Video Game Hero: #21 of 28 Big Ideas from the World of Coaching


This article is twenty-second in a multi-part series that adapts and excerpts my entire book, The Coach Within: 28 Big Ideas for Engaging the Power of Your Own Wisdom, Creativity, and Choices* (Everything Goes Media, 2017).

21. Video Game Hero

“A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.”

— Christopher Reeve


“Everyone is the necessarily the hero of their own life story.”

— John Barth


When we’re actively keeping ourselves motivated, trying to maintain sustained energy towards our goals, there may be nothing more fundamental than knowing how to manage ourselves — our own moods, self-talk, strengths, weaknesses, and energy levels. To face being stuck, unsure, demoralized, and overwhelmed, and come out on the other side. To persist through discouragement, frustration, disappointments, and failures, and build our good, better, best life.

Again and again on our personal journeys, obstacles surface, sometimes daily and sometimes at levels we think we can’t possibly bear. And then, too many times, just as we think we’ve figured it all out, conquered our demons for good, and that life will be smooth sailing from here on out, circumstances show us otherwise (this is the conceit that always kicks me in the behind).

One thing I finally get, age 50-something and with a reckless optimism problem, is that there is no way to avoid these vexations. I see — queue the sputtering lightbulb — they are not going away. However, I have learned multiple ways of diminishing the power of the bad stuff, working through and working around, and here’s one of my very own creations with major coaching utility that I want to share with you: the video game metaphor!

I am no arcade queen (at least not since the days of Centipede and Ms. Pac-Man) and you don’t need to be into gaming either. You don’t have to know much about or even like video games for Video Game Hero to become one of your go-to tools.

Here we go:

Imagine a video game where you’re trapped in a room with multiple doors and they’re all locked, apparently preventing you from progressing in the game. Or, you’re on a densely wooded trail, unable to locate the desired gems. What do you, protagonist with the joystick, do?

Anything! That’s what. You start poking around, lifting things up, moving them around, pacing, retracing your steps, banging your head at the perimeter, jumping in place. You might start thinking analytically or creatively, start doing things in a different order.

Back to real life. What works for me when facing a day of problems, impediments, or crushing setbacks and seemingly no way out or through is to remind myself that the open doors and gems I seek are there (they’re built into the game after all!!). Then, I de-emphasize them. I work on what I can with what’s in front of me — regardless of 12 closed doors; the dark, ominous thicket; being surrounded by enemies and teetering at cliff’s edge — and let those desired things and solutions reveal themselves in time.

And, wouldn’t you know it, it’s often sucking it up and making an uncomfortable phone call, answering lingering emails, or finishing a random project I had been procrastinating over for weeks, that seems to be the secret lever. I do the hero task/s and the gates slide open, the power packs accrue, and the coveted pink diamonds are mine! (When avoiding boring or icky work, I sometimes use the video game metaphor as an incentive…What fancy gizmo or unexpected reward awaits me for undertaking this now?)

When you find yourself in your own quicksand, tar-pit messes, surrounded by ninjas and samurai with enormous swords and grotesque battle axes, do anything (this is a good follow-up to the previous lesson on taking action). If that action doesn’t unlock a parachute, magic notebook, or spiral slide to paradise, do something else.

The game continues and the prizes are integral to the design.

Your Coaching To-Do’s

⎕ As a counterpoint to all of the actions of big idea 20, this lesson’s work is to activate your imagination…in a walk or in meditation. Put yourself inside a video game of your own devising, as elaborate as you want to paint it, to get a feel for the metaphor. What are the challenges, monsters, threats, and difficulties like for you? What are the known and yet-to-be-revealed superpowers, gewgaws, bonuses, and treasures? What secret weapons, skills, and action sequences are at your disposal? Have fun, experience the gaming element, and draw your own parallels to life.

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