This post was inspired by a simulcast of Live2Lead featuring Simon Sinek, John Maxwell, Liz Wiseman and Dan Cathy. Simon Sinek named a concept that has been one of my biggest “ah ha” moments.
A few months ago, I walked into my manager’s office and said “I’ve had an epiphany.” I told her that I was looking at my Facebook feed and in my network I have several friends who are health coaches and skin care consultants and frequently post their client’s “before and after” photos. That morning there must have been a higher number of those photos because my AH-HA thought was “there is no before and after, there is no beginning and end”. In order to sustain a healthy body weight or clear skin, what is required is a long term commitment to eating right, exercise, and hygiene regimens. There are no get-rich-quick or get-thin-quick programs that create sustainable change.
Simon Sinek discussed the difference between finite and infinite games.
Finite game = There is a set number of players, established rules, and clear determination of who wins or loses. There is a clear ending to the game. Most sports would fit into this category
Infinite game = Players change, rules change, desired outcomes change over time. This is ongoing. Most aspects of business and life are infinite games.
Sinek made the point that too many people focus on the finite game in business and in life. We are so focused on quarterly earnings and beating the competition that we don’t think about the long game. In most cases, our focus on winning is misplaced because everyone has a different definition of success and is chasing a different outcome. Add that misplaced focus to our need for instant gratification and we are faced with continual problems and lack of progress. The only way to create and sustain change is to focus on the long game.
Connecting this to the daily grind
Here is how this ties into my epiphany. Like most busy working parents, I dislike chores and mundane tasks that always need to be done. I’ve read all of the blogs and Pinterest boards about “a clean house in 15 minutes a day” or “feed you family for a month on 4 hours of work”. Those strategies haven’t worked for me. It’s because I was looking at the chores incorrectly. I was thinking of them as finite activities, when indeed they are infinite. Here are things I wish were finite, but are indeed infinite:
In that moment of realizing there is no “before and after”, I adjusted my attitude and approach to the daily grind. I have strategies to get through the chores or face the fact that there will always be dishes to do or laundry to fold. On good days I get my kids and husband to do the dishes and fold laundry!
Connecting to a broader purpose
Daily chores are one thing. When putting this into broader perspective, it’s also important to shift our mindset that the following activities have and should always be treated as infinite:
- Politics / public policy
- Religion and spirituality
- Care for the environment
What else would you put on this list?
Immediate business application
Right now we are planning for 2017 at my company. I don’t believe anything magical will happen on 12/31/2016, so I remind my colleagues that we don’t have to wait until 2017 to get things underway that can make a difference to our business now. On the flip side, we don’t have to rush to complete things that aren’t urgent and important before we ring in the new year.
Small Town Leadership Lesson: Play the long game. I’ve taken my share of before and after photos and crossed enough finish lines to know that life after a marathon or fitness challenge doesn’t mean all-you-can-eat trips to the buffet. Finishing a book doesn’t mean that I won’t read another one. And completing a project at work doesn’t mean that I’m on vacation for the rest of the year.
As a self-professed perfectionist and box checker, the realization that there is no beginning and there is no end has helped me ease up on these traits. They will always be part of me, so I will keep my red pen close by, but perhaps there will be less marks to make and boxes to check. Instead of focusing on the checkmarks, I’m going to look to the horizon to see what changes I can make today that will last into the future.
Remind yourself of this post the next time you are caught in the rat race of a finite game. If you know someone who struggles with committing to the long game, share this with them.