If you look hard enough, you can see willpower just about everywhere. Sometimes it’s obvious, staring at you right in the face. When you’re at the gym and the trainer is wearing a shirt that says, “Willpower is a muscle: the more you use it, the better it gets,” it’s never more obvious than that. But you also see it in more subtle ways, when someone refuses a second helping of a meal, or going for a run when the weather is crappy, or chewing gum endlessly instead of going out for a smoke.
Images like this also come to mind.
It’s even penetrated into our stories, our very narratives. We’ll see the hero fight against all odds, using sheer force of will to overcome obstacles that would crush a lesser person. We hear this all the time in sports, especially the playoffs, how a bit player rises to the occasion and turns in a performance for the ages. It wasn’t because of talent, it was all hard work and willpower.
All that’s good in life comes from willpower, or so it seems, so everyone tells us. And you know what? It’s full of crap. Continue reading
I don’t know how many hours I’ve spent on chess over the years. I would play marathon sessions with my grandfather, sometimes lasting three or four hours, going well past my bedtime. When I discovered Internet chess and blitz, I would stay up past midnight trading moves, even with school the next day. Heck, I even kept a chess board in my bathroom, so I’d have something to do when on the toilet.
I never modelled my house after a chess set, though, so I’m better than this picture.
I’m not alone in this. Well, maybe the bathroom part. That might have been obsessive, but that’s exactly the point. Chess inspires obsession. Many people, young and old, master and patzer, have become ensnared within these 64 squares. Something draws us in and refuses to let go. The progression from game to hobby to obsession is so gradual you don’t even notice, but it’s there, working it’s magic on everyone.
And sometimes, in a moment of clarity, I take a step back and ask the natural question, “Why do I care about this game so much?” What is it that has inspired thousands of hours of play and study? Continue reading
Perfection. That seems like such a great, powerful word, does it not? Perfect is positive! If you get a perfect score, a perfect ten, a perfect grade, a perfect day, a perfect anything, you are absolutely set. Nothing is better than perfect, and if you have an opportunity to make something perfect, than you should absolutely do it, right? Right?
I’m not referring to the classic game Perfection, though I was quite good at this if I do so say myself.
It’s funny, because perfectionism is one of the most cunning traps out there. We pour more and more effort into something that, frankly, is already good enough. The difference between 99% and 100% is incredibly small, but we often chase that 1% for hours and hours and hours, and we rarely if ever find it. It may even be impossible, but we still strive for it, sometimes unceasingly, and in the end we become nothing more than Sisyphus rolling that rock up that hill.
I have a problem with perfectionism, and nowhere is that more clear than chess. Continue reading
In everyday life, we use the word ‘obsession’ rather loosely. When we say someone is obsessed with something, we generally mean they have a very high interest in something and spend much of their free time on it. We generally do not mean that they are under mental compulsion and are unable to do anything else.
When it comes to chess, at times I was very close to this actual definition of obsession.
I consider this image really clever.
It didn’t happen right away. Though I learned chess at the age of six, I didn’t get fully into it until the age of 10 or so. I was getting pretty good, considering I only played once a month or so, but I couldn’t beat my grandfather. I got close a few times, but more likely I was simply losing slower. I was putting up resistance, not fighting back. I wanted to change that. Continue reading