Lessons from Chess: How to Survive the Rock Bottom of Life

Defending a Hopeless Situation

Anand from India studies the board against Topalov from Bulgaria during chess tournament in SofiaThere are many similarities between the game of chess and real life – both can filled with severe ups and downs or throw you into hopeless situations. Those who have played serious chess know very well that there are many similarities between a chess game and life. It is common in a chess game to get stuck in some bad position – not necessarily because you are bad player; things just happen despite all your preparation and brilliant mind. Any chess player can testify to it – and when you are in a bad position often there is nothing you can do immediately about it. You have to just wait it out patiently trying that it does not get any worst.

Then, very frequently your opponent makes some bad or weak move(s) (in overconfidence or negligence) and you suddenly start seeing a “ray of hope”. Ultimately your patience pays off: you either come out a winner or force a draw. Patience always pays off. This is what I learned as a city level tournament chess player in two mega cities: Chicago and Mumbai. There are reasons why I could not pursue my addiction further but I learned a lifelong lesson from Chess – importance of Patience. My best cathartic experience was winning a six hour battle after sitting on a hopelessly precarious situation for almost five-and-half-hours! An opening blunder pushed me into a dangerous position and my opponent started attacking from all sides. However, my patient defense somehow exhausted my opponent’s all attacking abilities.

Acknowledge Transitions in Life

trade towersMany people can testify that life also throws situations when you are simply stuck in some not-so-good circumstances – have little options to maneuver, change or quit, and whatever support you have is not enough. It is not easy to sit out a situation that is full of uncertainties and potential dangers. This is the time when you discover that all your intellectual brilliance suddenly become irrelevant – and you begin to “feel” what it means to be actually “helpless”.

Things like accidents, stock-market loss, discovery of life threatening illness, back-stabbing by someone least expected, or losing everything in a natural disaster fortunately don’t happen often, but when they do you discover that you are least prepared for it. The path of recovery can often be painfully slow particularly when you have limited choices. This is the time when, not high IQ, but patience and staying power becomes the key to success. It may also be the time when life enters a different phase and new realities begin to unfold. This transition often requires drastic emotional adjustments and newer survival skills. I came in contact with chess after one such jolts while in high school.

During high school I suddenly discovered some serious health issues that forced me to stay away from all my favorite outdoor sporting hobbies – a big mental blow that threw me into deep depression. It forced me to discover the world of indoor games – chess to be more specific. And as I began discovering chess strategies for opening, middle, and end games depression had to leave me. Such was the absorbing power of this game played on just 64 squares of the board. At that time I never realized that the game would teach me the virtue of patience that would be useful for rest of my life.

There is another lesson that chess gives: There are times when you have to play to “not lose”.

Playing to Not Lose

defense shotNo one likes to lose and it’s normal to play for win. However, there are situations where it is safer to play to avoid losing. Quite commonly you are face to face with a really strong opponent or when it is a period when you are way off your true form. The best strategy under such circumstances is to play for a draw or steer clear of risky situations to minimize the risk of losing. You put all the responsibility of outcome of the game on your opponent and see to it that you make his task as hard as you can. In fact, it can be applied in any sport.

It is fairly common to slip into sadness, isolation and depression when the problem is overwhelming. Severe situations can also becomes an invitation to alcohol or drugs or precipitates some disorders – eating disorder or insomnia are common occurrences, for example. No matter what is happening to you and how ineffective your struggle has become, there is a good question to ponder – Have I hit the rock bottom or will go down still further?

When there is nothing but confusion and gloom all around. You really can’t say how long it will last – the only thing you can say is that it will end at some unknown time in future.

What to do Then?

For an intelligent person, this is the best time for emotional development – in fact, all hard times are. So problems are actually opportunities – not threats, and the more challenging they are the better for you! Here is the three step strategy to manage the so called rock-bottoms of life.

1. “Forget the situation and take control of yourself.” Think about it and take your time to delve into it. No matter where you are, you always have the power of control over how you are. You can always resist falling prey to depression or isolation. Do your best to maintain your mental composure. Right now the strategy is to keep your cool.

2. “Resolve to wait it out – tenaciously.” It is a mental resolve to bear out any mental or physical pain – so drop the anchor and let the storm unfold. Why this works? Because, no storm can go on forever! This is another truth of life. Keep a bigger picture of life in mind.

3. “How can I use this opportunity to make myself stronger?” Why this could be an opportunity, is a very good question you should be occupied with.

Some Inspiring Quotes

Here are some inspiring quotes; they provide healthy food for the mind and keep it from spinning in the wrong direction.

What lies behind us and what lies ahead of us are tiny matters to what lies within us. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Don’t go about here and there. Go inside and remain there. – Yogaswami

Paradoxically, we achieve true wholeness only by embracing our fragility and sometimes, our brokenness. – Jalaja Bonheim

Be like a postage stamp. Stick to one thing until you get there. – Josh Billings

One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.” – Carl Jung

All the art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on. – Henry Ellis 

Explore Further

Feeling Stuck? You Need to Break the Mental Barriers Holding You Back

Feeling Empty and Frustrated? Come Out, Do Good, Feel Good!


About Goodpal

I am a firm believer in healthy people (mind and body both), healthy societies and healthy environment. Please feel free to comment, share and broadcast your views -- I like rational and intellectual discussions. Thanks for stopping by. Have a Good Day!
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