Thinking Like a Navajo

I remember reading about how Navajo Indians tended to do poorly with Western style IQ tests because of cultural differences, for example the sun would have very different connotations for someone living in a desert to those who spend their days in a city with running water. Westerners are quick to skip a question if they can’t answer it, moving on to the next one so as to save time. Yet this would be very alien to the Navajo mind as problems (such as crossing a river or finding food) are seen as things that have to be thought through and solved before moving on.

The Navajo approach to solving problems is actually very suitable for chess, we have to solve one problem at a time as the game only presents us with a new one once we’ve done so. And this could explain why many highly intelligent people have a lot of trouble with chess, they can’t move on to a later position in the game but instead have to deal with the one that’s in front of them. It’s easy to see how this could be very annoying for the quick but jumpy mind, crossword puzzles will be a lot more suitable because if 5 down is a problem you can move on to 10 across!

Is it possible to cultivate Navajo thinking? I think that it can, but it’s never easy to change the habits of a lifetime. A good start is to learn to calm down and get used to lower levels of external stimulation, which includes things like caffeinated beverages and computer games. Cutting down on bullet chess is another good step as is spending time just sitting in the garden. Those who really want to go to town on this can try meditation or tai chi. Over a period of time the mind settles down.

This is something I’ve been working on over the last few years and it has had a dramatic effect. The first of these videos was made in 2007, the second last year. And if I was playing chess regularly I’m quite sure there would have been a noticeable improvement in my results.

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About NigelD

Nigel Davies is an International Chess Grandmaster living in Southport 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 he teaches chess through his chess training web site, Tiger Chess. His students including his 12 year old son Sam.