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Mind games to be a better leader




Merriam Webster defines “mind games” as “a psychological tactic used to manipulate or intimidate – often used in the plural.”

This is just one definition.

Some companies sell “mind games” to describe educational programs and materials that are supposed to train your brain. The providers of these mind games promise supernatural results. Depending on who sells the mind game, you may avoid mental decline. You might get smarter.

There is also a more mundane definition. The term “mind games” is used to describe puzzles and other things that challenge your mind. There are several board games in this group.

I have another. My definition is: “Ways of thinking that will help you become a better president.” Here there are three of them.

what if?

This is the simplest form of the mind game. When you play “What if?” You think about extraordinary things that could happen. Then you think about what you should do about it. For example, if you live in an earthquake country, you can know what to do if an earthquake occurs.

I’ve seen people in high-risk careers from police, fire, and the military use this to prepare their minds for what might surprise them otherwise. I’ve seen business planners use it to see what they would do if they had an embarrassing accident, or if God’s command made distribution impossible, or they ended up with a swift knock.

Think about what might happen. Think about how you perceived the situation and what you would do next.

If then

Likewise, IF / SO is a simple mind game and powerful planning tool. Determine a situation or something that could happen. It might be as simple as, “If it’s raining outside …” or more important, like “If two of my team members get infected with the COVID virus at the same time …”

Next, find out how to respond. Sometimes the word “when” will be replaced by “if.”


WOOP is officially known as ‘mental contrast’. It will help you test the viability of your goals and work out how to achieve them. Here are the steps.

Wish: You might want to lose weight, get a promotion, or run a marathon.

Outcome: Where you describe how you will look, feel or look when you achieve your goal. This can either be the complete end goal or something that you must achieve along the way.

Obstacle: What should you do or get in the way of achieving your goal?

The plan: How will you overcome this obstacle? What happens at this stage is that you either find the obstacle is greater than you can handle, or you create a mini-plan to deal with it. It might be an If / Then plan.

Mental asymmetry was developed by Professor Gabriel Eitingen. I’ve written an entire book on the topic, but the best interpretation I’ve seen has been on Eric Barker, Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

WOOP lets you put things together. You can bring up “what if” and “if / then” and reality test in one process. You might not want to do that much, but it’s a great mind game.

Play with others

You don’t have to play these mind games on your own. In fact, there are benefits to playing with others. When you involve other people, especially your team members, you will discover more problems. There will be more ideas on what you should do.

This is a great way for team members to get to know each other and work together. There is the added benefit of team members hone their thinking against others. I don’t need everyone to be in the same place to play.

Ready meals

Some mind games can help you be a better boss.

Run “what if?” To face the unexpected.

Run “If / then” to think of possible responses.

Play WOOP to anticipate obstacles and decide your response.

Play with others to consider more options and sharpen your thinking.

This article originally appeared on Wally Bock’s Three Star Leadership Blog and is reprinted with permission.

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