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Life as an Infinite Game: Are you in?

Updated: Jun 21

Reframing your life as an infinite game expands well-being in all ways and always: when things are going as planned, when they’re going neutral, and when they’re going “wrong.”

 

The premise is simple: Finite games are about outcomes–completion, success, winning. Infinite games are about the process–the possibility, experiences, renewal. Winning isn’t the goal for an infinite player because that ends the game and infinite players play for the love and joy of the game.

We learned this gem of a tool from James Carse, NYU professor, philosopher and lifelong learner. He suggests we question the rules, roles and purpose of the game of life we are playing and seek a more infinite approach. Unsurprisingly, his obituary reveals an incredibly infinite life:


“Despite Carse's well-deserved renown, he remained humble, invested in his students and generous with his time and spirit. He had a way of making each person feel included and of listening intently to what someone said.”
“If he was awake, he was creating. Upon waking in the hospital after suffering a minor heart attack earlier this month, he pulled out his laptop, perched himself on the side of the bed, and let the words flow.”
“His home is full of sculptural works in progress, his inbox full of invitations to speak and lecture, his computer filled with drafts of written works, including the follow up to Finite & Infinite Games. Why stop? He seems to ask us. Why be satisfied with what one had already contributed? Why not continue to play the game?”

We have all experienced three types of life situations (going as planned, neutral, “wrong”) and sometimes we experience all three all at once in different ways (going as planned at work, neutral in relationship, “wrong” in health/fitness). Even if we are intentionally seeking infinite player mode, we won’t be perfect at it. Sadly, maladaptive behaviors spawn when our framing is too finite and unfortunately, completion, success and winning (defining aspects of a finite game) tend to be the playbook for the world we all live in. If we believe our value is based on outward success metrics, and that fame, money and accolades are proof we are playing the game right, we easily forget that there is a different way to play.


Let’s delve in to see how the infinite frame could help change your mindset and actions. Find your current situation below.


Things going as planned:

Things going neutral:

Things going wrong:


 

I mention this often but recently I started a biodynamic, bio-intensive garden. I have had epic fails. I thought the flea beetles in June were bad but the blight that ravaged my tomato plants as a result of an extremely cold, humid summer devastated me and left me feeling helpless, unsure of my project, and alone. It sounds dramatic but falling into a finite play mode can be. And that’s what had happened.


Rotting tomatoes from unfortunate weather this year, a setback that can be addressed with UP tools

I was focused on the outcomes of this summer’s garden, this harvest, these attempts – which is totally human and normal of me to do. Luckily, I remembered the infinite game lens quite quickly into the discovery of rot on my plants full of heavy bunches of huge gorgeous heirloom varieties of tomatoes. I did cry. I let myself feel a bit helpless and sad for about a day. Then I decided that I had learned way more from this than if they had grown perfectly or if the weather had been different. Because now, after a month and many conversations with gardeners later, this was going to happen to me one day.


So now I look at this summer as my crucial debut of learning the importance of not overwatering, thinning plants, and keeping a closer eye on everything. Plus I learned crazy ancient wisdom from a French great grandpa about collecting the top three leaves of stinging nettles and rolling them into a ball and planting them below the plants to help them avoid mildew. Who knew?


Strangely, or not, Carse’s obituary included his own words describing the infinite vision behind his garden project and why he was doing it:


“Gardening is not outcome-oriented. A successful harvest is not the end of a gardener's existence, but only a phase of it. As any gardener knows, the vitality of a garden does not end with a harvest. It simply takes another form. Gardens do not die in the winter but quietly prepare for another season.”

The infinite player reframe enables us to start from our current now. Are we enjoying our life? What roles are we playing? Are we identifying our value based on those roles? What do we feel called to? What helps us feel alive?


Join an Unlocking the Upside mini-webinar on the topic of setbacks on August 27th where we will discuss Infinite Game along with other tools to help ourselves navigate the unavoidable setbacks that come with meaningful possibilities.


Susannah



 

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