Note — Jan 17, 2021

Playing Chess Is an Essential Life Lesson in Concentration

Seen in → No.156

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Perhaps like me you’ll be a tad annoyed at the some of the frills in the author’s writing but keep at it, chess as a tool for concentration, and more notably Rowson’s distinction and explanation of attention, flow, and concentration is a worthy lens to consider. We talk a lot about regaining our attention but not quite as much about the quality of it afterwards. For many (me often included), even when focusing our attention away from feeds, we remain distracted and fighting to find some level of concentration. Finding it, he argues, “therefore entails developing the capacity to hold the emotional tension of mental complexity; we have to train ourselves to resist the temptation to give up, to oversimplify or project onto our perceived opponents.”

I believe concentration is a defining feature of a fulfilling life, a necessary habit of mind for a viable civilisation, and that chess can teach us more about what concentration really means. […]

Concentration is not always so rewarding. It comes and goes, forms and collapses, builds and then crumbles, because there is an upper limit to what players can hold in their heads at any one time. I find that I move towards my upper limit and away from it repeatedly. […]

Attention is fundamentally grounded in perception (how we attend), flow is fundamentally grounded in experience (how we feel), and concentration is grounded in praxis (how we purposively coalesce). […]

Lacking an ability to concentrate, it’s a struggle to construct and maintain a coherent and autonomous sense of self, which leaves us at the mercy of digital, commercial and political puppeteers. Without concentration, we are not free.