Routine is something which most people would like to have in their lives, to a greater or smaller extent. Routine plays a big role in my life as a student of spiritual teacher Sri Chinmoy, and it is also one of the things I stress as a chess coach for juniors. What, then, is the power of routine and how does one attain it?
The 5th world champion of chess, Mikhail Botvinnik, was a firm believer in the power of routine. Botvinnik, who held the highest title in chess in the years 1948-1957, 1958-1960 and 1961-1963, was one of the deepest thinkers of chess and was often referred to as the “patriarch” of chess in the Soviet era.
During a chess tournament, or, even more importantly, during one of his seven matches for the highest crown of chess, Botvinnik would stick to just about the same routine every day. He would wake up at the same time and go about doing the same things as far as possible. Being a great believer in walking, Botvinnik would try to walk to the tournament venue, and, if so, he would invariably walk along the same route.
The reason for Botvinnik’s great belief in routine was simple: If one’s life had a good routine, Botvinnik argued, playing good chess every time, would also become a part of the routine. And it is true, that if one examines Botvinnik’s games, one sees a very high level of consistency in his play.
Botvinnik’s consistency is something which all chessplayers desire, although not all chessplayers are as disciplined as Botvinnik in their search for this consistency. Most players’ superstition, arguably, comes about due to the yearning for consistency: A player might happen to play a good game, after which he sticks to using the same pen until a painful loss occurs.
This kind of superstition does not truly help and may even be more harmful than not. Botvinnik’s method of routine is aimed at relaxing the mind, by keeping the mind from unexpected and unwanted stress during the day. Thereby, the mind is kept fresh to harness its fullest potential during the game. Superstition, on the other hand, lulls the mind into a false sense of security and self-confidence. This may work as long as the results are good, but as soon as we lose, our expectation of victory is turned into frustration and, consequently, a lack of self-confidence.
Through my work as a chess coach for juniors I try to minimise the importance of superstition. Botvinnik’s method of routine may be too hard for most players to emulate, except those few who have a very professional attitude from a young age, but, the lesson of Botvinnik’s method of routine – to concentrate on one’s own mind and stay away from expectation and frustration – is a lesson well worth learning by all chessplayers.
In the same way, to achieve the most from life, one should concentrate on the real possibilities and stay away from expectation and frustration. To help the mind to stay concentrated on the real in life, routine is certainly a very powerful tool.
This is a lesson I find myself learning and re-learning, not only as a chess coach, but as a student of spiritual teacher Sri Chinmoy, trying to master my own life. In this sense, chess has offered something to the art of mastering my own life, and mastering my own life has offered something to mastering my chess.
Suren is a student of Sri Chinmoy living in Iceland. He is a member of the Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team and participates in various races. He is also a keen chess player and writes about techniques for improving performance.
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