We all know this crucial moment in the game when the next move is decisive. You slept perfectly well and even jogged in the morning, but despite all that, you are too tired to think right now, when it’s really important. Frustrating, isn’t it?
So what is happening? Probably your decision-making ability has been altered because of all the other choices you have been confronted to throughout the day.
Let me explain this issue and how you can solve it next time you play.
Cognitive stamina refers to the ability to do intellectual work throughout the day. Studies[i] suggest this ability is actually a finite resource, which can be recharged every day after a good night’s rest. So any choice you’ve been given, big or small as well as the willpower you’ll use not to eat that chocolate will diminish your quota along the day.
And then what happens? A decision fatigue is created and you go back to actions which don’t require a lot of thought on your end. That’s partly why after a long work day you more easily end up watching the TV.
Make fewer decisions
If we are left weaker after each successful act of self-control, it sounds logical to diminish the number of small decisions to focus on more important tasks later, such as your chess game obviously. But I guess you’re having the same thought as I had the first time I heard about the cognitive stamina concept: how can I possibly do that?
Prepare the night before
You can get rid of unnecessary choices by preparing the next day the night before. Steve Jobs used to choose a black turtleneck from a pile of other black turtlenecks every morning for instance. The other thing you can easily prepare in advance is food. It can be part of a nighttime ritual for example.
Ideally, try thinking a few minutes about your next day obligations and see what could spare you the act of deciding.
Build habits as much as you can
For some of you who have followed my adventure, you know the beauty of habits allows you not to think consciously about what you do once they are established and this is a great way to save mental energy during the day.
You’ll find here my step-by-step guide to start creating new routines.
Having the same specific routine before each game will help you progressively guide your attention to the game while avoiding useless decisions.
Don’t hesitate to create a checklist with all your activities one by one until you sit in front of the board. Among them, walking or running is highly privileged by many GMs because it combines sport with some fresh air, which helps cleanse the mind immensely and guess what?… Restore your willpower!
2) Self-control runes out: Baumeister, R. F., T.F. Heatherton, and D.M. Tice.
3) Losing Control: How and Why People Fail at Self-Regulation. San Diego: Academic Press, 1994