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Why am I so bad at Othello?

14 November 2023
Written by Carlo Affatigato

Let me tell you a secret, my friend. What I'm going to tell you today, you can reuse it in every aspect of your life. Right now, I'm talking to you as an average Othello player who shares the same thoughts you have sometimes, but the way we deal with this kind of question is the same, effective approach we can use with every negative belief that can come to our mind. I'm a life coach, so I professionally help people with these things. Let me share with you a step-by-step guide to deal with the dark side of your brain.

"I'm such a bad player."
"I'll never improve."
"I don't understand this game."

These are all perfect examples of dysfunctional thoughts. By definition, a dysfunctional thought is an automatic reflection that negatively affects your self-esteem and your effectiveness. They are part of our human nature, but they just don't help us: they damage our ability to reach our goals. Think about them in the Othello context: if we play under the belief that we are bad at this game, we will have less motivation to focus, to think hard for our next move. Mentally, we'll give up before it's over. These thoughts don't come already labeled as dysfunctional; recognizing and identifying them takes some effort and experience. But once you do, you can start fighting them. For this purpose, you have three strong allies: they are always the same, and if you use their help correctly, you can defeat 99% of your dysfunctional thoughts. They work under these three areas: facts, alternative explanations, and utility. 

Facts are the first step. The first thing you must ask yourself is: is this automatic thought actually supported by facts? When you say you are bad at Othello, I assume you are comparing yourself with the other average players, right? So the right questions for you are: are you really comparing yourself to the performances of an average player? You are not judging yourself based on how Keisuke Fukuchi came up from Japan, right? Moreover, is your win/loss rate factually lower than other players with your age, experience, time to dedicate to Othello, mind space, study time, environmental factors, and so on? The point is that the statement "I am bad at Othello" is pretty impossible to prove with facts. Which means that, most likely, it's just an altered perception, and you can already put it in the box dedicated to all the things not worth your time. You can usually dissolve 70% of your dysfunctional thoughts by purely analyzing facts. 

If facts didn't help, if you acrobatically managed to prove to yourself, with facts, that you really perform worse than other players in your conditions, the next step is focusing on finding an alternative explanation. The reason why "I am bad at Othello" is not the ideal justification for your (real or perceived) bad performances is simple: they directly refer to you as a person, to your general skills, and that affects your trust, your self-confidence, and ultimately, your improvement path. It's the basic principle of self-esteem: failures are best explained by external, temporary factors. It's the unique talent many Othello players have in "finding excuses," as we described it here: your bad performances can be explained by a matter of luck, lack of time to study, young experience, or environmental factors. Maybe today you are distracted by that annoying task at work, or by something that worries you within your family, and you don't even notice. Perhaps you simply didn't sleep well, or you were particularly bothered by the background noise today. Or, more easily, perhaps your opponent is really good, or really lucky (that perfectly works as an explanation: "the opponent" is an external factor, out of your control, and the awareness that there will always be someone better than you is something we can easily accept without configuring it as a personal failure). The possible alternative explanations you can find for your disappointing Othello performances are pretty much infinite: with facts + alternative explanations, you can effectively defeat 95% of your dysfunctional thoughts. 

If none of the things above work, our last option is thinking in terms of utility: how useful is it for me to believe I'm just bad at Othello? Does it serve a specific purpose in my Othello-life? That's usually the ultimate tool against dysfunctional thoughts: believing you are just naturally bad doesn't help you in any way. We play Othello because we enjoy it, so playing it with the awareness that we are bad at it simply spoils our fun. If you are here, you probably know Othello is one of the most fascinating games on Earth, and enjoyable activities are rare in this sad existence: that should convince you that this belief is just not useful. Use the power of this conclusion as an additional motivation and, again, use facts and alternative explanations to contrast this dysfunctional thought. Give yourself some time and be indulgent. After all, you have a lifetime to master Othello, right?

If even that doesn't work, if you arrived at the end of this article and neither facts nor alternative explanation helped, if you actually find it useful to believe you are intrinsically bad at Othello... well, you must be one of those desperate cases for which there is no solution. At this level, there is really no point in trying to understand if this belief is real or perceived: you are actively choosing to believe you are just bad at it, and you won't allow anyone to convince you otherwise, probably because proving this to yourself has some hidden meaning others cannot really understand. There could be some masochism in that, but it would be a matter for your Othello therapist. Anyway, I can tell you one thing: if all this is true, and you are still playing Othello and reading this article until the end... nothing will ever stop you, my stubborn friend.