The Games We Play (And What We Learn)
Updated: Sep 16, 2019
Did you ever play Hasbro’s Game of Life as a kid? This family-friendly game was designed to teach kids the values and skills of adulthood with an emphasis on “choosing your own path.” It also taught us the “rules of life” based very much on the American Dream. In the game you could choose to go to college, pick a career, buy a house, have a baby, and eventually get to retirement. In the end, the person with the most money wins. Sound familiar? Even if you never played the game, I bet you know how the story goes because this is the game we’ve all been taught to play in life. We’ve also learned there are rules to this game and there are winners and losers. And nobody wants to be a loser.
Along the way in this game of life many of us have decided that the game no longer works for us. Either we don’t like the limits the rules of this game have placed on us, or we’ve achieved mastery in this game, and as author Elizabeth Gilbert often says, mastery is boring. If you’ve mastered a game, would you truly be satisfied repeating that game over and over?
It’s common for the players of the game of life to begin to feel restless with the status quo. Maybe you can relate! Maybe the family you’ve raised, the relationship you’ve developed, or the career you’ve followed is no longer interesting, challenging, stimulating, or fulfilling. First of all, please understand that there’s nothing wrong with you for feeling this way. All games get old if you play them too long. Also, please understand that this doesn’t mean you have to abandon the game you’re playing completely. You don’t have to send your kids off to boarding school, leave your marriage, quit your job, or move to Thailand and become a Buddhist monk. If you’re feeling restless and unease, then you have to figure out what’s missing. Ignoring it will not make it go away. You either have to change the rules of the game or you need to pick a new game to play in a way that challenges you and stretches your imagination.
But how do you know what changes to make? What you like, what you need, and what you’re interested in aren’t always obvious. Especially if you’ve learned to tune out your own needs and desires in an effort to care for or please other people. What if your inner guidance system is turned off? What if you haven’t allowed yourself to consider the scenarios that you want more of in your life? What if you no longer know what makes you wiggle with excitement? On the flip-side, what if you could tune in to that inner wiggle that lets you know when something in your life feels juicy, nourishing, and satisfying. If you could identify those moments, flag them, and make small changes that would invite more of those moments into your life, then the game you’re playing in life could shift in a way that feels really rewarding. So how do you connect with this inner GPS to guide you in the right direction? My favorite game for this is Follow Your Wiggle, which closely resembles a good game of Hotter-Colder.
Did you ever play Hotter-Colder as a kid? The premise of the game is this: one child picks a stationary target which is usually in physical proximity to where the game is being played. It might be a tree or a bench or a fence. Another child is blindfolded in the middle of the open space and instructed to find the prized target, relying simply on instructions from the first child. The instructions are voiced as “hot” for when the blindfolded child is getting closer to the prize or “cold” for when they’re getting further away. Instructions may vary from “hot” to “hotter” to “scorching” as the blindfolded child closes in on the target, or they may range from “cold” to “colder” to “Siberia” when they’re way off track.
This game works much like the game your wiggle plays with you as it whispers clues that you’re nearing something that wants your attention. It’s as if you’re playing Hotter-Colder with your soul’s desire; with your inner truth. As you near the truth, your soul says “hotter” and you wiggle. As you get further away from that which you ultimately desire, your soul says “colder” and your wiggle dissipates. The game continues as you receive clues and realize that there is indeed a prize to be had.
Think of some of the ways your wiggle might show up in your life. Perhaps you notice that when you’re doing an activity outdoors, something inside you feels a little giddy. Maybe it’s when you’re listening to live music at a coffee shop or bar. Or maybe you get that little tickle of excitement when you’re planning a project or anticipating an event that you’re involved with. Perhaps you notice that something inside you stirs when you watch a documentary or listen to a podcast on a particular subject. Imagine, in that moment, that your wiggle just whispered “warmer.”
Now, imagine what kinds of actions you could take so that your wiggle might whisper “hotter.” If you enjoy outdoors activities and want to get your family involved, you could try the following: plan to participate in a community “mud run,” join a Stroller Strides group, join a hiking Meet-Up group, plan a fundraising 5K walk/run and see how much money you can raise as a family, or introduce your kids to “geocaching.”
If you find your wiggle while watching documentaries or listening to podcasts, maybe doing some of the following will enhance your life: contact the related department at your local college/university and find out if there are lectures or events in your area related to that topic, join a club or Meetup group to find other people who share your interest, sign up for an online course or certification in the subject through an organization like Coursera or The Great Courses Plus, or look for volunteer opportunities in your community related to your interest.
If playing or listening to music is a wiggle for you, then maybe you can multiply the experience by incorporating these opportunities into your world: go to family concerts in the park, sign up to learn an instrument or take a music appreciation course at your local community college, attend local college/university orchestra or jazz band performances, form a family band and host a BBQ to play for the neighbors, volunteer to play your instrument at a local retirement home, join your church choir, or find a local jam group- even if you’re only playing tambourine.
Once you practice Following Your Wiggle in your extra-curricular activities, then you can apply what you’ve learned to larger aspects of your life like job responsibilities, career decisions, and relationship dynamics. You’ll learn to identify your needs and make better choices that will lead you toward more rewarding activities.
As you move through life, remember that you’re playing a game and try not to take it too seriously. Notice when your soul says, “warmer” and “hotter” and “scorching.” Honor those moments with your attention. If something makes you wiggle then it’s probably nourishing you, so move closer to it, and do more of it. If something that used to make you wiggle now causes your soul to say, “cooler” or “colder” or “Siberia,” honor that with your attention too. Realize if those activities are now depleting you. See if you can limit the amount of time you spend on those activities, or even ask if those activities or tasks are really necessary. Allow yourself to experience many different things and listen to whether or not your wiggle is present. Life is a game that rewards curiosity. The prize may not be what you expected.
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