I think you can replace Chess with Guitar and the ideas in this blog by a noted adult chess improver apply just as well. I picked this up from my brother’s latest vlog on adult chess improvement, my guitar playing is far superior to my chess playing … let’s you know just what kind of chess player I am … was.
Question: What is a chess grinder?
Answer: A person that studies chess several times per week, preferably every day:
- More focused on the journey than the destination
- Understands that life is mostly about plateaus and learns to love those plateaus
- What George Leonard artfully describes in his book, Mastery, The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment, as being on the Master’s Journey
Q: What are the other journey’s beside the Master’s Journey?
A: Other approaches that George Leonard describes include the Dabbler, the Obsessive, and the Hacker:
- The Dabbler starts with enormous enthusiasm, but his excitement wanes dramatically after confronting his first plateau.
- The Obsessive buys every chess book and online resource he can find. “It’s all about my rating. This is the clearest measure of improvement.” He pushes hard even in the face of adversity, but often forms a love-hate relationship with chess. When the Obsessive crashes, he often crashes very hard.
- The Hacker has a different approach. He is fine with being on the plateau indefinitely and doesn’t mind skipping stages essential for mastery. He’s fine playing blitz games with other Hackers. He probably never had the chess gene anyway.
Q: None of those three approaches sound very good. How does one embrace the master’s journey?
A: When progress seems to stop then say, “Good. I’m on another plateau. I just need to keep practicing and sooner or later, I will see signals of progress.”
Q: That sounds difficult. Why did you become a chess grinder?
A: I started because I did not want to be a Hacker any longer. I knew that I needed to replace my rotten chess foundation with a solid foundation. I also recognized that it will take me years to build this solid foundation. Therefore, I needed to make chess study a daily habit.
Q: How did you make chess study a habit?
A: First, I decided that I am no longer “trying to get better at chess”. Instead, I decided that I am a chess player, and chess players obviously study chess every day. Identity is one of our most powerful tools. Second, I decided to do at least a small amount of chess work every day. It might be to solve 1 puzzle, or read 1 page of a chess book. Even if I did the minimum, I would still feel good about my chess study. Basically, I moved chess study from the Decision Zone to the Habit Zone.
Q: What is the difference between the Decision Zone and Habit Zone?
A: The Decision zone is a conscious effort to do things. It involves motivation, willpower, and rewards. The Habit zone is an unconscious effort. It’s something you just do. I don’t debate whether or not to do some chess study anymore. That would be exhausting. I just do it because it’s what I do. 40-50% of what we do each day is habitual. The key is to put chess study into the habitual part of your life.
Q: What are the keys to building a daily chess study habit?
A: There are 8 important steps:
- Anchor the habit to an existing habit. After I get back from my daily walk, I go into my office and study chess. I also have a calendar event on my phone that alerts me as a backup plan.
- Make it easy. I have my puzzles and chess book and chess board in arms reach from my desk at all times.
- Be happy with a small amount of daily work. Tiny habits are the start of bigger habits. Consistency is more important than volume. I started with 5 puzzles per day, now I can do 200. However, if I do only 5 puzzles, I’m still happy with my daily effort. I may want to read 15 pages of a chess book today, but if I only read 1 page, I’m still happy.
- Be totally focused and present while training. Ten minutes of deliberate practice is worth more than one hour of distracted practice.
- Create a celebration ritual after each study session. I post interesting puzzles on Twitter as a reward.
- Create social accountability. If I tell 1,000 people that I will read 12 chess books this year, I become very motivated to achieve that goal.
- Track your progress. Every day I track my training actions and track longer term achievements (e.g. total number of master games studied) in a spreadsheet.
- Realize that you will occasionally miss a day. Forgive yourself and do at least one chess related activity the next day. The cumulative effects of regular chess training is like compounding interest and will eventually show up in your games.
Q: Sounds like you know a lot about habit formation, which books do you recommend?
A: Mastery, The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment, Tiny Habits, Atomic Habits, Mindset, the New Psychology of Success, and Grit, the Power of Passion and Perseverance.
Q: How do you keep the daily grind interesting?
A: Several things to keep chess grinding interesting:
- listen to music while I study. This helps keep me energized and focused.
- time myself every time I study tactics. This keeps me focused and makes it a bit of a game.
- created a chess book championship series to keep chess book study fun and interesting. If you start a book that you dislike, feel free to change books. The goal is to use materials that you believe are useful on your master’s journey.
Q: Any other thoughts about chess grinding?
A: Look for different types of signals of progress, not just rating growth. If you work hard every day on your current plateau, sooner or later, you will see progress. In the meantime, keep grinding…