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Becoming a Mentalization Grandmaster

Have you noticed how the game of chess mirrors life in its complexity, creativity, and the need for strategic thinking?

Have you ever immersed in a game of chess, the world around you fading into the background as you strategize your next move? Have you noticed how the game of chess mirrors life in its complexity, creativity, and the need for strategic thinking?

Chess, a game of strategy and guile, is not just about memorizing the rules, learning how the pieces move, understanding how they can be used alone or in tandem for offensive or defensive purposes, or understanding their relative value. It’s a mental exercise, a dance of the mind. Every move, every decision, is a calculated risk, a step into the unknown. It’s a game that requires foresight, planning, and a deep understanding of your opponent’s abilities, motivations and intentions.

Much like in life, in chess, every move counts. Each decision can bring you closer to your goal, or deal you a costly setback. It’s about understanding the bigger picture, recognizing opportunities, and making the most of them. It’s about being proactive rather than reactive, setting the trajectory of the contest rather than following the leader. The game of chess teaches us the importance of strategy. Just as you plan your moves in chess, you need to strategize in life. You need to understand your strengths, recognize your weaknesses, and play to your advantages. You need to anticipate challenges and prepare for them.

In short, you need to learn the art of Mastering Mentalization.

We’ve all probably heard someone describe a contentious situation as a “real chess match.” In life, we are always making moves to respond to others or to initiate a response, moves to set the strategic direction, moves to influence or persuade, and moves to change the focus.

As te renowned author Allan Rufus once said, “Life is like a game of chess. To win, you have to make a move. Knowing which move to make comes with IN-SIGHT and knowledge, and by learning the lessons that are accumulated along the way. We become each and every piece within the game called life.” (1)

In chess, as in life, understanding your counterpart’s temperament, objectives and strategies is key. Predicting their moves and planning ahead to improve your position requires a deep understanding of their desires, their fears, and their styles. It’s about getting inside their head, seeing things from their perspective, and using that knowledge to your advantage; understanding what your opponent just did, what she wants you to do, and thinking through the consequences of “taking the bait;” offering a trade or opportunity for a new position that advances the strategic goals of both parties. These are the same deliberative activities that we engage in every day in life.

To succeed in chess (or in life), learning the standard openings (scripts) and studying midgame and endgame techniques (social strategies) will take you only so far.

In both chess and life, you need to be able to visualize the future, to ‘picture the board’ before and several moves after the next move. This ability, akin to mental time travel and Bayesian analysis, is crucial to strategic thinking, and consequently, to choosing the best course of action.

In conclusion, the strategies you employ in chess can be applied to life. Just as with chess, life provides you with an almost limitless array of possible moves. Every move you make matters, every decision you take has consequences. You’re allowed to make mistakes, as long as you learn from them and use that knowledge to improve your game, and how the moves unfold is not outside of your control.

But as with any chess match played at the highest level, life gives you a limited amount of time to make all of your moves. Better make em count.



(1) Rufus. A., (2012). The Master’s Sacred Knowledge: A key to your inner treasure. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform



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