When I was younger, I would play Sim City. You got to build entire cities, with roads, fire stations, waterfront houses. Sometimes an earthquake would destroy it all.
In my twenties, my brother gave me The Sims for a birthday. It was thrilling for nostalgia’s sake, plus it added a new dimension. I developed my virtual people’s job skills, relationships, and home decor.
I played it ardently. For a short period of time, I recall, I could easily spend most of the weekend tending to my Sims. I sent them to work, I brought friends to their houses for parties, I clicked a single button to make them read about cooking and presto, they could whip up a 4-course meal.
Would that life’s returns were that immediate.
The game is alluring because at a click of the mouse, my Sims are off and running, accomplishing great feats. If I want to learn how to cook, improve job skills or build new friendships, it takes time and consistent effort. The feedback loop isn’t as immediate. Rewards take time to reap. I need to take satisfaction in more gradual changes.
Last weekend, my little sister from Big Brothers Big Sisters told me that you can get The Sims on your iphone. I told her about my experiences with video games, where they can be fun but it’s hard to turn it off after, say, a half-hour. Yet armed with this knowledge, when I got home that night I downloaded it on my phone.
The allure of fantasy is strong, the “rewards” immediate–but fleeting. Once I had my Sims garden to earn money and buy a new stereo, what then? I was given new “challenges,” but how challenging were they?
Playing The Sims is addictive, but the second I stop, I feel empty, not filled up like when I swim or write a blog post. It’s like crack cocaine. I need another fix.
Video games are fun–they’re so fun, in fact, that we can’t handle them. Much like eating Chewy Chips Ahoy, gambling, and other risky behaviors, human beings aren’t cut out to do them in moderation. We’ve primed for the quick fix, the sugar high. This is why I very rarely keep Chips Ahoy in the kitchen. I’d rather have a nice dessert at a restaurant, anyway.
What’s different when I listen to what my body and mind need? I feel deeper rewards. Not the high of the sugar rush or adrenaline rush, but a more sustainable “I’m on the path. I made this happen.” Whether it’s getting out of the house early in the morning to go for a swim, or accomplishing a difficult project, the payoff is far more satisfying than the addict’s quick fix.
I recently wrote this blog post about Flannery O’Connor and the power of habit. O’Connor wrote every morning from 9:00 to noon. We are the habits we develop. At a certain point, they become not so much a matter of willpower, as second nature. Our commitments and persistence make this happen.
How can I solidify this knowledge, make it concrete? There are a few phrases that come to mind:
1. Smart feet: put myself where I need to be, and the rest will follow. Convincing myself to get started is always the hardest part! Once I’m there (whether at the pool or on my website), I know what to do.
2. Focus on what’s in front of me: I can’t solve something that’s three steps down the road. I can only take the next right action, and see what its consequences are.
3. Keep my word to myself: I do this by putting my commitments to myself in Google Calendar. To keep the same examples, even if it’s swimming and blogging, if I don’t do them I make myself delete them from the calendar, and I hate doing that. I’d rather show myself that I’m trustworthy by keeping my word, just as I keep it to others.
I’m not quite ready to delete the game from my phone, but maybe I can mention it to my coach. She would probably ask, “What if you just deleted it?” In the meantime, I’m cooking a veggie frittata, blogging, and can’t wait to go swim.
How will you keep your word to yourself today? What are you committed to? How wil you honor those commitments?
I’d love to hear what you think. Please leave a comment or send me an email!