Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Do as I say

I remember reading the Berenstain Bears books as a kid.  One of the standard plots was Papa Bear telling the kids to do something but not doing it himself.  A nice example of how it is hypocritical (and usually pointless) to tell people to do something while obviously not doing it yourself.

When I talk to Elli about games and winning I send the message that it is all about doing your best.  I want her to believe in working hard and giving her all, regardless of whether or not she wins or loses.  After all, there will always be somebody better than you at anything so there isn't any point in mourning your inability to beat someone with better luck, better genetics, or better circumstances than yourself.  You only have your own ability to work with, so best to maximize it.

Stoic philosophy agrees.  Heck, probably any reasonable philosophy that has anything to say on the subject agrees.  As far as I know the science also tells us that you can't do a ton to make your kids succeed, but convincing them to work hard is pretty much the best thing you can do, if you can manage it.

Everyone should focus on maximizing their potential, not on comparing themselves to others.

But when I compete... not so much.

I want to be number 1.  2nd place is the first loser, and I am not interested in being the first loser.

When I joined a new World of Warcraft guild recently they took me on a test run to see how I would do compared to everyone else in the guild.  My damage to the enemies was really good, and I logged #1 for the night.  People in the guild congratulated me, but I wasn't satisfied.  I was #1 on one section of the night by a huge margin and #4 on the rest.  In sum I was the top, but that wasn't enough to make me feel like I deserved it.  I played well, but some people beat me some of the time.  Everyone thought I was ridiculous for not accepting the 'title' for the night.

Not good enough!  It doesn't matter that I played well, or that I did as much as I could.  I must be first, always.

No matter how many times I tell Elli to focus on herself, to only worry about doing her best, I can't make myself believe it when I am playing games.

I am sure that working hard to do your best is the healthiest way to live for most people.  Makes me wonder though if that absurd drive to win is a necessary thing for those who are competing to be the best in the world.  If there isn't another player forcing you to push harder, if you only look at your own development, can you ever be the best there is?  I suspect not.

Being the best there is is a path to sadness, mostly, so I don't recommend it, but I think I might be programmed to do that anyway.


  1. I have struggled with this too. I think I was greatly helped by university though. Playing games with you and Nick and Byung convinced me that I could not possibly always be the best. So, I've learned to do my best and to celebrate the times I play very well.

    That said, I also really struggle with the balance of trying to win while still enjoying the experience. I won Splendor at WBC in 2015 after spending months "training" for it. I entered 5 different pre-tournaments and played as often as I could. It worked, and I won. Then this year it was not as much fun. The overwhelming pressure to win has made the game a lot less fun for me. Every time I sit down to play that game, my brain expects me to win and I didn't handle that well.

    Not sure there was a solid point there, but more the idea that needing to win and having fun can be mutually exclusive for me.

  2. I'm actually a little unconvinced, I think you have a fairly healthy attitude towards competition. If you are laughing out loud right now, give me a chance to explain.

    Your example of not feeling like #1 was good enough isn't an example of being overly competitive, it's an example of being intrinsically motivated. Overly competitive is seeing you got #1 and basking in it, not seeing you got #1 and saying, "Yeah, but I made mistakes X, Y and Z, so I still need to improve."

    You want to win, I know, but when you sit down to play a hand of bridge, what's your goal - to win the hand or to get the best possible result from the cards you were dealt? Which would you feel better about: making a really clever play to hold your opponent to 4S when they would have otherwise gotten an overtrick, or being dealt an easy lay-down-your-cards 4S hand yourself?

    You get really interested in win conditions of games and of ways in which games are unbalanced. You propose changes to the rules of games to try to make sure the winner goes to the best player. Someone who just wants to win wouldn't do that, that's the action of a person who wants to *make* winning matter. You want your win to mean something, and what means something to you is being excellent.

    I can't imagine you turning down a game against someone better than you because you don't want to feel the sting of losing. I think you'd rather lose to someone who you think is legitimately better than you (as long as you played well) than trounce someone who offers no challenge. You don't cheat, and you'd feel worse about winning by cheating than about losing.

    The unhealthy attitude you are displaying is perfectionism, not putting winning above all else.

    1. You are correct in many ways! If given the opportunity to play against an excellent opponent or a chump I would choose the excellent opponent every time. Who cares if I can beat a chump? Your example about bridge is certainly true... I mean, if I never got to make a contract I would be grumpy, but I would rather work hard for a best result than just take a trivial victory anyone could have gotten with the cards I was dealt.

      I think your last sentence captures the essence of the thing well.

  3. a) There isn't *always* someone better at you. But yeah, it's pretty infrequent that one is the best in the world.

    b) Your talk of best in the world and nothing being more important feels false. You want to win the game you're playing, or the league/guild you've joined, but your drive to win does not compel you to seek out the best in the world and beat them. For example, I don't believe you are prepared to do what it takes to be the best Hearthstone (or Magic) player. You did a bit of practice for WBC, but nothing crazy. Your drive to win is not super extreme and suggests that you can accept not being the best.

    c) You don't seem that sad.

    d) I didn't realize how devastating it was each time I beat you at Castles. Maybe I should ease up a bit?