Cynic / Idealist / Realist: A Game that Helps you go for What you Want


This is a game for that little voice inside. The quiet one that nags you about something you desperately want but get conflicted about because of a bunch of other little voices that make you think it’s not possible. Perhaps you talk to a more rational friend or relative about it and they pat you softly on the back and ask if you want to see a professional about all those little voices.

To a certain degree, I’m with the psychologists on this one: all the voices in your head will drive you crazy. At least if they’re all talking at the same time. What I like to do is separate them out and listen to them individually.

This is a game I play with my high school students. (They have accused me of having a loose interpretation of the word ‘game’ but this is, actually, super fun.)

It´s called: Cynic / Idealist / Realist.

Here’s what you do: take a piece of paper (or if you´re extraordinarily confused, you may consider poster board) and break it into 3 columns. Label each column: Cynic, Idealist and Realist.

  1. Cynic

Let the cynic voice vent. Write down the worst case scenario, all the problems that might come up, and any lack of confidence you may have. Your doubts and insecurities are a natural part of accomplishing anything new. Everybody has an inner cynic from Einstein to, well, me.

The purpose of the inner cynic is to protect the person you are right now from ever getting hurt, losing money, or changing in any way. All around the borders of your current self, you have a battalion of inner cynics so that whenever you want to do anything big, like grow as a human being, you will have to go through them first. And you can’t sneak past them because they will go after you, no matter how far you advance. It´s best just to let them vent, acknowledge them, and then continue to the next step.

  1. Idealist

Next is the fun one. The idealist. Here you write down every fabulous thing that is possibly posible. Write down anything you would always regret not doing. Save this. Maybe carve a little piece of it into a mantra if that’s your style.

However, this is not the final step!

Books have been written about how optimism will lead you to great success. Books have also been written about how pessimism will do the exact same thing. And let´s be honest, it would be close to impossible to pin down either point of view and prove it in a laboratory.

I will say that the cynic / idealist method works better than the classic pros and cons list because it more thoroughly engages your emotions. The best decisions are made with your heart as well as your head.

What I can say is that I’ve nerded-out reading studies on each side and the benefits of each can be integrated into a single phrase:


Thus we arrive at the final column.

  1. Realist

First, go back over what you´ve written in the first two columns and highlight anything that sounds true. Let´s use me as an example. I want to publish a short story in a literary magazine.

Cynic: The literary magazines you read and like receive at least a thousand submissions a month, and all those writers have MFAs and have more experience, more time, and more talent.

Idealist: The story you´ve written is spectacular and the first editor that reads it will get his socks knocked off and call you immediately. Your plot works like a finely tuned combustion engine and your metaphors are on fire!

So, from the cynic column I highlight “one thousand submissions” because it´s an inescapable fact that I’ll have to come up against.  From the idealist column I highlight “fine-tuned” because I have been writing for a while and I make sure everything is as good as it can get before I send it out.

Now, utilizing both the positive and negative information, we´re ready to write the realist column. Of course that might be easier said than done. You might be thinking, is this thing that I want in any way realistic? I often thought that about publishing fiction, before I started publishing.

The answer depends a great deal upon how bad you want it. If there is enough hunger in your idealist column you will eventually get through any obstacles or cynic column can throw your way. Thus, the realist column generally boils down to this:

Yes, your goal is possible, but it will probably be more difficult than you initially expected.

However that’s the real the beauty of the game. Once you know you have enough hunger to go after what you want, you can really enjoy the process and have the confidence that you will get your dream done.

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