The Infinite Game Of Health
There is likely something deeply wrong with the way you approach fitness and health in your life. I’m not talking about the style of training you do or the particular diet you follow. I’m talking about the way you approach wellbeing as a finite game, when it is actually an infinite game.
The problem; you see fitness / health as a finite game you can win by achieving a given goal, like six pack abs. But fitness / health is an infinite game, un-winnable and never ending. Using finite strategies or models to think about and play an infinite game is short sighted, adds unnecessary stress and doomed to fail eventually. Changing your view to see your health, fitness and wellbeing as the infinite game that it is will relieve stress and make your practice more enjoyable.
Let me explain.
(Borrowed from Simon Sinek, “the infinite game”, borrowed by him from James Carsey, “finite and infinite games”).
Finite games: Fixed rules, fixed players, fixed objectives, clear winner and losers based on agreed upon parameters. Like basketball or any other sport. The objective is to win
Infinite games: Anyone can join or leave at any time, the rules are dynamic and can change at any time, winning is not possible, there is no end. The objective is to play as well as possible, for as long as possible. For example, business, as Simon point out, is an infinite game, as is health, fitness and life.
In Simons example, business is an infinite game because you cannot “win” business, you can only be currently winning or losing or not playing. Anyone can start a company / competitor at any time (no fixed players) and the rules can change rapidly, dramatically and without warming (for example, COVID).
Similarly health is an infinite game. You cannot ‘win’ health and fitness. You can simply be doing better or doing worse as time goes by. The rules can change as new research, major life changes and ageing come into play. New players, like COVID, can enter or leave.
Health as an infinite game.
When you start to see your practice of health as playing an infinite game, the context of each small win or failure becomes more relevant here and now. When your sights are set on a specific, winnable goal that is off in the future, your thinking self rationally assesses the best path forwards and sets the parameters of the strategy you will use to get there. It is like you have tried to create a mini finite game for yourself to win or lose. But by focusing on the outcome, you are losing focus on the process. Where this can be useful in making you adhere to strict standards for short periods to achieve goals, but it is actually unhelpful in playing the bigger game, the infinite game.
Even in a best case scenario, where you achieve your target body fat percentage by a given date, for example. Once the goal is over and passed, the big game plays on. In order to keep playing, you may need to set another, often loftier goal. The treadmill continues until you fall off. This repeated chasing of goals often leads to frustration, disenchantment and feeling disillusioned with the whole endeavour. Must there always be something to strive for? Can I not simply enjoy being healthy or really fit as a practice in my life?
You can, and by switching your lens out for an infinite one, you will.
Fitness as an example.
For now, throw away the common goals of dropping fat, seeing abs, running 5k under 20 minutes or building an impressive amount of muscle. Instead, take the infinite view.
Fitness as an infinite game: Your objective is to play as well as possible for as long as possible. You assess whether you’re wining in the game of fitness by how well you play each day, week, month etc. Did you train? Run? Walk? Eat well? Sleep well? And on.
All these are things that you can influence directly because they are your behaviours. Unlike outcomes (most goals), that you can only influence indirectly, through your behaviours.
Seeing life long fitness and wellbeing this way removes the strain often caused by pursuing an external goal. Removes the temptation to use unsustainable methods to achieve that goal. It mitigates the emptiness that results from the void left when you achieve a goal, and the shame that results when you fall short. Instead, you can take pleasure in playing each day. Focusing on the process, and the practice. Taking joy from it.
A popular philosophy in sport is that the score takes care of itself. Meaning if you focus on practicing and playing well, you will likely be happy with the score in the end.
The gravity of the game.
Wellbeing is an infinite game, one to be played forever. One that you ARE playing whether deliberately or not. One that you actually cannot opt out of! One in which doing well actually extends your life, and doing poorly in actually shortens it. One in which you are perpetually currently winning, or currency falling behind.
So if you taking part is compulsory, and the stakes are literally life and death, you should probably be striving to play well. And if you are going to play, it is better that you enjoy the process of so doing.
Article by Pete Edwards. Founder, THM.
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