4 min read

How a game of chess stopped me from achieving my goals

How does a seemingly innocuous hobby turn into a self-destructive habit? Find out in this episode of blog posts no-one is going to read.
How a game of chess stopped me from achieving my goals

I know this sounds like a dramatic title but hear me out.

Key Insights

  • Identify your flaws and brainstorm ways to work on fixing them.
  • Don't let external influences and people control your life.
  • Shiny object syndrome, where your attention is constantly taken by new and exciting things that appear in your life, is a real thing and can distract you from your true goals.

I've been playing a lot of chess recently.

This isn't some newfound interest that was inspired by The Queen's Gambit. No I've always liked chess. As a kid, I remember spending Saturday afternoons playing chess with my Dad in our cosy three-bedroom house in Grafton. I used to be a decent chess player too, and was on the school team in primary school. Those were some of the highlights of my primary school days, getting to travel around to other local primary schools and play them in chess. It was a fantastic setup. I'd miss class to play a game I enjoyed and then be rewarded with free food afterwards. It was heaven on earth for a child. I'm sad that chess became unpopular in high school because it meant that, until recently, I didn't really think about it.

No, what rekindled my love of chess was when, during my Medicine placement earlier this year, after finding out that my registrar enjoyed chess, I challenged him to a game. We played a single game when we had some down-time at the hospital. It was a short game, but it was enough to pique my interest and prompt me to redownload chess.com. I started playing random people online in an attempt to rebuild some semblance of skill.

Fast forward a couple of months, when one of my friends, a fellow chess fanatic, visited me and gave me a chess book to read. I bought a chess board as well as a subscription to the chess.com premium membership. Subsequently, I spent more and more time learning about chess strategy and playing games and I spent less time doing other things that I had wanted to do when I set out my intentions for the year.

Last night this culminated into an episode of self-loathing. I got into bed at 10:30pm and decided I'd finish off the day with a game of chess, just to relax for a short while. However, after losing my first game, I decided I'd continue until I won, and this turned into a downward spiral lasting 2 hours. I was on tilt. At every point along the way, I knew that I should stop to go to sleep but at the same time I couldn't because I was hooked. But the worst thing was that the entire time I was playing I wasn't even enjoying it, I was getting angrier and angrier at myself for not having the self-control to stop.

I know I have quite an addictive personality based on my experiences with video games in the past, but I never really saw the chess as an issue until last night.

You're probably thinking, "This has been a damn long wind-up, hurry up and hit me with the take home message already!"

Chess was distracting me from the things that I truly wanted to be doing.

If you haven't already seen my 2021 goals, then you can check them out here. But in summary, one of my main goals for 2021 is to grow my online audience.

Chess isn't something that I am particularly good at. Of people who play chess, I'd say I'm well below average. Now it's possible that I could eventually get good enough to be a somebody in the chess sphere and build an audience that way. But it would be extremely difficult and I don't want to put in the effort. I feel that this would take away a lot of the fun out of chess.

What this experience taught me was that:

  1. There will be things that come up out of the blue that distract us from the things that we want to be doing. This is a form of shiny object syndrome. These things may be fun and give us short-term pleasure, however, we should try to remember the goals that we made for ourselves when we were in a more rational state. In order to make progress in the things that matter to us it's imperative that we aren't distracted by every new project that comes our way.
  2. Related to (1), is that if we don't dictate how we spend our lives then external influences and people will. It's so easy to get caught up in what everyone else is doing and suddenly we're 20 years down our default pathways and we're miserable.
  3. I need to work on my self-control. I'd already previously identified one of my flaws as my addictive personality, but it's one thing to know your flaws and another thing to work on them and fix them.

So what does this mean? Will I stop playing chess. In short, no. I'm editing this a month later and I'm still playing at least 15 mins of chess per day. If you can't indulge yourself a little then what's the point of life? But it does mean that now that I've recognised how easily I can slip into chess binges and I've actively decided that I won't let chess dictate how I spend my time, I'm implementing some methods to prevent these binges. I've set up chess.com time limits on my phone, I'm spending less time actively learning about chess and probably most importantly, I'm filling up my time with other things.

If you're someone who's not getting to where you want to be, I'd implore you to take a step back and reflect on why this is the case. What're the bad habits that you're trying to phase out and how are you going to create actionable steps to prevent you from relapsing?

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