The Games We Play

Who do you compete against? Other people or yourself? Whatever your answer, how can you use this to help you achieve more of what you want?

For some, competing in business or sports is a thrilling game played with formidable opponents. It reflects a combination of strategy and skill. For others, competition is about being better today than they were yesterday. It’s still an exciting game but a solo one. No other players required.


Games can be healthy with psychological benefits. In SuperBetter, The Power of Living Gamefully, author Jane McGonical, a video game designer and researcher addresses these fascinating findings.

Early studies from the neuroscience of gaming, revealed that gamers had a huge dopamine rush in their brain chemistry when playing – almost as much as when someone is injected with methamphetamine. The more dopamine that flows, the more motivated and goal oriented a person is. Additionally, they tend to focus less on the effort required to achieve their goals and more on the benefit of the goals.

McGonical goes on to make the case that we can utilize this knowledge for our lives. By living gamefully, we can utilize a game oriented outlook to keep the dopamine rush going and ourselves perpetually motivated towards accomplishing our goals.

There can be a downside to games, however.

Research also showed that when gamers played games to escape reality or to distract from issues, the result was depression, more social isolation and lower likelihood of achieving real life goals. In contrast, when games are played with purpose, with a positive goal (such as spending time with friends or family, learning something new, energizing yourself after a long day) the results were the opposite. There was increased self-confidence, happiness, connection and success in real life.

Going back to the original questions of how we compete, either with other or against ourselves, perhaps the more important question is, why do we compete?

Do we compete in business, sports or even in our relationships as a distraction from the real issues? In other words, are we trying to “win” for winning’s sake or are we competing in these areas for a positive reason?

In the context of striving for more of what is meaningful in our lives, I think this is critical to understand. Competing (against ourselves or others) can bring out the best in us, if we have purpose while doing it. Think of it as mindful competition where the focus is on the process as well as the outcome. But it can also bring out the worst in us if we are using it to shield us from a life without true purpose.

Find what is meaningful. Play life gamefully. Stay motivated.


5 minute action item-If you haven’t already, start a MORE list, a list of what you want more of in your life. By writing this list daily, you will gain clarity on what is truly meaningful and what is just distraction.

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