Being Happy and Content with Your Progress

Weekly Go Wednesday, Issue #47

While many would probably agree that perhaps the most difficult aspect of go is the seemingly endless variations that arise throughout a game, the one aspect that I have found to be the most obstructive to people’s enjoyment of the game is a lack of “progress.”

Before we dive into this though, I want to present to you a simple question:

In a tournament where the top four contenders have been determined, excluding 1st place, which of the three places is the happiest and most content?

We all know that those competing in the Olympics are the best of the best in the world. In fact, I’m pretty sure if any one of us could claim that we were one of the top four people in the world at a particular skill, it would be a pretty big deal right? Even though it would seem that way, what people have found is that in fact the mindset of those esteemed few is often the complete different.

  • People in second place typically end up comparing themselves to first place. More often than not, they are just mere millimeters/milliseconds from being first which often yields thoughts of resmorse like, “if only I was slightly faster…”.

  • People in fourth place are typically the unhappiest since they just so close and yet so far from being on the podium and having a medal.

  • And as you can probably guess by now, people in third place are often the happiest of the three. Why? (1) There’s little point comparing to second (since it’s not first). (2) They also get to bask in the fact that they were able to escape the agony of being fourth. And thus, they get to fully enjoy the fact that they won.

What does this have to do with go? Well, when I first heard this, I couldn’t help but think about what implications this had on a player’s personal take on his/her accomplishment.

When I was a double digit kyu (DDK), all I wanted was to be a single digit kyu (SDK). And when I got past that 10k mark, I was thrilled. And of course the next milestone was mid-SDK, and then high-SDK. And of course, the elusive rank most amateur players strive to break through: dan. Yet I know a fair number of people who achieve dan level, and are still always yearning to achieve another stone.

Does this mean we are just greedy people? I don’t think so. In fact, the constant pursuit to improve is admirable and should be encouraged. However, measuring our improvement solely on our rank is the reason many of us are so frustrated.

When we measure our growth purely by the number next to our name, it puts so much pressure on people when they either stay at the same rank or worse, fall down in ranks. In addition, it trains us to start giving a lot of credence to the number next to our opponent’s rank as well. “Oh man, he’s two stones stronger than me. I better watch out!” or “Oh he’s a stone lower than me, this should be an easier game.”

Instead, what I propose is to take the mindset of third place. Feel the satisfaction and happiness in knowing that the fact that you are playing this game means you already have surpassed a large number of people still struggling beneath you. And at the same time, know that there are always stronger players waiting to challenge you.

By doing it this way, I hope that you will be able to start to realize that the rank starts to become a bit arbitrary as far as your progress goes. Because if you think about it, your rank is really just an approximate average of your strength. And I can’t stress approximate enough since most of us only play occassionally and thus fluctuate quite a bit depending on the day and opponent.

In addition, your rank is a summation of the quality of your abilities in the various aspects of the game: life and death, opening, middle game, endgame, etc. So if there is anything you should obsess over, it should be the quality of each of your moves. If you focus on that instead of your rank, I have no doubt your rank will eventually improve as well.