Part 2: Creating optimal mental conditions
According to Wikipedia, concentration is defined as focusing all attention on one particular activity, reaching a short-term goal, or solving an assigned problem. It is no surprise then, that concentration in chess tournaments is one of the essential keys to success.
It’s all about not getting distracted, about concentrating on the given positioning for up to six hours, about calculating, estimating, and maneuvering without straying from the subject. As this requires high intellectual effort, many players (even professionals) face problems in the persistence and continuity of keeping up concentration during such long periods of time. Even players like the grandmaster Jan Gustafsson report headaches and difficulties in concentrating after five hours.
The capability to concentrate depends on several influential factors which we will be discussing in the three parts of this month’s column: The body, the mind, and the practice.
Today, in Part 2 of the trilogy, Chessimo will in introduce you to the mental conditions that will raise concentration abilities to optimum. Who sticks to the following recommendations will be able to significantly improve their concentration in practice and at tournaments.
It has been scientifically proven that one can the maximum of concentration capacity at medium tension level. In plain language: too much tenseness and anxiety block the player’s capabilities, while too little of it can be discouraging and does not stimulate the brain in order to achieve maximum performance. The difficult task is to find the right balance. As the majority of chess players is more than likely not dealing with casualness during tournaments, we have put together a few tips for you to reduce your stress and anxiety levels before duels:
- Place your hand flat on your stomach and feel the flow of your breath. Feel how your hand slowly lifts when you breathe in and then slowly breathe out. Try to focus on nothing but your breath and do this exercise several minutes until you feel better.
- Close your eyes and tighten all muscles of your body for a few seconds until you feel a slight ache. Then relax the musculature and for a few minutes consciously sense this feeling. Who is familiar with Jacobson’s Progressive Muscle Relaxation is well advised to practice according to his instructions
- Laugh! Laughing automatically helps the body reduce tenseness and leaves behind a feeling of relaxation and comfort. Who profits from this before tournaments can set up a playlist of funny videos to watch before the duels start.
- Listen to music! Who is fond of classical music is in advantage. This type of music has been proven to relax unborn in their mothers’ wombs. Add Giovanni Allevi to the favorite playlist on your iPod and dive deep into the calming sounds 15 minutes before the tournament begins.
The more familiar one is with their surroundings, the higher the level of concentration. This is what they say in science. Supposedly, the falling level of concentration can be compensated by taking along a familiar item. A talisman next to the board can’t hurt.
Losing track of thoughts
The arch enemy of concentration is intellectual straying. One thought leads to another and one has already lost the common threat. Here is a selection of tips for those who are confronted with challenges in their lives that consume all thoughts and cannot rest for a few hours:
- When going to bed the night before a tournament, take pen and paper and write down in bullet points all thoughts, worries, or even solutions that come to your mind spontaneously. This helps slowing down the merry go round of private and professional life. ‘Paused’ thoughts can later on be picked up again with the help of this paper.
- Who is fighting the need to think far ahead and around many corners, needs to try to focus on the essentials of the moment during the game. Mantras like ‘Solve the problem!’ or ‘Find the best move!’ can be extraordinarily helpful to keep the head in the game and to focus on the current positioning.
Tolerance for frustration
Who has little tolerance for frustration is definitely in disadvantage. This causes concentration to break down, while all efforts to success are cut out after a moment of disappointment. Such disappointment may be defeat in practice or tournament, and even a single move that doesn’t satisfy to the fullest or triggers a countermove that hasn’t been accounted for. As long as the game isn’t lost just yet, it is not the time to bury our heads in the sand. On the contrary, one should fight the disappointment and continue the battle. To work on the tolerance for frustration and personal expectations it is important to closely watch the own attitude during each and every practice. ‘It is okay to make mistakes. I will reach my goal all the same. Now I will concentrate on solving the problem.’ Praise yourself and pat yourself on the back. Not only for victories but also for small successful steps and achievements, because every single step is a step towards your goal.
Read more about how to improve your ability to concentrate! In Part 3 we will focus on effective exercises for your daily routine ..
written by Sarah, translated by Birthe