February 1, 2017
How Life Imitates Chess by former World Chess Champion and grandmaster Garry Kasparov does an incisive job of showing how life is a mirror for chess. Or is it the opposite?
Filled with much erudition regarding the intricacies of life, How Life Imitates Chess sifts through Kasparov’s career in search for the gems of wisdom[syn] that not only helped him become a sharper, stronger, and more intuitive individual, but also dives into the importance of quality actions via precise decision making which undoubtedly help individuals rise to meet challenges as they go.
Throughout the length of the book Kasparov carries out a rather trenchant job in detailing many of the data points, or perhaps ‘life-lessons’ is a better term, which helped him grow as a chess player that became a grandmaster, but more importantly, as an individual. Each of these life-lessons helped him grow in countless ways, regardless whether it was facing dismal defeats, or manifesting intense resounding victories.
To that effect, Kasparov makes it a point to go into why constant self-analysis is essential not only to survive in the world, but in fact to thrive. Self-awareness and peak performance go hand in hand, as many of you know, and because of this he urges everyone to become conscious of our inherent decision making process and strive to polish it to become wiser.
An interesting component in the book are the myriad fascinating stories of individuals, chess matches, companies et al. which are used to drive home lessons to be gleaned from the events that took place within those instances.
Another notable point mentioned in the book is the importance of not becoming your own enemy. In one instance, the author noted how it’s important to find the nascent stage of a crisis before it becomes a full-fledged crisis. This might seem obvious at first blush, but we’ve all seen our mental state – or that of someone else – be overridden by emotions, which therein overrides our logic. And not being able to use logic is downright disastrous since your mental precision is only a shade of its true power.
Furthermore, when an individual get emotional, not only does the amygdala go into overdrive, but “…the logic center processors [neocortex] get almost turned off and blocked. Adrenaline, hormone levels, and blood pressure rise, and our memories become less efficient. We begin to lose our ability to communicate effectively, and we turn to a form of autopilot to make decisions.”[Emphasis Added]
Hands down, my favorite part of the book, although admittedly there were many intriguing points, was how Kasparov relentless speaks about having to question everything. As he warns:
“Question the status quo at all times, especially when things are going well. When something goes wrong, you naturally want to do better the next time, but you must train yourself to want to do it better even when things go right.”[Bold Emphasis Added]
This reminds me of poker, as well as many other things in life, where one might make the most ridiculous and stupid choice, and still get rewarded. If an individual chooses not to question their actions, they will simply not grow. Someone may make a very poor choice, and still end up winning untold sums of money. When such is the case, individuals rarely if ever opt for introspection to verify that they were correct. The assumption is that if the money is won…then the choice ‘had to’ be a good one. Nothing could be further from the truth.
“Questioning yourself must become a habit, one strong enough to surmount the obstacles of overconfidence and dejection. It is a muscle that can be developed only with constant proactive.”
Another additional point brought up by Kasparov was about the vital significance not only to move out of our comfort zones, but also to challenge ourselves in creative ways to push us into new boundaries.
Regarding this, Kasparov minces no words:
“When we regularly challenge ourselves with something new – even something not obviously related to our immediate goals – we build cognitive and emotional “muscles” that make us more effective in every way. If we can overcome our fear of speaking in public, or of submitting a poem to a magazine, or learning a new language confidence will flow into every area of our lives Don’t get so caught up in “what I do” that you stop being a curious human being. Your greatest strength is the ability to absorb and synthesize patterns, methods, and information. Intentionally inhibiting the ability to focus too narrowly is not only a crime, but one with few rewards.”
This book almost has shades of being a self-help book, almost. The book isn’t that, but it’s so versatile, and the book harpoons so many little nuggets of knowledge that it can certainly be used as such a tool.
Regardless, the book offers more than ample information for it to be worth the price, and it gives plenty of grist for the mill for individuals to ruminate upon.
Sources & References:
 Christopher Hadnagy, Unmasking The Social Engineer, p. 166.
 Gary Kasparov, How Life Imitates Chess, p. 135.
 Ibid. pp. 34-35.
 Ibid. p. 170.