It is naturally frustrating to lose. You are sincerely investing yourself in a new activity that you very much desire to excel at. A lot of time and effort is being expended towards improvement in this new endeavor. The very nature of improvement in this hobby requires that you not only gain experience, but that you also be critical of your performance. Part of that is analyzing how you think and why you do the things that you do. Most of what you learn will be in hindsight, where it is painfully clear where you went wrong and why. Even worse, is when you repeatedly fall victim to similar situations but cannot seem to determine why.
As you struggle to grow, feelings of vulnerability and disappointment will be constant companions. Over time you will become well acquainted with this evolutionary process, and these troubling feelings will no longer affect you as deeply. It will always be possible to fall prey to negative feelings that can arise from this sort of self-critical endeavor. But there is beauty there too, which you already know. So when times get tough, and they will… try to remember and focus upon the positive reasons that you play Go.
You are not your rank. It does not represent your potential as a person. It does not quantify who you are or what you are capable of in the future. It will ebb and flow over time and somehow you must find a way to come to terms with this. I have struggled deeply with this issue and my solution has been to only play ranked games every once and a while. When I am in a competitive mindset, am well rested, and only if my environment is free of distractions. I play ranked games every one to three months, for 20 to 50 matches.
A little while ago I was a 16K. I played several ranked games and dropped to an 11K, after a string of victories. I continued to play and I experienced a string of losses. I remember thinking the energy I felt was akin to gambling and trying to “win big”. I played a little bit more and got back to 13K. But I wanted to go back to 11K, so I pushed forward; though I was feeling pretty nerve wracked at this point. Moving forward I dropped to 15K, then all the way up to 12K, back to 14K, up to 13K, and when I dropped to 14K again, I called it quits. I’ve been a 14K for a little while now.
I get so miserable when I play ranked games, because I feel like I never know where I stand. I never know what rank I truly have and every time I start to feel confident about my rank, I’ll get a reality check from the universe. I honestly feel that my ranks jumps because my knowledge base is uneven. I’m good at some things but pretty lousy at others. When I encounter the opponents where my good qualities can shine, I do well. But when those qualities are child’s play to other opponents, I experience loss. I realize this is unhealthy and I realize the problem lies within me. So, much like an argument that is escalating past the point of no return, my answer to this problematic situation is simply to take myself out of it.
I remove myself and I return to playing with Go like a toy. I approach it with the mindset that I am here to have fun. I still review my games and I practice my reading with variations in Correspondence games. I teach new players to play and sometimes I read an article or three at Sensei’s Library. I hop on the forum and connect with other Go enthusiasts. I peruse Go inspired art and play casual games with my children.
There are so many different ways and reasons to enjoy Go. And when I feel especially lost, I connect with and experience as many of them as I can. Trying to remind myself why I am here and of what is really important; that Go is a cherished hobby that I pursue in order to have fun and to grow as person.
This ↑↑↑, this right here should become a personal mantra. When you notice your emotions beginning to change because this toxic mindset is in starting to set in, repeat the words in the quoted text to yourself. Because these are good words. And they reflect how you truly feel in your rational brain.
When this type of mental darkness begins to encroach, I have similar thoughts. Things like: “I must not allow Go to become another negative vector in a world obsessed with objectifying people as statistics. It cannot be treated like some tool that enables me to pass judgement on myself. It must not become some sort of masochistic exercise I engage in that damages my self image.”
Some excerpts taken from an article in Psychology Today: Powerful Two-Step Process to Get Rid of Unwanted Anger.
As much as anger is the emotion that prepares your entire body for fight (vs. fear-inspired flight), you must find a way of discharging this non-productive “fighting energy” before you do anything else. You need to know that, to “do battle,” experiencing significant anger automatically activates every muscle group and organ in your body.
Broadly defined, all anger is a reaction to some perceived threat, so it naturally serves as the body’s evolutionary cue to ready itself for combat. Thus mobilized for immediate—and impulsive—action, any “stalling” reflectiveness would be a handicap. So anger affects your thinking quite as powerfully as it does your body.
Since anger readies your mind (not just your body) for battle, once the emotion overcomes you, you’ve lost the ability to objectively assess the situation. At this point, your thinking is no longer driven by your more evolved, rational neocortex (or “new brain”), but your much more primitive, survival-oriented, simple-minded midbrain (as in, “Me right, you wrong!” Or “Me good, you bad!”).
Because your thinking is now exaggerated or distorted, if you’re to retrieve any emotional equilibrium—so you can re-evaluate the situation from a more reasonable, adult perspective—you’ll need first to find some way of settling yourself down. Hopefully, you’ve already discovered a way to relax. But if you don’ t have a ready way of calming yourself, it’s essential that you learn one, then practice it diligently till you can use it to relax at will.
Any method you can successfully employ to cool yourself down and reduce your level of physiological arousal, will do just fine. The main thing is that rather than ventilating your frustrations (in this case demeaning yourself or ruminating about how your emotions are getting the best of you), you buy yourself some time and engage in a form of self-soothing that, indirectly, will significantly reduce the intensity of your anger.
Finally, here is some food for thought. Cho Chikun is one of my favorite Go players. I once read an article about him and was shocked about something he said in an interview. This was right when I started Go and was struggling the most with my rank. I now think of this often, as a warning of what Go and my desire for an ever high rank might become, if I allow it. Excerpts from Cho Chikun at Sensei’s:
Who is Cho?
Cho Chikun is sometimes referred as the 25th Honinbo , an honorific title given for winning the Honinbo title five times in a row. He currently holds the record as the Japanese professional with the most number of titles, career wins, and Honinbo titles at over 80, over 1,500, and 10 respectively. He is a force of great longevity in modern Japanese go, winning titles for over 35-years.
The Infamous Interview Quote
It’s difficult to say why Cho suddenly lost all his big titles, but it was during this seemingly uncontrollable, downward spiral that Cho made one of his most infamous remarks. After losing his most prized title, the 25th Meijin, to Yoda by 4-0 he was interviewed by a reporter who asked, “Why do you like go so much?” He replied: “I hate go”. He elaborated by saying his intense desire to win turned debilitating for him, esp. in two-day matches. The stress and tension are what led to his habit of ruffling his hair and constantly fidgeting.
I mean this with the utmost respect possible. You are too hard on yourself. You expect too much. Examine your attitude about your performance and the expectations you have for yourself, related to Go. Now apply them to a baby learning to walk or understand language. Are your expectations for the babies growth the same that you have for yourself? Expecting big performance gains from a baby is ridiculous, right? A babies brain is 90% more capable than your adult brain at learning new things. Learning for you is 90% harder than for a baby.
Another fact that you should keep in mind is that a negative mindset upsets you emotionally. This affects your ability to think clearly and to commit things to short term and long term memory. The more upset you get with yourself about the mistakes that you are making, the harder it becomes for you to succeed. Mistakes are progress. Failure is the potential to learn something new. Identifying weakness is equivalent to finding specialized knowledge about holes in your understanding. Identifying weaknesses is a blessing.
You need a paradigm shift. You should try very hard to change those negative thoughts to thoughts of understanding, patience, and kindness; all directed at yourself. Scientifically speaking, you will learn faster, and you will be happier too .