The Power of Fear and How to Use It as Motivation

What GM Aronian told me about Mike Tyson and how I used my greatest fear to become a Grandmaster.

Years ago I was walking with GM Levon Aronian, and he said something interesting:

“Mike Tyson was THE Mike Tyson because of his fear. He was afraid of his opponents. And he would use that fear to train very hard, to analyze his opponents very hard, and to prepare very hard.”

I went silent for a moment. I didn’t say anything, he didn’t add anything, and we just moved our legs for a minute.

I was recalling an important day in my life.

I was a lazy kid. I loved video games, soccer and any other games or activities related to fun. Chess? Ah... Not bad. I can play. It’s a fun game. But I didn’t train hard.

One of my, what I call “destiny shaper” days came only when I was 15.

It was after midnight, we were coming back from my cousin’s birthday party with my family, sitting in a cab. My father was sitting in the front, next to the taxi driver, and I was sitting in the back with my Mom and younger sister.

I was very sleepy — then a sudden jolt — I hit my head on the back of the seat. The driver had crossed a red light, skidded, swerved, and came to a rough halt.

My Father calmly asked the driver to take a deep breath and continue driving.
He was quiet, started breathing, the car was silent for a minute.
“Sorry for what has happened. I’ve been driving for 20 hours already. I’m sorry.”

My Dad asked a question from my heart.
“Why don’t you take a rest?”

I didn’t see the driver’s tears, as I was sitting behind him, but from his trembling voice I knew he had them.

“I have to drive, and I drive every day from 5 AM to 1 AM. I have a family, and I have to feed my kids.”

When I was 5, and my Father was still in the war, his friend took me to a zoo. When the lion came close to me (from the cage) and roared in front of my face, I got super scared. But what the driver said scared me more than that lion.

How did he end up like this? I kept thinking about it. Would this happen to me?

“Fu*k... I don’t want to live like this.”

That was THE day and THE moment that I realized if I continued having just fun and never worked hard, I’d end up like that man.

That was the day that shaped my future.

The next morning I woke up at 6 AM and trained in chess until midnight. And then the next day, and like that for the whole week, and then a month...

That year I became the Armenian U18 Champion at 15!

Two years later I became an International Master, and the next year, a Grandmaster.

I was recalling this when Levon and I were walking silently. How true his words were: Fear is a good thing! We just need to use it right.

Just this morning, I was reading about boxer Floyd Patterson, who in 1959 very badly lost his World Champion belt to Ingemar Johansson.

After the fight, he reflected the following:
“Every fighter should be a little afraid of what could happen to him. Because fear makes your mind sharper. When you have nothing to fear, your mind becomes dull.”

In my next article, I’ll share with you how he got back up.

But for now, I want to leave you with your thoughts, just as Levon left me.
What are your fears? And how can you use them as an advantage?
Both in chess and in life.

Originally Published
The article was originally published on, where you’ll find over 100 other articles written by Grandmasters, who share tips from their professional journeys and how to adopt the right mindset for this beautiful game, in order to have fun and grow at the same time.

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