Win wars, not battles
As a starting player, my biggest downfall to date has always been spending way too much time trying to beat my opponent in material and having less emphasis in putting my opponents in disfavorable positions. In my head I've always assumed a win meant I had material advantage in all my games. I've never stopped and considered that it was possible to win with a lower material score.
The more I learn, the more I've started realizing the objective of the game is to checkmate your opponent at all costs. Doesn't matter what you gain or lose, as long as your opponent resigns or gets mated, you've done your job correctly. Although it is rather simplistic, it makes perfect sense. The most valuable piece in the game is the king, because without the king the game would end abruptly and the outcome of the match would be decided. Although the king is not the most powerful piece, which is the queen, the king is able to dictate the outcome of the game while the queen is just a major material favorite. Therefore the king is the most important piece in chess and it is advantageous to structure the game around never losing your king in order to reign supreme.
I am now starting to understand how to play correctly and that is through reliance on proper position and less on material worth. Although I still have many errors in my gameplay and my game is far from being complete, which is understandable since I'm still a beginner and have much to learn.
Here is my recent game where I was behind in material by a pawn yet I managed to win very early because my opponent made a critical mistake: instead of advancing a pawn to prevent a checkmate, my opponent pigeon-holed himself by being greedy and captured a pawn instead.
Although I strongly feel this checkmate would easily be detected in higher tier matches, it is a great feat for a beginning player to pull this off in a ranked game and this match is my starting chapter in understanding positional Chess.