December 19, 2010

Motivated by fear of failure?

Before I proceed with today's post, I have to share one thing: just joined the team on Schaaksite! You can read my articles in Dutch language, which wouldn't have been possible without their tremendous help. Thank you!
My first article in Dutch for can be found here! The English version is presented below:

Another competition has finished for me: International Benidorm Women Tournament, which started on 7th December and ended on 12th. After an hesitating start, I managed to come back and finish shared second. The final standings can be found on Chess-Results.

As I already told my family and friends, after my loss in round 3, against the young Nicolas Zapata Irene, much lower rated than me at that time, I did learn something new. I finally dared to ask myself: why do I lose against the so called "weaker" opponents?!
Some might argue that I underestimated me, it was not the case. I lost before against lower rated players and I learned my lesson: to approach the game with a professional attitude. Or as Akiba Rubinstein said (when asked: Who is your opponent tonight?): "Tonight I am playing against the Black pieces" - lesson number one: to be objective!

Ok, why did I lose than?!:) Well...this is what caused me a full point: Fear of failure, today's theme. 

The following thoughts sound familiar to you? 
1. I have to win today, he/she has such a low elo, it will be horrible to lose.
2. I really shouldn't make even a draw with this guy!
3. I am between the strongest players in this tournament, if I fail everyone will start commenting on my poor performance.
4. I have to win at all costs! I cannot let my team down, they won't take me again next season.

What is fear? Fear comes in many forms - fear of failure, fear of success, fear of embarrassment, and so on.
More than any other fear, fear of failure limits chess players from performing their best and can cause them to give up their dreams in sports. Many people would rather be odd, hostile, overworked or many other "terrible" things than be seen as a failure. With the tremendous stress we place on success, this isn't surprising. After all, successful people are winners aren't they?

People feel sorry for losers and no one wants to be pitied. At the same time, we are constantly bombarded with truisms to make us feel better after an apparent failure. These are phrases like, "We learn from our mistakes, you can't win them all, everybody's wrong sometimes" — but these don't really help.
The Myth of Positive Thinking
People tend to use the phrase, "Think positive" as not thinking at all about what can go wrong. This kind of attitude usually leads to more failures, because people are lulled into a sense of security and fail to see the pitfalls in front of them.
People need to learn how to fail
Failing Well
How many Grandmasters can lose an important game and say, "That was great. I learned something from it and am better for it." Unless we can say it - and really mean it - we probably weren't learning that much from the experience. One might even say that a key to success is learning to fail well.

Do you feel like you are constantly banging your head against an imaginary wall because you work harder and harder to perform your best, but only become more frustrated with a lack of improvement or results?

For many chess players, it is far easier to work harder and harder than to address their internal demons that hold them back. Most chess players (including myself) will make a change in strategy or technique to improve performance way before they attempt to look inside at self- sabotaging beliefs.

One of the biggest downsides of fear of failure is having an intense avoidance mindset. Players with an avoidance mindset strive to avoid pain instead of striving for success. These chess players' minds are conditioned to avoid making mistakes and emotional pain at all costs.

The first place to start in order to stop fear of failure is to identify what type of fear causes you to bang your head against the imaginary wall of worry. Keep in mind that most of these fears are born out of an intense desire to succeed or to avoid negative social scrutiny.

The next step or change you must make to breakthrough the wall of worry is to focus your mind on striving for success instead of avoiding failure. When you focus your mind on obtaining success, you will come closer to obtaining it.

Here are some ideas to help you look at failure from a different perspective and stop being held back by it.

1.  Failures are just steppingstones
"There is no failure. Only feedback.” –Robert Allen
We give too much importance to failure, don't we? We overemphasize it,
seeing failure as the final result — as an undesired outcome of something we fought hard for. We miss the point, though, that failure is just part of a larger process — the process of learning and growing.
2.  We can never be a failure 
"Failure is an event, never a person." – William D. Brown
3.  Failing is part and parcel of innovation
"I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work." –Thomas Edison
4. Failing is usually not as bad as we picture it
"Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes" —Oscar Wilde
OK, failure may not be so bad after all, but would I be going too far in saying that you can actually enjoy a lost game?! 
Seriously, there were times when I was so afraid to lose that when I lost — as expected — I felt immense relief. My biggest threat had been left behind as there was nothing to fear anymore: my mind was clear again. Failing can definitely set you free.
Have you failed before? Was it as terrible as you had anticipated? Well, here you are reading this article, so it seems you survived all right. Truth is, failure is almost never as bad as we imagine. Fear of failure is usually much worse than failure itself.
5.  Everybody is afraid — everybody! Even Kramnik and Anand:)
"Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear."–Ambrose Redmoon
Let me tell you a secret: the next guy is as scared as you are. We're all afraid of failing. Yes, that includes even the most prolific geniuses you can think of — In fact, they seem to be the ones who agonize more about failing.
There's nothing wrong about it. Your fear is perfectly normal: if what you're doing is at least minimally worth it, fear of failure will always be part of the process. It will never go away completely.
Achievers succeed not because they're not afraid, but because they overcome fear. Every day. Over and over again.

"He who fears being conquered is sure of defeat". Napoleon Bonaparte
In the following video, the chess player from the right side has lost the psychological battle even before making his first move!

Final Thoughts
I first compiled the ideas in this article for my own reference. Although most of them may not be new, this is the kind of stuff I keep forgetting at the times I need them the most — and that's why I decided to share them here. I hope you find them useful.

Keep in mind that:

Our greatest glory consist not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.
Oliver Goldsmith

Experience teaches slowly, and at the cost of mistakes.
James A. Froude

Failure teaches success.
Japanese Saying


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