Spoiler alert: these games aren’t about manipulation but they will help you sharpen your thinking and work better with others.
Merriam Webster defines “mind games” as, “A psychological tactic used to manipulate or intimidate—usually used in plural.”
That’s only one definition.
Some companies sell “mind games” to describe programs and instructional material that are supposed to train your brain. The purveyors of these mind games promise miraculous results. Depending on who’s selling the mind game, you might fend off mental decline. You might get much smarter.
There’s also a much more mundane definition. The term “mind games” is used for puzzles and other things that challenge your mind. Several table games are in this group.
I’ve got another. My definition is: “ways to think that will help you be a better boss.” Here are three of them.
This is the simplest form of a mind game. When you play “What If?” you think about unusual things that could happen. Then, you give some thought to what you should do about it. For instance, if you live in earthquake country, you might figure out what to do if there was an earthquake.
I’ve seen people in high-risk occupations from police, fire, and military use this to prepare their minds for what otherwise might surprise them. I’ve seen business planners use it to figure out what they will do if they have an embarrassing incident, if an act of God that makes distribution impossible, or they wind up with a runaway hit.
Think about what might happen. Think about how you’d become aware of the situation and what you’d do next.
Similarly, If/then is a simple mind game and a powerful planning tool. Identify a situation or something that could happen. It could be simple, like “If it’s raining outside…” or more significant, like “If two of my team members get the COVID virus at the same time…”
Then, figure out how to respond. Sometimes, you’ll substitute the word “when” for the word “if.”
WOOP is formally known as “mental contrasting.” It will help you test the feasibility of your goals and work out how to achieve them. Here are the steps.
Wish: You may want to lose weight, or get promoted, or run a marathon.
Outcome: Where you describe what it will look like, feel like, or sound like when you achieve your goal. This can be either the complete end goal or something you must achieve along the way.
Obstacle: What do you have to do or what gets in the way of you achieving your goal?
Plan: How will you overcome that obstacle? What happens at this point is that you either find that the obstacle is more than you can handle, or you develop a mini-plan for dealing with it. It might be an If/then plan.
Mental contrasting was developed by professor Gabriele Oettingen. She’s written an entire book about it, but the best explanation I’ve seen is in Eric Barker’s, Barking Up the Wrong Tree.
WOOP lets you put things together. You can bring your what-ifs and if/thens and reality testing all into one process. You may not want to do that very often, but it’s a great mind game.
PLAY WITH OTHERS
You don’t have to play these mind games by yourself. In fact, there are benefits to playing with others. When you involve other people, especially your team members, you’ll discover more issues. There will be more ideas about what you should do.
This is a great way for team members to get to know each other and to work together. There’s an added benefit of team members sharpening their thinking against others. And you don’t need to all be in the same place to play.
Some mind games can help you be a better boss.
by Wally Bock
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