The Game Of Life is a methodology for personal development. Personal development can mean many different things to many different people. It's not always a known process with a known end state like the growth of a baby into adulthood.

First of all, this method encourages us to think in terms of possibilities instead of probabilities. Traditional objective scientific methods are based on probability to find evidence for the most likely problems, causes, explanations or solutions for something or someone. Those who reject alternative versions of reality in favor of the most likely version may be thinking in terms of probabilities. Anyone who thinks in possibilities accepts that different versions of reality can co-exist and that they can also be true at the same time.

Secondly, this method stresses the importance of self-inquiry in order to gain self-knowledge. Self-knowledge is considered the key to personal development. Self-inquiry raises questions about what we believe about ourselves and the world we live in. Much value was attached to the acquisition of self-knowledge in classical antiquity. The words "know thyself" featured prominently above the entrance to the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. The Greek philosopher Socrates held self-inquiry as the most important task of man. He considered the unexamined life not even worth living.

Self-inquiry is an underexposed and an often overlooked subject. Inquiry is often skipped or left to professional therapists when there is reason or an urgent need to do so, for example during addiction treatment or in a personal crisis situation. Self-inquiry however, is an essential and integral part of personal development, just as research and development are inextricably linked in traditional science.

Self-inquiry requires the ability and willingness to examine ourselves critically. This willingness is not always self-evident, especially when the benefits are unclear or if there is no immediate need. We prefer to pay attention to aspects of ourselves that we want to see and show to others in the outside world. 

Self-inquiry unites the inquirer and the person to be examined in one physical human body. This offers the challenge to recognize both roles, to own them, to separate them and to keep them separated in one way or another.

The objective of self-inquiry is to understand how we perceive and experience ourselves and our reality. We all experience a dual reality full of opposites such as light and dark or hot and cold. Duality is reflected in the way we think as well. From an early age we learn to distinguish and to compare, for example between good and bad, winning and losing or right and wrong.

We all use metaphors to compare and to give meaning to the perceived reality. A metaphor is more than a figure of speech commonly used by writers in literature. One can use for example the metaphor of the world as a safe and friendly place, while another regards the same world as an unsafe and hostile environment. The research on our personal metaphors differs from the objective scientific research on the real nature of true reality. The objective to find scientific evidence for a specific hypothesis is not a part of the work in this method.

Metaphors evoke images that influence our thoughts and behavior. My personal metaphors determine my ideas about progress and personal development too. Knowing that the world is a friendly place can lead to ideas, choices and actions that may differ from the situation where I am sure that the world is hostile and dangerous. Personal development for a warrior or a fighter is aimed at getting stronger in order to compete successfully with others. When I know the world as a friendly place then I might be focused on different things. Reality is based on the metaphors about the world that are true to us personally. The world is what we think it is.

A generally accepted metaphor adopted by many is to view the world as a dangerous and competitive place. This affects the way we think and live. A competitive world has winners and losers. There are all kinds of struggles: for money, power, honor, respect, prestige and even for happiness and love. In a competitive world we have to be stronger, wiser, smarter or better than others to survive or to get what we want. 

The metaphor of the world as a midway between a top and a bottom is another example of a widespread metaphor. We may go up if we perform well, if we behave well or if we believe the truth. We can go up or down for example in our society,  organizations, on the social ladder or in the hereafter. 

The world as a place where man is tested and being judged by a higher authority is another example of a widespread metaphor. A positive ordeal means positive consequences during, after or in a next life. A negative ordeal means the opposite.

Not everyone will share the idea that a distinction can be made between someone's personal metaphors and true reality. Not everyone will agree that their beliefs, ideas and images about reality are just metaphors and they do not necessarily equate to truth or true reality.

This method is for those who are open or who can and want to open up to the premise that the world is what we think it is. It is also necessary to be willing to critically examine our own personal metaphors. This method urges us to examine the metaphors we live by. Metaphors determine how we approach reality and how we give meaning to reality. They determine our self-image and our understanding of personal development.

We limit ourselves when we accept our personal metaphors as truth. The Polish-American scientist Alfred Korzybski talks about the difference between the map of a territory (the metaphor) and the territory (the reality) itself. The map is not equal to the territory it represents. Metaphors are illusions and people have forgotten that they are illusions according to the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. We should realize that we use metaphors to give meaning to reality. This requires the ability and readiness for self-inquiry and critical self-reflection.

The objective of this method is not to question, let go and give up on our own personal metaphors or our own world view. Nor is it to demonstrate or convince anyone that there exist 'better' metaphors with a 'higher' degree of truth. The objective is to critically examine our metaphors and to determine if and how they stagnate our personal development. To this end, this method introduces a metaphor that serves as an instrument for self inquiry and personal development. This metaphor can be regarded as an overarching metaphor that helps to investigate our own personal metaphors.

Personal metaphors determine the way we see ourselves. They determine the beliefs about ourselves we accept as true and self-evident. When we see the world as a hostile place, then it could turn into  self-images of a fighter, victim, winner or a loser. It could also turn into the belief that there is not enough for everyone, that we have to compete with others in order to live and that competing and winning is the way forward to survive. In order to gain self-knowledge it is necessary to make our metaphors, self-images and implicitly present personal conditioning explicitly known.

Our personal conditioning influences our thoughts, choices and actions, just as programmed code determines the functionality of a software program. We use 'if-then-else' statements in our logical mind just like the programmers who use if-then-else statements in their code to develop software.

The "if-then-else" conditions are the precepts that we follow in our daily life and accept as truth. Many of the conditions are trivial, generally accepted and simplify daily life and interactions with one another. “If” the traffic light turns red “then” we have to stop, “else” we may proceed. "If" you do something for me "then" I will do something for you. Other conditions are strictly personal, time and place bound or only apply within a particular culture or community.  “If” you behave like us “then” you are one of us “else” you do not belong to us.

Many if-then-else conditions are accepted as the truth. On a personal level they can also be used as an explanation or an excuse for life as it is now. "If I hadn't always had to keep my mouth shut as a child, then I might have dared to speak up better today." Or "If I had received more love as a child, then I might have dared to let someone into my life". Conditions that are accepted as a fact or the truth can stagnate our development. Our personal conditioning can also evoke fear and negatively influence our thinking, decision making and behavior.

Around the age of five I was, like many Dutch children, led to believe that a holy man came from Spain every year to reward or punish kids like me. "If" this man saw that I had been a good boy, "then" I would get presents. "Else" he would take me away from home on his boat to Spain. Regardless of the question whether something is real or true, it is even more relevant to know which if-then-else conditions someone accepts as real or the truth. What someone accepts as real or the truth is determined by his personal conditioning. It is important to know if our thoughts, choices and behaviors are based on fear or on the absence of fear. Self-inquiry focuses on examining the personal conditioning to detect fear-based conditions that stagnate our personal development. Personal development focuses on eliminating fear-based conditions.

Humans only have two natural fears: the fear of falling and the fear of loud noises. All other fears are unnatural, conditioned and can therefore be learned and unlearned. The knowledge about fear-based conditioning helps us to make choices that promote personal development rather than stagnate it.

If-then-else conditions can be regarded as the rules of the game when we use a game as a metaphor for life. Everyone lives by his own rules and by his own personal conditions. Everyone plays his own game according to his own rules.

When we change within the rules of our own game, then we speak of first order change. It refers to developments and improvements that have a relatively low impact on our life. Our metaphors (the game) and conditioning (the rules of the game) remain the same. Our view on ourselves, the world and reality remain the same. Development is all about efficiency. The objective is to do the same thing(s) better. The aim is to do "the thing right". Think for example of a politician who is taking a course in debating to improve his skills or think of a soccer player who trains extra hours to improve the way he takes free kicks. We continue to play the same game.

When we change the rules of our game, then we speak of second order change. Our self image and worldview change. Second order development is transition and it has a relatively greater impact on our lives. We change our game and start to play a different game according to different rules. Existing beliefs, worldviews and self images make way for new beliefs, worldviews and self images. It is a known change, a transition, where both the old and the new game are known. Development is aimed at effectiveness. The objective is to start doing other things. The aim is to do "the right thing". What used to be no rule can now be considered a rule and vice versa. Consider, for example, the Dutch anti-Islam politician who converted to Islam after reading the Quran. This politician decided to start playing a different game by living by different rules.

Transformation is a third order change. We no longer accept the rules of our old game without replacing them immediately with known rules of a new game. This order has relatively the greatest impact. We no longer play by the rules of our old game or no longer wish to play by the old rules. Existing beliefs, world- and self-images are questioned and abandoned, but there are no new rules and there is no new game. The old game is the only known game. What may follow is a search for a new game or new ways to play. Uncertainty, ambiguity, trial, error and experimentation are part of this personal quest. Think of someone who no longer identifies with his old identity and goes on a quest to find the truth or his true self.

Conditions and metaphors limit, but they can offer new possibilities too. Personal development will be limited to first order change if we don't distinguish between our metaphors and reality. Second or third order change is for those who are willing and able to separate their self-image and world view from reality. This methodology is for those who can accept the idea that their image of reality may be separate from the nature of true reality.

William Shakespeare once compared life with a play. "All the world's a stage" is the phrase that begins a monologue from his comedy `As You Like It': “All the world’s a stage. And all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances. And one man in his time plays many parts.” 

From birth humans naturally identify fully with their part, their role as character on stage. Someone's birth name is the name of his character. My birth name “Reinier” is the name of my character. Since man is not equal to his character, Reinier would not be who I am, but who I play. Apparently there is a choice we all have on how to see ourselves and on how to live our lives: as a character or not. To be or not to be. Is Reinier my true name or am I playing the role of a character named Reinier in a play called life? That is the question.

Characters exist in the play on stage. They do not live outside the play. Their lives and their reality is limited to what happens in the play on stage. Actors play their roles on stage, but their real lives are outside the theater, outside the play on stage.

This method offers the challenge to depersonalize. Depersonalization is a third order change. It means that we no longer identify ourselves with our character identity that was given to us at birth. We no longer identify ourselves with the identity that we have always accepted and assumed as ours. The challenge is to approach life as a stage play and as if we are actors in the play. 

The term depersonalization is also used in psychiatry for the state of mind in which traumatized patients feel fear and experience a separation between themselves and their identity or body. The term depersonalization has a completely different meaning in this method. It is a tool for self-inquiry and personal development rather than a psychological state of mind a patient suffers from.

Being the player instead of being the character helps to experience the game of life differently. Shakespeare's comparison of man and his role on stage has been elaborated in the following metaphor intended as a tool for examining and subsequently developing yourself:

Envision life as a game and yourself as a player in this game. The reason why you joined the game is to develop yourself on a personal level. As a player you get the opportunity to create and to experience your self created reality in this game. It is a game that offers the opportunity to gain experience and learn from it.

Players have complete amnesia as soon as they step into the reality they created for themselves in the game. From that moment on they no longer know anything about a game, about the reality outside the game, about their identity outside the game or about the reason why they are in this game or in this reality.

Players choose specific personal themes on which they wish to develop themselves before the game starts. They incorporate their personal themes into their game plan prior to the game. The game plan provides guidelines too on how to play the game and it tells what development opportunities the player has in the reality of the game.

Players all experience duality in the reality of the game. They all have freedom of choice. Choosing negativity means stagnation and choosing positivity means development and improvement. 

The player is born as a character in the reality of the game. The player remains fully identified with his character identity from the beginning to the end of the game, unless he comes to the realization during the game that he is a participant. The game ends once the character's life ends in the reality of the game. After the game his memory returns and the player will then remember his true identity outside of the game. He will then realize that he participated in a game with the objective to develop himself. The player will experience a degree of personal development outside the game resulting from the way in which he played the game.

The question whether this metaphor is true or probable is irrelevant. It's meant to be a helpful tool for self-inquiry and personal development.

First of all, this method challenges us to open up to the possibility that we may not know the truth or the true nature of reality. The second challenge is to accept that we use metaphors to give meaning to our perception of reality. The third challenge is to embrace the described metaphor, at least temporarily during self-inquiry and personal development. The question is whether we can and want to see life as a game and if we can and want to identify ourselves with players in this game of life.