self-improvement

Choosing Something to Do

Be the designer of your world and not merely the consumer of it.

James Clear – Atomic Habits

Have you ever experienced this?

One of the reasons that instant-fun (like instant-noodles but even worse for you) like YouTube or Facebook feeds have so much power over us is that we have trouble deciding on how we want to have fun. It’s one reason why the constant feed is so addicting. Instead of choosing to do something, you scroll through an endless supply of instant-fun until you find something appealing, chortle a bit, then continue the search. It’s a weird phenomenon. It’s also horrifying to reflect on.

I guarantee you I’m browsing Reddit

Would you rather spend 2 hours playing that video game you’ve always wanted to play or 2 hours browsing YouTube? How about 10 minutes? How much of your life do you want to invest in surfing for the next sensible chuckle? I almost uniformly choose the former and do the latter. Ugh.

There are more than a few ways to get through this (See: Deep Work or Indistractable), but I wanted to highlight a specific technique called Scheduling. Scheduling is simple and self-explanatory – the end. >Σ Jokes aside, Scheduling is precisely what it usually is – choosing to do something at and for a specific time. Scheduling is fantastic because it checks off that critical box of being deliberate.

Being deliberate will help you find something to do because it’ll force you to choose. In one of the least startling turn of events, the act of choosing is spectacularly good at developing decisiveness. Have you ever had the “What’s for dinner?” conversation? It’s infuriating. I’m infuriated just thinking about typing it out.

"What do you want for dinner?"
"I don't care."
"How about <X>?"
"No, Anything but <X>."
"<Y>?"
"We had <Y> on the same day last year. We can't have <Y>."

<infuriation intensifies>

Does this seem familiar? It should. It’s the same pattern as “I have nothing to play,” except it’s just you talking to yourself. At least, if you’re neurotic like me, you’re talking to yourself. Actually, all of the conversations in this blog are me talking to myself. Hmm.

Anyway, this dialogue occurs when one or more parties is unable to make a choice. There are at least 4 (hundred, million, billion) reasons why this is happening. However, It’s imperative to choose before the opportunity is lost and “I guess we’re eating fast-food again.” Since it’s crucial to practice choosing, what better choice to make than when, and how to have fun? Force yourself to choose, and you’ll discover the fun you always had inside. Plus, you won’t have to deal with this nonsense anymore.

Scheduling has other benefits, as well. For instance, if you schedule time to play a game, you’ll find that you get excited with anticipation. I won’t go over it in detail here, but anticipation is an incredibly powerful tool that can override your wanton desires to procrastinate.

Lastly, a schedule is an opportunity to practice discipline. The distinct start and stop inherent to a schedule are significant events that you choose to adhere to. By sticking to your schedule, you will have been deliberate about your life and worked on the discipline-muscle-of-self-serving-validation-and-happiness.

Choosing to do something is a lot harder than it should be. There are a lot of distractions, and it’s easy to defer the choice by indulging in instant-fun. However, with a little forward-thinking, we can have fun the way we want to and live a better life. Make a schedule today, for tomorrow. Or for the next 30 minutes. Or for Thursday. Whatever. Be the person you want to be by scheduling the future you want. Now, what am I eating for lunch? >Σ

Choosing to Believe (In Yourself)

If there’s one message that I could give to any gamer it would be: You can learn to do anything. If you choose to excel at something, you can.

Imagine the following scenario: You’re at work, and your boss gives you an opportunity for a new role as a team lead. It’s not something that you’ve ever done before, so you’re nervous about accepting it. Like any normal person, you’re concerned that you won’t be able to do a good job since it’s an entirely new field of work. None of your experience seems relevant.

It’s at this point that I would step in with the advice opening this article:

You can learn to do anything. If you choose to excel at something, you can.

I know this to be true because of the nature of what games are. Consider what a ‘game’ is. Fundamentally, a game is a series of challenges grouped together as a test of your abilities. Challenges that you had no prior knowledge of. Challenges, with rules that (often) have no bearing on reality. It’s because of this that games are such fantastic evidence: You can.

Let’s take a look at one of the most iconic video game levels, Super Mario Bros 1-1. Within the first five seconds, you’re likely to experience the following:

The first challenge

What is this sinister-looking mushroom? Why is it walking? Am I half the size of that mountain?

A great many of us will die and have died to the first goomba (the sinister-mushroom) of Mario Bros. That said, many of us also succeed in overcoming this challenge. For those of us that have been gaming for a while, this may no longer seem like an accomplishment. However, from the perspective of a new player, there’s a lot to learn! How do you move? How do you jump? How do I… wait, I can jump?

As a gamer (new and seasoned), we’re continually experiencing this cycle of learning something completely new and using that to drive our future decision making. Taking this back to our real-life scenario, what is really different? We’re in a foreign environment being asked to overcome a new type of problem. It may seem like a stretch, but you’ve got to believe that you have been in this scenario before, and, just like last time, you’ll come out on top.

So get out there. Try! You have it in you to overcome even the most alien issue. You already have the experience you need to start, and all the practice you need to learn how to win. Nothing is truly impossible for you to accomplish if you choose to do it.

Continue reading…

The Hindsight Challenge

As we approach the year 2020, it’s time for another challenge; this one named after the age-old adage – ‘Hindsight is 20/20’. The saying is often used as a way to encourage us to live in the moment and to prevent excessive rumination. You can’t change the past, and spending too much time reviewing mistakes can be detrimental to success. However, reflection is a core element of any successful venture-to-be. If there’s any venture that we wish to be successful, it’s the challenges we present to ourselves. You know, like New Year’s Resolutions.

New Year’s Resolutions are notorious for their insanely high failure rate. Still, we’re going to try to end up on the winning side of the stats with a quick change to the formula. The Hindsight Challenge adds a pre-resolution attempt. By adding this extra step, we gain an opportunity to fail (or succeed), reflect, and improve. Here’s how to do the Hindsight Challenge:

  1. Challenge yourself to complete a pre-resolution for New Years by finding something that you’d like to change.
  2. Do your best to work at your challenge until the new year.
  3. On New Year’s (or slightly after), reflect on your progress. Why were you successful or unsuccessful? What can you change about your process so that you’re more likely to succeed next time?
  4. Update your challenge/process/plan and try again.

The ideal challenge is something that you’ve either failed to achieve before or something that you consider to be slightly outside of your ability to accomplish. Be wary of selecting a challenge that is gated simply by time, such as losing 100 lbs in a month or being awake for 26 hours a day. Your goal should be achievable. Perhaps try to 100% a game or attempt a particularly difficult Achievement such as a no-hit run of Dead Cells.

Once you’re working on the challenge, consider journaling or marking your progress. The secondary goal of the challenge is to work on the core elements of the decision-making process: reflection and improvement. When we take time to look back at our efforts, it will be much easier to identify helpful adjustments if we have something to measure against.

Finally, don’t hesitate to give this a try in the future as well. We have an extra month of headway for the official challenge, but if your goals call for more time, then give yourself that time.

For this challenge, I’ll be resolving to write and publish 50 articles in a month. This is an extraordinary amount of writing for me. Still, it seems like it should be within the realm of possibility. Historically, I’ve not been able to finish goals like this, but I’ll have an opportunity to fix any problems I run into later. Keep an eye out for an update in the New Year.

Best of luck out there and remember: Keep choosing to be more than the sum of your parts! >Σ

The Steam Challenge

Find a game that you have not completed and finish it.

Video games are the ultimate entertainment experience. They are engaging, challenging, and fun. It can be easy to lose hours of your day playing the latest and greatest game – and society will happily let you know that those hours are forever lost.

Society will also let us know that as we squander our day-to-day, we lose invaluable time to progress in our careers or achieve the milestones in life that we really want. They’ll tell us that if we don’t curtail our gaming we’ll forever surrender ourselves to the mediocrity of a life unfulfilled.

Games themselves can also encourage

But what if games could teach us the life skills that our employers are seeking? What if playing games could instead be co-opted into meaningful growth?

Enter the Steam Challenge!

The Steam Challenge is simple: Find a game in your Steam library that you have not completed and finish it.

Most of us have games that we’ve really enjoyed but didn’t finish. I have too many to count but Deus Ex – Human Revolution comes directly to mind. I vividly recall a particularly difficult section attempting to save a companion in a downed future-helicopter-jet-thing. I never made a decision to stop playing. I simply did.

For this challenge, you’ll ideally find a game that you, similarly, stopped playing or avoided despite your original enjoyment. This may have been due to distraction or difficulty or some other obstacle. With the challenge, all we’re doing is asking ourselves to finish having fun and to grow as we do it!

Alright. I’ll finish a game. How does this make me a better person?

– You (probably)

Discipline. We’re going to build our ability to stay disciplined by completing a video game. Learning to finish something you start is the quintessential form of discipline and the first step to getting anything meaningful accomplished. Specifically, we are completing a project that we are explicitly saying we will complete.

But wouldn’t it make more sense to exercise or diet or do homework or…

Maybe.

Video games actually provide a multitude of benefits on our path forward that more traditional goals do not. For starters, video games are familiar. Since we already play video games, it’s a very small change for us to start playing a different game and eventually developing a new habit of discipline.

Next, video games are self-contained, completable challenges with built-in rewards for victory (and proof!) – see Achievements. No need to set an arbitrary goal for yourself or find some way to track it. Simply find a game you want to play and finish! You will automatically be working toward a SMART goal just by participating.

Finally, we also love to play games so, at the very least, we got that going for us.

Onboard? Great! Let us know how you’re coming along by joining our community (another great way to stick to your habits)! You can track your progress on our Discord, find other challengers, as well as get entered into a giveaway for completing your game. Full details are available in #steam-challenge. I’ll be attempting to conquer BC5 in Dead Cells as part of this inaugural challenge. You can watch me struggle every Monday and Tuesday from 4 PM to midnight on Twitch. Lastly, if you have any questions, please join us on Saturday from 3 PM to 4 PM Central for In The Loop.

How to Steam Challenge

  1. Find a game in your Steam Library.
    • Ideally, look for a game you enjoyed but didn’t finish!
    • It’s OK to pick up a new game
  2. Let us know that you started the challenge in Discord!
  3. (Optional) Set a schedule for playing consistently
  4. Post a screenshot of your achievement (with the date of completion)
    • Finishing before December 8th, 2019 will automatically enter you into a giveaway drawing for a new game!

Learning to finish something you start is the quintessential form of discipline and the first step to getting anything meaningful accomplished.

Wait, the first step is to finish?

It’s weird. I know.