How an infinite mindset can help you cope in uncertain times
Written by Jon Phillips, BCBSMS Wellness Coach
We’re living in an infinite game. Let’s get our minds right.
Like looking through rose-colored glasses, mindset has the ability to tint our perceptions of everyday life. Mindset is the lens through which we view our circumstances. It acts as a sort of filter that we run information through to understand its relevance to our lives. What comes out the other side of that mindset filter forms the basis of our understanding of reality. If that sounds super mystical or hokey, hang with me. I promise I’m going somewhere with this.
How we understand the world, whether perceived or actual, has downstream effects on how we experience reality. And that ripples out into the way we behave in the world. If your mindset isn’t tuned for the circumstances you’re encountering, you can set yourself up for trouble. If your perception of reality is off base, your decisions and behaviors will be too.
During this worldwide pandemic, I think it’s important to consider the type of mindset you’re bringing to the table. Specifically, I want you to consider whether or not you’re operating with a finite or infinite mindset. To answer that question, we need to understand some basic tenants of Game Theory.
Finite and Infinite Games
At its core, Game Theory is a system for analyzing decision making and behavior. It suggests that there are two kinds of games we can play: finite and infinite games.
Finite games are characterized by known players, fixed rules, and agreed upon outcomes. Team sports are a great example of finite games. There’s a clear winner and loser. And the goal is to win and end the contest. Baseball has a set number of players, both teams agree to play by a set rules that apply to everyone, and whichever team has the most runs at the end of nine innings is the winner. The game ends. And you can start a new game later if you choose to keep playing.
Infinite games are very different. In infinite games, not all players are known, the rules can change at any time, there’s no agreed upon outcome, and there’s no finish line. Infinite games include things like business, charity, friendship, marriage, and life as we know it. You don’t “win” business. You can’t “win” charity. And you can’t “win” relationships no matter how much #relationshipgoals you and your significant other embody. The goal of infinite games is to keep the game going. Players may jump in or drop out at any time, but the game keeps going.
Few businesses plan to have a killer Q3 and then close down shop. No way. The goal is to perpetuate the game and keep serving the customer base. Marriages are meant to stick together for “better or for worse”. The goal is to stay together and keep the relationship going even when things are tough. So you see, finite games are played to be won and infinite games are played to “keep the ball in the air”.
An infinite mindset will help you cope with this pandemic.
Most people feeling the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic would probably agree that if they knew when they’d be able to go back to normal, everyday life, they’d feel a little better about this situation.
Since life is an infinite game, there’s no timeline for how long the bad stuff, or good stuff for that matter, will last. So, when hard times come with no end in sight, stress, uncertainty, and loss can be paralyzing because we aren’t sure how long we can weather the storm.
When we know how long we’ve got to roll with the punches, it’s a lot easier to develop coping strategies because we know the hard times aren’t going to last forever. This allows us to mentally prepare to buckle down for a finite amount of time.
A finite mindset always has an eye on ending the game. There’s a part of human nature that wants to answer the questions, “When is the game over” or, “When do I get to stop playing?” That’s fine when you’re playing finite games. But life is an infinite game. And an infinite mindset is better suited for circumstances where we can’t see light at the end of the tunnel.
What does an infinite mindset look like in the midst of a pandemic?
Though it’s natural to want some certainty right now, I encourage you to consider the game you’re in and whether your mindset is serving you well. In in?nite games, there’s often little external certainty. But there can be certainty in your individual mindset and actions. With that in mind, could you consider exploring an infinite mindset approach?
What would your life look like if you viewed the COVID-19 pandemic not as a game to win but a game to outlast. That’s really the heart of the infinite mindset. The infinite mindset says, “I’m in this no matter what.” Remember, the goal of infinite games is to perpetuate the game. Keep the marriage going, continue to be charitable to others, be a good friend, sustain life, etc.
Everyone should be practicing social distancing and/or quarantining themselves right now. And that can have a serious impact on our mental, physical, and emotional health. Life is different right now. But, can you commit to staying in the fight without a finish line in sight? Will you play the long game? Will you continue to care for your loved ones indefinitely? Will you operate with goodwill towards others without an expiration date?
A finite mindset might lead you to resign from the craziness and lose hope. But an infinite mindset may give you a fresh pair of eyes to view these circumstances differently and help you cope with these hard times.
This article is inspired by Simon Sinek’s book, “The Infinite Game”. There are also several youtube videos of Simon’s talks on this topic. So, if you found this article interesting, check out the book or youtube videos.