How Playing Like You Could Lose, Helps You Win
I ended up with a very valuable lesson: play as if losing is actually a possibility.
This doesn't just apply to chess. For me, it comes up in grappling and sparring, as well as music (don't underestimate the song). Some other areas:
- Never underestimate the elements when you're camping, especially if you're attempting a challenging feat
- Play music as if you could mess up (not that you "will" but that you "could")
- Write as if that editor is just waiting with a rejection slip
- Do business as if nobody knows you, which means, be nice. Don't be "too big for your britches"
- Teach with the understanding that your students might not have any idea what you're talking about (my entire year in Korea...and a lot of my math tutoring today)
- Fly like your engine actually will die, or a gust of wind will blast through just as your about to touch down
You might be thinking that this all sounds like fear-mongering, and I want to make clear that it's not.
Think of it more as honoring the seriousness of the task at hand by taking it seriously.
It's like riding a horse: you have to be assertive and confident, but you can't afford to let your guard down when you're working with a large, jumpy animal. You have to be attentive, always watching for the horse to spook or make sure it's not just having a bad day and wants to kick something. If you aren't attentive, you end up in the hospital. If you are, you just calm the beast down and go for a ride.
It feels so much more comfortable and empowering to say, "You're sure to win! Nothing can go wrong! Go for it!" But that really is just covering up fear with bravado. My generation has made a culture of it, to the point that we don't always recognize bravado as a separate state of mind. It's just part of who we are.
Admitting you're actually in real 'danger,' and are going to keep going anyway, is way more terrifying than psyching yourself up, but it forces you to bring all your resources to bear, which means you will play better.
And if you happen to be in a competitive environment, never underestimate your opponent. Because as soon as you get ahead, the fact that they are losing will sharpen their game and then you'll be in trouble.