Confidence Versus Practice

In the West there has been a belief that confidence and self esteem are essential factors in producing achievement and that creating these traits via praise is a good thing. Yet studies (such as this one) have shown that this is not the case, and that building false confidence can in fact have a destructive effect.

This makes sense when you think about it. If a person is very confident without any particular reason they’ll have to delude themselves in order to maintain it. Either that or admit that rather than being clever/cool/beautiful they just had a well patted ego. That can be a big ask.

So is confidence a bad thing? Not if it is built on the solid foundation of genuine skill, but this involves a lot of practice. No wonder then that the false variety tends to be much more popular, at least in our part of the World.

In the far East, and China in particular, a very different ethos can be seen. Personal cultivation via extensive practice is highly valued and humility, rather than confidence, is seen as being a desirable trait.

This way of looking things is of course invaluable when it comes to improving one’s chess. Rather than congratulate oneself on one’s great chess (or just the occasional great move or flukey win) it makes more sense just to practice. And then make this a way of life.

As a bit of entertainment here’s one of my favorite scenes from Kill Bill 1 in which Hatori Hanzo has just agreed to make Beatrix a sword. Note carefully the words he utters as he leaves the attic: “It will take me a month to make the sword. I suggest you spend it PRACTICING.”

Nigel Davies

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About NigelD

Nigel Davies is an International Chess Grandmaster living in St. Helens in the UK. The winner of 15 international tournaments he is also a former British U21 and British Open Quickplay Champion and has represented both England and Wales on several occasions. These days Nigel teaches chess through his chess training web site, Tiger Chess, which has articles, recommendations, a monthly clinic, videos and courses. His students include his 15 year old son Sam who is making rapid progress with his game. Besides teaching chess, Nigel is a registered tai chi and qigong instructor and runs several weekly classes.