Resiliency for the Chess Improver

I imagine you have heard the wry maxim, “Life is what happens while you are making other plans.”

This maxim holds true for big things and small things. Often our spouses don’t do what we wish and our children refuse to fulfill our expectations or hopes. In the worst case these situations lead to divorce or disinheritance or even violent denouements, but most of the time I suppose we muddle along, causing as many disappointments as we receive.

On a petty daily level, our plans for the morning’s work can easily be derailed, as I was reminded yet again today. I am in the U.S. Army, which has recently been under public pressure due to the number of soldier suicides. In response the Army has developed programs to promote “emotional resiliency,” which we can probably agree is a desirable endstate, though not necessarily easy to promote.

To diagnose issues that may threaten emotional resiliency, the Army has created an online questionnaire called the Global Assessment Tool (GAT).  My boss noticed that I had not yet completed GAT, because the GAT icon was showing “red” on my online profile. Today he directed me to go online and complete the GAT, assuring me it was quick and easy.

So I went online and tackled the GAT, which turned out to be several screens of what I considered to be rather intrusive questions about my personal life, including nebulous queries about my inner emotional state.

But the matter did not end there. On the basis of my answers to the survey, the GAT decided I was deficient in emotional health. The screen immediately directed me to complete three modules of online instruction, starting with a module titled, “What is an emotion?”

How did this webpage become the boss of me? The GAT turned out not to be quick and easy at all. Meanwhile my office work was not getting done, and the emails and phone calls began to pile up, from other people who wanted me to perform various tasks for them. Apparently they valued their own goals over my emotional health, which was deteriorating as the GAT process continued to drag on.

Well. What does all this mean for chess improvement? Nothing directly, but I suggest that my experience this morning, which I am sure you can relate to similar episodes in your own life, has implications for our chess goals. Just as emotional resilience is desirable for U.S. Army soldiers, so the chess improver must cultivate the personal qualities of resilience and persistence in the face of obstacles to progress and changes to plan. He—I use the masculine pronoun for simplicity’s sake—must keep his eye fixed on the distant goal, while adapting his behavior in the short term as needed to cope with exigencies.


Author: Tim Hanke

Tim Hanke is a U.S. amateur who still believes, despite much evidence to the contrary, that he can become a decent chessplayer.