Learning to enjoy playing the game

I am a very competitive person. As a kid growing up, I used to hate playing tennis or badminton without points. The game was less about playing, and more about winning.

I don’t think the competitive nature will ever go away. It’s part of what makes me who I am. I love the feel of adrenaline generated by competition. I love the energy of a fast paced 30 minute five-a-side game of football with tons of goals, the debate about a point of view, and the act of fighting back when losing. While the upside is that I have always cared about doing well, the big downside is that it easily became an amplifier of insecurities if it had no outlet.

For example, during a quiet weekend, I could easily get to thinking about what I’m doing in my life versus my peers or keep looking at Google Analytics to figure out if my blog is doing better today. You give society the keys to your happiness as winning and losing are defined by societal norms. The Facebook life matters more than the real one and your self worth is abdicated to somebody else’s opinion. The path leads to envy, fear and anger (the dark side, it is).

I have observed an evolution in my own thinking and approach to life over the past few years and I thought I would share my observations and learnings.

The first evolution was learning to compete with myself. 3 years ago, I began playing a daily game where I pit myself against the limits of my discipline and productivity. Aside from obvious benefits of an increase in productivity over the years, one of the bigger consequences of the game is that it has ensured I give enough fuel to my competitive side. I don’t care as much about how many feed burner subscribers I have as I am busy working on my writing skills and keeping an eye out for a potential idea or learning for tomorrow’s post. I don’t get points for keeping up with facebook. I get points for creating content and doing good work. It’s been a game changer.

The next evolution has been more recent and can be described in one word – process. I hit a wall with my “figure out the system to get a result” mindset a few years ago and have been changing how I approach things since. Last year’s learnings on deliberate practice have completely changed my view on how to approach work and life. And I’m plugging away on my 2013 goal to implement the concept of deliberate practice in every aspect of my life. This is toughest in work life as it requires deliberate preparation, self observation during the day, and reflection at the end. It takes work and effort. But, the beautiful thing about focusing on the process is that you are focused on making the most of the journey.

The final step has been a belief in the “infinite game.” This is a shift in the thinking in the past couple of months as a consequence of the process focus and it popped into my head fully formed when I was reading Seth’s “The Icarus Deception.” There are two ways to approach life – one way is to approach it as a series of finite game with winners and losers. The alternative is to approach it as an infinite game – a game played for the privilege of playing. The purpose of an infinite game is to help other players to play better. The goal of the next move is to encourage your fellow game players to make their next moves even better. And the best part about the infinite game is that you play to play.

The infinite game concept explains the coming together of these learnings. I began with the finite game after which my thinking evolved to a place in between the two where the focus was just on competing with myself. Now, I am learning to play for the joy of playing. The last two months have seen a few wins and a fair number of losses. There are signs that the curve is beginning to turn but I’ve learnt that you don’t really know if a good day is a good day, anyway. Good days, bad days, wins, and losses are just a part of the game and it helps to not get too excited or too upset about the stuff that happens.

I am slowly beginning to understand that playing the game is a privilege in itself. Yes, you can choose to sulk in the stands or paint the town red celebrating but the field is the place to be. The field is where we spend most of our lives. The field is where we get to make it meaningful, make it count.

And what’s more, it’s a happy place.