High Performance Therapy II: A Sense of Value

The only battle of value is the one you fight for yourself with yourself.

Politeness is the poison of collaboration.”
Edwin Land, scientist and inventor

Lincoln Stoller, PhD, 2024. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International license (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)


Competition is rooted in conquest for scarce resources. Sport has evolved into a contest of who gets to be recognized, rewarded, and survive. Winner takes all, and others get none.

The Olympics, a paradigm of success and specialization, are the heritage of the culture of conquest. To have value was to be the most powerful. In Roman culture, change, when it happened, was destructive.

Competition is appropriate where choices are exclusive. Perhaps the best genetic partner is the biggest and strongest if survival is at stake. But in the human sphere, situations are rarely so cut and dry and outcomes are not simple.

You are the winner at the cattle show. You don’t have to play the game.

When human needs are satisfied, those who prevail become gene-pool resources. But productivity is enhanced when the needs of all players are supported. We need those who don’t win in order to find change. It should not be “winner takes all.”

The Hunger Games

Individual ideas combine into collective attitudes that reflect a shared perspective. The individual idea of scarcity becomes the social perspective that we prevail or succumb as a group. In a competitive society, the winner controls the market, resources, power, or people. The winning society does the same.

There is feedback as social attitudes enhance or diminish individual ideas, even when they’re not clearly stated (Janis 1971). Most people see groupthink as the coercive force of majority suggestion. Collective thought patterns extend beyond immediate decisions. The groups you affiliate with become part of your mind.

If we’re embedded in a society that sees the environment in terms of either abundance or scarcity, then it is all around us. It appears in images, tales, politics, and what pretends to be “objective” news. As our thoughts change, our brains change, and what we think becomes part of us. Do not think human value is a scarce resource.

We don’t recognize how pattern oriented we are. We perceive and respond to patterns unconsciously. Manipulating this is the trick of mind reading; the mind reader does not read you, they lead you. This plays a role in therapy, where a counselor works to re-pattern a client’s thoughts.

Even therapists are only weakly aware of what they’re doing. Most think they’re effecting change by exploring different ways of making sense. They’re not. Change happens through the predominance of new patterns. We learn this as hypnotherapists. Creating new thinking patterns does not depend on making sense. More importantly, what you’re thinking now does not depend on what makes sense.

Your Virtual Reality

A deceptive aspect of game-play is that it presumes you believe that playing the game is real. Not that the simulated game-reality is real, but that the play is real. All games presume you accept the rules before you start. On this basis, nearly everything we do is a game: family, love, war, business, school, and life.

Few competitors, spectators, or coaches consider the implications of their participation. They don’t question the game. If you were to question them, they might say, “When you agree to play, you agree to the rules.” Or they might say, “If you don’t like the game, don’t play it.” When two boxers begin a match by shaking hands, they’re not saying they respect each other, they’re saying they’ll play by the rules.

Stop playing your games and consider what these games presume. They have rules and the rules rarely change. In those cases where the rules seem to change, that’s also part of the game. The rules don’t change so much that the game falls apart. Are these really growth-fostering environments? Is this really the environment you need?

The person who changes the rules is called the designer or the architect. If the game is life, the designer is called God. We are taught to be social animals. We are not taught how to design our own game.

It is presumed that the environment will stay the same long enough for your game to conclude. When the environment changes, gameplay becomes unstable. The game may not conclude and your safety can be in jeopardy. This is where trauma happens and marriages fail. More commonly, you’ll grow out of the game, and that’s healthy.

Playing a Better Game

Does playing a better game mean playing better at the game or playing a different game that’s better? I suggest these two options can be the same. Playing better isn’t different if it’s just a difference in quantity, but it can be if it’s a difference in quality.

If you add something to play the game better, you’re playing a new game. The rules may look the same, but you are not. Playing with greater speed is not fundamentally different, but playing with emotion where you didn’t have emotion before is.

If you were uncommitted and indifferent, then playing a better game could mean finding commitment or purpose. If so, you are playing by your own rules; rules that define meaning for you. If you are trying to save your marriage, you might decide to accept greater sacrifice, or you might insist on less sacrifice for greater respect.

Playing better at the game involves patience and effort. You accept the game and you apply it to yourself. You will try to gain more skill, though it is not guaranteed that you can. Here is the question of knowing your best, and knowing if that’s a limit you can or want to change. Are you only changing the means to winning, or are you changing the meaning of winning?

If you are switching to a game that’s better, you are definitely playing a different game. If you recognize the rules are against you, then you’ll opt to exit the old game. You’ll bring the game to a close or leave it unfinished. When you exit the game, you have new choices, but there is no guarantee the future will be different.

The game that most people play does not conclude. It ends, as in a job or marriage, and then repeats itself. You might try a different play. If you are like most people, you do not change the goals. You don’t know how to.

Upping Your Game

We have some good ideas, like making our lives meaningful. This requires balance. Most of us know our work or have been told. Few of us know what’s meaningful.

We have some bad ideas, like seeing everything as a competition and seeing our goals as fixed. These ideas are implanted in us and replacing them takes more than one person. Playing on one team that fights another team creates a self-limiting mindset.

We give lip service to collaboration when we retain our competitive mindset. Consider Steve Jobs, Apple Computer’s famous founder, who said, “Great things in business are never done by one person; they’re done by a team of people.” Jobs wasn’t talking about collaboration. He was a terrible team player, a tyrant, and an autocrat. He got things done by exploiting people, which is how hierarchies work.

There is much talk about teamwork and collaboration. Most of it simply restates the rules and, as such, is more direction. You know it’s not useful because it adds no value. Most business team-building workshops are bullshit and bravura.

A mountaineering team works as a partnership. We are not competing with an adversary, we are competing with ourselves. The best mountaineer always wins because the objective is not the goal, it’s the experience. They enjoy the experience.

I understand people in the special forces have a similar mindset. They have an adversary but hold no hostility toward them. They operate on the battlefield of their mind. They always do their best and will win or lose according to circumstances beyond their control. Winning is not vanquishing the enemy or achieving the goal. Winning is surviving the game.

When special forces veterans retire from duty, they are not traumatized like some soldiers, but they are not like regular people either. Mountaineers are similarly different because, if they’re good mountaineers, they don’t value themselves according to a competitive mindset.

Each player sees their goals and limitations differently, but I see only one difference. That difference is whether you’re playing your own game or you’re playing someone else’s. This may not be apparent to anyone but yourself, but it makes all the difference.

Monster of the Id, from Forbidden Planet, 1956

Fight With but Not Against Yourself

The study of strength is not the same as the study of pathology (Aspinwall 2003). Having a rewarding state of mind does not mean you expect to be rewarded. In a strong state of mind, you already have the reward. It resides in who you are. In the second case, coming from a place of need, you never will never find adequate reward, you will only be recognized.

Are you trying to win a trophy or are you trying to find yourself? Are you trying to achieve satisfaction or are you building a new kind of meaning? Do you want a happy marriage or do you want to do what’s right?

That last question is often used to suggest that being right is less important than being happy, but that is backwards. If being right means right in spirit, then it’s the real meaning of happiness. If you say you’d rather be happy than right, then you’ll never be either.

There is no satisfaction in a quiet and happy-looking life. If the mold of happiness is making you unhappy, break it. If you know what is right in spirit, then you might find deeper happiness. If your concept of righteous spirit is wrong, you’ll soon know it. If you repeatedly follow what you think is right-spirit and you cannot succeed, then you might use some help.

To struggle with yourself is not to struggle against yourself. Your struggle is real and it is in you. There is an obstacle and you struggle with it. Your solution is not a winner-take-all victory of capitulation, it’s an alliance with yourself. You are playing a collaborative game with yourself.

You can only succeed by doing what feels right, and, if you cannot, change what feels right. You might benefit from outside help. Good counselors are expensive because it takes broad experience and our full commitment. There are a lot of poor counselors.

There is more difficult help that is less expensive. Crisis is the most common path. It’s free to enter but can get expensive. In a crisis, you have become your own adversary and every injury may be your own. It’s hard to budget for disaster.

People think counseling is for those who can’t heal themselves. This misconception comes from the allopathic approach that requires your surrender. Most counselors offer this because most clients want it.

You want a friend who will give you the rope to hang yourself but won’t let you do it. When the struggle is with yourself, you must manage your own rescue.


Aspinwall, L, and Staudinger, U. M. (2003). A Psychology of Human Strengths: Fundamental Questions and Future Decisions for a Positive Psychology. In L. Aspinwall and U. M. Staudinger (Eds.). Towards a Psychology of Human Strengths. APA Books: 9-22. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/232459492_A_Psychology_of_Human_Strengths_Fundamental_Questions_and_Future_Directions_for_Positive_Psychology

Cassidy, C. (2020 May 6). Who Invented the Wheel? And How Did They Do It? Wired. https://www.wired.com/story/who-invented-wheel-how-did-they-do-it/

Janis, I. L. (1971 Nov). Groupthink, Psychology Today Magazine: 43ff. https://agcommtheory.pbworks.com/f/GroupThink.pdf

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