Blame, procrastination, self-victimisation — this terrible trifecta can sink your career and limit your levels of personal success. We often find ourselves resorting to bad patterns, especially in the workplace. I have noticed one place in my own life where these traits are nowhere to be seen. While I play video games.
When I am playing a game and I get stuck with a puzzle or difficult boss fight, rather than blaming, I start looking for ways that I can overcome the problem.
I remember a very early breakthrough for me happened while playing Mega Man 2 on the NES. I found myself stuck on one stage, unable to advance.
Each time I lost a life, I would run back into the challenge, trying to figure out how I could overcome this obstacle. I did not blame the game, its designers, the President of the United States, my parents, or even the publisher, Capcom.
Instead, I took responsibility for my own actions, the way I solve problems, and the subsequent outcomes. Eventually I figured things out — and felt great satisfaction in the accomplishment.
Lessons From Unlikely Places
Sometimes lessons are learned the hard way. David Hayter, screenwriter and voice actor for the character Solid Snake of the Metal Gear Solid series, told me about a lesson he learned from the game Oddworld: Abe's Oddessy. "You want to be right up to the ledge before you jump, or you will be destroyed by some horrible mutant crab creature." He's right, you know. We often need to solve problems with experimentation and by learning from our mistakes.
One touch spikes. Harmless looking mushrooms. Water. Fire. Flying Happy faces. Electrical Seaweed. Any number of innocent or random things can end a game with precious little warning. That mutant crab might get you the first ten tries, but you might make it on the eleventh. This principle applies to our lives as well.
In the professional world no one is really interested in excuses, only results. Intentions don't matter as much as where we end up. While it may sound harsh, consider what happens in a video game when you "intend to jump" but never hit the button before you go sailing off into a bottomless pit.
Intentions do not insulate us from the consequences of our actions.
In my career I have been guilty of the equivalent of setting down the controller and blaming bad game design on my inability to advance, but I learned that my inaction wouldn't advance me at all. I had to take the situation into my own hands.
How We Win In Video Games
More than just pure persistence, we take accountability for our actions while gaming. I noticed then when I played video games rather than asking "why can't I do this?" I asked myself "how can I do this?" This is just one area that video game players have developed a skill that has amazing real word application, as long as we are brave enough to put it to use.
In the book QBQ! The Question Behind the Question, John G. Miller provides a simple, yet elegant approach to creating better questions; and better questions lead to better answers. Here is a crash course on asking better questions, using the QBQ! Approach:
- Ask a question that starts with the word "What" or "How" (avoid using "why" or "when" or "who").
- Use the personal pronoun "I" (not them, they, [insert other person's name]).
- Focus on a specific action.
While it sounds incredibly simple, it is not the default approach of many individuals. For quite some time I struggled with poor questions and thought processes that led me into a frustrating place. If you are facing challenges or are unhappy about a situation in your life, asking yourself a better question can completely turn the situation around. When I stopped blaming others for situations I faced, I found that I freed up more energy and focus into accomplishing goals that had remained in limbo for the longest time.
Here are two examples of how I restructure my questions:
Before: "When is someone going to offer me a better job?"
After: "How can I make myself more promotable?"
Before: "Why don't we have more resources to get the job done?"
After: "What can I do to get the job done with what I have in front of me?"
See the difference? While subtle in structure, it is life changing in practice. Ask yourself better questions. It works because you focus on what you can do, not on what you think is out of your control. After all, I can only control me and my actions. Life is a lot better when I focus on what I can do, rather than focus on what I cannot do.
Leveraging the skill of personal accountability will earn the respect of others, both on a personal level and a professional level and makes winning in life almost as easy as winning a video game.
This post is adapted from an excerpt of Jon Harrison's book, Mastering The Game: What Video Games Can Teach Us About Success In Life.
Jon Harrison writes about effective leadership and personal productivity solutions made accessible through video game metaphor and analogy, delivered in a fun, engaging and professional manner at ClassicallyTrained.net.