“Game within the game” is an expression that comes from sports. Athletes are committed to improving as they play. This is different from practice. This is about choosing to focus on one aspect of their performance as they play their games.

You have probably seen the same principle with your kids in soccer. In each game, you or their coach gives them something to work on during the game:

  • Getting back faster on defense
  • Passing the ball quicker after receiving it
  • Maintaining the proper distance from team mates

Major league baseball pitchers are always working on something because in addition to winning the game, they want to improve throughout the season. So, they work on

  • Being faster to the plate to reduce stealing by baserunners
  • Throwing more first-pitch strikes to get ahead in the count
  • Changing the mix of pitches they use so they keep hitters off balance

When Amy was small, I received feedback from other family members that they thought Amy was scared of me. I was surprised and taken aback at first. Upon reflection, though, I could see what they were seeing. Amy was cautious and unsure whenever she spoke with me. So I identified three separate behaviors I could incorporate to help her gain confidence in our interactions:

  • I built in three hours each week to do whatever she wanted to do.
  • When she came to me, I set aside whatever I was doing and gave her my full attention.
  • I never criticized anything she was doing—especially mistakes.

I kept this list in front of me and worked on it and worked on it. Eventually she returned to being carefree and expressive around me.

Choosing something to work on is key to improving performance. Working on it intentionally for two weeks will make it natural, intuitive, and available to you every day.

Here’s my question: What is your game within the game at home? Our families are far more important than sports, yet it’s not often that we think about getting better. Amazing if you think about it, isn’t it?

Here are my top candidates for your game within the game at home:

  • Responding thoughtfully each time a family member asks a question
  • Setting aside technology for periods of time and being fully present
  • Offering to help with chores that other family members usually do
  • Making and accepting more invitations to do things that other family members like doing
  • Taking blame out of the conversation
  • Being willing to share more about your day

Everywhere in life, our sense of well-being is centered on learning and getting better. And getting better takes deliberate practice. It requires picking something to focus on and then working on that behavior until it becomes instinctive.

Normally, the practice is done separately from the activity. The truth is, in the world of parenting, we’re not generally given much time to practice. We’re just expected to go out there and parent every day.

This is where the idea of “game within the game” enters. One of the things we can all do is find practice in the activity itself.

There are four steps:

  1. Deciding what you’re going to focus on.
  2. In the midst of the activity, you occasionally step outside of yourself and say, “Alright, how is it going? Am I doing what I intended to do? What am I learning? What is happening?” Just look at it as if you were outside of the situation.
  3. Then—really important—afterward, take time to reflect back. “I intended to do this. Now, how did I do?”
  4. Then use that knowledge to decide what to be intentional about next.

Focus on improving your weaknesses as a parent because that is what will make you great.

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