We hear from the super motivators out there that you have to set high goals to achieve something. That’s the way to create our own future, to force our brain to look for hidden ways to make something happen.
So what is a good goal? When I say I want to become a chess grandmaster then this isn’t really a smart goal. It’s a dream that not only depends on me but also on my opponents and while I only have to win against many GMs, it doesn’t exactly tell me how to do it.
There are some interesting research studies available that point out that outcome oriented goals can quickly kill the motivation unless you already have the abilities (like Nakamura who sees himself as the big threat for Carlsen). It creates fear and puts a lot of pressure on you to perform well and for us Patzers this is a sure way to feel frustration. The same goes for internet chess with its ELO rating. Playing fast games doesn’t help to make progress, it’s just an indicator and pretty accurate. It’s our wrong self picture (hey, I am 100 points stronger and I must close the gap) that boycotts honest efforts and hurts in the long run.
Process oriented goals are different. They focus on doing something right and forgive mistakes. One knows that learning a skill takes time and failing is part of the process. The motivation stays up and one day you have made it. At least in theory. :-)
In chess you can for instance
- learn to avoid blunders
- learn to think right to find better moves
- learn a good opening repertoire
- practice tactical motif 1 to x
- practice calculation
- learn about elements of chess strategy 1 to x
- study typical middlegame positions
Each single item can be tracked and once you have mastered everything you should have the skills to beat the masters. The actual game will help you to find out what is still missing so instead of being afraid to lose you look forward to it to measure your progress.
In our success oriented Western culture it’s not easy to follow such an approach. Calming yourself, giving your best in a game and knowing that on any day everything is possible will help. If you run into a line that your opponent knows much better than you can easily lose against weaker players.
Should this make you upset? No! Learn from your mistakes and next time you will play better. One also has to keep in mind that at a certain level winning requires taking risks. This will backfire from time to time but without taking risks too many games only end in a draw.
Of course we don’t want to be like Edison who has found 10’000 ways that wont work until he had the best material for his light bulb. We stand on the shoulders of chess giants, from Steinitz to Carlsen, and can learn from their games.