Balancing Magic and Life

You are not a Magic player. You’re a human being that plays Magic.

That distinction is important to understand and never lose sight of. Too often, competitive players end up linking their personal identity with the game itself and the results they get from it. Because they’re playing it so much and because a massive portion of their time is spent being involved with the game in some capacity, it’s easy for them to end up feeling like Magic is who they are, and even worse, their sense of self-worth becomes inextricably linked with how much they’re winning or losing.

When that happens, it shows that the balance between Magic and life has completely been lost. And when that balance is lost, that’s when things tend to fall apart.

Ultimately, balance is the key to everything, both in Magic and in life. When you have balance, you have harmony and tranquility. When you don’t have balance, you have chaos and disorder. The motivation to slog through the grind of competitive Magic and the ability to enjoy that grind is much easier to come by when there’s a healthy balance between your Magic life and your personal life. Those things are harder to come by when that balance is lost and one completely overtakes the other.

You have to play in a lot of tournaments, but you can’t only play in tournaments non-stop. You have to practice and prepare for tournaments, but you can’t spend all your time practicing and preparing for a tournament. You have to be able to play Constructed well, but you also need to be proficient with Limited formats. You have to have highs, but you also have to have lows. You have to win, but you also need to lose. The importance of balance permeates every aspect of the game.

If all you do is play in tournaments non-stop, then your personal life and your relationships with family and loved ones can start to suffer. If you spend 12 hours a day, every day, practicing and preparing for Magic tournaments, then you’re neglecting other obligations in your life, as well as your own physical and mental well-being. If you play nothing but Constructed, then you won’t be any good at Limited. If you always have highs, then you won’t understand how to handle the lows when they come. If you always win, you won’t lose enough to learn your weaknesses and improve yourself as a player.

The reason the balance between Magic and life tends to get lost almost always comes down to one thing: obsessive passion. Magic really can be like a drug, and competitive players can easily fall into the trap of becoming obsessed with the game. While that obsession can be beneficial in few handful of ways, it also is a major downfall and something to look out for.

There’s been a pretty extensive amount of research done on the concept of obsessive passion, and the negative side-effects that come from it. Some of those negative side-effects are listed as the following:

  • Tying your sense of validation and self-worth to the results of an activity.
  • Becoming more passionate about the results of an activity than the activity itself.
  • Developing extremely harsh and debilitating self-criticism.
  • Failures and setbacks are perceived to be personal attacks rather than simply challenges to overcome.
  • An unhealthy, never-satisfied attitude for more—more trophies, more records, and more recognition.
  • A tendency to consider cheating or other forms of unethical practices in order to attain success at all costs.

Why would a player cheat? What would cause a player to take such an enormous risk and throw away all of their pride, dignity, and morals in order to cheat someone else for personal gain? It’s obsessive passion. Their obsessiveness for material and external success is so great that it destroys all sense of morality, and they’re willing to cheat other people out of their hard work in order to fulfill their obsession.

It’s important to love Magic and be committed to it, but that love and commitment towards the game always needs to be kept under control. Otherwise, you’ll fall into obsessive passion and that almost never ends well. The best way to create that balance is by having what’s called harmonious passion. Harmonious passion is when your passion for Magic comes not from the external rewards of Magic, but from the game itself and the intrinsic enjoyment/fulfillment you derive from it.

Just like with obsessive passion, there’s also been an extensive amount of research done on harmonious passion and the positive side-effects that come from it. Some of those positive side-effects are listed as the following:

  • More interested in an activity because of the joy and fulfillment you get from it rather than the rewards.
  • Far higher levels of happiness, health, and life satisfaction.
  • Far greater longevity in an activity and less likelihood of physical or emotional burnout.
  • Greater internal fulfillment gained from growth and improvement.
  • Validation and self-worth not tied to external results, rewards, outcomes, or goals.
  • Able to voluntarily pull yourself away from an activity when necessary and have a life outside that activity.

When you have a harmonious passion towards Magic, you’re able to be motivated to play it and enjoy regardless of what results you’re getting. You’re far less likely to physically or emotionally burn out with the game. You’ll get much greater internal fulfillment when you improve, and your sense of self-worth won’t be dependent on how much you win or lose. And, most importantly, you’ll be able to pull yourself away from the game when you need to so that you can make sure that the things in your personal life can thrive as well.

If you’re not sure whether you have a healthy balance between Magic and your personal life, you can find out by answering the following questions:

  1. Do you have enough energy and enthusiasm? Do you have the energy to practice and compete and have the enthusiasm to enjoy it?
  2. Do you have a life outside of Magic? Are you able to spend valuable time doing other things and with other people not involved with Magic?
  3. Do you have a positive Magic self-image? As a Magic player, do you see yourself in a positive light and feel content with who you are as a person?
  4. Are you able to stop doing Magic stuff when you want to? Can you pull yourself away and step away from Magic when it’s necessary or beneficial to do so?
  5. Are you able to get into “flow”? When you play, are you able to just go with the flow and immerse yourself in playing Magic without wondering when it will be over?
  6. Do you have positive self-talk when it comes to Magic? Do you say things like, “I can’t wait to play this weekend” or “I’m happy I get to play today”?

If you answered no to most or all of these questions, then your passion is very likely more obsessive in nature and you really need to consider making a change. Here’s how you can start to make that change and develop a more harmonious passion toward Magic:

1) Use positive self-talk with Magic.

Be aware of what kind of inter-dialogue you’re using when thinking about and talking about anything Magic related. Use positive self-talk and positive language as much as possible. Instead of saying, “I guess I need to playtest today,” change that to, “I can’t wait to go and do some playtesting today.” This helps to create a more positive perception toward Magic.

2) Leave Magic at the store, the convention center, or on the computer.

This one is SUPER important. When you’re done with Magic, whether it’s playtesting or a tournament, leave it there. Don’t think about it the rest of the day or continue to do more once you get home. This is especially true if you’ve had a bad day. Otherwise, you can take out your bad day at the table on your loved ones.

3) Schedule out beneficial breaks.

There’s a thing called “diminishing returns.” If you’re playing Magic to the point of physical and mental exhaustion without meaningful, beneficial breaks, then at some point, you’re going to end up getting less in return for all the work you’re putting in. You need time away from the game to rest and relax.

4) Have other hobbies that aren’t Magic related.

I work with a professional golfer that loves to collect and catalog vintage records. It helps to keep his mind from constantly being bogged down by golf. I work with an international swimmer who loves to write short-stories on the side. Think of other things that you love outside of Magic and do them so that you give yourself another positive outlet.

If you’re interested in learning more about the mental side of the game and improving in that area, I talk about these concepts and more in my book Mental Mana – Mastering The Mental Game Of Magic: The Gathering. Competitive Magic isn’t just about being good with the cards. You need to have the right mindset and have a strong mental game in order to succeed over the long-term. You can grab yourself a copy in either e-book or paperback versions by heading over to Amazon here.

Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you next week!

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