Play Against Yourself

Dear friend,

A practical idea: In order to become the most epic you, play against yourself!

Why I like to deadlift

One of my passions is powerlifting. Why? It is a fun way for me to challenge myself, independently of others.

I like that I can keep pushing my limits in powerlifting — to ask myself:

What is my maximum human capability?

In powerlifting, I don’t compete against anyone else. I only compete and play against myself.

Every week, I just try to push myself a little harder– push my boundaries a bit. To me, it is a mental game against myself — recognizing that all of my self-imposed beliefs are mostly in my mind.

And this is what keeps me motivated — I know I’m only fighting against myself. And there is no “losing”, because even when I fail when competing against myself, it is just useful information which empowers me.

Judge yourself

San Jose vsco

I thought about this in photography and art:

To judge your progress in your photographic art, just play against yourself.

This means, to learn via ‘self-play’ (how AlphaGo Zero works). Keep challenging yourself, and every time you play against yourself, you ‘iterate’ and learn new lessons. You integrate new lessons and ideas into your approach, and every time you do something, you improve yourself a little bit.

For example in photography, you can learn very effectively via ‘self-play’. You keep challenging yourself, to improve your compositions (by making more complex compositions, yet keeping it simple). You can keep challenging yourself by taking pictures which you find more risky or scary.

In short words:

Only compare yourself to your past photographic self.

Why I’m more innovative in my photography after I deleted my Instagram


This is the problem with Instagram:

You compete against your past likes.

For example, if I upload a picture and I got 2,000 likes, this is my new benchmark. Thus, my next picture I want to get at least 2,100 likes. But if I get fewer likes (like ‘only’ 1,000 likes) I will feel depressed.


Yet the problem is this:

The number of likes you get isn’t dependent on how good your pictures are. It is dependent on the Facebook-Instagram algorithm.


Thus, many of us modern photographers are slaves to the opinion of the algorithm, instead of caring about our own opinion of our own pictures!

How to be free

By competing against yourself, you gain freedom. You can control your own effort, and you don’t hurt your ego when you’re competing against yourself. You can control all the variables of your own life — whereas when you are competing against others, you have no control.

What is the difference between body-builders and power-lifters?

I’ve been on a bit of a Netflix documentary binge– consuming lots of documentaries on bodybuilding vs powerlifting.

To keep it simple, bodybuilding is mostly about looking good and having big biceps, legs, and a 6-pack. Powerlifting is about eating a lot of food, getting fat, and lifting really heavy stuff.

This was the interesting thing — comparing the two genres, I far preferred powerlifting. Why?

In bodybuilding, you are a slave to the opinion of the crowd and the judges. In powerlifting, you are only judged by the laws of physics and reality.

For example, if you deadlift 500kg (Eddie Hall), you can definitively say ‘I am the strongest dead-lifter in the world’. Whereas in bodybuilding, your assessment of how good your physique is based on the opinion of others.

Thus, the less you can make your sense of success arise from the approval of others, the better.

In other words,

Seek to impress yourself.


Play against yourself, and compete against yourself. I often like to pen rhymes in poems because it is a fun mental challenge. I like to powerlift because it challenges my own body and mind. I like to write, because I like to synthesize ideas and create them. I like to photograph because I can control how I frame and photograph my scenes.

The more we can treat our lives like self-play; the more motivation we will have, the more fun we will have, and the more we will evolve!

Never stop playing,