How do we judge success? What series of metrics do you use to tell whether or not you’ve won? How do you know you’ve made it?
If you were playing a game of football it’s very easy to know whether or not you’ve won the game. It’s the team who’s scored the most goals in 90 minutes. We know this because they are the rule of the game. Without those rules, there would be no game. It’s what game theorists call a finite game. There are fixed rules, known players and a fixed time frame. Monopoly is a finite game. A job interview is a finite game. Buying the most expensive Christmas present is a finite game. But what about say, business? Or your relationship? Or Raising children? How do you know that you’ve won?
In game theory, there are two types of games, finite games (like football) and infinite games. In an infinite game, there are known and unknown players, the rules are changeable, and there is no fixed time frame. The biggest difference between finite and infinite games is that in a finite game players play to win and in an infinite game the players play to stay in the game.
This is why when trying to evaluate our personal success we need to be careful to know what kind of game we are playing. You see problems occur when players try to play an infinite game with a finite mindset. If you are trying to win an infinite game you will fail. You will get disheartened and burned out. If for example, you are in a business and your objective is to ‘Be the Best’ or to ‘Beat our competition’ you have to wonder, by what metric? Which arbitrary measuring system do you want to use to prove that point?
In an infinite game comparison with others can be deadly. It can cost you the chance to stay in the game. In an infinite game, the only person you are competing against is yourself as you attempt to keep the game in play. You can only lose when you run out of the will or resources to play the game.
What happens if you get a finite player in an infinite game playing ‘against’ an infinite player? Each player will make profoundly different choices and that is because one of them is playing to win and the other is playing to stay in the game. The one who is playing to win cannot sustain their momentum and they get frustrated by the sheer inability to beat their competition.
Most of life, if you think about it is an infinite game. Sure there are finite games along the road but we are all living in the infinite game called life. What if we choose to remember the game we’re playing, to play only against ourselves, and live in a way where we make decisions to help us stay in the game. Wouldn’t we all live healthier more meaningful lives?
Joy comes not from comparison but from advancement. We enjoy progressing towards a goal. That’s why it’s crucial to only compare yourself to who you were rather than others around you. Whether you are in business or trying to work on your relationships remember the game you are playing. It will change how good you feel on a daily basis and help you to find more meaning in your day to day life.
This article is based on the book ‘The Infinite Game’ by Simon Sinek. It’s a life-changing read and if you are interested in what is talked about in this article I highly recommend it to you.