1: “Peak performance isn’t something we win,” Steven Kotler writes in his brilliant book The Art of the Impossible.  

“There are no fixed rules, no established time frame for the contest, and the field of play is as big or as small as we choose to live our lives.”

Peak performance is what philosopher James Carse calls an “infinite game,” Steven notes. There are “finite games” and “infinite games” which together “describe the main ways we live and play here on Earth.”  

So what are the rules of a finite game?  

“It’s just that—finite,” Steven writes. “It has a finite number of options and players, clearly defined winners and losers, and an established set of rules. This is chess or checkers, for sure, but it’s also politics, sports, and war.”

Infinite games are the reverse. “They have no clear winners or losers, no established time frame for play, and no fixed rules,” Steven writes. “In infinite games, the field of play is mutable, the number of participants keeps changing, and the only goal is to keep on playing. 

“Art, science, and love are infinite games.”

So is peak performance.  

2: But peak performance “is an unusual kind of infinite game. It may be unwinnable, but we can definitely lose,” he notes.

Steven quotes the brilliant Harvard psychologist William James who wrote: “The human individual lives usually far within his limits; he possesses powers of various sorts which he habitually fails to use. He energizes below his maximum, and he behaves below his optimum. In elementary faculty, in coordination, in power of inhibition and control, in every conceivable way, his life is contracted like the field of vision of an hysteric subject—but with less excuse, for the poor hysteric is diseased, while in the rest of us, it is only an inveterate habit—the habit of inferiority to our full self—that is bad.”

William’s quote hits hard because we sense we are failing to unlock all of our potential. Not only that, but we make a habit of failing to live up to our potential.  

“We’re playing the wrong game. And it’s bad,” Steven writes. We “get one shot at this life, and we’re going to spend one-third of it asleep. So what do we choose to do with the remaining two-thirds?”

“That is the only question that matters.”

3: How do we answer this question with our own lives? 

“Does this mean we lose the infinite game if we’re not a paradigm-shifting physicist or a record-breaking ballplayer?” 

Fortunately, no, Steven notes.

It does mean, though, that we “lose by not trying to play full out, by not trying to do the impossible—whatever that is for us.”

The bigger point?

“We are all capable of so much more than we know,” Steven writes. “This is the main lesson a lifetime in peak performance has taught me. Each of us, right here, right now, contains the possibility of extraordinary. Yet, this extraordinary capability is an emergent property, one that only arises when we push ourselves toward the edge of our abilities.”

To achieve peak performance, we must optimize four specific skills: Motivation. Learning. Creativity. Flow.

“Motivation is what gets us into this game,” Steven writes. “Learning is what helps us continue to play; creativity is how we steer; and flow is how we turbo-boost the results beyond all rational standards and reasonable expectations.  

“That, my friends, is the real art of impossible. Welcome to the infinite game.”

More tomorrow!


Reflection: How much of my potential am I tapping into? How can I leverage motivation, learning, creativity, and flow to make a bigger impact?

 Action: Start today.

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