Secret Games We Play and How to Win Them

Reading Time: 2 minutes and 37 seconds

Part 2 of the mental spring clean – click here to subscribe and get every instalment delivered fresh to your inbox

We all have a deep-seated craving for attention.

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Games People Play

Research shows that children who are not given regular attention are much more likely to suffer disease and depression.

Psychiatrist Eric Berne, author of Games People Play, looked at how we interact with the people around us.  He concluded that humans need “stroking” through regular attention to avoid emotional deprivation.

We need validation from others to bolster our sense of self.

Every time we interact with other people, we undertake a transaction. The simple act of saying “good morning” or “how are you” to a colleague or neighbour gives both participants a nice stroke.  We feel noticed, validated, part of a bigger whole.

We all become experts at getting strokes from others.  One way to do this is to learn games. Games are a set pattern of behaviour that we use to get attention from the world around us.  When we play games, we get noticed.

Games often serve a dual purpose, helping to confirm our story about the world.  The games we play reinforce our beliefs about our place in the bigger picture.

There are two main types of game – negative and positive.

Negative games

Many games we play seek negative attention (hey some attention is better than none). Here is a common game called “Kick Me” to demonstrate:

How it is played: The player adopts a social manner that is extremely defensive and paranoid. This is the equivalent of putting up a sign saying “Please don’t kick me”

What happens: The temptation to kick this person is too great and the world queues up to take turns.

The pay-off: The player gets stroked – however this is through plenty of negative attention.

The side-effect: The player’s story that the world is out to get me is reinforced. Every time they are kicked, the story gets stronger.

Our need for attention is so strong that we’d rather be kicked by the world than be ignored. We can play some crazy games with really negative outcomes.  Often these negative games can feel like a doom loop.  These negative games reduce our confidence and enjoyment of life.

As part of my mental spring-cleaning, I’m looking for games I play that seek negative attention.  Looking back on the past, I think I may have played “Kick me” on occasion, particularly in work interactions with people more senior than me.   That game is well and truly consigned to the dustbin of history!

Positive games

Another side to the mental spring-cleaning is to look for games that seek positive attention and reinforce positive stories about the world.

These games tend to have an amazing pay-off for all players – yet sometimes we forget to play them.

Here is the game “Happy to Help” to demonstrate:

How it is played: The player is constantly helpful and positive to the world around them.

What happens: People are grateful for the player’s help and admire their attitude.

The pay-off: People respond with positive attention and praise for the player’s actions.

The side-effect: The player’s story that the world is full of positive wonderful people is reinforced.

I love this game and play it as much as possible.  It can be played with everyone you meet and costs nothing. This game feeds the need for attention in a hugely positive way.  It brings us the stroking we need and makes the world a better place.

Other positive games include “Gratitude”, “People are amazing”, “We can do it” and “You’re the best”.

Choosing to play positive games and kicking out negative ones increases self-confidence, happiness and success in life….

Over to you

As you continue your mental spring clean, ask yourself:

  • What do you do to seek attention from others?
  • What happens as a result?
  • What kind of attention do you get?
  • What are the side effects?

Figure out the games you are playing and the positive and negative consequences.  Try to stop playing the games that you don’t enjoy and play more of the ones that feel good.


Eric Byrne’s website

Wikipedia links to Games People Play and Transactional Analysis

Games People Play – the classic performed by Jerry Lee Lewis

Photo by Miss Turner

Spring Clean your Mind

Reading time: 2 minutes and 49 seconds

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Spring Clean your Mind

A five part series to find clarity, focus and the energy to be your extraordinary.  Click here to subscribe and have every post delivered fresh to your inbox!

Spring is in the air!  Nature is waking up.  The earth is blooming with fresh buds, blossom on the trees, a whiff of hope in the air.

Spring is a time of renewal, new life, new possibilities, new hope, new beginnings, fresh thinking.  It’s a time to emerge from the shadows of hibernation, shake off the lethargy and face the future with joy.

An important tradition at this time of year is spring cleaning.  This is the ritual of cleaning house, sprucing up our dwelling, clearing away the clutter.  We cast off the baggage we’ve picked up over the winter.

This year, I’m planning to take the opportunity to spring clean my mind.  I want to sort through some of the dusty old boxes I’ve been storing in my mental attic.  I’m pretty sure that there are some hidden treasures I can polish up and enjoy.  I also know that there is a lot of junk up there that I no longer want to hump around with me.

My Mental Spring Clean will cover four areas:


We all spend a huge amount of time and energy creating stories about our identity.  We tell the outside world all about ourselves – what we do, our social status, how we interact with others, our expectations from the world around us.

We also tell ourselves stories about who we think we are.  I know that one story I was telling myself was that I had to do everything myself because there is no-one out there who would want to collaborate with me.  Since I recognized this story and started to change it, I’ve found that suddenly people are starting to want to get involved with my projects.  A simple change of story and led to a big difference.

Our stories are usually based on some simple facts, however we choose how to weave these facts together.  We also have the choice of which facts to select in creating the story.  Understanding the power of our personal narrative and how we communicate it can hugely change our lives for the better.  Change our story and we change our life.


The psychiatrist Eric Byrne wrote the seminal book Games People Play in 1964.  He identified the human need for attention and the need to fill the unstructured void of time.  Byrne identified that human interaction is based on conversations and analyzed these transactions in more detail.

He found that almost everyone plays games to get attention from others.  Often we don’t realize what we are doing.  Some of the games Byrne talks about include “See what you made me do”, “Ain’t it awful”, “If it weren’t for them” and “Stupid”.  Any of these sound familiar to you?

I know that I’ve spent most of my life playing “Just good enough”.  In this game, I try just hard enough to get the result I want without standing out from the crowd by being the best.  It is a game to keep me safe from unwanted attention, yet it also stops me from taking risks, really going for it, or feeling fulfilled.

In this mental spring clean, we can assess the games we are playing, figure out which ones are helpful and which ones are holding us back.

Gremlins / The voice in my head

This one is an old chestnut.  I have that horrible voice in my head that tells me;  “you’re not good enough, you can’t do that”, “who would listen to someone like you anyway”, “get over yourself, you’re no-one”.

These gremlins are powerful forces.  Typically we created them in our childhood to protect us from a situation that would have been detrimental.  Perhaps to overcome a fear of being embarrassed, we created a gremlin that stopped us answering questions in class.  The gremlin was there to keep us safe.

Often, this voice in our head has long since stopped being useful.  It stops us from taking action and being our best self with the old warnings.  In this mental spring clean, we’ll look at how to gracefully retire some of these gremlins and free ourselves to be whatever we want to be.


As children, we sponge up huge amounts from the world around us.  We learn routines about how to live our lives.  We pick up habits about how to behave from our parents, peers and everyone we meet.

Habits can be extremely positive, like a regular exercise routine, the process we use to keep ourselves organised or taking 10 minutes each morning to plan our day.  They can also be unconstructive – procrastinating, avoiding using the telephone when we know we should, drinking to relieve stress.

To some extent, we are what we do, and these habits become a large part of our identity.  We can understand more about how habits form, identify which habits to change and apply some of the rules of change to create positive new habits.

Get Cleaning

This Mental Spring Clean will look at each area in more detail and give practical advice on how to change for the better.  I’m planning to use the journey to create a mind that feels shiny, fresh and new  – ready to face the renewal of spring.  Please join me and enjoy some mental sorting, dusting, cleaning and polishing.  Let the Mental Spring Clean begin.

How to Start

Reading time: 2 minutes and 10 seconds

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Twenty eight minutes.

That is all I have.  Twenty eight minutes to distil my thoughts into a blog post.  I’m in the coffee shop and the battery life of my lap-top has imposed this limit on me.

What am I feeling?  Pressure to create.  Where do I start? How do I start?

Sometimes I feel that my writing just flows.  My desktop tells a different story.  It’s a graveyard of half-written posts, abandoned to the scrap heap of history.  The one about learning to slice onions was particularly awful.  Maybe I’ll post it one day, so you can agree.

Getting started is usually the biggest hurdle.  The blank page.  The blinking cursor.  It’s almost mocking me.  Come on – fill me up.  Bring me to life.  How difficult can that possibly be?

My personal best is 47 minutes.  I’ve sat and stared.  Occasionally an idea popped into my head.  No, who’d want to read about that?  Too boring.  Too trite.  Too patronising.  Even I wouldn’t read that.  Back to staring, and waiting.

If only I was as amazing at everything as I am at self-censoring.  Life would be a breeze.

So how do I get started.  Breaking inertia, getting the ball rolling.  Michael Atavar, author of the brilliant How to Be an Artist probably sums it up best:


Pick something, anything to fill the vacuum.  Look at the world around you.  The people, the environment, nature, the sky, the sunlight playing on the water, the feeling you have inside you, the photograph of the old man in the café covering his eyes, the colour of the paint on the wall.  Anything that catches your interest.

Congratulations, you’ve started.  Now do something with it. Write it down, talk about it with someone, draw it, photograph it, video it, write a haiku about it.  The first building block.

Where does this take you?  What happens next, where does your mind draw you?  Find the excitement, open the next door and see what is behind. The rust starts to flake off the mental cog wheels.  Each rotation gets easier.  The rolling stone picks up momentum.  Moss be gone.

Starting something is much easier than not starting something. Not starting is static, frustrating, tedious.

Starting is dynamic, energizing, exciting, creative. It’s not important if you’re trying to write a blog post, get a project moving, find a new job or change the world.  Everything has to start somewhere.

So I pick something.  Twenty eight minutes.  I roll with it.  The wheels turn.  Something else follows.  Suddenly the words are flowing.  I’m riding a train of thought, not exactly sure where it is going.  And then I reach the destination, and I’m pleased.  With 8 minutes still to spare.  Time to start something new….

What are you ready to start?  How long have you been waiting?  How do you get the ball rolling?  What gets you unstuck?  Please leave a comment and let the LOL community know.

Great blogs about starting

Marc Winitz at Black Belt Guide on Making a Breakthrough.

Tess at The Bold Life on Living Without Regret.

Photo Credit: Lord Jim from Flickr Creative Commons

Get off the Hamster Wheel

Reading Time: 3 minutes and 12 seconds

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Get off the Hamster Wheel

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Have you ever felt like you’re stuck on the hamster wheel – running as fact as you can and going nowhere?

Life can be seen as the sum total of all the choices we’ve ever made.  Every day we’re faced with hundreds of decisions – some inconsequential such as which brand of toothpaste to buy, some very important such as choosing a new career direction.

It is what it is….

Many people believe that our life is determined by fate and that there is no way to influence what happens to us.   This theory suggests that we have no choice in any events in our life.  Living by this philosophy can lead to giving up on life.  In this world, our life is little more than a piece of driftwood floating on the stream of fate.

The Smarter Choice

The alternative mindset is that we live in a world full of choices.   From this view point, the world fills with possibility.  In a given situation we face a huge range of options. If you are in a meeting with your boss, you could choose to answer her questions earnestly and to the best of your ability, you could choose to be challenging and stand up for your views, or you could choose to run out of the door screaming and never come back.   Each choice has potential consequences and inevitably some consequences may appear preferable to others.  However, we have the power to choose.

The Hamster Wheel

Even if we believe in choices, it is easy to close ourselves down to our options.  We can get into a routine or a rut.  Life becomes about survival.  Welcome to The Hamster Wheel.

Getting off the Hamster Wheel can give us tremendous energy and power.  It allows you to feel in control of a given situation.

Choose Life

Over time and through self-reflection we can learn to slow down and see the bigger picture.  Once we realise we have options, life stops being about survival and starts to become about possibilities.  We step off the hamster wheel.

When we are making deliberate choices it becomes easier to take responsibility for our actions.  When we choose and commit to our actions we can own the results regardless of the apparent level of success.   We make choices, we commit to them, we accept the results and we grow as a person.

Exercise – Getting off the Hamster Wheel

This exercise is a quick way to get off the hamster wheel and learn to see all the options.  You can work through it in advance to plan your biggest decisions by doing it every morning.  This also works in the moment when you feel stuck on the hamster wheel.  Asking these questions opens us up to the reality that we do face options.

  • What is the challenge that I face today / am facing right now?
  • What are my options?
  • What other choices could I make (regardless of how feasible they may be)?
  • What could I do if I had no fear?
  • Which choices best align with my values and who I am as a person?
  • What support can I get in taking this choice with power and committing to it?

Getting off the hamster wheel and choosing life is a tremendously powerful approach to life.   Try it today and see what happens.

Picture credit – Sebastien Davies (from Flickr – Creative Commons)

Viktor Frankl – Lessons from a Concentration Camp

Reading Time: 3 minutes and 1 second

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Find your Purpose

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What can we learn from a man stripped of all his worldly possessions and dignity?  The psychologist Viktor Frankl, author of Man’s Search for Meaning spent four years in Nazi concentration camps during World War II.  He survived some of the most inhumane treatment in modern history.  As a doctor, Frankl focused his energy and strength on studying those around him during this deprivation.  He learned a huge amount about the importance of living a life of meaning.

Everyday Life in Auschwitz

Frankl interviewed hundreds of inmates he treated in camp hospitals.  He identified that those who survived the illness and mistreatment almost always had a deeper meaning or purpose in their lives.  In Frankl’s own case, he was determined to survive to be reunited with his wife, the love of his life.  This drove him to dig frozen earth, endure countless beatings and fight off the scourges of malnutrition and tetanus for four years.

What Makes Us Give Up?

Frankl watched fellow inmates succumb to what he called “giveupitis”.  One day, they would simply lie in bed and refuse to get up, ignoring beatings and abuse from the guards.  At this point, Frankl sadly noted that they had given up their reason for living and their death was usually came within a day or two.  Without purpose they had no reason to go on.

The Power of Purpose

Frankl’s groundbreaking work has huge significance for your life. Without meaning, life can be tinged with a deep seated feeling of futility and emptiness.  Frankl saw this manifest in “giveupitis” amongst his patients and fellow inmates.  Today this lack of meaning can lead to a lack of motivation, energy and excitement.  It can hold you back from chasing your vision and goals and keep you stuck in the ordinary.

Finding a deeper purpose provides the motivation to strive for success.   It helps with springing out of bed in the morning and providing the energy to push for what is really important.

How to Find your Purpose

Ask yourself the following questions to identify your purpose:

Overcoming Challenges

  • Think about your toughest situations when you’ve been closest to giving up. What was the spark that kept burning and got you through?
  • What did you continue to believe in?

Greatest Days

  • Think about your greatest and most fulfilling moments in life where you felt most proud?
  • What was your driving force to achieve these amazing feats?
  • What makes you feel proud about what you did?

People Power

  • Who are the most important people in your life?
  • What do they mean to you?
  • How do they inspire and motivate you?

So, what is your purpose?  How do you plan to make the most of that today and every day?  What have you learned from Viktor Frankl’s experience?  Please share your passion with the LOL Community by leaving a comment. And if you have time, pick up a copy of Man’s Search for Meaning, a truly inspiring read.

Photo credit: Studio 494 from Flickr Creative Commons