Why so serious?
We create so much anxiety in our lives because we take everything way too seriously. The book The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*** comes to mind when I think about this subject. The one thing most of us crave, above all else, is the ability to let loose and live our lives freely without worrying so much. There are a lot of different mental frameworks you can use to free yourself from your mental shackles. I love the idea of looking at life as a game.
When unshackled from the seriousness and weight we put on our lives, what would the meaning of life be? To me, the meaning of life looks a lot like seeing what levels you can unlock just to see what’s possible. Maslow’s famous theory of needs is a hierarchy — you have to achieve one level to reach the next one. We already play games in life, but most of us play the wrong games. We play the games society wants us to play. We’re tricked into thinking we have to live a certain way instead of living the way we want to live.
What if you just threw out the rule book and decided you were going to level up as much as possible in the areas that truly matter to you? Let’s take a look at what life would look like if you treated it as a game and how you can take a more gamified approach to life.
Why are video games so addicting? Yes, they have unique and interesting fictional worlds. They have entertaining graphics, color schemes, and storylines. But there’s one crucial aspect to gaming that makes it appealing. If you fail, you can always start the game over and play again.
I’m not much of a gamer anymore, but back in the day, I can remember the thrill of beating a level in a game like Grand Theft Auto. You’d go through a certain level and make it past a few stages, but not all. Maybe you successfully stole the money, but get caught by the police in the get-away car.
Then, when you play the level again, you strategize based on the mistake you made the last time you tried beating it. You look at the map and find a better route to escape. Maybe you enter a cheat code to make the car faster. But each time you go through the level you get feedback that tells you what to do and what not to do. You keep everything you did well intact and switch up on the areas you made mistakes.
The key here: You’re willing to play the game over and over again because failure has no real devastating consequences. Losing a level in a video game isn’t a huge blow to your ego because it’s just a game.
What if you went through life treating everything as a game? Try taking the gamified approach. It seems similar to just taking the steps you need to succeed, but it has a subtle change in your mentality that makes a world of difference. You are the protagonist. Look for cheat codes. Society is a lot like a matrix and the key to getting out of the matrix is understanding that the matrix isn’t real. Once you realize how many of the limits are totally imaginary, the freer you are to do whatever you want. And once you start to treat life like you have those cheat codes, all of a sudden opportunities open up to you that don’t for others simply because you’re bold enough to go after them.
I’m not wealthy, but in the past few years, I suddenly started making much more money than I was accustomed to. And the most surprising thing about it all is how accustomed I’ve become to an income I used to dream about. Money is important, but you’ll end up with very little of it if you’re way too serious about trying to get it. What do I mean?
Take a look at people who have a difficult time earning money. They treat it as a scarce resource when it’s abundant. They think they have to work crazy hard to get it. It often feels like a burden to earn it. If instead, you look at the ability to earn money as a game with cheat codes, you can start to earn a lot more of it. Then, when you do earn more of it, you realize just how much is possible, so you can attract more.
Making money often requires you to do things others won’t because they take life too seriously:
Money is nothing more than numbers on a screen. Hell, there’s no actual value to paper money other than the value we agree it has. To get it, you have to learn how to play ‘iterated games.’ Try a strategy, see if it works. If it does, double down. If it doesn’t, try again.
Your relationships with other people have a major impact on your life, for better or worse. Many people struggle with things like social anxiety, shyness, and an inability to connect with others, that get in the way of them being able to have some of the relationships they want in life. They have trouble putting themselves out there.
One of my favorite writers, James Altucher, says he struggles with social anxiety. He uses this technique to get out of his shell and connect with others. He pretends to be an alien who just landed on planet earth. So instead of looking at himself like a human being, subject to the judgment of others, he tries to step outside of himself and be more of a curious observer of others. This leads to him doing many things that socially successful people do. He focuses his interest on others, which makes him more interesting. He lets his curiosity drive him more than his anxieties. And, if you pretend you’re an alien, you’re going to take yourself a hell of a lot less seriously, which leads to the loose, calm, and free energy that you need to successfully interact with other people.
What would a gamified approach to building relationships look like for you? Here are some strategies to consider:
One of the most important aspects of gaining confidence socially, building relationships, and becoming a leader, is understanding just how learnable all these skills are. They all operate on feedback loops. Once you overcome a certain challenge, you have the confidence to tackle a new one. I’m in a toastmasters club. When you join, they give you a series of ten speeches to work on with increasing difficulty. This seems eerily similar to a video game with levels. Work on yourself and you will get better.
I used to play a bunch of sports video games. I loved going into ‘my player mode. You start as a mediocre player with different attributes — strength, speed, agility, etc. Each attribute has a rating from 0-99. As you go through training, practices, games, etc, you increase your rating for each attribute you work on.
You have your own set of attributes. You’re born with certain attributes you’re strong at naturally and you also have some weaknesses or flaws. To excel, you can focus on strengthening your positive attributes to the max. And you can also get good enough to mitigate some of your weaknesses.
There are different areas of your life you want to work on — health, wealth, love, and happiness. To get the most out of each, it’s important to focus on getting better at them just for the sake of getting better at them. If you focus on this process long enough, the journey leads back to its origin.
Once you win a certain game, you realize you didn’t need to play it in the first place. It’s easier to care less about money when you have an abundance of it and realizes it doesn’t change you. The ultimate lesson you learn from building social skills is that you didn’t need to do anything to impress people in the first place but just be yourself. Gaining a bunch of worldly measures of success can teach you that none of them really mattered in the first place.
This process reminds me a bit of what it’s like playing certain games. Once you tackle all the challenges and win all the missions, all that’s left is to roam around and play the game for fun. We should be living life in the present moment and having fun for the hell of it already, but we’re stuck in this paradigm of taking life so seriously and not chasing our goals. Then, we fantasize about what it would be like to achieve those goals and it creates tension when we don’t follow them. We think we need to achieve those goals so that it says something about us. But it’s hard to realize none of those goals really matter until we get them.
Does that make sense? If it does. Then you know what to do next.