Give Up the Game, or Change the Rules?

In some of her workshops, my friend and sometime coach Mattison Grey has offered a theory that everyone is about either fame, money, or winning, and that making this distinction can help you figure out how to help people get what they want.

I don’t know whether that idea holds water for everybody. I can’t speak for people who are about money or fame, and it seems to me that there might be all kinds of other things to be about—love, pleasure, or security, for instance. But as Mattison explained it to me, since my orientation is toward winning, the way for me to reach any goal I’ve set is to turn it into a game I can win. And that suggestion, at least, rings true for me.

That’s what I did in the early days of my current exercise regimen. I made it into a game with two simple rules:

  1. Do something every day.
  2. and

  3. Everything counts.

As the years of everyday exercise have piled up, I’ve made the game more challenging with extra conditions and quotas. Right now, for example, I’m going twice around Memorial Park every day. I may not keep up that pace when the weather turns hot, but for now, that’s another rule I follow.

I’ve applied the “make a game of it” approach to other areas of my life, too. For most of the last two years, I’ve set a daily writing quota of 3,000 words. Sometimes I go for weeks at a time chalking up 3,000 words per day. Sometimes I don’t do so well. I’m better at walking than I am at writing, at least as far as the underlying discipline to practice is concerned.

In additional to maintaining some ongoing routines, I’ve also gotten in the habit of assigning myself special monthly projects in areas of life where I’d like to create some change. These projects are bigger games with more demanding rules. The March Project includes this objective (among others):

Post something to one of my blogs every day.

I was doing well until last Thursday, when I started having trouble with my laptop battery. It’s refusing to hold a charge for very long. To complicate matters, I had plans to spend the weekend in Galveston with friends. I took along my Windows laptop instead of my Mac. I completed my 3,000-word quota on two of the three days, but between the unfamiliar machine, spending the weekend in a house full of people, a lot of distractions, a few alcoholic beverages, and limited Internet connectivity, I didn’t manage to post anything to my blogs all weekend.

Should I give up at this point and call the March Project a loss? Until I hit the bump in the road, things were going great. I’d racked up 14 blog posts in 11 days, and that doesn’t include five short updates that could be counted if I were to adopt a very literal interpretation of “post something every day.”

No, I think I’d rather forget the weekend and look forward instead. so here’s a little trick to designing a game you can win: sometimes you have to change the rules in the middle of the game. I’m going to cut myself some slack and let my average of one post per day satisfy the terms of the March Project. Is that cheating? Maybe.

But the larger goal of posting something to one of my blogs every day was to demand more from my writing practice. And I’m not ready to quit that game.

1 comment to Give Up the Game, or Change the Rules?

  • Ed
    Right on! The cool thing about creating your own game is that:
    1) you are way more invested in sticking to it
    2) it is your game so you can change the rules anytime you want to, not to let yourself “off the hook”, but to move yourself forward. This is often very appropriate, especially if your game “does its job” and helps you move forward or transform. When that happens the old game must be updated to keep up with the new you. I wrote a blog post about this recently.

    Keep up the great work!


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