Have you ever had a taste of the optimal human experience?
You know, when you notice that you feel incredibly confident, energized, or productive — at least more than you’d normally be.
Some call it the flow state.
A state of consciousness where nothing but what’s in front of you matters.
You lose the sense of self-consciousness that is the cause of all mental suffering.
When you tap into this state, you:
- Cease to care what other people think
- Become one with the task you are engaged in
- Know exactly what to do next, how well you are doing, and gain a deep sense of satisfaction from it
The key here is what the mystics, masters, and spiritualists have been trying to get you to understand.
Suffering comes from comparison.
The “self” is an idea. It is a concept. It is the knowing that comes after being.
It is not a static thing, but don’t let this fool you into thinking the “self” isn’t important. The character that plays a game will determine if that character wins.
Another word for the self is the “ego.”
The “I” or “me” that when used in a sentence, always comes before a comparison.
It’s not something you get rid of, it’s something you develop.
If you want to ease your suffering, you must learn how to control your attention, which is heavily influenced by the ego.
When you become self-conscious through attention and compare an aspect of yourself to something else, you tend to highlight the differences.
This makes you use precious mental energy and tends to scatter your thoughts.
Like when you see a pimple on your skin in the mirror, then the idea of clear skin pops into your awareness, you begin the decline into a negative state of mind. You are comparing multiple ideas of what you think it should be, instead of accepting things as they are and moving on.
Or, when you bring attention to your status in the world, the idea of societal success pops into your head, and you feel like you are “behind,” when “behind” is just a belief you hold in your mind.
So, how do we gain control of our attention?
By treating life as a game.
My generation is notorious for transferring their obsession with video games into business success.
Games, business, and other constructions of the external world, or matrix:
- Present a desirable hierarchy of goals
- Have a structure that frames your attention
- Introduce a challenge to narrow your attention further
- Require a player to have the skill that meets the requirements to play
What few understand is that you can create a game out of any situation in life.
If you can mold your mind to create a fun game, life becomes enjoyable.
If you can’t, your mind will be molded into playing societal status games. Like going to college, getting a high-paying job, or taking another structured approach to life that eases the initial suffering that sovereign living would imply.
The purpose of this letter is for awareness.
I don’t want you to wake up 20 years from now, with more responsibilities, just to realize that you will have to work twice as hard to get your life in order.
Let’s dive in.
Macro & Micro Games
When playing an open-world strategy game, like World Of Warcraft, there are a few patterns to note in how it relates to everyday life.
There are the obvious things like:
- Stacking gold
- Choosing a profession
- Leveling up your character
And the progression that goes along with those things.
But, there are a few things that people tend to glance over, and they may help you see life from a new perspective.
The Game Is Programmed & Downloaded On The Hard Drive
The conventional path to success has been programmed into the collective psyche.
Before we know it, we are already in pursuit of winning the game that society wants us to pursue, usually in favor of maintaining the game.
- Go to college
- Get a high-paying job
- Retire at 65 so you can finally enjoy life
90% of the time, it doesn’t work out that way.
(And usually ends up in a perpetual state of anxiety, despair, and lack of fulfillment).
Why? Because times are changing and the programmers can’t patch the game fast enough. As that would require them to overhaul the school, banking, and employment systems.
Removing one foundational piece of a skyscraper may cause it to fall.
This is why individuals are filling these roles (and making a hefty income doing so) by educating people online as a creator, programming decentralized currency, and offering their services as independent contract workers (like freelancing.)
The people that never question this system and instead succumb to their programming, are known as NPCs.
These include townsfolk, bosses in a battle quest, and others that keep the game interesting for the players. They do what they are told to do.
Then, there are the people that choose to play the game with a conscious mind and have fun playing the game that the collective ego has created.
There Are Infinite Paths You Can Take
In World Of Warcraft, you have a series of choices that you get to make:
- What your character looks like
- What kind of player they are (warrior, mage, etc)
- What profession they want to learn
- The quest path they want to take to level up
- Whether they play solo or with a group
- What guild they join to help them level faster
And a series of other personal choices that allow the game to be played how you like.
You see, life is like a mountain, but this mountain is infinitely tall.
If 5 people were standing at the bottom, and you asked them to create a path to the first peak, all of them would draw a slightly different route.
Then, when they reach that peak, not only are they able to look down and help others climb faster, but there is another peak to reach, but from a place of prior experience.
Increasing Your Level Increases The Complexity Of The Self
In the real world, the main spiritual problem is that people never change.
They identify with beliefs, their job, and the life path that was impressed on them.
Their ego never changes, because it doesn’t want to.
Once they’ve reached that point in life, they cease to learn, stack skills, and “level up” to the point of more opportunities being available to them.
By improving your skill set, you are able to take on more complex challenges in life.
By taking on more challenges, you acquire the knowledge and experience that expands your awareness.
Like putting points into specific traits in your skill tree in a video game.
Eventually, you have so much power and experience that the entire world is yours to roam freely, without stress or obligation.
By taking on higher-level challenges, what used to be an unknown area on the map is now explored — and can continue to be explored as much as you’d like.
As you develop yourself, you have the knowledge and experience necessary to create order from chaos.
You have more power to create enjoyment out of any situation.
This overall structure represents the game of life, the macro game.
But, it goes deeper.
Every single situation you find yourself in can be considered a micro game.
A game within a game.
Let’s discuss how you can create maximum enjoyment while playing the game of life.
Set A Hierarchy Of Goals
Games present the big goal of winning.
They also present sub-goals, like quests, that guide you toward winning the game.
If there was only the goal of winning, and you had little clarity on how to win, the game wouldn’t be fun. And your mind will not be able to maintain order, meaning it will decline into chaos.
By now it should be common knowledge that creating a vision for your future is a good thing to do.
As humans, we have the ability to aim.
Monkeys can throw their poop, but they don’t plan ahead. The poop usually gets hurled straight toward the ground.
Humans on the other hand can bring their attention to a target, and depending on their skill level, hit a bullseye from 50 yards out.
We don’t want to be poop hurled at the ground, so we create a vision that we can build towards.
But, if we don’t want to be overwhelmed by our grand vision, we need a plan. A set of goals, from the top down that brings clarity to our daily actions, making them that much easier to act on.
Think big, act small.
Sit down with a pen and paper, or use my Power Planner, to:
- Create the first iteration of your vision
- Create a 10 year, 1 year, and monthly goals
- Have a place for weekly direction and reflection
- Align your daily priority tasks with those
With these written down, you will expand your awareness to notice opportunity that fuels that vision.
And as better ideas come to mind, you can refine them further to order your mind.
The Frame Of The Game
Your perspective is the frame from which you perceive reality.
Like a camera.
The field of view, even if the background is blurred, constrains what registers in the frame itself.
By manipulating your perspective in any situation, you can perceive what used to be problematic as a minor road bump.
In a video game, there are two things that order consciousness in a way that reduces anxiety, overwhelm, and stress.
Every video game has a set of rules that have to be followed in order to win the game without cheating.
When we play the game, this allows us to use our limited conscious attention to remain focused on the here and now – while holding the end goal in the back of our mind.
In psychology, dopamine spurts into your brain at the thought of possessing something desirable in the future (i.e. winning the game or your vision).
The “here and now” chemicals – like serotonin, oxytocin, and endorphins – reward your brain when you appreciate what’s in front of you (i.e. playing the game or executing priority tasks).
So, it only makes sense that when you play the game with the intention of winning, you are much more likely to kick into the enjoyable state of flow.
Flow, by scientific measures, is just a cocktail of reward chemicals flooding your brain that are manipulated through focused attention.
But, only if you meet other requirements that we will discuss soon.
In the real world, and on the macro scale of life, your “rules” are your values.
The things that you deem as important.
When you act in alignment with your values, while constraining those actions to be conducive to your life’s purpose, maximum enjoyment ensues.
On the micro scale of everyday situations, clarity comes from eliminating environmental distractions.
Like when you are trying to do deep work.
You close browser tabs, put on noise-canceling headphones, and have clear steps for your work.
When that work is aligned with an intrinsic outcome, you can guess what happens next. Flow.
Now, this doesn’t only come down to understanding and eliminating environmental distractions.
You can create rules or boundaries in a what-used-to-be mundane situation.
I used to hate going on a long walk, even when I knew they were beneficial to my mental and physical health.
So, what you can do is:
- Set a goal for that situation, like 2,500 steps
- Create rules to gamify it, like never stepping on a crack
- Take the action of least resistance, like stepping out your front door
Goal, clarity, simplified action.
This also works in situations that you would normally hate being in.
Like if you don’t “understand” why people watch sports or go bird watching.
Create your own game out of it.
If you haven’t played the game before, it is going to be difficult.
Your aim will suck.
You will have to practice on low-level challenges.
You will be awestruck by the artfulness of top-level players.
Every game has a specific way for you to incorporate more of your senses, thoughts, and prior experience that is channeled through attention.
In a video game, it’s pressing a series of keys, buttons, or mouse clicks.
In board games, it’s the effectiveness, creativity, or forward thinking that goes into your strategy.
In sports, it’s the conditioning of your body and how you move it in accordance with the goal.
In all of the above, it’s your perception of the situation (the frame of the game) and how you choose to act to win.
Feedback is important here.
A game needs a way to maintain order as the game is being played.
When you know how well you are doing, you are less likely to break focus.
If your perspective is limited and you can’t perceive a situation in a way that gives you clarity, it will be difficult to make a “good” move and eventually win.
When this happens, your mind will widen its perspective – or framed attention – which opens up room for distraction.
How do we improve our mechanics while playing a game?
Practice, of course.
In a game, you usually log in every single day to perform a repetitive process of tasks. Like grinding quests, farming XP, or crafting weapons to increase the level in your profession.
You have to program that specific mechanic in your brain to make it effortless.
In other words, habit formation.
If you can automate the decisions you make, success becomes effortless.
This takes time and a perpetual thirst for learning.
We will discuss this more soon.
The Delicate Balance Of Anxiety & Boredom
When you start playing a game, especially without reading the rule book, will the experience be enjoyable?
And even if you knew the rules, it wouldn’t be that enjoyable until you started to grasp the mechanics of the game.
If you were a level 1 in World Of Warcraft, and somehow were able to fight a level 50 character, would it be fun?
One, you’d lose immediately.
Two, no, it just wouldn’t be fun unless you created a better frame of the game in your mind – like trying to lose because you want to see how powerful a level 50 is.
If you had played chess a few times with your buddies, would you even consider entering a competitive competition? Or playing against a Grand Master?
If your skill doesn’t match the challenge that the game presents, you’re in for a bad time.
If your skill is high and the challenge low, you will get bored.
If your skill is low and the challenge is high, you will get anxious.
The boredom stems from self-centeredness. Your focus breaks, a new desire pops into your head, and related thoughts start filling your attention.
If you are bored at work, you will start thinking of more productive things you could be doing.
The anxiety stems from self-consciousness. Your focus turns toward your concept of self, and again, related thoughts start penetrating your field of awareness.
“Wow, I’m not as good as I thought.”
“I really need to work on my backswing.”
“That girl is way out of my league.”
Notice the use of “I” and “my” that implies a comparison.
This comparison leads to psychic entropy: the mind tending toward disorder unless maintained with proper energy, or ordered information that can be processed by the conscious mind as energy.
How do we prevent this?
Through lifelong learning.
And if you’ve been on this letter for a bit, you know what that means:
Perceiving your life as not only a game, in this perspective, but as a project.
Holding the intention of improvement in your mind, encountering a problem that sparks anxiety or boredom, and learning in the form of specific knowledge to overcome that problem.
Don’t Hate The Player, Create The Player
At this point in our history it should be possible for an individual to build a self that is not simply the outcome of biological drives and cultural habits, but a conscious, personal creation. – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
I remember the first time I downloaded World Of Warcraft as a teenager.
I spent a solid 2 hours studying the minor details of each race, class, and options to change how I physically looked, while holding the thought of winning in my head to make proper decisions.
Was I going to be a warrior? Shaman? Or something in between?
Did I want to be a troll?
Maybe just a human with long hair?
When I went to take on the challenge of certain quests and dungeons, did my personality work best as a tank, support, or damage character?
How about when I hit level 15?
What professions would I want to pursue?
There were so many like alchemy, mining, blacksmithing, and more that would determine how much I could exploit the public trade system.
Once I made my choice, I then had a series of “talents” and “traits” that I was able to level up with experience.
And once I had leveled them to a certain point, I was given more choices that weren’t originally available to me.
Enough with the reminiscing, how does this apply to everyday life?
First, to paint a picture, I do not think humans are good by nature.
Like Eve eating the apple from the tree of knowledge, we have the endless desire to know more.
Learning is the foundation of the human experience.
When we are young, we don’t know any better and end up with a “self” that has been programmed into our minds. Learned from our environment.
Learning, through any medium, influences our thoughts. Especially if what we are learning is repeated, or conditioned, into our heads.
Our thoughts influence behavior.
Meaning, anything that you learn or consume shapes who you are and how you act in this world.
Winning the game of life, business, or any present-moment situation you are in is dependent on how your character frames, perceives, and acts within that game.
Success is a subjective goal that we hold in our minds.
A goal is achieved through the right sequence of actions.
So, if we want to achieve the life of our dreams, we have to create a character that can play the game of life well.
How do we create our character?
1) By integrating everything we’ve discussed in this letter.
You need an intrinsic hierarchy of goals to order your mind at any given moment.
When you get lost, bring your attention to your vision, goals, and priorities to gain clarity.
2) Through self-education and self-reflection.
Your hierarchy of goals presents a series of challenges that you will have to take on through skill acquisition, problem-solving, and direct experience.
These are all forms of learning.
Thankfully, we live in an age where any and all information is at the edge of your fingertips. The solutions to your problems are found in the form of ideas that you must implement.
You find these ideas by consistently consuming valuable information. Sometimes you have to sift through dirt to find gold. This is a lifelong process that can only be derailed by distraction and cheap pleasures.
Self-reflection is how you guide future decision-making.
Because it is impossible to have 100% certainty in the actions you take.
You just have to take them.
And when you do, the only way you can determine whether those actions were good or bad is through self-reflection.
If your current life is the product of your past decisions, that means you can’t know the “effect” of a “cause” until it happens.
Even if you “know” what will happen because someone told you, you aren’t taking into account every other environmental factor that could lead to different results. Without direct experience, you limit your potential.
When you sit and contemplate your decisions, that is how you find the “effect.”
From that, and with time, your decisions get more and more accurate to the point of you reaching your goals.
Let’s do a quick recap:
- Games are a way of ordering consciousness to the point of obsession.
- When you are obsessed, you stop caring what people think and play to win according to your values.
- Games are enjoyable, and every situation in life can be mentally molded into a game.
- If you want to avoid mental turmoil, your skill needs to match the challenge that any situation presents.
- Your perspective will determine the information available to you, and if it’s not structured, you will misperceive it.
- Your self, a concept, is the player. With time, you want to create the character that can win the games that it is best at.
I hope you all enjoyed reading this. This was one of my favorite pieces to write.
Start playing the big game, my friends.
– Dan Koe
What Happened This Week
The 2-Hour Writer is on sale for BFCM weekend. If you want to learn a foundational skill to join the digital (an/or creator) economy, you can get it for 30% off.
In Modern Mastery, 2 strategies went out. One with 7 tweet templates and the breakdown of a viral thread structure. The other is how I create 3 years worth of content ideas that separate me from every other creator.
On YouTube, I posted “The Matrix Is Real (Here’s How You Escape With Your Mind).” Another episode on how I remember everything I learn is going out tomorrow.
As always, and when you’re ready, you can find my other free and paid products for improving your life and business on my website.