Setting Intentions: The Game of Life

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Game month wouldn’t be complete without a little Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Mihaly, currently a professor of psychology at Claremont Graduate University, is known for his research in the areas of happiness, creativity, and the concept of flow.

My Mihaly connection is that I think about his flow theory every time I do the dishes. When I first read Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, several years ago, I was impressed by an interview with a man who Mihaly found to be particularly joyful and content. His work was in a factory, and he approached each day, and each task as if it was a puzzle waiting to be solved. Mihaly described the man as being completely engaged in the moment, in a contest with himself to perform his work with efficiency.

I still have a long way to go, to create more flow in my life, but each time I do the dishes, it does turn into a game. The exact rules vary from day to day – sometimes it’s a race to beat the clock, sometimes it’s a game of balance, to see how many dishes I can carry at once from sink to cupboard. Trust me when I say, you don’t want to compete with me in the category of “most efficiently and fully loaded dishwasher.” This is my very best event, because I can always fit another coffee mug in there. Always.

I’ve read other theories that label these types of mental games as escapist – that the game player isn’t engaged in the reality of the moment, and that’s somehow bad. Honestly, I don’t care. If I’m going to do the dishes every night, for the rest of my days, I may as well have a little fun.

As a family, we naturally integrate all sorts of mini-games into our daily tasks. Do you think you can run downstairs to get your pajamas in less than a minute? How many bags of groceries can you carry in from the car? The puffy pancakes will be in the oven for fifteen minutes – do you think I can take a shower and get dressed before the timer goes off? The one standard that I try to keep in mind, is focusing on competing with ourselves, rather than others. Maybe that comes from my high school track team days – it’s great to win a race, but it’s even better when you beat your own personal record.

What are your mental games, that can turn chores from tedious to engaging? 

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2 thoughts on “Setting Intentions: The Game of Life

  1. We, too, do similar things with timing–>”Can you get dressed for bed and brush your teeth before (I finish the dishes, 5 minutes is up, you name it)?” Racing the clock is a motivation for all of us! One mini-game that serves an environmental/conservationist purpose, also, is something my daughter thought of for showering. She puts the plug in, showers as quickly as she can, then measures the depth of the water with a ruler after she is done showering. She then records the depth for that shower, tracking her water use. Of course, we want things such as brushing teeth and showering to be done adequately–aiming for “accuracy”/good hygiene, so quicker isn’t the ultimate goal…As you say, not winning a race, making personal records! : ) Refining our flow!

  2. One of your best posts. (There have been so many excellent ones!)

    I too love doing the dishes, most of the time. That and weeding are my flow times . I wish cleaning the bathroom had the same effect. I’ll have to follow Lisa’s and your mini-game ideas. Thanks!

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