Always Think Before You Move

Always think before you move - Cuba Gooding Jr. as Eugene BrownEugene Brown screwed up bigtime. He landed in prison for 18 years for sticking up a bank. But in prison he got lucky. He had a mentor who taught him to play chess, and to always think before you move.

This became the metaphor Eugene used to earn his redemption.

He used it to reflect on the decisions that led him to prison. He stopped blaming others, took responsibility for his actions, and began to work on himself. Playing chess helped.

He learned to see all the possible moves on the board, then to make moves based on smart decisions. Which moves would strengthen his position? Which sacrifices were worth making? Which gambits could he afford to offer or accept?

Always Think Before You Move

I learned about Eugene Brown lying on my couch watching the movie of this life story, Life of a King, starring Cuba Gooding Jr. It was pretty damn inspiring.

Every move in a chess game, like every move in life,  has consequences. During the opening of a game, you offer gambits to your opponent. In the middle game you execute your strategy based on your opponent’s reaction to your opening. Then after most of the pieces have been captured, you begin your end game.

Moves in your opening affect your middle game, which determines your end game position. If you start a game with a poor strategy or weak execution, it’s likely your end game will not be pretty.

Eugene Brown opening moves in life were atrocious. That’s why he became obsessed with the chess advice  from his mentor – always think before you move.


Chess helped Eugene learn to plan, strategize and execute.  It also taught him to temper the impulsiveness that got him into trouble.

Impulsivity is a common trait among Manic Impressives, and folks with the Promoter, Expressive, ENFP, or Affective personal styles. It’s what makes us spontaneous, adventurous and fun. It helps us brainstorm and innovate. But like Eugene Brown, it can also lead us to move before we think.

At it’s core, impulse is not a bad thing. It can actually be a very good thing, an impelling action or force, driving onward or inducing motion. Motivation, passion, influence, actuation and inspiration are all forms of impulse that Manic Impressives have in abundance.

We just need to be like chess players and see all the possibilities before we pick our move. Impulsive chess players play speed chess for cash in city parks. Strategic chess players compete for much greater stakes – a seat on the big stage playing for world championships.

When we channel our impulsivity, we can make smarter moves that lead to great end games. When we don’t, we can flame out in the opening. Life usually punishes us for poorly thought out moves.

Eugene Brown’s story shows how his impulsiveness got him into the worst trouble at the opening of his life. But it also shows how he learned to act thoughtfully on his impulses. That’s when he began to do tremendous good in the world.

The Start of a Movement

Eugene got out of prison at age 38. An ex-con without prospects. But he managed to make a living for himself, and then devoted his free time to help inner-city kids learn the game of chess.

He fixed up a foreclosed house and started an afterschool program teaching chess. Sharing the lessons he learned in his life, Eugene taught at-risk kids to always think before you move. He became an activist, a role model and a catalyst for change.

Today, Eugene’s non-profit Big Chair Chess Club teaches urban youngsters to make good life choices through lessons in chess. His kids have gone on to win dozens of tournaments, go to college, and break out of the cycle of poverty. He evolved from felon to hero.

Eugene’s middle game made up for the blunders in his opening. And now he’s a sought after speaker, author and a celebrity advocate for at-risk kids.  His end game turned out to be beautiful.

So if you’re lying on the couch looking for a way to do good in the world, check out Life of a King. Then feel free to toss a donation at the Big Chair Chess Club, and help spread the gospel of Always Think Before You Move.


8 thoughts on “Always Think Before You Move”

  1. Great movie! Loved how he was able to take something as horrendous as being in prison for 18 years and make it into his strength to get through to these kids and offer them a meaningful way to spend time after school and make a better life for themselves. He is definitely a hero!

  2. This is a great post, Aram! A great lesson in taking a weakness and through work turning it into a real strength…

  3. I was going to post a comment a few minutes ago….but I thought first – then decided to do it anyway.

    Interesting that this story also ties to your earlier piece about procrastinating. Readers should not confuse the two. Thinking twice does not mean “put it off” rather action should be checked by cognitive thought to involve the greatest possible outcome. The speed chess players that I have seen, which always impress me, is an example of integrating those functions into a lighting fast connection between the two parts of the brain.

    So my take is: Think before you move – but then move!


  4. I so want to play a game of chess now. The game is parallels life. Is this move safe? Will I be attacked? Should I take shelter? Should I do this at all? In life we should slow down enough to consider the adversity, but not slow down so long to overthink living from a place of fear. It is a delicate balance, and necessary. Society is in a deep divide. Perhaps we should start by thinking before speaking, definitely consider all moves when playing chess, and in some things let the scales of action vs. inaction settle to a place of mediocrity where it is safe to act with reasonable risk.

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