Today, I ran 8-miles, my longest run ever. It was somewhat grueling, but I've been slowly building up my distance over the last three months, adding about half a mile a week starting at 5 miles. It got me to reflecting about the limits in our lives and how for the most part, we set these on ourselves.
I also recently listened to the audio series by Dr. Wayne Dyer called Excuses Begone! In it, Dyer dispels many of the excuses we give ourselves and outlines principles we can use to defeat them and reach our true potential.
These confluence of events inspired me to share a couple actions I am trying to apply in reaching higher levels of chess. I hope you find them helpful.
1. Decide what you want. This is always a first step I noticed in all self improvement books as well as a logical step in any case. You may want to think broadly - e.g. I want to achieve as USCF Rating of 2200 - or maybe more specific - e.g. I want to improve my understanding of the Ruy Lopez. Dr. Dyer discusses the universal power of contemplating or envisioning what you want in your life and how the universe brings everything you will need to accomplish your goal. Whether you believe in this universal power or not, I think you can also see the usefulness of knowing what you truly want out of chess or anything in your life. If you want to become a national master for example, you will begin to seek out the information and training you need to start getting there. Obviously, your work and commitment to this vision is important, but knowing is the first step.
2. Recognize that your beliefs empower or limit you. Do you believe you're too old to improve your chess? Do you believe you are not born with the innate talent to become better than you are? Dyer discusses an amazing example of the placebo effect, where patients with arthritis were either given known surgical treatments or a "placebo" surgery where the doctor only made superficial incisions and pretended to work on the arthritic joint (the knee in this case). They followed the patients after surgery for two years and found that the patients in both cases improved at the success rate! They talked about patients who were able to play basketball, run, and do things they hadn't done for years. They were told after two years that they actually hadn't been treated, and the patients were amazed! Your beliefs both positive and negative have a profound effect on what you can and cannot do.
3. Be present in the moment. Do you let the regrets of the past distract you? Do you dream too much, without taking action in the present? Living in the moment prevents you from really making excuses, because you are just doing and being. In chess, when you are playing a game or solving a problem, think about just being present in the moment. Do not think of how you beat or lost to your opponent in past games, or even about a move you should have played in the past. Think about the current position at hand and focus your entire being into making the next best move. As Dyer says, the future can only be lived out in the present as well. I admit that this concept is difficult for me to wrap my head around, because I often try to learn from the past as well as plan out my future, but I don't think Dr. Dyer is excluding those useful activities, but instead that when reflecting on the past or focusing on the future prevents living in the moment through feelings of regret or distracting from the present is can be harmful.
4. Take responsibility. When you take 100% responsibility (a concept I've read in many books, including QBQ by John Miller and Success Principles by Jack Canfield), there is really no room for excuses. For example, a common excuse is that "I'm too old" to become a chess master, but if you look hard enough, there are many people who reach that desired title late in life. Similarly, excuses such as "I don't have time" and "it is too difficult" disappear when you truly take 100% responsibility for your results. As a good friend of mine said, "Who has time to play chess? Well, I guess those who make time."
NB As a side note, I wanted to share the technique of creating posteriorities in our lives (a concept I learned from Brian Tracy books). Where priorities are things we should do first and more often, posteriorities are things we should do last or not at all. We can take our time to improve at chess (or anything else) from our posteriorities. For me, my main posteriority watching excessive amounts of television and I can easily carve out an extra hour a day for my priorities by reducing the time in front of the tube.
5. Take it a step at a time. Sometimes, when we look at our long-term goals for chess and life, the enormity of the task ahead can be overwhelming. How do you eat an elephant? That's right...one bite at a time. Do you want to get better at tactics? Well, doing 1500 tactical problems and understanding them deeply would certainly make you better. If you did 15 problems a day, which would take 10-15 minutes, you'd do just that in 100 days, just over three months. I'll give you a striking example from another hobby of mine - weightlifting. About 3 months ago, the most I had ever deadlifted was 140 pounds. However, by careful training and gradually adding 10-15 pounds each time I successfully completed the lift, I can now successfully deadlift 235 pounds! Now I know you greatest gains are made at the beginning of most endeavors, but that constant striving for improvement, even in little ways, over time will add up to great results. By the way, had I tried to lift 235 pounds 3 months ago, I would have seriously hurt myself and not even budged the bar.
There are many more insights that Dr. Wayne Dyer shares in his book and many other ways to improve, but I think the most important thing I learned from these experiences and his book are that we have an incredible power to create what we want in our life. We only need to have the vision and belief in ourselves, and be willing to live our lives with full responsibility for our results. Excuses Begone!