There is a saying that we always win the game we’re playing. Who doesn’t love winning? That feeling of triumph and accomplishment – of being an expert in something. But hold on…whether winning actually feels good depends on the game. What do the rules prescribe? What is that possibility space they permit? What’s the goal? What is defined as the win and lose state? What are the conflicts you are supposed to overcome with what actions and resources?

So, I’ve been having a bit of a rough time lately and right now I’m feeling tired and sore – scratch that: in excruciating pain due to a pinched sciatica nerve  – and frustrated and impatient and yeah, somewhat sorry for myself….you get the picture. If it’s true that we win at the game we’re playing, I’ve been playing a pretty shitty game the last few weeks. Cause what I’m experiencing right now is my “Win State”. And if that miserable pain-in-the-ass (literally, trust me) experience is my win state, my goals deserve some serious reconsidering! And the rules I’m playing by. And that which informs those rules: namely my beliefs and values (we’ll get to that later). But hey – I’m sure I’m in good company. Have you never come home feeling exhausted, stressed out, angry, frustrated, starving, overwhelmed, anxious? So, there – those were your win states then. No judgment.

Let’s dig a little deeper into how I managed to accomplish my current win state. For one, one rule must have been: if there’s a task somewhere within sight that might not even be your business, go and take it on – get useless “goodie” points that really don’t serve you just for the sake of being the “good girl”. Rack up as many “busy points” as possible, because that proves your worth to others. Another rule: if you’re feeling somewhat rested, immediately expend more energy than you’ve got. Another rule: if anyone offers to help out with something, say “no, thanks” promptly , so they stop offering help in the future and you don’t have to deal with their generosity anymore. Related to that: don’t you ever ask for help or set some boundaries or you’ll immediately lose 20 “martyr” points. Oh, and if your body is telling you to maybe slow down with the wallballs or burpees or clean and jerks or overhead squats and deadlifts: IGNORE IT! Cause balance and rest are for the weak! Clearly! Oh, what’s the conflict of this game, you ask? Yourself, of course. Got to get over that! Really – if you take care of yourself, you lose.

Of course, very few people – including me – play such a game consciously. Who says: my goal today is to come home pissed off, tired, hungry and limping! And yet, who doesn’t do that at least sometimes? And in all fairness, sometimes it might truly be inevitable. But sometimes – and maybe more often than not – the game doesn’t need to be played like that.

So, let’s iterate on this for a more optimal experience, shall we – cause the playtest from these last few weeks showed little player satisfaction, indeed!

Step I of optimal life game design: kick the current win condition to the curb – no more (stupid!) hero / martyrdom – and redefine the goal! How do I actually WANT to be feeling? How about: rested, balanced, self-determined, pain free, loved, connected.
(Tip: you can look at the five main areas of life to identify new win states. What would be an optimal experiences in regards to: money, health, relationships, job /career, spirituality?)

Step II: what are the new rules that will help this new win condition / goal manifest? Focus on the top 5 things that I personally most care about. Prioritizing them and sending energy towards those will earn points (towards win) while spending points on other stuff (tasks not relevant to the things I actually care most about) will cost points. Emphasizing health and balance over achievement. Ambition is good, but I want to be in it for the long run, not forced to take breaks because I can’t sit or tie my shoes without grimacing. In terms of rules that means: checking in with the body, planning for rest – if my energy level falls below a certain threshold, recharge before doing more. Don’t go into deficit on a regular basis. Stay in the plus to build the “health / balance” pool rather than depleting it. Connection and love: sharing vulnerabilities, asking for help, drawing boundaries – builds connection by giving others a chance to care and prevents burn out and resentment. Etc.

Step III: redefine the conflict: old beliefs of what might bring a sense of safety and belonging vs. self-care. Practicing self-care over giving in to perceived external expectations wins. There. Better.

I’ll playtest this version in the next few weeks and tell you how it goes. Feel free to try this at home.

Yours truly,

Doris Carmen, Warrior at Play


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