Resilience In Chess: How to Get Back After A Tough Loss

Just moments after a tough loss the defeat looks way more daunting than it actually is. In some cases after a difficult loss, I went as far as to question my whole life. “Why am I wasting my time on this stupid game?” is a question that sadly also many chess amateurs are familiar with.

What I realized is that in 99% of the cases, we lack the right perspective to make these seemingly daunting defeats look normal and manageable. As time goes by, most preoccupations we have directly after the loss turn out to be only imaginary. As Seneca said:

We suffer more in imagination than in reality.

Seneca, Stoic

So how can we overcome losses quicker and without all the self-pity, frustration, and anger involved?

Switch Perspectives

Switch perspective to overcome a loss

The key is to be able to switch perspectives just when defeat hits us. The more we are able to zoom out, the more the defeat actually seems manageable. If you only think about this single game, it will seem like the end of the world.

Once you consider the whole tournament, it is a little less bad (still some games to go!). Zooming out further to your full chess year, this defeat won’t define if the year went well or not. When you finally zoom outside of chess, the real perspective starts to come in. Your loved ones are still the same, you have food & shelter and are able to spend time on your hobby.

Not so bad after all, huh? The problem is that switching into this ‘zooming out’ mindset is not very easy in the moment. It takes a lot of skills and resilience to get there.

The Reminder To Overcome A Loss

What helps to overcome a loss is to have someone next to you reminding you that it isn’t as bad as it seems. But this method has two problems:

  1. You don’t always have someone next to you.
  2. It can feel like unsolicited advice and make you even more upset.

So what is the solution? A letter to your future self. If you can’t control your self-talk in the moment, write down your preferred self-talk beforehand. Then make sure to read it after a tough loss.

No, I’m not insane and yes, this really works. When I was still an active Chess player I took this letter to tournaments and read it quickly after a tough loss.

It is a personal reminder to gain perspective and see things for what they really are without interpreting too much into them. This letter helped me overcome many defeats and get back to a positive and winning mindset quickly. I frequently write such letters to remind me of my ‘best self’. Written and signed by me, this has a way bigger impact on me than any outside feedback. It is how I want to act.

It also makes it easier for loved ones to help me in such moments. The only thing they have to say is: “Read your letter. Remind yourself of how you want to act.” I share this with the hope that you can draft a similar letter to yourself. It will help you get out of a bad state of mind quicker next time.

Note that this is the chess-specific version, but it works for many  ‘bad happenings’ that aren’t as bad as they seem in the moment. Once you wrote the letter, don’t only keep it hidden in a Word file.

Print it out and sign it. This might sound weird, but to me, this document becomes ‘official’ once I signed it. And I’m doing my utmost best to follow my own advice then.

Letter To Myself To Overcome A Loss

“Dear Noël, I know it sucks. It is OK to be upset. After all, you put so much time and energy into improving your chess. If losing wouldn’t hurt, something would be wrong. But feeling pity for yourself won’t change anything. The result stands and your task is to make the best out of it. Before you can do that, let me help you change your perspective for a moment.

First, think of all the difficult defeats you overcame in your career. You have been able to come back every single time. Even a losing streak of 6 games did not end your career. So, this one won’t end it either. Now take a deep breath and feel alive. It is something you take for granted too often. You have enough food, shelter, and people that love you.

At this moment millions of people have to fight for their survival. Spending time on a hobby without worrying about their livelihood is something they can only dream of. You are very privileged.

Do you want to use that privilege by being upset about losing a game of chess? Really? I wrote this letter in the past to remind future Noël to make the best out of every situation. Now that you have the proper perspective, follow these 3 simple steps:

  • Write down a thing you learned from this game. Every lost game is a learning opportunity.
  • Let the past be the past and look ahead. Now that you learned something tick that game off and focus on the present and future.
  • Do something that makes you feel alive and full of energy. Actions change your mood. Not the other way around. You likely won’t feel like it, but do Sport, Yoga, talk to your girlfriend or a Friend, play a Board Game, or listen to upbeat music.

Once you are back in the right mood, taking the right decisions will be easy. Have fun, be grateful for every moment and enjoy this adventure called life. Don’t waste it being upset about the result of a game. It is simply not worth it.

Main Takeaways From The Letter

Beating yourself up in this letter won’t help you overcome the loss. It will only make you feel worse. That is why I initiate the letter with a little self-compassion. After all, you want to finish reading the letter and not throw it away after reading the first few words…

Then I name something I overcame in the past. This builds up a little confidence that I am able to switch my mindset. Now I’m ready to zoom out. Thinking about Millions of people who would absolutely love to be in my privileged situation usually does the trick for me.

Let’s be honest, in the grand picture being upset about losing a game of chess is quite silly and a very luxurious problem. The last step is to ensure that I learn something and change my mood altogether. Once this is achieved, I don’t need the advice of my past self anymore. I’m able to take the right decisions in the present.

Now you have it in your own hands to prepare yourself for the inevitable case of losing a chess game. Write a little personal reminder and you’ll see it works wonders. And then you will get to the bonus: knowing you can handle defeat well will make you play much more freely.

No more fear of losing because you know it is not a disaster. Just read your letter and move on with life. I hope thanks to this trick you will enjoy your games more and spend less time in a bad state of mind.

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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