This entry is part 12 of 41 in the series In General

Grandpa (Eric)

By Eric, AKA Grandpa Growth

 

I have it on good authority that people sometimes use drugs, but particularly on April 20th. Drug-seeking behavior is a serious problem. If you have a problem, you should seek help. Cardboard-Crack has made the implied comparison that Magic can be just like a drug and addiction to anything can be destructive, even when it’s as awesome as Magic. This is my most excellent segway from an unrelated title to an article that I’m actually interested in writing. Luckily, we’re not going to talk about drugs today (title puns aside). We’re going to talk about challenges: what they are, why we occasionally like them, and the big challenge that all of us are struggling with.

 

I have it on good authority that people sometimes use drugs, but particularly on April 20th. Drug-seeking behavior is a serious problem. If you have a problem, you should seek help. Cardboard-Crack has made the implied comparison that Magic can be just like a drug and addiction to anything can be destructive, even when it’s as awesome as Magic. This is my most excellent segway from an unrelated title to an article that I’m actually interested in writing. Luckily, we’re not going to talk about drugs today (title puns aside). We’re going to talk about challenges: what they are, why we occasionally like them, and the big challenge that all of us are struggling with.

 

What Is Difficulty?

In English, we have a whole soup of words for challenges. Some of these words overlap in their meanings and some don’t. Decoding the language we use to talk about difficulty will help us get on the same page when we communicate a challenge to others and it’ll help us unpack the whole issue of looking for challenges and overcoming them.

 

wordle

 

What follows are the personal definitions I use when talking about difficulty. Obviously, no one else is bound to these definitions, but it helps me stay objective and concrete when I think about the topic and it helps me communicate with others.

 

Difficult: Something is difficult if there is a nonzero chance of failure. No matter how small that chance might be relative to your ability, something is difficult to me as long as it is not completely automatic. The degree of difficulty present in a situation corresponds to the relative likelihood of success and failure.

 

Example: An insomniac might say that they “have difficulty sleeping.” Meaning that when they attempt to go to sleep, they’re not guaranteed to be successful. The chance of getting a full night’s rest every night is something less than 100%.

 

Degree of Difficulty: How difficult something is. This could be stated in terms of your percentage chances of success (95%), relative odds of success (20:1), or some other numeric approximation, but more often than not people express a degree of difficulty in subjective and sometimes abstract terms. Terminology spectrums like easy → hard can help people organize and classify tasks by their relative difficulty and use this as a proxy for directly measuring degree of difficulty.

 

Example: “College was easy. Grad school…that’s hard.”

 

Challenge: A situation that you encounter with the expressed purpose of experiencing a degree of difficulty that is higher than your current standard. You may hear people say that they are “challenging themselves to finish a marathon” or “challenging my brother to see who can lose more weight.” These statements underscore the idea that you are seeking the challenge on purpose; it isn’t random. Also inherent in the challenge is the idea that you don’t automatically succeed, which implies that the outcome of the challenge is uncertain because failure is a possibility.

 

Example: “I’m looking for a challenging career as a professional Magic player.”

 

Simple/Complex: When something is simple, it’s easy to understand and conceptualize. It’s on the lower end of the continuum of complexity and has nothing to do with difficulty. They’re both spectrums of scalar quantities. They have a magnitude that could be described objectively, subjectively, or relatively along some continuum of possible values (complexity: obvious → incomprehensible; difficulty: automatic → impossible). Complexity is not necessarily difficult. It might be difficult, but it’s important to remember that things are complex and difficult in parallel, they aren’t always related quantities.

 

Example: Weight loss clearly shows the divide between difficulty and complexity. Weight loss is simple: eat fewer calories than you burn through activity and exercise more. But we find that it’s incredibly difficult to stick to this plan. The trivial complexity of not eating nachos is meaningless. The real problem is denying yourself the pleasure of eating the diet and lifestyle you have become accustomed to.

 

Another super-scientific chart.

Another super-scientific chart.

 

Defining A Failure State

If you can fail at something, it must have some degree of difficulty. Reverse axiom argumentation is so elegant when it works! That’s a pretty simple concept, but it’s underpinned by the assumption that the failure state is clearly defined. In the perilous three-dimensional world we live in, things aren’t always so convenient. What exactly constitutes a failure can have a great impact on your estimations of how difficult a certain scenario might be and thus it impacts what challenges you might be willing to undertake.

 

Imagine you’re trying to cross a river on some slippery rocks. If failure is defined as not falling in the water, the task might be somewhat difficult for the maladroit. If you redefine the failure state and say that getting across the river–no matter how many times you fall in–is still a success, you can just hop on in and swim for all I care because you’re still getting across that river. The task has been recharacterized in such a way that it’s no longer difficult.

 

When we face a new challenge we’re often presented with a set of constraints that clearly define what a success or failure is. There might be expectations laid out about time or deadlines, order of operations, specific rules that must be followed. These types of constraints can affect the difficulty and complexity of a tasks, but we often bring in our own expectations as well. The comprehensive rules of Magic lay out how a game is supposed to proceed, but nowhere in the book do they prescribe that you have to play well. Winning through luck or skill doesn’t matter to the rules. Winning through cheating is disallowed, but winning because your opponent cheated and got disqualified is still valid.

 

I’ve changed my philosophy about what constitutes a fail state in Magic dramatically over the years. When I was a very young child, I wanted to win and I’d have fun only if I won. I’d get upset if I lost, but because my mind was too simple to fully comprehend the strategy of the game, I’d lose most of the time. As I’ve aged, I’ve added notches to my bedpost and lines to my songs and the way I think has evolved too. The more I play, the more convinced I become that Magic’s real failure state has nothing to do with winning and losing the game. When I play optimally (or even just better than usual) that’s a victory for me. When I play poorly, make the wrong decisions, and don’t think things through the right way, I feel like I’ve failed.

 

I want to improve as a strategist. Becoming better is the goal and winning is just a byproduct of playing better. My emotions aren’t bound up in the results of the game or a tournament. Instead, they’re bound to my personal growth. I don’t know when I’ll be satisfied, but as long as I can sharpen my skills and demonstrate higher performance by executing on those skills in-game, I’m meeting my goals and avoiding my self-defined failure state.

 

Seeking Mastery Versus Seeking Challenge

This brings us to perhaps the greatest challenge that any of us face as humans: continually seeking new challenges. It’s much easier to rest on our laurels than to pursue new challenges. If you only ever do what you are good at, you’re going to hamstring your growth as a person and consistently fail to achieve progress. When you seek out situations where you know you will be comfortable, where you know you have already mastered the necessary skills, where you know you won’t be challenged – these situations do nothing to test you, enhance you, or prepare you for the future. It feels great to perform well and to win. It feels good to sit on the couch a play an old video game that you are familiar with. I’d so much rather play Pokémon Blue Version because I know all the gym leaders, I know where to go to advance the story, I know all the Pokémon’s weaknesses and where to find them. It feels good to be the master. I get it.

 

At some point, though, you have to acknowledge that playing the same videogames that you played as a kid really isn’t getting you anywhere. Seeking a situation where you can display your mastery is not the path to more and greater success. Seeking a situation that challenges you is the surest way to improve and grow. This task can be daunting for even the most courageous and motivated individuals among us.

 

In his book Waking Up, Sam Harris describes the problem beautifully:

 

“Unfortunately, failure enjoys a natural advantage. Wrong answers to any problem outnumber right ones by a wide margin, and it seems that it will always be easier to break things than to fix them.”  

 

Sam Harris is one of my favorite authors and in this passage he elegantly leads us to the necessary truth, harsh as it may be: wrong answers are still wrong, even though they are easier to find. Fixing something is harder than breaking it, but fixing it is the only way to progress. If you want to be better at Magic: play formats, cards, and strategies that you typically avoid. Play different strategy games you’ve never tried before, or try a game in a whole different genre.

 

It’s okay to start small, but dream big and don’t stop. If you want to overcome your social anxiety, make a tough phone call to a person you haven’t spoken to in a while. Apologize to someone you hurt. Talk to a stranger. This can be great practice for that next presentation you have to give at work or school. Tackle the challenge and then remember back to how afraid you were. Overtime, that fear will become smaller and smaller as you bury it under a growing variety of interesting new challenges that you’ve overcome.

 

I want to leave you with one of the greatest philosophical epiphanies that I experienced in my young life: there is no such thing as failure.

 

I’ve completely overhauled my assignment of failure states within my life and decided that failure just doesn’t occur unless I choose it. Quitting is the fastest and most definitive way to fail, but it’s also the simplest to avoid. Don’t quit, just do it. If you’re always giving your best effort and you’re constantly seeking new challenges, you will succeed. You’ll succeed at a thousand things you never even knew could be attempted. It takes commitment and personal determination, but you can completely remove failure from your life.

 

The philosophies shared in this article are heavily influenced by the author Napoleon Hill, particularly his landmark book Think and Grow Rich. He pioneered the field of performance strategy and basically invented the self-help book. His ideas are worth spreading.

 

How are you going to remove failure from your life? What new goals are you going to totally crush now that you know you cannot fail? Share your answers in the comments below, follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and be sure to support Commandercast.com on Patreon.

 

-GG

 

“In General” is the place where I share my ideas on unconventional topics that are often only tangentially related to Magic. This column is a mixed bag where I collect and present ideas that don’t have a home anywhere else. If you want a column about strategy, psychology, design, economics, philosophy, internet culture, and referential humor, you have come to the right place.

Series Navigation<< [Strategy]: “In General” – Is Command Tower Good For Commander?[Definitely NOT Strategy]: “In General” – Selected Cards in Shadows Over Innistrad >>