All Fun & Games

What is success really? Is it only success when you win the gold medal at the Olympics? Is it only success when you graduate with a first-class degree? Both of these and whatever other milestones you can imagine are indeed worthwhile, special personal accolades not to be scoffed at. But what if there was a more sustainable form of achievement?

When I was 13, my cousins introduced me to a PS2 game called Pro Evolution Soccer 2009. At that time, it was one of the best football simulations you could have. I remember being in awe of the graphics and uttering dumbfounded statements like, “That looks exactly like Rooney!”

After resounding losses that included conceding a goal scored by the opposition goalkeeper dribbling past my entire team, I was overjoyed at the opportunity to practise the game, uninterrupted, when they loaned it to me.

For about a month during the long break between primary and high school, I enjoyed massive success in the various game modes at amateur difficulty. It was during one of these one-sided drubbings that I asked myself this game-altering question, “What if I play it at the highest difficulty?”

What ensued was compounded frustration. I wasn’t keen on learning to beat the highest difficulty if the AI was controlling a poorly equipped team. For the true rush that comes with conquest, I needed to beat Top Player while the AI was using the best team in the game, F.C. Barcelona.

I lost once… twice… ten times in a row. The process was almost monotonous. It was incredibly exasperating… until it wasn’t. I started seeing a pattern in the play. “They are going to pass it there and score,” I’d started thinking, and that’s exactly what happened. I failed to prevent the goal but there was a different joy. I’d seen it. I’d gone past the point of thinking things happened by chance. I’d overcome the initial bamboozlement and was now becoming familiar with the system. Most importantly, I was enjoying learning.

The outcome I hoped for and desired was ultimately to play better football than Top Player, the highest difficulty on PES 2009. I didn’t manage to do that in one day or one week. I lost more than I have any desire to recall. But the reason I was able to get past the hurdle of consistent losses, the monotony of picking up the ball in my net, was because I started enjoying the process. Analysing the passing patterns, conceding fewer goals, making a successful tackle, all those innocuous events started to have a broader meaning. I was getting better and knowing that was enough.

What if we embrace monotony in the name of getting better? What if we focus on the process as opposed to just focusing on the outcome. Perhaps then, the journey will feel better than the destination.

Lying Is Good For You: Building Habits

Starting a habit isn’t always easy. The proof is in the number of people who say they want to start a new habit who don’t actually end up doing so. Or maybe they’ll start but stop before it’s really become a habit.

Habit – a regular tendency that is hard to give up.

Lally’s study claims that it takes anywhere between 18 days to 254 days to form a new habit.

How can one actually achieve such a feat that requires an incredible amount of discipline? First of all we have to acknowledge that it is difficult to maintain something just because we see the benefit of it in the future. If you are one of those people that can do it by just intentionally making the decision, kudos to you! If you are like me then you have to use a different way. The good news is it works just as well. Here it is… it’s time to lie again!

There’s this story about a mouse that’s put in a cage. Scientists would ring a bell at a certain time and then put cheese in the cage. Over time the mouse associated the sound of the shrill bell with cheese and would come out of its little house when the bell was rung and wait, even if the cheese wasn’t forthcoming. The bell didn’t sound attractive but the cheese was attractive. Over time the mouse would come out for the bell because to it the bell = cheese. We’re not mice though so what can we do? We use the horse and carrot stick method.

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Looks ridiculous right? The carrot is the reward after you’ve done the hard work of doing whatever the new habit requires you to do. This way we associate the reward with the work. For example, I love movies! When we got back from a service on Sunday that’s the first thing that I wanted to do. Unfortunately for me, I lived with very wise, orderly parents who would have me do the dishes first (after we’d made and eaten breakfast) before watching any film. Doing the dishes was work. Watching the movie was the carrot. My love for movies was so strong that I would speed through the dishes to have my carrot – ahem – I mean watch my movie. You couldn’t motivate me to do the dishes because it wasn’t something I looked forward to, but because I looked forward to watching movies, the labour of doing the dishes was no longer as hard as it seemed initially. Over time I stopped doing it as an inconvenience and started viewing it as a sort of key, a key to me watching the movies that I wanted to watch on a Sunday afternoon. I’ve used this same trick to exercise daily, write more consistently and to drink enough water each day – all things I never used to do.

So what are the practical bits you can use for you. The only thing you need to do is to make a list of the things you love. Lie to yourself until you believe that you can’t do one of those things until you’ve actioned out the habit you’re trying to build, then reward yourself with the thing you love at the end – and repeat. Make sense?

A short real-life illustration of the effectiveness of this technique:

Mom: Where are you?

Me: I’m in the kitchen. I’ve just started doing the dishes.

Mom: We’ve started watching a movie, come watch with us – you can do the dishes after.

Me: I don’t like doing dishes well after we’ve eaten. I’ll finish up fast then come watch when I’m done.

True story.

I’m a dish dog now!

See you tomorrow for Lying Is Good For You: Trumping Fear.