It's not a bad score. It proves that you know your stuff and can beat lower or same rated opponent as yourself, which is a good achievement.

But i agree that you may not shy away from stronger players if you want your improvement to continue.

es_trick said...

I've long thought that the best way(or one of the best ways) to improve in competition is to train with someone who is slightly better than yourself, someone who stretches your ability.

But there is value in working with someone who knows a lot more, who can teach you. And sometimes it's reassuring to take out your frustrations on weaker opponents.


re: your comment on Mozart, MJ, and the other one, I agree that in all cases they worked enormously hard at their crafts. Talent without hard work doesn't get you very far. But no amount of hard work will get you very far if you have zero talent for your pursuit. Obviously both talent and hard work are necessary.

But the fact remains that there are lots of people as talented as Mozart's parents, who would like nothing more than to raise their own little Wolfgang, and provide all the nurtuing and training possible, but do not succeed.

Intuitive genius is an amazing thing to behold.

likesforests said...

"re: your comment on Mozart, MJ, and the other one, I agree that in all cases they worked enormously hard at their crafts. Talent without hard work doesn't get you very far. But no amount of hard work will get you very far if you have zero talent for your pursuit. Obviously both talent and hard work are necessary."

Michael Jordan
Gift: Taller than 99.9% of people.
Work: Practiced 6 hours/day.
Result: NBA superstar.

Daniel "Rudy" Ruettiger
Gift: Shorter than 80% of people.
Work: You saw the movie, right?
Result: Played 1x for Notre Dame

Talent has its place, of course.

But those of us with average talent are capable of achieving much more than we usually do.

likesforests said...

In the case of "Rudy", I should add that attending Notre Dame and making $$$ as a motivation speaker weren't so bad for him either. :)

Polly said...

tiger: I think the psychological aspect is very important which is why I've been trying to be more in tune with what's going on in my mind while I'm playing. I make a lot of jokes about me and my "buddy" Murphy when writing my stories, but there times where I feel like I'm begging for something bad to happen. I felt like that's what was happening in that game I posted on Tuesday.

Like: Nothing wrong with a good streak, but perhaps as you and tiger have observed it's better to play stronger competition to see what needs working on. Consistently beating inferior competition gives us a false sense of security.

ES: The Polgars are kind of like the Mozarts. The parents pushed the girls, but they truly had the talent to go with the hard work.

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Banatt said...

ahh, Insomnia. Really helps you get stuff done, doesn't it? Pretty good article. Maybe I should study some of this psychology mumbo-jumbo.

Anonymous said...

josh didnt make GM. LMFAO