How It Works, How To Play & How To Win

Have you ever played a video game like Super Mario or GTA?

Or any other kind of role-playing game?

You know the kind where you run around as a character… complete progressively more difficult missions and challenges… beat progressively tougher bad guys and bosses… leveling up… acquiring new skills, gear, weapons and abilities… and finally beating the big bad Final Boss to complete the game?

Have you ever noticed that REAL LIFE can be a lot like a video game?

I would suggest that the two are more similar than you might think.

Here are a few observations that might make your “gameplay experience” a little more enjoyable… and help you beat the next boss a little easier. :-)


The first obvious similarity I’d like to point out is that you are always in the center of the frame.

It looks like your character is running around, going from place to place, doing different things. That’s a neat optical illusion.

In reality, your character stays in the middle of the screen the entire time, running in place. It’s the world around you that moves.

In real life, it also feels like we’re always going somewhere, moving from place to place, both through time and space.

In reality, you’re always at the exact center of the universe.

Why is that important?

Because we always think that if we’re not happy in this moment, maybe happiness is over there. We are always trying to “get to the future.” The place where you can finally have the things you want to have, do the things you want to do and be the person you want to be.

Except, no matter where you go, you’ll always take YOU with you. So if you’re not happy right here, right now, you won’t be happy “over there” either. Because “over there” doesn’t exist.


As you’re playing your video game character, sometimes you can get so pulled into the story that you almost feel like you ARE the character. When the boss defeats you, you get mad and take it personally.

On some level, you still know that you’re not really the character, you’re the player — sunk into sofa, controller in hand, playing a game.

This is also true in real life, although it is a little less obvious. Most of us fully believe we are the character we play in life.

Try this experiment… 

Look at your right hand. Wave it around. Make a fist and notice the sensation of your fingers digging into the palm of your hand.

Now check:

Is that your hand?

Are you that hand?

Or… are you that which is aware of the hand?

Are you that which is aware of the sensations of fingers-digging-into-palm?

Now think about a situation in your life that annoys you. Something you’re wanting to change. Maybe something that happened recently, or maybe someone who pissed you off?

And pay attention to that sensation — notice what it feels like to want to change the situation.

And again, check: 

Are you that feeling? 

Or are you that which is aware of the feeling?

To go deeper into this, we can look at life in 3 layers:

The first layer is the OUTER WORLD.

It’s everything going on OUT THERE.

Most people think this is where they’ll find happiness — by accumulating more things and experiences. 

The classic mid-life crisis comes to mind: when you’ve worked your whole life believing that the corner office, the house with the white-picket-fence, the shiny new Corvette and the beautiful wife is what’s finally going to make you happy… and now you’re 45, you finally have all those things, and there’s still a black hole inside you that you can’t seem to fill no matter what you do. 

You realize your whole life has been a lie, and you wonder what is even real anymore.

Not only have you spent your life focused on the accumulation of STUFF, through that process you’ve actually become identified with that stuff. You don’t just HAVE a shiny new Corvette, you think you ARE your shiny new Corvette. Your entire sense of identity is attached to your possessions.

As Tyler Durden says in Fight Club, the things you own end up owning you.

Pop-psych feel-good social media memes like to tell us that we should focus on experiences, not things. Like traveling instead of buying designer clothes. This is a step in the right direction, but you’re still trapped in an “out there” paradigm. No matter how far you travel, you haven’t really gone anywhere, because you’re always right here.

The second layer is the INNER WORLD.

All your thoughts and feelings.

Many people have started to wake up from the “out there” paradigm and realized that it hasn’t really gotten them anywhere. They turn to self-help books, start working on themselves, maybe start meditating.

Here you start gaining a lot more self-awareness. You start understanding that the things out there really have nothing to do with how you feel inside, so you start working on the inside directly.

You make an effort to think more positive thoughts, which leads you to feel more positive emotions. You become a little more relaxed. A little more peaceful. You start enjoying life more.

This works well for a while. This is a huge step in the right direction. But still, you feel like you are missing something.

You’ve gone from identifying with the outer world to identifying with your inner world. You think you ARE your thoughts and emotions.

The problem with that is that when we experience negative emotions, our whole world is out of balance.

When you get angry and upset, you’re so identified with that emotion, you can’t seem to find your way out.

This way of living life works great — as long as you feel good.

Whenever something “bad” happens, now your very sense of identity is out of balance.

The feeling that you are still missing something comes from this layer of false-knowing.

You are not your thoughts and feelings.

There is a third layer:


The third layer can be much harder to notice because it’s never said anything or done anything to notice.

It is simply featureless awareness. It is that which is aware. And this is your true nature.

You are not your body. You are not your thoughts. You are not your emotions. You are that which is aware.

This awareness is where all thoughts and feelings arise from, yet never touch.

This is the true player of the game.

There’s not much else to say about this awareness, because it has no features.

Fully identifying with this awareness is kind of like beating the whole game and stepping back into your role as the player of the game instead of the video game character.

Except for one thing:


Have you ever beat a video game?

Made it to the final boss, kicked his butt, and won?

What happens next?

In most cases… not much.

You probably fully leveled up all your skills and abilities… acquired all the gear… killed all the bad guys… saved the princess…

And when there are no more things to acquire, no more bad guys to kill, and no more princesses to save… there’s no longer a point.

Many games leave you in an open-world landscape where you are free to roam around and do what you want. There might still be some bad guys out there, but with your super-powered, fully-leveled-up character, they offer no challenge.

If you’ve ever made it to the end of a game, you probably know that this gets boring real fast. Soon enough, you shut off your console and maybe look for the next game to play.

So if winning is boring, what’s the point?

The enjoyment of the game comes from PLAYING, not winning.

It comes from being challenged, getting knocked on your ass, getting back up again. It comes from learning from those challenges, growing and leveling up. Getting better and better.

If, at the start of the game, you were offered to instantly receive the BEST weapons, the BEST armor and ALL the skills and abilities… it might be fun for a while, but you’ll get bored very quickly. It’s too easy.

This is also true in real life.

No matter how difficult the challenges in front of you may seem, the truth is that the universe has never given you a mission you’re unable to complete.

How do I know that?

Because here you are, still standing.

Of course you’ve failed in the past. That’s part of the deal. That’s exactly how you learn and grow.

You learn and grow so you can do better next time.

Just like a video game, if all you did was WIN all the time, it wouldn’t be fun anymore.

Stop sitting on the sidelines.

Get off the bench. Engage with the game of life. The only way to lose is by not playing, and the only one who loses is you.

We’re all cut from the same cloth. We’re all gonna leave the same way we came in — with nothing.

It ultimately doesn’t matter how much stuff you acquire, how many things you do, how many dragons you slay or don’t slay.

The one thing different between real life and a video game? When you die, you can’t reload at your latest save point. When it’s over, it’s over.

So make the most of it. There are no winners and losers in a game without stakes.

What are you waiting for?

- Linus