Self help author Dr. Stephen Covey passed away this morning. I have been a fan of his teachings for a long time, and have found them very valuable. They can be applied to many areas of life, including chess.
Today I want to share two ideas from Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
Idea #1 Sharpen the Saw
Covey discovered over years of reading and studying success that certain underlying themes seemed to recur. These weren’t superficial behavioral “how to’s”, but went deeper, relating more to one’s ethics or way of life.
His seventh habit is “Sharpening the Saw”. This powerful idea can really only be described by Covey’s word-picture:
Suppose you were to come upon someone in the woods working feverishly to saw down a tree.
“What are you doing?” you ask.
“Can’t you see?” comes the impatient reply. “I’m sawing down this tree.”
“You look exhausted!” you exclaim. “How long have you been at it?”
“Over five hours,” he returns, “and I’m beat! This is hard work.”
“Well why don’t you take a break for a few minutes and sharpen that saw?” you inquire. “I’m sure it would go a lot faster.”
“I don’t have time to sharpen the saw,” the man says emphatically. “I’m too busy sawing!”
To me in regards to chess, “Sharpening the saw” is shorthand for anything you do that isn’t playing chess, necessarily, but (theoretically) makes you a better chess player.
Often times I see chess players who spend years at the same rating level, and spend hundreds of hours playing games, but never take any time to “sharpen their saw”.
I’ve actually know a few players with the opposite problem as well – they spend most of their time studying chess (sharpening the saw), but never actually playing chess (using the saw).
This is a very valuable principle that can be applied to chess improvement, and all areas of life.
Idea #2 Big Rocks First
Here is a video of Covey demonstrating this principle:
In the video Covey takes a bucket filled with gravel (small rocks), and asks a woman to insert several large rocks, which represent certain important areas of life.
The woman is unable to squeeze in the big rocks, because the small rocks are taking up so much space.
He then suggests a paradigm shift, of putting the large rocks in first. Then pouring the smaller rocks in around them.
Only by putting the large rocks in first, does everything work together.
To me, in chess, the “Big Rocks” are tactics. You must first put these “Big Rocks” (learning tactics) in your “Bucket” (Brain), before adding in all the small rocks.
The Big Rocks would be things like avoiding and eliminating blunders, 1-3 move tactical combinations that win material, checkmating patterns, etc.
The smaller rocks would be things like understanding pawn structures, positional play, strategic considerations, opening improvements, endgame techniques, etc.
You want to have as many rocks in your bucket as possible as you climb the chess improvement ladder, but it is important to put the big rocks in first.
Rest in Peace Stephen.