For the Love of the Game

Last week, I wrote one of my favorite articles ever for Nerd Fitness.

I discussed my love of looking at life through the eyes of a gamer.  I explained how I love to build levels and identify elite players to emulate them.

Research has shown that humans derive happiness from progress.  We gain satisfaction from reaching goals, receiving rewards, and seeing that we have moved in the right direction…towards our “goal,” whether that goal be fitness related or career related.

These are the reasons why:

  • We love leveling up characters in World of Warcraft to the point of obsession
  • I let out a primal yell whenever I hit a new personal best on handstands or deadlifts.
  • I get excited every time my phone tells me a new upgrade is complete in Clash of Clans.

Goals and progress can help us become better people.

However, there is more to this story and more to this life than just setting goals.  In fact, I’ve come to learn that goals can actually negatively affect us!  

Can goals be bad?  What about games without beginnings and ends?  

If we don’t have goals, what are we supposed to do instead?

Can we find a healthy balance between the two?

If not goals, then what?

Goal

Although I’m a huge fan of goal setting, research and personal experiences have shown me there are other really important factors when it comes to happiness and success. 

We all know that properly structured goals can give us a path to follow for life improvement.  However, if we’re not careful, we can spend ALL of our time working on goals, doing things that help us get to the next level, and never taking the time to appreciate the accomplishments of the things we just did!

On top of that, any time not spent time working on a goal is time wasted, right!?

This is something I struggle with greatly, whether it’s improving myself physically, mentally, or working hard on bettering the Nerd Fitness Rebellion.  There’s always something to be done, and always someway I can spend my free time that levels me up. And that’s good. That’s great!

But I also have to remind myself: “Tomorrow is no guarantee.”

I could get hit by a bus today! I could discover that my life is drastically altered or something could go horribly wrong. Kind of morbid, I know, but I don’t mean it that way.  I just mean that we have to remind ourselves that we have a finite amount of time on this planet, and it’s important to remind ourselves to live life today, not just live for tomorrow.

Last week, I interviewed my friend Leo Babauta of the uber popular ZenHabits for The Nerd Fitness Academy, and we had a great discussion about his concept of “not having goals.”

Leo has been able to lose a tremendous amount of weight,radically overhaul his diet, quit smoking, build a business, and even run a 50-mile ultramarathon, while also raising six children.

Does that sound like the accomplishments of a guy that doesn’t have any goals?

So, how does Leo get anything done?  In his own words:

You don’t set a goal for the year, nor for the month, nor for the week or day. You don’t obsess about tracking, or actionable steps. You don’t even need a to-do list, though it doesn’t hurt to write down reminders if you like.

What do you do, then? Lay around on the couch all day, sleeping and watching TV and eating Ho-Hos? No, you simply do. You find something you’re passionate about, and do it. It doesn’t mean you do nothing — you can create, you can produce, you can follow your passion.

You wake up (or after work) and do what you’re passionate about. For me, that’s usually blogging, but it can be writing a novel or an eBook or creating a course to help others or connecting with incredible people or spending time with my wife or playing with my kids. There’s no limit, because I’m free.

And there’s the rub: you have to open your mind to going places you never expected to go. If you live without goals, you’ll explore new territory. You’ll learn some unexpected things. You’ll end up in surprising places. That’s the beauty of this philosophy, but it’s also a difficult transition.

Some food for thought: When was the last time you actually accomplished all of the goals you set out for yourself in a year?  

Heck, how about the last time you crossed off all 30 things on your daily check list!?  

Life gets in the way, jobs get lost, kids have to come home sick from school, new roadblocks emerge, you get a flat tire and then your spare is flat (like me two nights ago), and those goals get pushed back or abandoned. 

When you don’t accomplish everything on your list, you feel like a failure because there are things left undone!  So, not only did you not follow through, but you didn’t get to where you wanted to be, and instead you are just a cotton-headed ninny muggins.  

Lastly, there’s always the issue that comes with actually accomplishing your goals.  Whether it’s obtaining that six-pack flat stomach, reaching a certain goal weight, or making a certain amount of money, buying a new car, we quickly adjust and make this accomplished goal our new norm.

Suddenly we’re asking, “That was it? Why am I not as happy as I thought I would be?  Oh crap, what do I do now?”

Now, I hear what you’re saying: “Steve, you’ve spent five years writing about setting proper goals and the importance of accomplishing them…what the Hell are you doing to me?!”

Don’t worry, my dear Rebel friend, I got you covered.  ALONG with goals, I feel like there are two other crucial pieces to this equation that are missing.

I present you with those two two philosophies…NOW!

Put your faith in the process

Open Box

Instead of setting goals and all of this long term planning, what if you put your faith in your day-to-day activities instead?

My buddy James Clear recently wrote a fantastic article about this very subject.  Here’s the challenge: Instead of setting goals that may or may not come true months/years from now, focus on your daily practices and trust that those daily practices will steer you in the right direction.

We oftentimes let our big goals overwhelm us.  We see that giant mountain looming and choose to not start, when in reality we should be putting one foot in front of the other.

Here’s how you can trust the process rather than the planning:

  • Instead of saying “I’m going to lose 20 pounds,” and thus feeling like a failure when you ONLY lose 15 pounds, say “I’m going to eat one healthy meal every day” and let your weight work itself out.
  • Instead of saying “I’m going to become a published author,” and getting so overwhelmed that we never start, how about “I’m going to write just 500 words a day, everyday.”  365 days later, you’ve written 182,500 words, enough to fill 3 books.
  • Instead of saying “I’m going to get healthy,” or “I’m gonna get to 10% body fat,” you say “I’m going to exercise for X minutes every other day.”

Goals can paralyze us.

Goals can disappoint us when they are not met.  

Instead, why not put the focus on the processes that you live by every day?  Focus all of your energy and willpower on the daily habits you’re building, and let the cards fall where they may.

If puzzle piece #1 is “proper goal setting,” and puzzle piece #2 is “using processes,” then what is our final Triforce piece?

Be present

play

When was the last time you did something purely for the enjoyment of it?

I remember spending HOURS playing the fishing game in the Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time:

There have been some incredible games that have come out recently that don’t keep score; these games that allow you to zone out and just enjoy it: games like Flower and flOw.

These titles are more of an experience and an art form than game.   

Not looking ahead to the future, but purely enjoying the activity and nothing else.  We can find this in our exercise, our work, our hobbies, and spending time with our friends.  It’s those moments when we look at the clock and wonder how it got so late.  These moments exist when we are in the zone.

Here are some examples getting in that zone and being immersed in the present:

  • Take up a hobby, even if you suck at it.  To quote my buddy Rog, “Embrace the suck.”  I love to play the piano/guitar and sing.  I’m mediocre at one, horrible at the other, and I can’t carry a tune in a bucket.  That being said, I spend at least 15 minutes every day playing some instrument because it makes me happy.  I can’t wait to suck at the violin next!
  • Enjoy your time with friends and family.  Friends and family are two of the most important things on this planet.  Do you eat dinner while checking your iPhone and reading email?  Or do you have an actual conversation with those at your dinner table?
  • Read a book purely for enjoyment.  I make sure I alternate my thought-provoking level-up books (currently Antifragile) with fun fiction (The Warded Man series).  
  • When was the last time you just did NOTHING? James Altucher, one of like four bloggers I actually read religiously, writes about how important it can be sometimes to do nothing.
  • PLAY.  All work and no play makes Jack a Dull Boy (Also, no beer and no TV make Homer something something, but that’s beside the point).  If you spend all of your time working and stressing yourself out with goals, you can get burned out.  Even worse, you can zone out and realize that you’ve spent a decade living life like a countdown rather than enjoying it! So, spend time acting like a kid.  Go play on a playground!  Don’t worry about sets, and reps, and progress. Just go play. Swing from trees, roll around with your dog or kid in the backyard.

TL:DR: Find the activities that make you feel alive and people who make you lose track of time. 

Enjoying the life that you are CURRENTLY living.  Right now. That moment? It’s already gone. It just happened.

I feel like Dark Helmet at this point:

“When will then be now? NOW!”

Tomorrow is no guarantee!  Spend some time each day doing the things you love, with the people you love, and be thankful that you get that opportunity.  There are billions and billions of people who have already passed away that don’t get that chance.

Don’t squander it.

A balance in the force

stormtrooperbalance

Just as there needs to be balance in the Force to bring peace to the galaxy, we too need to have a balance in our lives that gives us the best chance to say, “good game” on that game-over screen, whenever it may come.

When somebody asks “Did you enjoy your story?” I want you to say “HELL YES.”

So how do we get there? In this nerd’s humble opinion, a combination of goals and being present gives you the best chance to succeed in your journey to a healthier body, a fulfilling career, and a life worth living.

Think about it in terms of your workout: the goal is to reach that point where we actively enjoy the activity we are completing.  We’re not punishing ourselves with exercise to reach a far-off goal, but rather enjoying our time doing what we’re doing.  We get to zone out and just focus on the activity, not the end goal that it will get us closer too.  Now, as a fun side effect of us doing this fun but challenging activity with regularity? We also happen to get closer to our fitness/physique goals.
I know this balance is important, which is why I make sure to devote at least a portion of each day to each:  

  • Goals can be important.  If you are in a bad job, unhealthy, in a crappy relationship, or want to accomplish great things, goals can help you steer yourself in the right direction.  I definitely have goals for my time on this earth, and have turned my life into a video game to accomplish them.  Goals speak to me, as do accomplishments, levels, and rewards. I lay out why in my life as a gamer article.  I devote a portion of my day to taking small steps of progress on these goals.
  • Put your faith in the process.  Each month, I pick a new habit to build, and I follow my hard hat challenge procedures to make it happen.  Last month, I built the habit of handstands, and this month I’m building the habit of meditation (just 2 minutes every morning with Calm.com).   A small portion of my day is dedicated to these habits, as I know in the long run they make me a better, more well rounded person.  I have no goals with these habits other than to just do them each day, and put faith in the fact that my life will improve just by doing them regularly.
  • Be present.  I follow my “productivity hacks” to get my goals and habits done as efficiently as possible so that I can free up my personal time to spend doing things I enjoy: whether it’s learning a new skill, playing a new musical instrument, playing a video game (currently ACIV for me!), eating dinner with friends or your family (no electronics at the table!), reading books, or simply doing nothing.  Sometimes, moments of nothing allow you to be dangerously efficient when you ARE working.

What do you think:  Are goals important?  Can they be detrimental?  How do you balance goals with enjoying each day?

I’d love to continue the discussion in the comments below.

-Steve

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photo source: Kroejsanka: Play on Beach, Kalexanderson: Balancing Stormtrooper, Paxon Woelber: On Mountain, Kalexanderson: Stormtrooper Box, Corscri Daje Tutti, jpmath: Nintendo

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