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  • GM Avetik Grigoryan GM Avetik Grigoryan

Objectivity - the key ingredient for your growth

Objectivity can make your chess grow faster. Yet many underestimate its importance. So what’s the solution to stay objective? Learn more in this article.

Improvement Hacks | 13 min read
Objectivity - the key ingredient for your growth

“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool. “ - Richard P. Feynman

I picked up my phone to turn it off and go to bed when I got a call from an unknown number.

He was very direct and said: “I really need your help. I've heard about you and I want you to coach my daughter. I’m unhappy with our coach and I want a change.” 

At that time I wasn’t choosing my students as carefully as I do now. I couldn’t allow myself that “luxury” as I was very unstable financially.

I had already started ChessMood, and I was coaching part-time to cover the expenses… And I was accepting students without surveys and interviews, as I do now.

The next week I started to work with his daughter.

She was 14, a very joyful and nice kid.
But at chess she was very behind her peers.

Her FIDE rating was just about 1,000 and her online rating was about 1,300. When we started she had no opening repertoire, no basic endgame knowledge, and very few tactics, pretty much only forks and pins. 

However, she was very bright-minded and very smart. I really enjoyed working with her, especially when I could see how well she worked during our lessons and at home on her own.

In 6 months, we made huge progress. She raised her FIDE rating by 500 points and achieved over 2,000 online!

Additionally, with a bit of luck, she qualified for the national championship of her country!

1 month before this big tournament, her father called me asking, “What do you think? Is she ready to become the champion?”

I was like, “What? Are you serious?”

She barely qualified for it, and with her rating, she was going to be the lowest rated at the event.

She was going to face stronger opponents than she had ever faced.

Yes, we had accomplished a lot of work in the previous 6 months. But when we started she was almost a beginner.

Then I recalled Kotanjian’s story, the power of self-belief and the quote:

I thought that this was also his philosophy.

The tournament day arrived…

We worked every day before the games. I talked to her after each game. And she did very very well. She won the bronze medal!

This was a huge success. I was very proud of her and proud of myself as a coach.
She was very happy. Me too!

However…

The next day her father called me. His voice wasn’t as enthusiastic as I expected…
He politely thanked me for working with her. But then continued:

“I have to say I am very disappointed. The goal was a gold medal. And we will be looking for a new coach.” 

This was the first and one of the biggest shocks in my coaching career.
The father was not shooting for the moon at all and absolutely wasn't happy when reaching the stars…

But not much could be done. I just learnt lessons from the incident, talked with the girl who was in tears, and moved on.

It took time to realize, I missed the biggest point.
The most important one…

The 2nd call

A week ago I saw a missed call on my Whatsapp. 

Usually, I don’t call back.
But then I also saw a message, “Av, call me back please.”

Only close people call me “Av.”
I called back.

A very cute voice said, “Hi, Av. How’re you doing, my dear coach?”

It was her… The wonderful and bright girl.

She told me that after we stopped working together, they changed coaches 7 times in 1.5 years. 
Soon she became emotionally bankrupt and lost her love for chess.

And then she completely stopped playing chess 🙁

After we talked about different things, she said, “Do you know why I called you?”
I was afraid she would say “I want to come back to chess”, but luckily it was another thing. 

After taking a pause and with tears in her eyes she said:

“I was watching your latest interviews with GM Ivan Sokolov and GM Vishnu Prasanna. When you asked them what’re the 3 most important ingredients for growth, both mentioned “Stay objective” in their top 3!"

She told me about her first coach, the one her father was dissatisfied with before he asked me to work with her. 

It turns out, that man took her from 0 to 1,000 FIDE rating in 4 months!
Additionally, she never loved chess; it was her father's dream.

But her 1st coach got her to love the game and taught her so much.
So, they were not only unobjective with their goals when I was working with her, but also with their 1st brilliant coach.

And then she said to me:

“Coach, I didn’t just call you to tell you this, and that I learned about objectivity. I want to tell you that I’m back to my 1st love - playing the violin and that I have big goals there. But they’re MY goals, not my father’s.
And I need advice.”

Pause…

“How should I be objective on my journey and in my life overall?”

That was an interesting question, and I promised her I would write an article on this topic.

Being unobjective and not being self-aware crushes too many careers and people on their journeys. This includes many chess players.

In this article, I’ll tell you:

- A few more stories.
- The price you’ll pay for being unobjective,
- Where the problem comes from, and finally:
- How to be objective in this noisy world.

I hope it’ll help you to avoid many traps and making wrong decisions in your chess career and life. 

And I hope you don’t mind if I devote this article to her.

With her request, I’m hiding her name.
But we agreed, when she becomes a famous violinist, and I absolutely believe in her, I’ll reveal her name… 

Now, let's jump in.  

3 dangers of not being objective

There are many problems you’ll face if you’re not objective.
But the main ones are:

1. Dissatisfaction

2. Living in illusion
3. Frustration and being lost

Dissatisfaction 

Recently one of my students, who is rated below 2,400,  had to play 2 tournaments in a row.

In the 1st one, he made a GM norm!
In the 2nd, he made an IM norm and raised his rating another +25 points!
A huge success, right? His hard work was paying off!

But when he came back home, he was under such stress that he asked for a 2-week break!

I called him to see what had happened.
He said he was very disappointed with his 2nd tournament and that his goal was to at least make another GM norm.

“At least??” - I was surprised.
“Yeah,” he said, “In the previous one I made a GM norm, so I should at least keep that performance. No?”

I couldn’t stop laughing 😄

Instead of celebrating his success, and the fruits of his hard work over the previous months, he was celebrating stress.

Just because of one thing. Of not being objective.
Not seeing the truth, that the way to the top is with ups and downs. With good, bad, amazing, and awful tournaments.
Also not being objective about his level.

I told him that if his performance in the 1st tournament was 2,600, it doesn’t mean that is his actual level.

We all have good and bad tournaments, and our rating is the average of it.
It’s not when we perform at our peak or our worst. It’s the average. 

After I explained this to him, with a smile on his face he interrupted me:
“So, this means I played well, and not bad?!” 😄

Living in illusion

In 2016 I was the director of one of the biggest chess schools in Armenia and was working with our coaches in my room. 

A woman entered without knocking and started to yell at us angrily:

“You didn’t accept my son to your school. You’re idiots. He’ll be a Grandmaster next year. You have lost a champion!” 

We all were shocked, and she continued:
“My son is just 13. He has worked with a trainer for just 2 years, and he already can mate with a King and Queen! And he already beats everyone at home.”

I’m not exaggerating a word!

When one of our coaches tried to calm her down and explain that we have limited space at our school, she just slammed the door on us and left.

This happens to many parents and chess players. Their growth is slow, but they don’t realize how their chess ability compares to the average player. 

They also don’t have an understanding of the progression most chess players go through as they learn and improve.

Frustration and being lost

Another danger of not being objective is you’ll lose the right path.

Often you’ll be obsessed with negativity. You might forget and miss what’s already working!

You can change your coach, the platform where you learn, or the opening repertoire. Even when they were the best you had.

A year after I launched ChessMood, I was very frustrated and lost.

You can guess why, right?
I was not objective.

I thought that what we built is so unique and great, that in a year we’ll have hundreds of thousands of students and millions of users.

But I didn’t understand that having something great is one thing, and marketing it and letting people know is another.

As a result, I was changing lots of things, trying all kinds of different strategies and tactics. Often forgetting the things that were working! 

It took me time to find peace and become objective. And in a minute I’ll tell you how I did it and who helped me. 

But before let's see where the problem of not being objective comes from.

The 2 causes of losing objectivity

Among the many causes of losing objectivity, I want to mention the main ones:

1. Culture and Social Media.
2. Lack of self-awareness.

Culture and Social Media

2 traps to avoid:
1. Caring what they think
2. Thinking that they care

One of the biggest cultural challenges in today’s world is the pressure to perform big, right now.  
- Become a Grandmaster at 30 - only a few will write about you.
- Do it at 13 - the whole world will know it!

This creates pressure and we want things fast.
And when we want things fast, there will always appear “smart” people making money selling our dream to us.

“Get rich fast.”
“Become a Grandmaster in 1 year.”

Familiar headlines? 😊
Or,

“Watch this 10-hour course and you’ll think like a Master!”
“This 3-minute video will make you a 2,000-level player…”

Imagine the frustration of people who believe such words but don’t get the immediate result they are looking for.

I too was a victim of this when I started ChessMood. 

You can’t imagine how many books, videos, and courses I’ve watched about taking a product viral. 

Did they market it as “Do this, and you’ll get 100 students?”

No one would buy it, me either.  

“Do this and you’ll have 1,000,000 students!”
This is how they trapped me…
I lost objectivity.

Lack of self-awareness

One of our ChessMood students emailed us asking if it’s realistic to attain 2,700 in a few years. 

He wrote, “I have around a 2,300 rating and I’m going to spend 10 hours a week on chess! Gukesh could do it, so can I!”   

Our client support sent him the article of Gukesh’s coach, where he revealed that Gukesh works not 10 hours a week, but 10 hours a day! 

Often people don’t see the tough times and super hard work behind crazy success stories. 

One of my favorite ads is when Michael Jordan says:
“Maybe it’s my fault… Maybe I led you to believe it was easy.”

Please take a look!

I was unaware too that having a product is one thing but doing marketing and reaching Millions of people is a different story.

Many chess players are unaware of what the journey to become a chess Grandmaster looks like.  

They rise from 0 to 1,000 in a year and think it means that after a year, they’ll be 2,000, and after one more year, they’ll be a Grandmaster!

Especially if they read articles or websites that mislead them and are willing to take their money at any price. Unfortunately, these people lose objectivity and can become victims as well 🙁

- The ambitious dad didn’t know what it takes to get from 0 to the 2,000 level. Where is the border between ambitious and unrealistic goals?

- The mother was unaware that you can reach the level of mating with the Queen and King in a few days, not two years.

- My student was unaware that you’re the average of all your rating performances, not the peak one.

- The guy who had no idea that Gukesh got 2,700, not just because he’s smart, but because he spends 10 hours a day on chess.

- I was unaware of the importance of marketing. 

The solution

So, how do we stay objective?
How do we know when our growth is slow and the path is wrong?
How do we prevent dissatisfaction when all does not go very well?

Well, if your mind works very fast and you thought ahead of these words and answered, “Look at your rating!” Please know, this is not always the right thing to do. 

But it’s also very tricky. You might be focused on growth instead of getting quick results.
You can learn many new things and improve your chess skills, but your rating is not there. Yet!

So, what’s the answer?

The golden rule is:
Ask for advice! 

This has worked for me in all my endeavors. 
In chess, in coaching, in my Poker career, and in everything I’ve done.  

But somehow, I’d forgotten it when I started ChessMood. My mind was too busy. I wanted it fast! And I lost objectivity.
A mistake, which luckily, I recognized and fixed.

I asked for advice from our investors and my mentors, many of whom have built big companies. It was them who opened my eyes.

It was them who explained to me that to create something wonderful, and wonderfully market it, are different stories.

It was them who explained to me how unrealistic my goals were and how I had lost objectivity.

Did I solve everything and now all the world knows about ChessMood?
Not yet 😊

But at least I’m not frustrated anymore.
I’m not lost.
More or less I know the path I should follow.

Why more or less?

The irony is it’s impossible to be 100% objective about being objective.
So, more or less is already an improvement 😊

Ask for advice. The right people and the right way

But who to ask?

You may mistakenly ask a person who has failed all their life and is pessimistic about everything. Or you might ask a person who lives in an illusion and is brainwashed by social media.

So, you need to hear the right people!

- Ask for advice from someone who is ahead of you.

- Ask for advice from someone smarter than you.

- Ask for advice from someone who has done what you want to do.  

- Ask for advice from someone who wishes you the best of the best.

Constantly ask for advice. Ask the right people and the right way.  

Here you can read my article on 3 rules for asking for recommendations.
And please don’t let social media and misleading businesses promising you instant success trap you. Please!

Our mind wants to get things fast. Our minds want to trust those nice marketing words. Don’t let them fool you. 

Remember Richard Feynman’s quote at the beginning of the article?

It’s your turn

Before publishing this article I sent it to my young student, the future famous violinist. I asked her to call back when she reads the article.

When she did I asked her if she knew what her next steps should be.

She said yes! And told me the names of the people whom she’ll approach for advice.

Guess the next thing I asked her?

I asked her for feedback about the article. To stay objective 😊
I also asked a few other people to give feedback on the article, among whom is a New York times bestselling author!

And I’ll ask yours too, if you have a minute. You can do it here.
Thanks in advance!

I’m wishing you wisdom and having cool people in your life whom you can ask for advice. 

Don’t think small. Not at all! Think big! Be crazy. Crazies change the world and live crazy lives. But try to be objective.

For your happy and unfrustrated life…

Originally published Jan 03, 2023

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