Putting Self-Doubt into Checkmate

A few years ago during a planning retreat, I had the opportunity to play a senior colleague in chess. It is a game I have enjoyed since I was a kid when my dad and my uncles taught me how to play.

Despite being a pretty decent player myself, my colleague had me in checkmate in just a few moves. This was even after he warned me against making what was ultimately my fatal move.

The thing is – I had defeated myself in my head. My loss happened well before we chose colors, set up the board, and made our first moves. It happened the moment he agreed to play.

Instead of focusing on the game in front of me, all I could think was, “He has a Ph.D. in Chemistry and is one of the smartest, most strategic people I know. How can I possibly win?”

Almost 9 years later, I can still feel the anxiety I conjured in my mind during what was supposed to be a fun, friendly game between teammates. My mind went blank, I felt shaky inside, and I made hasty moves.

I learned an important lesson from that brief match. I learned not to take myself out of the game before it even starts. It is okay to play and to lose, especially to an opponent with superior skills. But, it is not okay to talk yourself into a loss before even trying, like I did in our chess game that day. The first step in being successful is believing it can be done.

What would happen if you stopped talking yourself out of winning? How far could you go if it was the endgame for your self-doubt?

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