Can you play chess?

As a young child I loved playing chess and competing with others in the game, whilst moving up the ranks for a period of about 5 years.  The game was ever so consuming and each victory gave me a thrill.  However, with other priorities coming to the surface and the need to move countries as a teenager, I quit playing chess.  So much so, that I have only played a proper game for the first time the other day.  My opponent was no other than my 6-year-old, who seems to share the passion for the game I once possessed.  I won (just!) and it made me think of my childhood and how great the game of chess actually is.

I know that regardless of circumstances I should have never given up on it.  Chess, although not the most ‘cool’ game to play, has many benefits. It:

  1. exercises both sides of the brain;
  2. develops and greatly improves memory;
  3. improves other necessary skills such as reading, problem solving and concentration;
  4. teaches planning and foresight as well as looking at the whole picture;
  5. promotes imagination and creativity;
  6. teaches independence, as the players have to make decisions of their next moves; and
  7. is not age dependent.

It has been proven in many studies over the years that the earlier in life the person starts playing chess on a consistent basis, the better will be the benefits and improvements listed above.  Kids learn a lot of life skills and life lessons from chess.  Chess teaches us that there is likely to be more than one solution to a given problem and that success is usually a reward for hard work, as the more you practice, the better you become.

Benjamin Franklin summarised the benefits of chess well. “Chess teaches foresight, by having to plan ahead; vigilance, by having to keep watch over the whole chess board; caution, by having to restrain ourselves from making hasty moves; and finally, we learn from chess the greatest maxim in life – that even when everything seems to be going badly for us we should not lose heart, but always hoping for a change for the better, steadfastly continue searching for the solutions to our problems.”

Can you play chess? I can and I will ensure that my kids can too. My job is to share the knowledge and the fun this game brings.  It will be up to them how far to take it in the future.  One thing I know for sure, no one had ever suffered any negative consequences from being able to understand and play a game of chess.  Today may just be the perfect day for you to give it a try.


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Patience is a virtue

We all know that patience is a virtue.  As per famous proverb: “all good things come to those who wait”. However, lately I have thought about this concept further in trying to understand what being patient actually entails.

The normal dictionary definition of patience states that it is a capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset.  As Wikipedia puts it: “Patience is the level of endurance one can take before negativity”.

I recall that about 15 years ago I would have been considered to be a very patient person.  These days, with kids, a career and wanting to get some quality of life, I often find this virtue slipping through my fingers.  Realising my own shortcomings, I have made a conscious effort to stop my thoughts in their tracks, just as my emotions are about to spill into the dangerous territory of becoming angry or upset.  I have learned that being patient has many benefits in life, including:

  1. Becoming a better listener and more empathetic towards others, thus allowing others time to properly interact with you;
  2. Making better decisions as you are less likely to be irrational and fueled by emotion;
  3. Being able to teach your children right from wrong without screaming, loosing your cool and showing them the wrong example of behaviour (this one is the hardest by far);
  4. Developing faith and belief in yourselves and your ability to get to the end result you are so patiently waiting for;
  5. Reducing the levels of stress and anxiety; and
  6. Improving self-control.

Aristotle once said that “patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet”. Most definitely, not often will you see the light at the end of the tunnel to be able to guide your thoughts and emotions in the right direction.  However, all we can do is try our hardest.  If all people in the world had at least 5% more patience and tolerance for things to come, we would be living in a very different world.

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Is Valentine’s Day necessary?

Valentine’s Day has historically been a great source of income for florists, restaurants, as well as confectionery, jewelery and lingerie shops.  It is also known as one of the most stressful days.  The males scout the shops for a perfect gift, as they are expected to show their romantic side and woo their female partners with all kinds of affection. The females, although usually not stressed over buying a gift for their partner, have certain expectations as to their own gift and the implied correlation between such gift and their man’s intentions and commitment within the relationship. In other words, Valentine’s Day is a great day for our economy, but is it really a ‘lovers day’?

We chose every year to fall into the trap of blindly following the need to splash out in order to prove our love, as red roses, balloons and soft toys fill the windows of most shops. We crowd in popular restaurants, complain about it having too many people and often get bad service. We also spend triple the amount on flowers, contribute to many forests being cut down to make Valentine’s cards, and rub it into the faces of those who are single the fact that they are.

One would assume love does not require a special day set aside enabling partners to show each other affection and shower each other with gifts.  Moreover, even if this assumption is wrong, there is always an annual anniversary of meeting/getting together/getting married etc. when the same behaviour is almost expected. Surely, the retailers are more than happy to collect your money, but as much as you wish to contribute to the GDP of your country, possibly consider doing it spasmodically throughout the year.

What is often forgotten is if you love someone, you should tell them daily how you feel.  It would make more sense to regularly surprise your  partner with small tokens of affection: enjoying a home cooked candlelight dinner, walking on the beach, watching the sunset together, finding a love song that portrays how you feel and playing it for them, etc.

I recently posed a question to some of my friends as to when was the last time, outside of Valentine’s Day and your anniversary, that you have given your partner a love letter written from the heart (not copied or pre-filled with text); or brought home a single rose for no reason; or bought their favourite ice-cream or desert as a surprise; or taken them to have a spontaneous picnic on the beach? Most looked blankly at me as if I was asking them about the last time they climbed Mount Everest.

By all means, celebrate Valentine’s Day, enjoy the gifts, the surprises and the spirit of the day.  However, please remember that just like for a couple getting married – it is not all about the day but about your lives together.

Love and be loved! Celebrate and keep the romance going every day and you will be a very happy couple!


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Honesty is the best policy…not so in the world of sport

In light of the most recent doping, match-fixing and corruption scandals in the world of sport, such as the truth about Lance Armstrong’s drug taking in cycling and accusations faced by the Essendon football club as well as the shadow cast over all other football clubs in Australia, the lack of honesty in our sport has been debated by the media.

Sportsmen have always been admired by us, mere mortals, as examples of greatness achieved through a lot of hard work and determination in addition to the obvious possession of talent.  However, in recent weeks, most of us have had to grapple with the concept of dishonesty and outright betrayal by those we blindly believed and worshiped.

Although not a cyclist myself, I have always admired Lance Armstrong for his ability not only to rebuild his life and career after beating cancer, but for being able to become the greatest in his sport.  Or so I, as well as millions of others, have thought.  Finding out Armstrong was a cheat was a blow to my beliefs that one can have it all through hard work despite the circumstances.  Discovering he maliciously destroyed many people’s lives in the process as they tried to unveil his dishonesty made me frustrated and a little angry.   Finding out that my beloved Essendon footy players have been fed performance enhancing drugs within a few days of the Armstrong scandal just added to the injury.

It is understandable that sportsmen want to be the best at their game.  Unfortunately, when they no longer can achieve greatness through natural ability, they turn to other, often illegal, sources.  However, what a lot of those sportsmen often fail to comprehend is the effect their cheating has on their fans and people who genuinely believe in them.  They also forget that in most cases lies come out and the consequences of cheating are grave.

The impact of all the illegal and dishonest behaviour that came to light in the recent weeks should also not be underestimated when it comes to those sportsmen and athletes, who play fair, are honest and who do not cheat to win a medal or a higher rank or a championship.  Such sportsmen should be praised and celebrated.  There is only one problem – we are unable to distinguish between those that lie and cheat and those that get to the top through hours of hard work.

So I pose the question: “What happened to the honesty and integrity in our sport?”  These essential moral stances appear to have become extinct like dinosaurs.  We have most definitely entered the dark ages when it comes to sport as all wins and great performances will now be under scrutiny and slight disbelief as to their genuine nature.




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Success and humility – what is your definition?

These days everyone tries to show themselves in the best light to the world, sell their good  qualities and their achievements to those who are prepared to listen. Such sales pitch is not restricted to the workforce but is often carried over into the personal lives of various individuals. With that, modesty and respect for others is often lost in transition.

Our generation seems to only be interested in monetary success rather than in being a good human.  More often than not people would measure how successful they are by their apparent ‘achievements’ in life in a form of physical possessions.  Very rarely would you hear someone say “I’m very successful because I help others” or “I’m successful because I have a family, healthy kids and am happy and in love “.  Instead, you would hear about that person’s job, house in a prestigious suburb, car, holiday or all of the above.  And people tend to judge the success of others based on the values they exhibit themselves.

So when did we become so materialistic? When did success start to equate to having a large bank account and nothing else?

It appears that most of us would benefit from a lesson in humility.  This includes trying to praise those people who help you instead of taking all the praise yourself more often, thanking others, showing appreciation of your life including your health and your loved ones, listening more when others speak and no longer judging others and their choices in life, as one day you may be in the same shoes.

In other words, start exhibiting some modesty and appreciation for your life and others around you, as it is a very attractive quality in a person.  As C.S.Lewis put it: “true humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less”.  Praise your colleague when they have done a good job, tell your partner you love them more often, take time to see your parents, spend more time with your children and in all that remember that although money is the necessary evil, money does not bring happiness and it does not make you a better person.

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Time for a sea change?

Lots of people talk about the need to improve their lives in one way or the other.  However, in most cases, it just remains that – talk.  Unfortunately, not many are brave enough to do something in an attempt to improve and enrich their existence.

Human kind is notorious for complacency and complaining about things without lifting a finger to make any changes. We find excuses for why we remain in unhappy relationships or jobs or cannot lose weight.  It is extremely easy to sit in your comfortable spot and feel sorry for yourself.

I, like most others, have been guilty of falling into this trap and even remaining in it for some time. Not finding time to exercise, and thus not prioritising it as an important aspect became the norm. However, recently, and as a result of some very positive changes in my personal life, I have made the move to live further out near the beach.

Now, to put things in perspective, although I absolutely love the beach, the water, the sun, the calmness and the relaxation it brings and constantly crave it;  I have, for most part of my life, been an inner-city girl, so a move to an outer suburb near the sea was almost like moving cities in terms of mental adjustment. Forced to internally reassess what is important in my life and what aspects I need to concentrate on, which have been put on the back burner for quiet some time, hard decisions had to be made.  

One thing for sure – the sea change has provided me with an opportunity to combat the negative aspects of my own being. “Stop talking and start doing” has become my motto. I finally stopped looking for excuses why certain aspects were not working and embraced the attitude of making a positive change. The first thing to change was making health and living a healthy lifestyle a priority. Running, walking, swimming and doing other types of physical activities has become part of my daily existence.

Funny enough, although I now wake up much earlier than I used to in order to accommodate all the things I need and want to achieve in a day, I have more energy and I feel fantastic.

Therefore, I suggest that if you are unhappy with some aspects of your life, assess what is the best way of making the required adjustments.  Of course, moving to the sea may not be the right step for you.  However, having some change of scenery and adjusting your mental attitude towards things can have huge benefits and help you get out of the rut.

I have been a firm believer in the saying that it is better to try and fail than to never try. Is it time for your ‘sea change’?  Mine is definitely working for me, yours may actually turn out to be just what the doctor prescribed.

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2012 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 4,400 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 7 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

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