Most people will tell you that they’re bad at chess. They’re probably right. Truly innate skill for such a complicated task is hard to come by. We, as a species, exist in awe of those who’ve arrived here carrying gifts and talents that defy all expectations. It delights us when naive children outperform seasoned adults at various pursuits. We might even feel of envious of those we feel have surpassed us without truly struggling.
Chess is a paradoxical game in that it has very simple rules yet demands incredible analytical abilities much more abundant in machines than men. One’s skill is only limited by one’s ability to think ahead, and a lucky few are blessed with that ability wired into their brain.
Most people, and the vast majority of doctors, agree that our physical health is dependent on putting our body under some amount of stress per day to stop its systems from becoming weak, atrophied, or lethargic. That’s the primary impetus behind the millions of dollars we spend per year on gym memberships and home equipment– we have to do something that we aren’t necessarily good at to keep us ready in case something happens that requires a rapid and genuine response from us. Many people consider it one the core responsibilities that comes with adulthood.
Having established that regular physical stress is a prerequisite for true physical well-being, I ask you to reflect on something similar. How responsible are we, as a society, being about keeping ourselves sharp? The brain isn’t a muscle, but it behaves just like your heart or biceps. If you bore it with tasks it can easily handle, you put it at risk of atrophy.
Chess, again, is a game that most of us consider ourselves bad at. But when we make that assumption, we’re selling ourselves short. That’s not to say that we have talent we can magically unlock– if you were a genius who can master the analytical side of chess like some sort of computer, you would have known by now. Rather, when we say we’re bad at something like chess, we’re analogous to a weightlifter complaining he’s no good at distance running. It’s not that he lacks the potential to do what he wants, it’s that he’s specialized in something different, for better or worse.
There’s no strictly scientific evidence that giving your analytical side a little exercise every day with a game is going to make you better at math, a better conversationalist, or a more tactical thinker. But it does give you an opportunity to spend a short time every day doing something you’re bad at. You might surprise yourself with how fast you improve. Even if learning to play a game like chess well doesn’t make you better at anything else, you might surprise yourself with how good you’re capable of getting– how skilled you can really be.
As students, we spend lots of our day making time pass as fast as we possibly can. Next time you’re stuck in a boring class, on a long ride somewhere, or on a lull from your busy day, consider whether a simple yet challenging mind game like chess might be the key between time being wasted and time being well spent.
Besides, it’s fun, really.