Discover how chess becomes a metaphor for Goal Setting

Key chess lessons for Goal Setting in business and life

Playing the game of life through chess and goals

Playing the game of life through chess and goals

Life can often feel like a game of chess. You gain some fast wins and make progress only later to find you are in a position of high risk with everything exposed to lose.

So, let’s take a closer look at the game and see what key lessons we can learn within goal setting.

Putting it back in the box

Some people leave their chess boards in constant use. They roam from one game to another. Others play the game and then put it back in the box. When invited or challenged for another game, they spend time clearing space for the board and setting up the pieces. Whilst doing so some memories flood back of prior wins moves and struggles. At this point, some games are already lost as a fixed game of play has been placed in the player's mind.

Then after the game, they put it all back in the box and move on with their lives.

So this is with continual goal setters. Some set their goals and visions only once a year or are given goals by others. There are many successful people that prefer to have ongoing goals. The range of goals crosses too many areas but they are consumed in the game of goal setting.

So, just remember that chess is just a game, you get better the more you practice and play, study and learn, but there is a life, world, and fun to be explored beyond it. The same applies to goals. Creating time and areas in life with zero goals and expectations and simply “for the fun of it” seems crazy to a hardened goal-getter, yet this more holistic approach to life allows a person to recharge and gain fresh perspective and inspirations in life.

Understanding the board

A chess board is contained of two different colored squares (traditionally black and white) and in a grid format of eight squares by eight squares. Each separate square is also often referred to within a specific grid scale. The letters A-H cross the horizontal grid and the numbers 1-8 in ascending order. The white rook is most often placed at the start point of A1 as the other pieces are then built on the board.

Not everyone follows such strict criteria. Some ignore the grid system and do not use it at all or apply the system starting from the black rook.

Although the grid system allows clarity to communicate with others and for reference, there is no absolute functional requirement to understand the board structure in these contexts.

King and Queen on the chess board

King and Queen on the chess board

So, the same applies to goals. Most people understand the difference between internal and external goals, those that are given to us and those that we create for ourselves. Some, use key steps in life and business to monitor, measure, allocate points of reference to provide order and better understanding, others are happy to drift their way through and accept the wider references of the goal.

Playing within the context of game rules

Most games have rules. As long as you play within the rules then you are deemed as a good sport and show acceptance and respect to the design. Others stretch the rules, cheat and try to beat others at all costs. Their success is short-lived if exposed yet it can take time to discover their actions as their skills in pushing the rules and confidence in their play often makes their opponents overlook these foul play moves.

The same applies to your own code of principles and ethics. How you approach for instance weight loss, market share, muscle gain or a qualification might be through adopting foul play and cheating. This short-term success if left uncovered can create longer-term consequences to your morality, reputation, and even health.

When playing chess at a semi-professional level, there are rules for many parts of the game that would not apply to a “normal fun” player. These can include the dimensions of the actual chess pieces and size of the squares. This also can be seen as a metaphor within goal setting, where the more specific our goal is designed, the tighter the parameters to accept success is created.

Understanding the correct language

Terminology and the use of our language help label and specify our interactions in life. This is the core of communication. So, within chess, the specific terminology applied to the classification of pieces. For example, major pieces might be classified as the queen or rook, and minor pieces a pawn or knight. This again is seen in goal setting, the classification of short, medium, long-term success factors help clarify your progress and put into perspective for others to understand your development.

The pieces that make up the game


Chess pieces

Chess pieces

For the variety of possibilities that evolve within a game, there are a few specific pieces each player starts with.

You can see below there is a range of numbers for different pieces. This limits the scope but when applied actually increases the potential and power of influence for each item. Here is applying the chess piece and also assign a goal setting correlation to it.


1 King – The Goal Itself

The King is to be placed into “checkmate”. A position and move where all the opponents’ pieces can no longer rescue or block your ability to take the piece with your own pieces left on the board. It is possible to resign from the game and simply give up by knocking over your own king.

The metaphor he for goal setting is the opponent’s king is YOUR goal. You apply the power and strategy of all your pieces available to trap your goal. Sometimes this is done through hard work and simple steps with little or no motivation left. Other times, the goal is attained through a combination of good planning, systems, resources and strong motivation).

1 Queens – Motivation

The queen can move to any aligned and clear vacant spot on the board in any direction. We see this with the power of motivation in goal setting. The desire and will to attain something often raises performance levels and helps to inspire the success of other areas such as hard work and applied strategy.

2 Bishops – Internal or External opportunities

This piece moves diagonally across the clear squares but always on its original color. So, when applied to goal setting this context can be seen with goals and process steps that are in your control and those that are not. Sometimes we create the circumstances for luck to improve and fall in our favor. So the decisions of others may provide a great opportunity for us to capitalize upon, at other times, the opportunity is built and developed from inside ourselves.

2 Knights – System + Process

This is the only piece in the game that can regularly “jump” over obstacles in its path. The knight moves in a 2x3 square diagonal. So it can move in any direction as long as a vacant end point is clear. This again can be applied within the context of goals.

When you adopt the correct goal setting system and work to the process, it helps you overcome any obstacle that is before you as long as the end place is possible. External forces may remove your ability to apply your system or process, but when protected and used well, they are invaluable tools for success.

2 Rooks – Extra Resources

The rook starts in the corner of each game. This piece has the ability to move in straight lines in each direction similar to the bishop. Its starting position should be built and developed to help capitalize on defensive maneuvers or attack your opponent’s pieces.

Your extra resources are important to build and develop in life and business. Building the skills, talents, influence, and connections are vital steps towards understanding not just what needs to be done but having the ability to attain it. So, health, wealth, mental abilities are all part of the key extra areas we use on a daily basis to protect what we have and provide the platform to grow.

8 Pawns – Actions

With 8 pawns to start with, few games end with all pawns still in play. They are often the first pieces to be removed and lost. They move in a forwards motion one square at a time. When meeting an obstacle they are blocked and cannot move. They take an opponent’s piece by being one square away and moving diagonally to replace their position. When your pawn reaches the opponents starting point on the board (after moving forward 8 times), then you can swap the pawn for another chess piece of your choice.

The similarity of pawns and actions is striking within goal setting. The steps and actions taken move your direction to your goal in a number of ways. Some actions are there to remove negative threats such as motivation, external event risks, other actions help actually reach the goal or become so efficient that they form part of your wider ability to attain goals through motivation, resources, opportunities or process excellence.

Dealing with a changing landscape

As your game develops pieces are lost and positions of advantage are won. It is possible to win a game from just pawns but most games are won after sacrificing some items to generate a distraction and advantage in others. The landscape and power dynamics of the pieces evolve with the game in progression. Sometimes power positions are displayed to command parts of the board. The same is seen with the progress of goals.

Making time for perspective in a busy day

During the process, you may lose some motivation and passion, which is regained from committing strong positive actions. The loss of progress from an external event can be countered by the progress of your internal development and taking opportunities. The ways you develop extra resources and apply a strategy also give great power to your ability to succeed, yet events occur in life that takes some or all of these away.

So, treat your goals and use the game of chess as a metaphor in how to apply, learn and reach your goal.

-          Enjoy the game and let me know which moves you made to win.