In This Week’s Blog: Game Theory
Finite and Infinite Games
Finite and Infinite Mindsets
Tennis – A Finite Game with an Infinite Mindset | Case in Point
Show up to Improve
Live an Infinite Life
Happiness and Joy
*Coach’s Caveat: ‘Game Theory’ and ‘Finite & Infinite Games’ are complex topics, but worthy of study. My thoughts here are likely oversimplified, and in no way should be considered deep dives on these subjects. I hope that you will be inspired to study these more intensely. The rewards from more study may beautifully alter your life’s trajectory. The authors I cite are remarkable intellects who have dedicated their lives to benefit humanity. These are exemplary people with extraordinary Infinite Mindsets.
John Nash was an American mathematician. In 1994, Dr. Nash was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences for his landmark work on the mathematics of game theory, which he first began in the 1950s. John Nash died on May 23, 2015. You may remember Russell Crowe’s 2001 portrayal of Dr. Nash in the film, “A Beautiful Mind.” In the Nash equilibrium (of Game Theory), each player's strategy is optimal when considering the decisions of other players.
Game Theory is concerned with the analysis of strategies for dealing with competitive situations. This is where the outcome of our actions (choices) depends critically on the actions of other participants. Game Theory has been applied to contexts in war, business, biology, competitive games, and most notably, economics. It goes beyond the theory of probability.
Finite and Infinite Games
James Carse was an American academic and Professor Emeritus of history and literature of religion at New York University. Dr. Carse’s book, Finite and Infinite Games, outlines two very different approaches to the ‘game of life’ and has been widely influential. Dr. Carse died on September 25, 2020.
Dr. Carse explained that we all have a ‘horizon’ setting. It is as far as our imagination can see. Each of us is on a type of intellectual imaginative adventure. Being curious helps us expand our horizons. A change in perspective, from a finite time-horizon to an infinite one, changes the types of choices we make and the strategies we employ.
Think of the differences between games that have clear goals and rules, and games that don’t. Some people see life as a game with clear winners and losers and a fixed amount of time to play. Others see it as a series of moments that all carry endless possibilities and no winners or losers. The way we choose to play will have a huge impact on our lives.
A finite game always has a clear beginning, a particular playing field, and a certain number of players. Besides these external restrictions, there are also internal limitations, meaning the rules of the game must be agreed upon in advance by the players. Then the players compete in line with these rules intending to win. Then the game is over. Tennis, football, soccer, chess, poker, and most parlor games are examples of finite games by definition. A finite game is great as long as it occurs within a larger vision, and as long as it doesn’t dominate our reason.
Infinite games, on the other hand, are the polar opposite of finite games. While people play finite games to win, infinite games are played to continue the game. Therefore, infinite games don’t have external or internal restrictions. Anyone can participate in the game anytime and anywhere. Infinite games can have finite games within them. However, finite games cannot consist of infinite games.
Examples of infinite games are business, global politics, relationships, research in medicine, science, math, psychology, economics, and other technical industries. These fields are continually evolving in an ongoing process. These ‘games’ are never won or completed. Growth and learning are a continuum. They are in a state of constant change.
When you pit a finite player against a finite player, the game is stable. When you pit an infinite player against an infinite player the game is also stable. However, when you pit a finite player against an infinite player the finite player will always find themselves in a quagmire continually searching for the willpower to survive and in search of the resources to stay in the game.
Finite players are limited by their horizon settings of the world they observe, while infinite players know no boundaries.
Finite and Infinite Mindsets
A person with a finite mindset is obsessed with beating their competition. They want to be (need to be) Number 1, the best. In business, a finite mindset is used as a short-term strategy to improve the next quarterly earnings report – not necessarily improving the company. For a politician, it may be getting to the next election – not necessarily improving the lives of his/her constituency. In the military, it is winning a battle at all costs, even while losing the war.
This ‘winner-take-all’ strategy can sometimes result in lost jobs, bankrupt businesses, or even devastated nations. A finite mindset strategy rarely appreciates the value of people. It’s known as egoic greed. It may take tremendous understanding and courage for leaders to shift away from a finite mentality, but it can be done.
Finite players play to win, and infinite players are playing to continue to game. Infinite mindset strategy will bring very different choices and outcomes.
The infinite player is obsessed with the journey and evolving along a path of purpose. The infinite mindset is journey-oriented, not destination-oriented. These kinds of people understand that there is no goal of ‘being the best’. You are simply ahead or behind. Sometimes you will play your best, and sometimes you will not. The true goal is to become better. There is no end. There is no end to developing, adapting, improving, or learning new strategies and training techniques. (This attitude requires a growth mindset, which I have mentioned in previous blogs.)
For the infinite player, there is no ‘win’. This means we will never achieve a goal, but we will die trying. This brings meaning – a ‘just’ cause. It’s about creating momentum in the journey. The infinite mindset gives up fear, anxiety, and trepidation -- the fear of exploring, the anxiety of trying new things, the trepidation of giving up defective aspects of ourselves. The infinite mindset puts its attention on learning, developing, growing, and becoming. The infinite player's mindset can open to heights never imagined.
As much as we like to think we can change ourselves by ourselves, it is best to have a worthy rival – someone better than us. This is a necessary fuel for our improvement. Instead of resenting your rival, admire them and aspire to be more like them. We continually learn from our opponents. They can create the wave. They reveal our weaknesses and show us where we need to improve. To be clear, our goal is not to beat them. Our goal is to become the best that we can be. We need competitors. Without them, we cannot achieve the heights we desire. The infinite mindset is to become better and continually evolve. A worthy rival is a tool for constant improvement.
The infinite mindset understands to improve we must boldly take on changes and the unknown. This complements the core strategy of being an infinite player. To the outside world, it may seem like we are crazy to abandon something that is working and risk trying something new. This mindset is the only one that can endure within the infinite game. Our willingness to be malleable allows us to navigate the storms that come our way. Storms will always come. The infinite mindset is enduring – ad infinitum.
Tennis – A Finite Game with an Infinite Mindset | Case in Point
Embracing an infinite mindset sets in motion a cascade of observing, learning, evolving, and improving. Infinite mindset players move through their sport and wear down the finite players with those short-term win/lose mentalities. Infinite mindset players dare to embrace new techniques or patterns, even while competing. They know the long-term benefits heavily outweigh immediate results.
Let’s use tennis as an example. Tennis, by definition, is considered a finite game; however, our mindset can make all the difference in either accelerating our skill level or blunting our efforts to achieve.
True (funny) Story:
I started playing tennis at 21 years old – too old to become an accomplished tour player. Fortunately for me, I found a great coach, Mike DePalmer, Sr. (a renowned tennis legend). The same day I had my very first lesson from Coach Mike, I saw information posted about a pro tournament event for the following week. Remember, I am brand new to the sport. I proceeded to tell Coach Mike that I was going to enter that tournament. Incredulously, he smiled, and asked: “Why?” I answered, “To see what I’m up against.” Coach Mike said, “Robinson, go find out.”
I reassured him I would let my opponents know that I had completed my first lesson and that my skill level should not be a reflection of Coach DePalmer’s talents. I also confidently relayed to Coach Mike that I planned to read the rule book so I could figure out this weird scoring system. Off I go to compete – yes, after one lesson.
Some of Coach Mike’s other students laughed and chided me when they heard I was going to play in a pro tournament. These students weren’t real players, so I ignored their harassment. The more they made fun of me, the more I realized the benefit of my infinite mindset. I intuitively knew that I needed to be open to learning and immersing myself in the sport – all in.
Having just left the military, I also had a ‘game theory’ of my own – and possibly a maturity the others were lacking. One of my buddies quipped, “Robinson, don’t be an idiot, you will get killed in that tournament.” I vividly remember that comment and my reaction to it. I invited him to a sparring session at the dojo and explained that I actually could show him how one can be killed. No chance of death by a fuzzy yellow ball. Game theory.
I played the tournament, and you can predict the outcome. I didn’t win a game. But I did win a couple of points, though I can’t remember how. And I did hit an ace -- my opponent must have been bored and not paying attention. I reported back to Coach Mike. He asked how my first tournament went. I told him, “I crushed it!” Trying to hide his amusement, he asked me to explain what I meant by “crushed it”. I explained that I won some points and served an awesome ace! I explained that the match lasted about 30 minutes, so it was like a playing lesson at a discounted rate.
Yes, I crushed it. I took my time on the change-overs, watched others around me. I told Coach Mike that after my match, I watched lots of others – and took notes. (Yes, I kept a notebook.). I interacted with pros (those who would talk to me) and asked lots of questions. I got some good pointers. Most importantly, I experienced firsthand what highly skilled players looked like. (Most tennis players completely miss the power of visualization. Regular visualization helps to focus your mind on what you want. It is commonly used and understood among the highest echelons in all competitive arenas.)
After that first tournament, I played every tournament I could find. I played with anyone and everyone who would get on the court with me. I out-trained most everyone around me. I saw this finite sport as an infinite game, a lifetime journey. I loved martial arts but knew as I grew older the grueling workouts may not be sustainable. So, I found the perfect lifetime sport.
The rest is history. (See my bio below.) I tell this story in hopes that it reveals a bit about myself, gives you a chuckle, and stretches you to put yourself out there. Be an infinite mindset player. My real-life goal is to play national tournaments in the Men’s 90s singles division. And, I want my rivals competing with me. Reaching this milestone is an example of an infinite approach to a finite game.
Using the infinite mindset approach has inspired me to abandon things that don’t work. I constantly look for new mechanics, better nutrition, amplified training – anything that brings progress. My steady forward plow reminds me that my horizon is still way out there.
Show Up to Improve
I have seen young (and even seasoned) players become paralyzed by a bad result. Suddenly, their horizon has changed. They no longer have that imaginative horizon way out in the future. This is one of the most common reasons players are afraid to let go of a faulty technique or a bad habit. They fear stepping backward to correct a forward movement.
I predict if junior players, coaches, and parents understood and practiced this long-term concept, more players could improve their rankings quicker. Coaches and parents that encourage children to chase short-term gains over long-term benefits are doing more harm than good. Sadly, the trail of dashed dreams, burn-outs, and underdeveloped minds gets longer and longer. Finite mindsets can mean the loss of future talent for any sport or profession.
Leaders, parents, and coaches must exhibit a bias toward long-term benefits over short-term results. How can we teach or be an example of this, if we don’t exercise this tenet? It is about encouraging the necessary effort required for worthy accomplishment. By demonstrating the benefits of an infinite mindset and its focus on growth, we can boost our child’s potential. Over their lifetime, this long-term (infinite) mindset will bring rewards in careers, sports, and relationships.
Contemplation of the idea that our thought processes or our views of the world may be wrong is transformative. It takes courage to admit we don’t know or that we’re wrong. Yet, this is a necessary ingredient for growth.
Live an Infinite life
What does it mean to live an infinite life? No, it does not mean living forever. We are in this life, this game. It is ours. We can choose to play finitely or infinitely. If we choose to live our life with a finite mindset we play to win. Said another way: We need others to lose. In a finite life, we advance our careers at the expense of someone else’s. A finite mind is always comparing and maneuvering to outdo another. Finite players strive to dominate through winning.
In contrast, infinite players strive to coexist through playing. Those with infinite mindsets have a purpose. They are committed to improving the lives of the people around them. They build friendships that are based on trust. Those living infinite lives are free to be themselves, always. They readily receive mentoring and set an example to be servant leaders. These people leave a legacy behind – one that others will adopt and further.
Happiness and Joy
Happiness can be found in the finite game. When you win you are happy – at the moment. Happiness can be a blip in time. But, joy is different. Joy is an infinite underlying ideology. Joy comes when you make peace with who you are. Happiness tends to be externally triggered. You win the match. You got the promotion. Your child got an A. But happiness can be fleeting. Joy is cultivated internally. Happiness has a destination. Joy is an ongoing journey. Happiness comes in small doses along the journey. The journey of an infinite life leads to joy.
Going to the gym may not be enjoyable for some, but the long-term health benefits add to your joy. A misbehaving child does not bring happiness, but parenthood brings a lifetime of joy. Getting fit and staying healthy is an infinite game. Once we reach our fitness goals, we don’t stop the activities or food habits that got us there. Being a parent is an infinite game. Even adult children still need parenting. Infinite games will continue throughout our lives.
Remember, every single day does not have to be amazing. Every workout does not have to be intense. Every meal does not have to be perfect. Every interaction with your child doesn’t have to be profound. Unrealistic expectations ruin joy. Happiness will happen here and there. If we seek joy with an infinite mindset, we gain exponentially. Happy is Smart. Happy is Humorous. But Joy Endures.
Adapt, Endure, Be Fearless
It is my greatest hope that you will implement some tips from our Bio-Cultivating and Neural-Cultivating blogs. Further, it is my hope you will be inspired to pass these learnings along to family and friends. We all have people in our lives who have the desire but lack the accurate information to improve their health. It is frustrating to sift through the bombardment of data and the misinformation in today’s world. It’s no wonder some give up in frustration. I believe that we deserve the healthiest choices that honest modern science can offer. It is my mission to help as many of us as possible get and stay healthy.
As a tennis coach myself, I found the compression industry to be unacceptable for our needs. I set out on a journey to help you and your students. I know we all get beat up. The harder we compete, the more we get injured. All compression is not created equal! At Body Helix, we start with an unapologetic obsession for exceptional quality. Our design philosophy is to create modern, innovative gear that surpasses that which is offered in the global marketplace. As a privately held, Veteran-owned, North Carolina company we challenge global leaders to elevate their compression game or step aside. It’s compression gear designed by tennis players for tennis players.
Highly Recommended Book:
The Infinite Game, by Simon Sinek
Youtube talk by Simon Sinek:
The Infinite Game: How to lead in the 21st Century - Simon Sinek
The movie “A Beautiful Mind”, about John Nash:
A beautiful mind is a 2001 American biographical drama film based on the life of the American mathematician, John Nash, a Nobel Laureate in Economics and Abel Prize winner.
The film was directed by Ron Howard and stars, Russell Crowe, Ed Harris, Jennifer Connelly, Paul Bettany, Adam Goldberg, Judd Hirsch, Josh Lucas, Anthony Rapp, and Christopher Plummer.
Quotes Listed Above:
The goal is not to be perfect by the end, the goal is to be better today.
Self-confidence is the ability to exercise restraint in the face of disrespect and still show respect in response.
Don’t show up to prove. Show up to improve.
Life is beautiful not because of the things we see or do. Life is beautiful because of the people we meet.
In a dream, it’s typical not to be rational.
The only thing greater than the power of the mind is the courage of the heart.
James P. Carse:
Only that which can change can continue: this is the principle by which infinite players live.
It is, therefore, this fluidity that presents us with an unavoidable challenge: how to contain the serious within the truly playful; that is, how to keep all our finite games in infinite play.
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