Whenever I fall into this way of thinking, I default to a simple concept; rigging the game. The sentence that best encapsulates this idea is from John Vailliant’s The Tiger: “…effective predators excel at engineering situations that skew the odds in their favor.” I imagine myself as a predator, tracking a particular prey—autonomy, mastery, respect, wealth, interestingness, whatever—so most of my efforts are aimed at creating scenarios in which the probability of joy and success dwarfs the probability of pain and failure. The ideal outcome of such incessant chess-boarding is a never-ending series of favorable mismatches.
I played basketball when I was younger and I learnt about effective offense. It’s the pitting of your primary strength against the opponent’s primary weakness. At the beginning of an offense, the best defender guards the star player. But if the offense does its job, the star player is gifted a morsel of space to work his magic, half a second to do what he does best. Sure, such a moment could arise naturally and without design, but never frequently enough to be of consequence. So the offense tries to create these favorable moments and the defense scrambles to prevent them. All sport, and perhaps all life, is a game of asymmetries.