I’m sure that the one thing you want to read today is another cliché, welcome-to-the-new-year kind of article, am I right? Well, I’ll gladly do that for you! But fear not. My hope is to provide you with something along those lines, but in a slightly different way.

Today I want to walk you through an exercise. It’s fairly straightforward and simple. I’m going to ask you a series of what I consider to be important questions, and with each question, I’m also going to outline why I think it’s important. After reading the question and the accompanying commentary that goes with it, I’d like you to ponder on that question and then write down your answer to that question in detail.

If you can, grab yourself a piece of paper and a pen, and follow along with me for this exercise. Or fine, yes, you may use any form of new-fangled technology such as a tablet or smartphone too I guess, dagnabbit. Also, lastly, make sure that you are as honest as possible when answering each question. The entire purpose of this exercise is to help you take stock of yourself and provide a starting point for self-improvement. That can’t happen if you’re too afraid or insecure to answer the questions honestly.

Let’s get things started.

1) Why Do You Play Magic?

If you’re a competitive player, it’s likely that, on a surface level, your reasons for playing the game today are much different than they were when you first started. When you first started playing the game, I’m sure your reasons for playing Magic were more intrinsic in nature: hanging out with friends, meeting new people, exploring a new activity, etc. But over time, as you played the game more and improved your skills, it became more about the competitive aspects of the game and more extrinsic in nature: winning tournaments, acquiring points, moving up the rankings, etc.

Given that there is a combination of both intrinsic and extrinsic reasons why you play Magic, it’s important to understand which reasons outweigh the other, as understanding why you’re driven primarily by intrinsic or extrinsic motivators is going to play a massive role in determining how you approach the game and, most importantly, how you react to the various highs and lows you experience as a player. As the player you are today, and based on the relationship you currently have with the game, would you say your reasons for playing Magic are more intrinsically motivated or extrinsically motivated?

Are you motivated to play primarily by things such as having fun, enjoying the game, meeting people, and the challenge of competitive Magic? Or are you motivated primarily by things such as winning prizes, racking up points, and increasing your ranking? After decades of research, it is long established and irrefutable that intrinsic motivation is largely better than extrinsic motivation. Being motivated to do an activity intrinsically is far superior to being motivated to do an activity purely for extrinsic reasons. Because of that, finding a healthy balance between being intrinsically and extrinsically motivated to play Magic is important. Is your approach toward Magic balanced correctly?

2) Do You Balance Criticism with Praise?

Criticism is important, as it serves as a tool for which you can objectively analyze your performance, your skill level as a player, etc. so that you can have a concrete understanding of how to improve moving forward. If you never acknowledge your shortcomings, you can never really work on them consciously to make them better. But if all you ever do is utilize criticism and constantly focus on what’s “bad” about your game, your morale will be fairly low, along with your self-confidence and self-esteem. This is where praise comes in.

As human beings, we need praise and positive recognition from both ourselves and from others. In fact, it’s one of our innate psychological needs. We need to feel like we’re competent, we’re worthy, and we’re wanted by both ourselves and by others. As a player, it’s important that you praise yourself, that you give yourself credit for and acknowledge what’s great about you, the things you do well, and the positive attributes you possess. But if all you ever do is praise yourself or receive nothing but praise from others, you’ll never be exposed to the weaknesses you possess or understand where your shortcomings are so that you can improve.

You have to strike a balance between criticism and praise. It’s fine to criticize a bad performance, point out a skill that you lack, or acknowledge that something failed miserably. But in doing so, you also need to make sure that you praise yourself for something positive as well. You can criticize a bad performance and at the same time acknowledge the things you did well within that bad performance. You can be critical in acknowledging that you lack a particular skill, but give yourself credit for a particular skill that you have in abundance. This balance is crucial, as it allows you to pinpoint weaknesses while also keeping your morale and self-confidence high.

Do you strike this balance between criticism and praise?

3) Are You as Committed to the Game as You Think You Are?

This question is for the more serious players out there. With the new announcement from Wizards about the Magic Pro League and all of the benefits that come with that, many players will be committing themselves to making the push to try and break into the Top 32 and qualify for the MPL, as well as looking to achieve qualification to the various newly minted Mythic Championship events. To do those things will require a rather serious commitment and dedication to the game—a willingness to research, practice, playtest, compete, and work to improve their overall game.

Are you as committed to this process as you think you are? It’s an important question to ask, because there are many players who think they are committed to the game, but in actuality are not. To break into the Top 32 of the MPL or to qualify for the Mythic Championships requires a great deal of technical ability and mental strength. To acquire those things, you have to put in a lot of time, effort, and resources into developing them. Are you doing that? If not, are you willing to do that?

When you are finished answering each question, go back and read through each answer. Make sure you answered each question in as much detail as you could and were as descriptive as possible. For example, with question #1, make sure you wrote out in great detail why you play Magic and what motivates you to play. With question #2, write out the ways in which you can be critical towards yourself, or the ways in which you do a good job of providing yourself with the necessary praise and compassion. Lastly, with question #3, write out how and why you’re either committed or not committed to the game, and in what ways.

A new year can serve as a psychological clean slate, a chance to start again fresh and move forward in a new direction. Though only three questions, I’ve always felt that these three questions do a good job of thinking about important aspects of yourself and your relationship with the competitive game.

Speaking of improving your mental game, I wrote an entire book on how competitive players can work on and improve their mental strength for competitive Magic. It’s called Mental Mana – Mastering The Mental Game of Magic: The Gathering. It was recently reviewed by the one and only Professor, who gave it an “A” rating, so I think you’ll enjoy it and get a lot of good information out of it. You can grab a copy by heading to Amazon here.

In what ways are you looking to improve yourself and your game for 2019? Sound off in the comments below and let’s discuss it.

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