Chess King

Lost your job? That’s great!

Whenever I see the price graph of a successful company, (such as Apple) it reminds me of how the self-improvement journey should look: an overall upward movement despite regular downturns. But why do only a few of us have that level of success, or have an overall upward movement in our lives? The answer has a lot to do with our response to failure: ‘Oh crap,’ vs. ‘That’s great!’

Everyone fails — athletes, investors, doctors, actors, all of us. But the successful get back on track. The more successful ‘correct’ earlier than the less successful.

Bounce back quickly and don’t let failure get you down. That’s easy to say. But how?

Of course, everyone has different ways of dealing with failure. But one thing that I’ve found consistent among successful people, regardless of their profession, is that they try to get the best out of any situation, including failure.

Negative thoughts can be paralyzing. And dwelling on negative thoughts can become a habit. That feeling of rejection and loneliness becomes the comfort zone, the familiar path, while success becomes a burden. Even the thought of ‘winning’ becomes depressing. The hope of success becomes inextricably linked to the expectation of failure.

If you try to look for any sliver of hope in a bad situation, you will find it. It reminds me of when I started playing chess. I’m still not good at strategy, but back then almost every scenario on the board made me feel doomed. During college, I used to play chess with classmates in my dorm, and there was usually an audience to cheer good moves or to help out the novice, which was often me.

A friend who was a better player would casually move one of my pawns, whisper the next move in my ear, and walk off. And I’d be left wondering, how had I not seen that? We had both looked at the same board, but responded differently.

This chess analogy isn’t perfect. The friend had simply played more chess games than me. But it still proves my point. My friend didn’t add a second queen to the game nor did he break any rules. He simply saw possibilities that a novice couldn’t see. And that’s what we all need to do in order to be successful.

Lost an investment? ‘That’s great!’ Now we can evaluate our investment strategy and improve it. Publisher rejected the book? ‘Good.’ Now we can search for a publisher who’s a better fit, or experiment with digital or self-publishing. Didn’t get the job? ‘Awesome.’ Here’s an opportunity to sharpen skills and apply elsewhere, or even reevaluate career goals.

These tactics might sound flip at first, but how else can you deal with failure?

All other paths lead to more failures. You could argue that anger or the vengeful feeling of ‘I’ll show them’ can help as well, the way they show in the movies. The protagonist hits the gym or starts making business deals or studying court cases while upbeat music plays in the background, and after a combination of cut scenes he somehow turns things around.

Popular movies are ‘feel good’ pills, of hardly any practical value. Anger might seem powerful if you think of channeling it, but it burns out quickly. And you cannot think straight when you’re angry. You can’t even succeed in combat sports with an angry mindset — let alone chess, investments, or studies.

(As a UFC fan I always bet on the calm fighter that has the technique and the presence of mind to execute. ‘Angry’ gets you knocked out cold).

When you say, ‘That’s great,’ you instantly lift yourself out of the ‘why cycle,’ and zoom into the ‘how cycle.’ The former is where you dwell on your problem and the latter is where you seek solutions to it. By uttering ‘That’s great!’ you give your mind no choice but to make the best of the situation, since you need to complete the sentence. ‘That’s great because____.’

Man is fond of counting his troubles, but he does not count his joys. If he counted them up as he ought to, he would see that every lot has enough happiness provided for it.
— Fyodor Dostoevsky

What does your life graph look like? And when I ask you to say, ‘That’s great!’ in the face of adversity, do you agree?