Does life feel like a competition in which you’re either a winner or a loser — and you really want to be the winner? You’re looking for all the signs that your needs are met, you’ve accomplished your goals, and you’ve made it.
But a zero-sum mindset will hold you back in the world. Realizing that you are already whole and complete can transform your approach to life. You are already winning and your personal growth is the prize.
A zero-sum game is a situation in which there can only be one winner. Chess is like that. One person wins, and the other loses.
Poker is another example. Money changes hands, but there’s a finite amount of it that exists on the table. Only one person can walk away with it. For every dollar that someone wins, someone else is losing that dollar.
This zero-sum approach makes sense when you’re playing a game like chess. The problem is that zero-sum thinking can show up elsewhere in our lives, including business and relationships.
We can get trapped in zero-sum thinking. When that happens, it cuts us off from possibilities in our world. We wind up in a scarcity mindset instead of a resourceful state of mind. The fear of competition may become a driving force in our decision-making.
Whether you’re an entrepreneur looking to achieve your money goals or someone in the dating world looking for a life partner, this type of thinking can chop you off at the knees.
External Mile Markers
When people are living with a zero-sum mindset, they often set their focus on external mile markers. They treat those as the thing that gives them permission to experience certain feelings or types of being.
- When I hit a million dollars in revenue…
- When I have the perfect partner…
- When I know that person is attracted to me…
They’re waiting for that particular thing to happen: Once that happens, then I’ll be able to exhale a sigh of relief. That’s when I’ll feel secure.
Have you set up mile markers like this in your own life? If so, you’re putting your sense of security and happiness in something outside of yourself. You’re hinging it on something over which you have no control.
Then, you might find yourself white-knuckling toward that mile marker at all costs: This needs to happen or else. That frame of mind can become destructive and unsustainable.
Waiting for the Checkmark
In the relationship realm, this shows up when people base their security on elements in the dating dynamic that they can’t control.
That may be expressed through anxious questions like:
- Is this person attracted to me?
- Are we boyfriend and girlfriend?
- When are we getting married?
It’s one thing to ask such questions with a spirit of curiosity and relaxed inquiry. It’s another to approach them with an underlying current of “We’re not okay where we’re at, and we need to be moving into this other thing.”
It turns into a zero-sum mindset in which one person puts an undue amount of responsibility on the other to give them what they’re looking for.
It’s like waiting to get a checkmark — to cross something off of your must-have list. You figure that once you get it, then you’ll be happy and complete. That’s when your life will start working.
But if you’re basing your happiness and success on finding a relationship or getting married, then you’re showing up in the world with a sense of lack. The same goes for hinging your happiness on reaching a certain income level or hitting a business milestone.
No matter the scenario, you’re operating from a place of needing external validation to fill your cup. That limits your effectiveness in the world.
Completeness Within Yourself
You already have completeness within you. No matter what happens around you, you already have a full cup.
You are a whole resource — a full human being worthy of love, attention, and affection in the world. You are worthy of your own esteem.
When you approach a goal with that understanding in mind, then you’ll know that there’s no place you have to be. Nothing you have to accomplish. Rather, you can create whatever you want.
A zero-sum mentality no longer applies because, from the very outset, you’re bringing something to the game. You’re bringing security and relaxation and a sense of accomplishment to everything you do. That fundamentally changes how you play.
This is the essence of manifestation. When you practice manifestation, you are bringing a vision of future reality into the now. You learn to create from a place of already being there.
It’s not pretending. You’re not playing a game in which you’re lying to yourself about the future.
Rather, you are accessing that way of being inside yourself. You are tapping into where you’ve already done that thing, where you are whole, resourceful, and complete.
When you know that you are a complete person, you can shift the language that you use.
Let’s go back to the example of looking for a relationship. There’s a difference between “I need a relationship” and “I want a relationship.”
When you are orienting your life toward needing a relationship, then that becomes your foundation. You don’t feel okay in your life unless you find that relationship. And once you do enter into a relationship, you grasp onto it like it’s your only source of sustenance.
Wanting a relationship is different. You recognize that you have desires, but you can be more relaxed about them. You come to the table as a whole, complete person who has something to offer to a relationship — looking to make deposits into it, rather than drawing from it.
Choosing “want” language is such a powerful way to live your life. It allows you to find your own motivation for whatever it is that you want to do.
The Greatest Asset vs. the Booby Prize
It’s time to move your external mile marker. You can shift it from an external goal to an internal one. The marker for success moves inward.
It shifts from “What do I want to accomplish?” to “Who do I want to become?”
Investing yourself in pursuit of your goals is your greatest asset — whether or not you actually achieve the thing that you originally think you want.
That thing is just a booby prize. The real prize is who you become in pursuit of your goal.
When you bring your mile marker inward, there’s no way to lose. It’s all about who you are becoming. As long as you are learning and focusing on your values — alignment, integrity, honesty, transparency — then whether your goal happens doesn’t even matter.
The prize is you and the accumulation of knowledge, experience and wisdom you’re getting about yourself.
Where You’re Winning
When you are using mile markers outside of yourself to dictate your way of being, you can lose touch with your accomplishments.
You can miss all the ways that you’re already crushing it. Looking for external validation blinds you to the ways that you’re already resourceful and the things you have to be grateful for.
So pause for a moment. Instead of looking forward and hinging your okayness on getting some particular thing, pause and look backward.
See how far you’ve actually come? You are already winning. Life has already worked in your favor.
Whatever situation you’ve been in, you’ve gotten through. You have evidence of that because you are here right now.
You are already winning. You already create through every circumstance that has occurred in your life. That is who you are.
And as you move forward, you can do so from that state of mind, knowing that you are already whole and complete and winning.
Operating as if You’re Already There
I go for a walk every night. Just five minutes from where I live, there’s an epic area with a boardwalk through a forest along a river. It’s the kind of place I’ve always wanted to live.
Usually, I pop in my AirPods and listen to podcasts or create content as I walk. But recently, my AirPods died while I was out, so I just listened to the river.
Ever since I was young, I’ve dreamed of living where the temperature is perfect, the land is green, and there’s water all around me. And that evening, I paused and recognized the world around me and realized, I’m already there.
How about you? How would you operate if you already knew you’d arrived? How would you show up?
Perhaps you think that you’d lose all motivation to do anything, but I don’t think that’s true. Why does a child on a beach run to build a sandcastle? It’s not a need. No, they want to play and build something beautiful.
So when you stand in that place of knowing that you have already arrived — you are already whole and complete — you get to engage with the world in a new way. You can approach the things that you’re doing in the world as an artistic project rather than work.
Life is not a zero-sum game that relies on external mile markers and validation checkmarks. Rather, you are already whole and complete and winning — and you get to engage with the world in a way that embraces that reality.
For more on this topic, listen to Episode 1 of The Shift to Freedom podcast, where I chat with Clayton Olson about zero-sum games and winning mindsets.