How will this help you win?

As I’ve mentioned previously, my fiance plays a lot of Magic: The Gathering, which is possibly the most complex card game in the world. And with that complexity come a lot of play mistakes, from people who are new to the game and can’t keep track of all the possibilities available.

One of the most common mistakes is that people play cards that are generally good (reduce their opponent’s life total, or counter what their opponent does), but aren’t helpful in this situation. If you can’t completely counter your opponent’s actions, for example, then you’re often better off saving your resources for repairing the damage done. Many people lose games because they spend resources on things that won’t help, and then don’t have the resources necessary to do what would help.

In a complex situation like MTG, you can’t just stick to a general rule of thumb and expect it to work in all situations. You have to ask yourself at all times, before playing each card, “How will this help me win?”

It works in life, too

Most of us go through life without ever thinking about why we do what we do. Fortunately, many of the paths that are selected for us really are good choices: the mandatory schooling in the US, for example, or the decision to eat three meals a day.

But many of our problems are caused by pre-made decisions that are not good. In many cases, the default education at the default public school (although better than no education at all) is not better than available alternatives. The decision to eat a ton of sugar, salt and saturated fat (literally: the average American will actually eat 4 tons of sugar in their lifetime) is part of the reason that the average American’s lifetime is shorter than lifespans in 36 other countries. And it’s not because we sat down and thought “I think I’ll eat 4 tons of sugar”. It’s because we are given traditions like Halloween, Christmas cookies, sugared spaghetti sauce, soda with meals and bread with high-fructose corn syrup, and we follow those traditions without ever thinking “Will this help me win?”

The way you eat. The amount of exercise you get. What you do in the evenings. Where you work. What you learned. Where you spend your XP. Most of us never made those decisions. The things we chose just kind of happened, and we never changed them.

Make a habit of asking yourself, when you start to do something, “How will this help me win?