We all choke at some point in life. When we intend to do something, and the moment arrives and passes without us having done it. Maybe it happened because we didn’t really want to do it in the first place or the complete opposite. That we really wanted to do this thing but it felt difficult and overwhelming; we didn’t feel ready or enough and not trying eased the pressure momentarily.
The stakes either felt pointless or high. But regardless of the emotions underlying the chokehold, the mind likely saw this game as finite.
James Carse, a history professor, wrote the book Finite and Infinite Games in 1986 and it offers a practical way to think about our work and commitments. Per Carse, a finite game is played to win and an infinite game to continue the play. In finite games, we obey rules, play within boundaries and announce winners and losers. In these games, like politics and sports, we seek power and strategize to win in front of an audience. In the infinite game, since our purpose is to continue play, we play with the boundaries themselves knowing they exist to support the goal of unending play. In this game we seek internal strength to keep participating alongside other participants. A symphony or parenting might be good examples.
Two other notable points in this text – 1) Participation in every game is voluntary and, 2) there can be many finite games within a larger infinite game but not the other way around. Extrapolating from these I wonder…even if forces larger than us pressure us to play in a certain (often finite) way, we can exercise a choice in how we operate. We can do the same work and choose to view the larger game as infinite.
When we think of our larger context as a finite, zero-sum, winner-takes-all game, it’s harder to play like an infinite-minded player and summon the perspective, creativity, playfulness or ease that might come with thinking regeneratively. In the finite mindset we strive to dominate through winning but in the infinite mindset we strive to keep on playing.
This doesn’t mean that we’ll never choke when we play the infinite game. It means that the sting will feel more manageable and we’ll have the stamina to keep going.
“Strength is paradoxical. I am not strong because I can force others to do what I wish as a result of my play with them, but because I can allow them to do what they wish in the course of my play with them…
Infinite players are not serious actors in any story, but the joyful poets of a story that continues to originate what they cannot finish.” — James Carse, Professor of History and Literature of Religion