The Secret to lasting Chess Improvement

ChessAnalysisPuzzleLichessOff topic
We are nearly through Q1 of 2024 already. This is where we get to witness the huge difference between motivation and systems.

I hope you’ve used my 7-day series at the end of last year to build the latter. If you haven’t, you probably realize by now that just motivation won’t get you far, at least not over a long period.

The Gyms Are Empty Again

The best example of this is the gym. Holy guacamole was my gym packed on the first few days of January. I’ve seen countless new people: groups, singles, couples, young and old. Everyone was lifting weights and burning calories.

For a month already, I’ve basically only seen the same people who were in the gym back in November—those who have a system.

Many of us come to a wrong conclusion: We are lacking motivation or are lazy and need to improve that part.

But research clearly shows: if we do not create habits and systems, nearly all of us will fail to keep up activities that help us but aren’t the most fun.

What works is to use your initial motivation to create a habit. Here is how.

Make Doing The Right Thing Easy

Pushing through only works for so long. Inevitably, everyday life will be stressful, and you start finding excuses for not going to the gym (read: train chess).

The solution is finding a way to make the desired action easier than not doing it. Here are some ways that worked for me.


Alessia and I decided we wanted to go twice a week to the gym roughly 1.5 years ago. I have to give her credit for the initial motivation to set up the habit.

We usually go on Monday mornings and one other day of the week. Going to the gym has become easier because we don’t want to hear the other person saying, “Oh, you are lazy? Can’t stick to this habit?”

Accountability has made a desired thing a habit for us. It has worked for 1.5 years now (I still don’t enjoy going to the gym, except for doing cardio, which is fun).

Sunk Cost Fallacy

The more you invest in an action, the more reluctant you are to abandon it. This fallacy often works against us, but we can use it to our advantage.

You can pre-pay for chess memberships, holidays, or gym memberships. After spending a certain amount of money, you are more reluctant to give up the thing altogether.

Our gym friends show, though, that this doesn’t always work to perfection.

Prepare When You Are Motivated

I usually go to the gym in the morning. I’m a sleepyhead when waking up, so I have a lot of better ideas than going to the gym. What helps is preparing all my things in the evening. When the bag is ready, and I just have to pick it up, I’m more likely to really go. As you see from that example, you can combine several strategies to increase your success rate.

For chess players, I recommend having the book and board ready the day before you want to study. When you just need to sit down and start training, you’ll find it easier than if you had to pick what book to read first. If you train online, maybe keep the tabs saved that make you train and force yourself to go through extra loops (log out) to play bullet marathons.

Track Your Success

I’ve written several times about the positive effects of tracking your training. Not only does it make it easier to improve your training, but you also get positive reinforcement every time you really train.

What most people forget to do here is to track when they fail to take the desired action.

But that might be even more powerful! Thinking about having to write “failed to train chess today” in your diary might just push you over the edge to still train, even if you might not feel like it.

One At A Time

These are all tricks to make your desired action a habit. What I’ve fallen for many times already is trying to change too many habits at once.

Just take my word for it: it does not work. So, instead of thinking about your gym, chess training, and eating habits at the same time, focus on one first.

It is widely said that around 30 days into a new habit, you will be able to perform the action more on auto-pilot. This might sound like a lot. But if you do it consistently, you can still improve 9 areas of your life this year.

Now, some of you might wonder: what should the optimal chess training habit look like? Here you go:

The Perfect Chess Training Habit

Here is what, in my opinion, the perfect chess habit looks like:

  • Training on 6 out of 7 days per week.
  • Having a plan containing what, when, and how.
  • 5 minutes daily to review each session.
  • Working with or close to the 1/3 rule.
  • Use at least one session to test your limits and make it really hard.

Keep improving,

This article was originally posted on my own Blog, NextLevelChess.
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