“Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” — Aristotle

Carnaval de nice, Le Nain Jaune

Carnival in Nice. Create good habits from the start - have fun while learning chess!

First we form some chess routines, then they form us and the way we play

Most of our daily actions are not the result of well-considered decision making. Rather, habits shape large part of the choices we make every day.

Habit learning is going on all the time. Brain will try to make any repeated behavior into a habit. Why? Because habits allow our minds to conserve effort in terms of time and energy. Which, in turn, is essential for survival.

“The process within our brains that creates habits is a three-step loop. First, there is a cue (or stimulus), a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use. Then there is the routine, which can be physical or mental or emotional. Finally, there is a reward, which helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future. Over time, this loop — cue, routine, reward; cue, routine, reward — becomes more and more automatic,” Charles Duhigg, the author of The Power Of Habit: Why We Do What We Do And How To Change It, in his How Companies Learn Your Secrets article in New York Times.

Understanding this loop is the key to more efficient teaching, faster learning curve, or becoming more productive at whatever you do in life.

Suppose you just got started learning how to play chess. Most likely, they show you a chessboard full of pieces and how they move individually. Is that the right thing to do? Doesn’t seem so. Many counter-arguments speak against it: psychology and cognitive neuroscience, the theory of complex systems, the authority of Nimzovich

Any beginnings in chess must first pay attention to interrelationships (“contacts”), coordination and roles (functions) pieces have. After all, pieces move along the same lines they exert force over, but the impact of teaching moves first has far-reaching consequences on how we learn and acquire new knowledge.

Yet, we still push the traditional method of how to start teaching chess to the beginner. The result? Habits not so beneficial for a fast progress start forming. With damaging consequences.

As brain cell connections are physical, the new patterns are hard-wired and become permanent. Slow learning curve and poor chess vision set in early. You’re not seeing any progress, losing too many games and therefore motivation and interest. Chances are you simply give up so as not to humiliate your ego. You go someplace else to feed your natural hard-wired instinct to triumph.

Piece relationships are essential to make fast progress in chess

To build strong chess vision, start with the right habit to spot piece contacts and functions

Conquer your bad chess habits, or they’ll eventually conquer you

To disrupt the old bad habits that the chess player has gotten into is a difficult task. Once the loop is established and a habit has emerged, the pattern will unfold automatically. If you want to break a bad habit, you need to fight it deliberately by finding new cues and rewards. You need to grow a new alternative neural pathway. The thing is though, you don’t actually get rid of old, unwanted behavior patterns. You may shift to the new routine giving you better results, but you piggyback on an existing habit. Obviously, as Benjamin Franklin put it, it is easier to prevent bad habits than to break them.

The task of the chess coach is to use right methods to insure development of the right habits from the onset. You can grow stronger by simply doing the right things consistently over time. Sometimes, tweaking even one habit, as long as it’s the right one, can have dramatic effects.

Learn the right habits from the start and your chess performance will take off.

“Good habits formed at youth make all the difference.” — Aristotle

If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed!