Heyoooo and welcome back to Lesson 5!
And? Aaaaaaand? Did you manage to stick to your reading time? Remember: always set up more camps as you go – so don’t feel bad if you started out too ambitiously. Adjust and move on.
Failure is inevitable. But sometimes, success lies within it. Today’s story is a testament to that.
Ready? Set. Go!
A War Of The Minds
The clipboard makes a hollow noise as it hits the ground. As the translator picks it up again, someone in the audience coughs.
Fischer stares at the chessboard. He can hear a slight whizzing noise. He swivels around in his chair, looks at the upper balcony. He gets up, walks a few steps, then looks around. The cameras!
Fischer walks over to the big, mint green curtain in the back of the stage. Hidden behind it, the cameras are rattling away, documenting his every move. The translator walks over to Fischer.
“Do you hear that?” Bobby asks. “What?” “The cameras. They’re going shshshshshsh. It’s too much noise, it’s distracting. You gotta move them back.” “It’s just cameras.” the translator responds. “No, they’re too loud, you gotta move ‘em back. And the audience is too loud. They’re not quiet. It’s your job to keep them quiet. Do your job!”
The sound of the chess clock. Boris Spassky has made his move. Fischer goes back to his seat. He looks, he stares, he tries to focus. But the distractions. Why is everything so loud?!
Then, it happens. On the 29th move, Fischer moves his bishop to H2. With an almost final knocking sound, the chess piece comes to rest on the board.
Spassky is startled. Why would Fischer do that? He shrugs. Then makes his move. A few moves later, it hits Fischer. He’s done. It’s over. He buries his face in his hands.
After a brief handshake, Fischer disappears into his room. He has just lost the most important chess game of his life. Maybe the most important chess game in history. Game 1 of the 1972 World Chess Championship ends with a victory for Boris Spassky, the current world champion.
A knock on the door makes Bobby Fischer jump in his seat. The disassembled phone in his hands falls into his lap. No bugging device inside. Again. Nothing. Weird.
Paul Marshall enters the room. The lawyer begs Bobby: “The president of the United States called three times. Three. I’m begging you Bobby. Please. Go out and play!”
Two days earlier, on the Tuesday when he lost Game 1, Bobby Fischer demanded that all further games be moved into a tiny ping-pong room. No audience, no noises. Just one camera, which streams the match to a big screen on the main stage.
The Russians, the audience, and of course the World Chess Federation think he’s lost his mind completely. Fischer had never been what you’d call balanced, but this? He must be joking.
But Fischer is dead serious. So serious, in fact, that on Thursday he didn’t even show up for Game 2, because his demands weren’t met. Spassky now has a 2-0 lead, which few players have ever recovered from. Spassky knows that – and miraculously agrees to Fischer’s conditions.
On Sunday, the 16th of July 1972, Game 3 of the World Chess Championship begins – in a ping-pong room.
Move number eleven, Fischer suddenly offers his knight. His teammates sigh. He seems to have lost it, yet again, as Spassky is known for his vicious kingside attacks. But the counterplay that evolves from Fischer’s bold move is nothing shy of amazing. One novel move follows the next, and Spassky is thrown off his game. He doesn’t know how to deal with all this sudden creativity on Fischer’s part, and after another 30 moves, shakes his opponent’s hand in silence.
Against all odds, Fischer wins – for the first time ever against Boris Spassky.
Game 4 ends in a draw, Game 5 has Spassky losing – both the game and his balance (demanding his chair be x-rayed for noise machines) – and by Game 6, the scores are even and the matches are moved back to the main stage.
Fischer draws white, he gets to move first. But…what’s that? He moves his pawn to C4, instead of his usual, trademark Sicilian opening, where the pawn goes to E4. It’s an opening Fischer has played only three times in his tournament career – and no one knows how to deal with it.
Spassky’s thorough preparation is out the window. The audience can’t follow, the viewers in front of TVs worldwide look puzzled. What is Fischer doing?
Time passes, but on the 41st move, Spassky starts to smile. “Ha!” He slowly gets up, stands straight…and starts to applaud.
Nobody has ever beaten him this innovatively. The chess Bobby Fischer plays is worth even a grandmaster’s applause.
Out of the following 15 games, Fischer wins a staggering 4, loses only one and draws the rest, winning the World Chess Championship for America, for the first time in history, in the midst of the Cold War. One man has just beaten the entire Soviet chess empire – all by himself.
How can someone who’s so ridden by madness, so paranoid and so wrought with fear win against all odds?
What did Fischer do to succeed in spite of his massive weak spot?
Well…some argue that it wasn’t in spite of his weakness at all. It might have been precisely because of it that he won.
The Bobby Fischer Principle
All of his life Fischer struggled with anger and paranoia, which manifested in many erratic behaviors even skilled psychologists found hard to explain.
But what if, even just for the briefest of moments, Bobby played on the fact that everyone thought he was a nutcase?
What if one of Bobby Fischer’s greatest moves was to not show up for Game 2?
What if he lost Game 1 on purpose?
What if all of the chess pieces sacrificed, the openings never played before and the crazy demands made were part of a bigger plan all along?
Many of these questions will forever be left unanswered (Fischer died in 2008), but the subtleties sure all point towards one thing: Bobby Fischer used his own shortcomings to confuse Boris Spassky and upset his opponent’s inner balance.
However disadvantageous all of his weaknesses were, Bobby Fischer somehow turned them into his biggest strengths.
And that’s exactly what today’s principle is about. It’s called:
The Bobby Fischer Principle
This is what it says: Try to find strengths within your weaknesses, so you can double down on those strengths.
It’s a lot easier to double down on your strengths than to try and compensate for your weaknesses. But what if fixing weaknesses is overrated in the first place? What if it’s sometimes easier to find the strengths within those weaknesses, so you once again have something to double down on?
It’s true that this idea is mainly one of perspective, and it dates all the way back to the Stoics of ancient Greece. Consider these two examples.
When the British colonists forced a salt tax on local Indians in the late 1800s, they drove hundreds of thousands of Indians out of a job and into poverty. Mahatma Gandhi had neither the weapons, nor the people to fight them. He turned his weakness into strength by choosing non-violence. 78 people joined him at the start of his 24-day Salt March to produce salt without paying the tax, but by the time they arrived, they were in the ten thousands. As Gandhi raised his hands, holding illegally boiled salt, it sparked a revolution among millions of Indians.
At the age of 67, Thomas Edison came home to one of the biggest fires West Orange, New Jersey had ever seen. The explosion took ten buildings with it – more than half of his plant, including thousands of prototypes, notes, experiments and lab results. A weak spot pushed like a self-destruct button? Sure, but to Edison, just as much a chance to start fresh – and make $10 million by the end of the next year. “It’s all right,” he said, “we’ve just got rid of a lot of rubbish.”
As you can see, there’s strength to be found within even the biggest weaknesses – so how can we translate this to your reading habit?
I think it’s this.
The Anchoring Experiment
If you not having time to read is a weakness, then we must figure out how to put it to good use. But not having time simply means that you’re doing other things.
With today’s experiment, you’ll simply tie your reading to those other things and thus turn what might be your worst distraction into your new best friend.
It only takes 2 steps:
1. Pick a habit you’re already going every day (good or bad).
For example, if you know you have a Snickers bar every day after lunch, always check your email before you go to bed, or pick up your kids from school every day, these are routines you can use.
These can be bad routines just as much as good ones, like running on the treadmill, shutting off your electronics or brushing your teeth.
2. Anchor your reading habit to that habit.
Now all you have to do is anchor your reading habit to that existing habit. Place your book on the candy shelf, keep your reading app next to your mail app or drop off your Kindle next to the key tray in the lobby.
To make this more powerful, write it down. This statement is called an “implementation intention” and it works because the act of writing down your goals alone makes you 50% more likely to accomplish it.
Use this simple recipe: After I [existing habit], I will read for X minutes.
X is the number you picked two days ago 🙂 I encourage you to do this on a piece of paper, but if you want to add in some accountability, you can also tweet this (and get another bonus, see below).
(Optional) 3. Set up another trigger.
Having your book close by when and where you do your existing habit is usually a sufficient trigger to actually start reading (remember Lesson 1? It’s all about attention!). However, it’s better to be safe than sorry, so setting up an additional, external trigger that you don’t have to remember is helpful.
For example, this could be a simple, daily alert on your phone’s calendar, that creates a notification at a specific time, saying “It’s Time 2 Read!” and remind you of your reading habit and the course.
Pro tip: Many phones now even have location-based reminder functionality, which allows you to be reminded every time you enter your home, for instance.
Bonus: Let’s make a deal. You share your new implementation intention with a simple, pre-formulated tweet, and I’ll give you 5 short videos with precise instructions on how to set up different kinds of impossible to ignore triggers – how’s that sound? Just click the button below.
Closing The Chapter
Bobby Fischer is widely considered the greatest chess player of all time. Surely not just coincidentally, he also had tremendous weaknesses.
But just like Bobby, you can find strength in those weaknesses and double down on those.
Using The Bobby Fischer Principle means changing your perspective and today, you did that to make use of a bad habit of yours (or add best to better on a good one).
In doing so, you’re making use of your innate human desire to be consistent in your words and actions and the paradox of choice, because if the decision to read is pre-made and natural part of your routine, it comes much easier than having to actively make an effort for it.
By writing down your implementation intentions (and maybe even sharing them publicly) and setting up a reading trigger, you’re stepping into the footsteps of those who’ve turned adversity into advantage.
Gandhi, Edison, Fischer – they’re right behind you. And so am I.
See you in 2 days. We’ll talk about alternatives and how great a lack of them can be, which is something all great writers know. Oh, and Barney Stinson. Those guys will teach you how to make your reading consistent.
Rooting for your reading,
PS: Here is our table of contents with the previous lessons.