The other day during my morning walk I was listening to a talk by Abraham-Hicks who is the author of The Law Of Attraction. I find that listening to talks while walking makes the time go quickly, and if I’m listening to something uplifting I start my day in a positive way. During that particular morning Abraham-Hicks was responding to a question from a young man who wanted to know why it was taking so long for his dreams to be realized. Like many people, he wanted to know if he was doing something wrong or if there was something he could do to make it happen faster. That’s when Abraham-Hicks asked the young man a question that made me stop, rewind my iPod and listen again. She asked, “Do you think any successful person is doing what they do just for the trophy? Or do you think they love the game?” When I heard those questions I knew it applied to most people, myself included, in more ways than we usually consider.
Abraham-Hicks didn’t stop there. She continued asking, “Do you think an accomplished artist stops painting when they paint a masterpiece? Do you think a top athlete stops practicing their sport when they win the Gold Medal at the Olympics? Do you think an author stops writing when they publish a book? Ninety-nine percent of those winners never stop doing what they do because they happen to love the game they have created. Their reward is just an outward sign of their success.
Of course trophy accumulation has taken on increased meaning in our gamified world these days. Online games have ramped up both the desire to play games and to claim trophies, badges and even “likes.” Although the trend was primarily developed as a marketing tool used by businesses to shape consumer behavior, there are some who see it growing beyond that. Author and game developer Jane McGonigal says in her book Reality Is Broken. “I foresee games that augment our most essential human capabilities—to be happy, resilient, creative—and empower us to change the world in meaningful ways.”
While that seems a bit farfetched to me, many of us do seek the rewards of games without even considering the why of it. Any of us who ever count the “likes” we have on our Facebook page or tabulate the number of followers on our blogs are guilty. The vast majority of us like the type of feedback that trophies or awards offer because humans are psychologically drawn to verified measurements of progress. But is that why most of us play to begin with? And how does any of this apply to the game of life?
Of course, you may or may not like the metaphor that life is a game. Just like when I wrote about metaphors several weeks ago, life being a game is just one way of describing a deeper experience of life that is difficult to explain. Another metaphor that is similar in many ways is that life is a journey. In fact, asking whether a person is focused on the destination, rather than the journey is exactly how I see the question—are you doing it for the trophy or do you like to play the game?
That leads to three questions that can help clarify the answer to either question:
#1 What is the purpose of your life? How you answer that question likely points out if you love the “game” of it, or if the trophy or destination is your primary goal. Abraham-Hicks teaches that we never arrive at any ultimate destination because life itself is an ever-expanding experience of growth, enjoyment and evolution.
Eleanor Roosevelt said something similar with, “The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.” Eckhart Tolle, author of The Power of Now teaches, “A new heaven and a new earth are arising within each of us at this moment. So awakening to your life’s purpose is not to try to look to the future and expect fulfillment there but to stay in the moment, allowing the ego to dissolve.” While each of these teachers offer a similar perspective, it really boils down to your answer to the question.
#2 Are you sacrificing everything in the NOW just to reach that destination or win the trophy? Daniel Gilbert, Professor at Harvard University and author of Stumbling On Happiness says, “What we’ve been seeing in my lab, over and over again, is that people have an inability to predict what will make us happy — or unhappy. If you can’t tell which futures are better than others, it’s hard to find happiness. The truth is, bad things don’t affect us as profoundly as we expect them to. That’s true of good things, too. We adapt very quickly to either.”
In other words, even though we often think that things will be better, improve or make us happier when we reach that goal, win the trophy or accomplish the skill, we will likely stay about the same as we are right now. So like Wayne Dyer says, “When you dance, your purpose is not to get to a certain place on the floor. It’s to enjoy each step along the way.”
#3 What is a trophy anyway and why do we care? It’s fairly obvious why we want to win a trophy—it makes us feel good about what we’ve done or accomplished. But those who hand out trophies or other awards often have two rationales: #1 They want to reward a special behavior; #2 They want to motivate us to do or continue doing something. Many times they want to do both at the same time.
A big problem with all that is that research shows that people who have been given trophies just for participation and no special activity don’t value the reward much at all. We know when we deserve recognition and when we get it without earning it we devalue its meaning. Over the long run this decreases our motivation and actually can cause us to crumble at the first sign of difficulty. These behaviors are the exact opposite of the intended outcome.
The other unexpected outcome is that prizes often put our attention on the end result rather than the process or the progress along the way. Plus, if that trophy looks particularly shiny we might be encouraged to do things to obtain it that are contrary to our own integrity. Unfortunately the nightly news is filled with examples of people willing to do just about anything to achieve that glittery reward at any cost. In the end, caring more for the trophy than how we play the game is full of complications.
In many ways the journey on the road to a destination (or to receiving an award or a trophy) is similar to why we strive to receive an education. As a professor of medicine named Carmel Mallia said, “…education does not stop with the collection of a degree. Education, like life, is a journey, not a destination; it is a habit of mind, a philosophy of life, a way of being,”
I heard Abraham-Hicks offer one more piece of advice during her recent talk that stuck with me. She asked, “Do you go on a trip or take a vacation just to get back home as quickly as possible?” No—at least I don’t! I travel to experience, express and enjoy the journey as much as possible. Home will always be there when we return, and hopefully we have grown, shared some laughs and evolved along the way. That piece of advice certainly sounds SMART to me!