Flexibility, Acceptance, and Twenty-Five Seasons of NCAA Football

I’m pretty much off the idea of New Year’s resolutions; giant changes + not much thought to what you’ll need to shift due to what you are trying to change + trying to do too many things at once = recipe for disaster. Still, I love the opportunity for reflection and change afforded by the jobs I’ve had that have given me time off during the holidays.

The past few years I’ve picked a few things to work on. One year, my theme was “Be More Fun Than Me,” because I tend towards seriousness too often. Another year (same year?) it was 52 movies in 52 weeks (I came close!). For 2017 my theme was halfhearted and hurried and I honestly don’t remember what it was.

After a year with a lot of life changes (breakup, moving out, first apartment ever with no dog or partner, dating again), I’ve noticed that somehow, my momentum for making conscious changes coincides with the new year quite well. In some ways this is unfortunate (I want to start going to a gym in January, like no one else, oh wait), but in other ways, it’s really good timing.

This week was another time in therapy when my therapist reminded me of her belief that “the opposite of play isn’t work, it’s depression.” This isn’t to diminish true depression, but rather, the feeling of the blues that someone like I can get from time to time. We talked about the ways that I cope through video games, the fact that board games have been a constant (both socially and as a Christmas wish) since I was 10 or so, and how I’m just finally barely starting to accept playing games as something I shouldn’t be guilty about.

And so I’ve decided: my 2018 theme will be Play.

Accepting What I Knew

Video games have been high on my list of self-soothing tactics for a very long time; you can look at the 25 seasons of NCAA Football 1999 that I played for proof of that (studying, I am terrible at you; I sure stuck it to Northwestern for firing my as head coach by building a Michigan State powerhouse, though!). But it’s always come with a side of shame; my parents would vacillate between “get your nose out of a book and [DO THING]!” and “stop playing that stupid game and [DO OTHER THING!], and so right now I’m unraveling how games became a thing that I had to hide from others and enjoy alone. 1

On the other hand, my ADHD brain eats that shit up. Winning a game of NBA 2K15 with my killer version of the Trailblazers2 after being down by 9 at the beginning of the 4th quarter lights up all the fun sparkly good feeling for me. I have fond memories of playing Dr. Mario, Mario Kart, Crash Team Racing, Simpsons Road Rage, and Metal Gear with one of my best friends; my high school weekend life was NBA Jam TE on Sega; I spent a lot of middle and high school building Baseball Stars teams with my friends, crushes, and musical cast members as the players3. Sports games are best because at least there’s a “should I play another, or stop?” marker built in between games, which helps me break my hyperfocus.

At therapy this week, we connected the dots a bit (therapy is great at this), realizing that I can gamify stuff in small ways that take advantage of this. I knew this before, but the light bulb turned back on related to it in a major way this week. “Fold laundry for 10 min” and “Wash Dishes for 30 min” made it so that, for the first time in weeks, my laundry was all folded and my sink was empty. My therapist even said “you can do this with anything. Build a new skill for 10 minutes! Study a thing for 10 minutes!” It’s still more than I would have done before.


This also honors that weird part of my brain that a) wants to plan everything, yet b) needs flexibility in a pretty big way (this isn’t unusual for ADHD; check slide 12 here]. I want the ability to bail on a thing and do a different thing; the ADHD side probably would say that I am always seeking stimulus and so that’s what makes dishes and laundry fall to the side. But if I think of it as “How much of this can I do in 10 minutes?”, the time suddenly expands and I can’t believe how long 10 minutes feels.

Planning For Play

So the next thing I’m going to try: I’m going to start planning for play. Here are some ways I’ll do this:

  1. When I plan my week, I’ll be sure to include either tangible things (go to Jonathan’s for game night Thursday) and looser ones (schedule a block on a weeknight for “games,” or “play,” or whatever, and keep the appointment as if it were a doctor’s appointment)
  2. I’ve been telling people “I want to have a game night” since I got my new apartment. Time to pick some dates and just tell people “I’m having a game night on {date} at {time}; hope you can come.”
  3. Remember that “play” can also mean shooting baskets at the gym, or going on an escape room date, or goofing around building a silly website, or making collages. It’s not just gaming, and it’s not just solo or with nerds.

Six Grid Categories

Okay, so this one may not seem so playful, but it’s related.

I have a few areas of my life that need attention. I want to try and give them attention in a way that gives me forward momentum, yet also keeps this flexibility. So! I’m going to make a grid like Austin Kleon did, except instead of 30 days of the same thing, I’ll just commit to thirty times of doing a thing. Here are my categories:

  1. Professional Development & Learning (30 min)
  2. Play (30 min)
  3. Read (30 min)
  4. Go for a Run / Go to the gym
  5. Go to a meeting / meetup / service
  6. Bonus Permission to Do a Thing Squares (do whatever I’d like! Perhaps more of the above; perhaps not?)

But dude, yells the pretend people who are likely just the voices in my head, WTF are you going to accomplish if you only commit to 30 minutes of something? At least do an hour!

Whelp, shut up demon. Cuz I originally thought I’d do an hour for each, but then realized: an hour seems really intimidating, but 30 min is simple. Hopefully, some of those times I’ll hit 30 min and be dooooone. But other times maybe I’ll keep going. And that’s great, too. Either way, at the end of the month I’ll have spent at least a few hours on each thing and that helps me feel like progress is happening.

calendar for jan 2018 of the above categories drawn on handwriting paper

Lighten up, still

Look, I’ve still got a long way to go. I beat myself up a lot, and feel terrible when I lose 2 hours playing Clash Royale or doing internet. I’m going to work on purging my phone of a lot of the time sucks, too.

I still need to lighten up in a big way. But I think the combination of the monthly grid and The Year of Play can lead to a happier, healthier, more accomplished me, and that’s a thing I want during my 40th year.

Best part? If I try a thing for a month and it doesn’t work, well, I gave it a shot, and I can try something else. This shit isn’t permanent.

Shoot me an email (jwithy at hardlikealgebra dot com) if you’ve got ideas about this, or send me a reply @jw on Micro.blog. Looking forward to hearing from you!

(And hey demon, seriously, shut up. Yes, I posted this while in a well-balanced, hopeful mood, and not every day is like that! Yes, maybe I’ll make the public proclamation and not stick to it this time, too. But it’s fun to try. It’s still play. So i’m doing it right.)

picture of the board game fog of love Fog of Love, an amazing board game for two

  1. the Catholic way, amirite 

  2. Current starting lineup: Damian Lillard, Carmelo Anthony (who sucks for real but is made for video games), Giannis Antetokounmpo, Ruby Gobert, and a dude I drafted and molded to be an incredible starting SG 

  3. Yes, this means there’s a team with Peter, Van Dann, Anne, and Frank on it; blame my adolescent brain for just wanting to capture the characters from the first play I got cast in, ok?