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?