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The Lessons From Games

Jul 19, 2021

I love puzzles. For years I’ve started my mornings with coffee and a crossword puzzle. These days I’m working my way through a book The New York Sunday Times crosswords, currently on my third volume, since giving up my print subscription for digital several years ago. I prefer working with a hard copy, getting more satisfaction from filling in the empty spaces than with moving my finger on a screen. I always work with a pen, too, never a pencil, preferring to write over my mistakes than use an eraser.

I got my love affair with crosswords from my mother, who always had a game nearby for as long as I remember. When I was a kid she always finished the daily puzzle in our local newspaper and mostly completed the Sunday New York Times puzzles as well.  She switched to puzzle books as she got older and kept a stack of large print ones on her kitchen table right up to her death at age 96. I stand by the belief that those word games helped keep her mentally sharp, and even if there isn’t scientific proof to back me up here I think there’s a lot of merit to that contention. I like the way crosswords challenge me and by doing them in the morning, they serve as a great pick me up to get my day going.

That doesn’t mean I totally stay away from digital puzzles. I’m quite fond of the word jumble type puzzles too, the ones that provide you with a grid and a set a letters that combine into words that intersect on the screen.

 

 

While these puzzles are a pleasant diversion I’ve come to see they’re also more than that; they can tell us a lot about how to handle life itself.

Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned from participating in these amusing games:

  1. There is always an answer – All of these games are meant to be solved. Some are easy and the solutions come quickly. Others are more challenging and make take more time to complete but are meant to be resolved.

I’d say the same holds true for the bewildering challenges in our lives. Sometimes the solution to a problem is obvious and not too difficult to achieve. Other times the answers are elusive and we believe the road to a successful outcome is all but impossible. But there is always a way to find the finish line and success comes when we believe we will eventually find our way there.

  1. There may be more than one answer. When a crossword puzzle clue asks: “synonym for drive” and there are four spaces available, the answer could be either: ride, tour, trip, push, spur or several other possibilities. All would be correct answers, yet as the puzzle grid fills in only one of them will be appropriate.

Life too is all about possibilities. On any given day, we are given the opportunity to choose from a menu of options in front of us. Each will lead to its own conclusion and on the face of it are neither right nor wrong. Sometimes we make a choice only to find out after time that there was a better choice to be made. But eventually one will appear to be the best fit. Sometimes we get to that answer right away. More often than not though, finding that solution

 

 

 

takes trial and error, with starts and stops along the way. But with persistence and time the answer will make itself known.

  1. Things are not always as they appear – Sometimes when filling in a grid, I come across a clue that seems so obvious that I believe my answer has to be right. Then when coming to the intersecting word, also one with an answer than seems obvious, I’ll discover that my first answer was incorrect. It wasn’t as obvious as it appeared on first sight. Then when the proper word is revealed I’ll look at it and say to myself, “of course this is the word. Why didn’t I think of this in the first place?”

     How many times does this happen in life, when something that seems so evident on the face of it turns out to be something else? For example, a relationship that appears to be perfect at the onset turns into trouble when previously hidden disturbing information about our partner is revealed. Or a business proposal that looks promising on first blush falls apart when deal-breaking clauses in the contract come to light. Often when these things happen we feel foolish when our initial enthusiasm is thwarted by the facts. But then when we have time to reflect on our errors we realize that we’re given another opportunity to find a successful path to what we desire.

  1. Patience is rewarded – Often when I’m doing a puzzle, I’ll be stumped and be tempted to cheat and look at the answers in the back of the crossword book or hit the clue key on the word search puzzle. Truth be told I will cheat sometimes, but even though I’ll end up with the answers and be able to fill in all the grids,  I don’t get much satisfaction from it.

 

 

 

What does pack a greater punch is if I walk away from the puzzle for a while. The good thing about these games is that there is no time limit so no points taken away for delaying the finish. More often than not, when I do return to the game, the solution will come quickly and having that sense of completion will fill me with elation and give me more satisfaction than filling in the empty spaces by cheating.

Patience is often one of the hardest traits to master. We’re conditioned by society to demand instant gratification and anything that blocks our reward leads to frustration and stress. One way to develop patience is to practice living in the now. Focusing on what’s in front of us in the moment helps keep us from dwelling on past mistakes or worrying about future events.

  1. Never give up – One of the more frustrating parts of the word search puzzles for me is when I’ve filled up all but one word in the grid. For instance, I’ll be left with a four letter word with three of the spaces missing like ­­­__ __ E  __. The available letters are D, J, C, T, O and M. In most of these puzzles, E is usually either the second or fourth letter. Coming up with a word with E as the third letter is more of a challenge. I’ll try multiple combinations of the letters available to me and often come up blank. Even after I step away and come back I still might not be able to come up with the answer. But if I give myself the time to look at it in a different way, then I’ll have that ‘aha’ moment and figure out that the right answer—COED—was in front of me all along. And because I persevered, I was rewarded for my efforts.

 

 

 

 

One of the benefits of time is that we’re able to gain perspective, a different way of looking at things. When we give up too soon, we rob ourselves of seeing all sides of a situation and realizing that the solution was at our fingertips all that time.

      It’s easy to eventually come up with the solutions to these puzzles, but I’ll agree that it’s not as easy to do so in life. Often our minds get clouded with tons of extraneous thoughts that build walls between our thinking minds and creative ways to overcome the obstacles before us. This is sometimes referred to as the monkey mind, where we feel restless and confused and even anxious. 

But one way to counteract these feelings is by paying attention to our dreams. They can help knock down those walls that create inaction and frustration and provide a clarity of thought that sparks meaningful solutions. Often this can happen regardless of whether we remember our dreams or not. When we do remember our dreams, though, they can give us details and a blueprint for clearing our mind and creating lasting solutions to whatever ails us.

            We can also learn some insights from taking the time to quiet our minds. Whether you do this by accessing your dreams or by embracing another modality such as meditation or deep breathing, emptying your thoughts out to create a blank screen in your mind has several benefits. By ridding yourself of those extraneous, mostly negative thoughts you have the space to create new empowering thoughts. Often this will result in a clarity that enables you to see a challenge from an entirely new perspective. It builds the foundation for those ‘aha’ moments, the ideas that seem to spark in your mind out of nowhere.

 

 

 

          Another benefit may be hard to measure but is equally desirable. As we are all energetic beings, meaning that we are composed of energy, a quiet mind can result in an increase in your energy level. When this happens you will feel lighter, as if a burden has been removed from your monkey mind. Your mood will brighten and you will be more likely to take action toward your goals than wallow in the morass of procrastination. 

           So the next time you see someone playing a game or doing a puzzle don’t jump to the conclusion that she’s wasting her time. She may actually be learning some life lessons.

 

 

 



 

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