Day 2 – Mastering Mindset: Shift from Rating Goals to Skill Improvement

This is Day 2 of my 7-Day series to kickstart your Chess Training. Each part stands on its own, but they are the most powerful if you read and apply all 7 days consecutively.

The first thing Chess improvers do in a New Year’s resolution is usually set a rating goal.

If you’ve read many of my articles or studied my Next Level Training course, you know I’m not a big fan of rating goals.

The funny paradox I realized way too late in my career is that even if you only care about your rating, focusing on your rating is not the right way to go.

Here is why:

Unless you have a career-defining tournament the next year or depend on your rating to get invitations, the time horizon of chess improvement will be long-term for you. By focusing short-term on your rating, you lose out on many improvement opportunities. Missing those opportunities will lead to a lack of skills along the line.

Those are the exact skills that would help you get a higher rating in the future.

Focusing on short-term rating = damaging your long-term rating goals.

Improve Your Skills Instead

What you need is a Chess mindset shift.

Because what works wonders is to focus nearly exclusively on improving your chess skills. Learning new skills might take time, so your rating might even dip for a moment. But this way you ensure to learn things that will help you play better chess 2 months, 1 year and 5 years from now.

Instead of setting a specific rating goal by the end of 2024, try setting several skill goals instead. Once you make better decisions constantly, you will inevitably get better results. When I made this Chess mindset shift, three things happened to me:

  • I enjoyed Training with a clear skill focus more
  • Losing a game didn’t hurt as much; I focused on what I could learn from it
  • It was easier to keep training in periods without competitive games (COVID-19, for example) with clear skill goals

In short, I had more fun, trained better, and was less afraid of making mistakes. A huge win for me.

Start With Simple Skill Goals

To your own Chess mindset shift, I recommend a very simple goal for January: stick to the training plan you will set up thanks to later emails in this series (or NLT). You can either come up now with some other skill-based goals or come up with them whenever you successfully ticked off your previous goal.

Some ideas:

  • Implementing a correct thought process throughout the game
  • Avoiding tilt in Online chess for 1 month straight
  • Play 10 blunder-free games in a row
  • Build your first mini-opening repertoire
  • Learn the most important Tactical Motifs

In the Discord server for my course Next Level Training we have a section called ‘Share your goals’. I still see some rating goals from time to time (we are all humans after all!), but I also see things like:

  • Mapekala, who is in his mid-60s, trains for 6 months for his first OTB tournament (the goal there is to have fun, not reach a certain rating!).
  • Tom Bus is aiming to “Have more fun (excitement) in playing a game” and “be more confident during a game”.

Aren’t those much more worthwhile goals than just a number that will inevitably change in the future anyway?

The diversity of those goals makes this whole process even more fun. You go from focusing on one silly number (rating points) to realizing that improving chess involves so many (non) chess skills.

What worked best for me was using a non-chess & chess skill goal at the same time. For example, sticking to my training plan for 30 days (don’t forget your rest days!) and avoiding time trouble for 10 games straight.

Not Achieving a Goal is Normal

There is one more thing that is super important with goals in general: failure must be an option.

Robert, my sports psychologist, always reminded me that I should aim for a 2:1 achieving/failure rate. That means every third goal will not be achieved. This is just a sign that you are setting ambitious, yet realistic goals.

Let me remind you that this switch won’t come that easy. We live in a society that is obsessed with simple comparisons like title, money, or rating. You might be the only one in your friend circle who comes up with these skill goals.

Whenever you fall back into the rating obsession, remember what is at stake:

Skill goals help you have more fun, train better & be less afraid of making mistakes.

Here is what I suggest you do right now:

1) Set your first skill-based goal. As a matter of fact, if you started the Chess Detox yesterday, getting through that can be your first goal!

2) Find like-minded people to hold you accountable. You can forward this email to your chess friends and tell them your own goals. Join communities like NLT to find people who have similar goals, or tell your best friend/spouse about your goals. Feel free to answer this email with your Skill goals (I won’t be able to respond, but I’ll read as many as I can!).

3) Don’t expect yourself to be perfect. Remember: mistakes & failures are part of the process. Both falling back to result-based thinking and failing to achieve a skill-based goal are normal. Learn from your mistakes and move on.

I can’t wait to hear what this mindset shift does for you. Yes, it is cool to read from my students when they raise 200 points in 3 months or beat someone 400 points higher rated.

But what really makes my day is reading from a Chess improver who went from stressed out about their rating to having fun training chess and focusing on their skills. I’ll leave you with a “success” story from an NLT student who started a tournament with 0/3.

Success Story after the right Chess Mindset Shift

Ever since this message, he frequently posts “real” success stories with great results he achieved.

First, adjust your mindset – then the results will follow.

Keep improving,

Want to read on? Day 3 – Transforming Your Chess: The Power of Hard Training

I firmly believe that

anyone can improve their chess through the right mindset and training techniques.

I’m here to guide you on your journey to chess mastery.

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