Game of Inches

Ready, Set, Game

Fifty-thousand five-hundred fifty-four minutes, approximately eight-hundred forty-three hours, or thirty-five full days, is the total amount of time I have spent playing the popular video game League of Legends. I know that number seems astronomically large, and I struggle to find a good reason to validate why I have put so much of my time in a sieve. In that amount of time I could have learned to become fluent in German or read one-hundred thirty-nine books. Instead, I can now recite what all one-hundred fifty characters in a video game do and how they precisely interact with each other. 

You may have not guessed it from the introduction, but this is an article about productivity and achieving our goals. While my image may now be tainted in your minds, saying, “the guy who has wasted thirty-five days playing video games is going to give ME advice on productivity?” all I ask is that your judgments be reserved until the end. I can earnestly say that these hours weren’t a complete waste and there were valuable lessons I took away. To preface, this article isn’t an endorsement for anyone to follow in my footsteps and pour hundreds of hours into a video game. Rather, I felt bringing up League, something I’ve invested a lot of time into, is a convenient way for me to explain some of the points of weaknesses and barriers that have risen as I’ve tried to get better at the game. Oddly enough, I have seen that these same challenges almost always show up in any format of goal-setting. From school, to work, to living healthier, our source of trouble can be pinpointed to a few key terms. Based on my personal analysis, the two main reasons why many of us fail to unlock our full potential and achieve our aspirations can be boiled down to 1) “Mental Block” and 2) “Lack of Optimizations.” The following sections will dive into what exactly these terms entail and how we can overcome them. 

Mental Block

“Mental Block” refers to a term in League in which someone has subsequently put a label on themselves after repeated negative experiences. Mental Blocks are self-judgments that we place on our identity that we think are immutable. To give a more tangible example, I’m sure many of us have heard the phrases, “I’m not a math person,” or, “I’m so bad with directions,” after failing a Calculus exam or taking the wrong exit on the freeway. Sure, you might not be Einstein or Newton, but is the statement, “I’m not a math person,” objectively true, or even more unlikely, unchangeable? Math isn’t a naturally acquired skill. Rather it’s something that is improved with rigid practice. Yet, you will never improve at math if you don’t practice and keep telling yourself that it is something that can’t be changed. This “Mental Block” only grows stronger with repeated evidence. With every bad math grade you are more likely to associate being poor at math as a fact, therefore leading to you not studying as much as you could, feeding the very loop that led you here. This slippery slope restricts the very possibility of us improving. 

While this all may sound depraved, there’s a way to reverse engineer this “Mental Block” so it works in our favor. As we’ve seen, the characteristics we associate closely with our identity are more likely to be reinforced through actions that justify them. Therefore, the way to improve and reach our goals is not by chasing a quantitative outcome, but by having the goal intertwined with our identity. Rather than wanting a good grade in math, try wanting to be a math person instead. This small adjustment seems inconsequential, but over time this affirmation will become reality. Once you repeat certain successes, you’ll start proving to yourself that “Hey, maybe I am a math person! I’m going to take more math classes and continue my study habits.” You may have heard the phrase, “Fake it ‘till you make it,” but I think the better rendition is, “Do it until you are it.”

Lack of Optimizations

Wave management, tempo, micro-movement, gold-efficiency, most likely these League terms mean absolutely nothing to you. Similarly, when I started playing the game about six years ago, these phrases were about as alien as you could expect. After hundreds of hours of game time, there are only so many basics you can learn. At a certain threshold, you then have to dive into advanced metrics, clawing for any small advantage you can develop over your opponent if you want to get better. What this led to is me reading wiki articles and watching YouTube videos on League in order to outsource information and optimize how good I was at the game by the smallest fraction of a percentage. This may sound silly, but it’s just like in any sport: anyone can kick a soccer ball into an open net during pee-wee soccer, but it then takes years of training to then precisely curve it or be able to juggle it in the air without fail. The basics are essential, but making tiny adjustments outside of what is considered conventional can separate good from great. A mantra I’ve come across that keeps me focused on consistently improving is, “Do I need to do this? No. But is it better? Yes. So why not do it?” No, you don’t need to workout right now, but it’s objectively better for your overall health, so why not do it? Small changes seem inconsequential in the short term because they fail to transform us into our end goal instantaneously (one workout doesn’t make you fit, reading a book doesn’t turn you into a genius), but the continuous application builds up to large results. Just getting one percent better everyday is more than enough, as is demonstrated by one of my favorite equations: 1.01365 = 37.7834. It’s all about just getting one day better. 

Play Again?

The journey to success isn’t linear or exactly how we prophesize it to be at the start, but is built through working past the obstacles we face. If I could leave you with any last piece of advice, it would be that you should love the process of getting one step closer to your goals. The reason I have sunk so much time into League isn’t because I am obligated to do so, but because it’s something I genuinely enjoy doing. Sure, I get frustrated in the moment when I feel I’m not playing as well as I can, but I have consistently been coming back to it for the last six years because it’s something that brings companionship with friends as we compete to get better. I know it sounds overly-romanticized to get excited about activities classically considered mundane like English class or clocking into work, but if you can take pride in yourself as someone who is a studious learner or a vital member to your workplace, it makes it easier to return and give a whole-hearted performance. Love what you do, and it will pay you back tenfold.

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