Not My Best Work
I’m addicted to solitaire. Yes, as in the computer gaming smash hit that I’ll forever associate with my grandparents and a beige Windows PC circa 1994. Except unlike a PC, it’s a decision, not a default, to put solitaire on your phone. There was a day (admittedly one I don’t precisely remember) where I thought, “You know what I’m missing in my life? What my phone really needs?” and then actively followed through. If I only I'd known how much time it would mysteriously absorb.
Let's be real, solitaire isn’t the most thrilling of games. It’s the same cards, same objective, same level of difficulty. I’m sure the app developers recognized that, so they manufactured complexity by building in “levels” based solely on quantity of games played. And unlike the 90s variety, the app doesn’t ask you if you’d like to play again; they adopted the Netflix mindset to start the next thing 5 seconds before the first thing is actually over.
I say all this to try to justify why I sometimes get lost in playing. There’s something about simplicity that’s kind of nice – black on red, red on black, sorting and organizing in chronological order. It’s the perfect amount of cognitive load - minimal enough to multi-task yet just enough to keep an illusion of intellectual stimulation. I mean, you can have success in 3 minutes or less and the cards throw a party when you win! No one’s doing that in real life. And the brain doesn’t seem to discriminate between Video Game Wins and Real-Life Wins - either way you get a boost of dopamine and feel like you’ve done something meaningful. Why would I ever do the dishes when I can sit on the couch and also feel success?
Oh but let's not forget what time of year it is - the magical month of January. The time of year that marks the beginning of a new me, a TRANSFORMED me, a non-lazy-willing-to-sacrifice-and-be-uncomfortable me. January 1st is the day I change out one calendar with another and am filled with the motivation to forever more be my best self.
It's true, though, that January is a character-defining month, but it's less about the goals you make and more about your response to the concept of goals in general. January is when we start drawing lines in the sand and sort ourselves into one of four categories: those who make New Year’s resolutions, those who loudly refuse to make resolutions like goals are an assault on humanity, those who collectively groan but half-heartedly commit to change, and those who solely invest energy in trying to come up a unique quip about how goals will be broken in two weeks. I think I’m somewhere in the third camp, unable to help myself from making goals but also an established record of accomplishing only a few.
I was listening to Glennon Doyle’s podcast We Can Do Hard Things and she put it the best of any Resolution Commentator. Instead of setting goals, she simply asked, “What’s some old shit you’re considering letting go of and what’s some new shit that you’re considering trying?”
She lured me in with the word consider. That’s the level of commitment I can get behind. Thinking about change – the Video Game Win of behavioral psychology.
We’ll start with the obligatory consideration we all believe I need to make: just delete the app, yo. There. Verbalized and immediately placed on the Maybe Later But Probably Never shelf because *plot twist* this isn’t actually about solitaire.
Where my mind went next feels a lot more meaningful but also infinitely harder. It diverges from my typical goals where I can easily track success and wanders into the realm of shifting paradigms. Really, it’s just a bunch of questions I rarely make space for.
What if, and stay with me here, I embrace mediocrity? Like, full on just said, "Yes! You're performing mildly okay! Great job!" What if I just accepted the could-be-better and the half-effort? Or, what if I acknowledge that .1% is greater than 0% and, this last part is revolutionary, actually let that apply to me?
See, I have this ongoing struggle with setting unrealistic expectations and then stopping before I start so I don’t embarrass myself with the work in progress. Productivity paralysis is made even worse by society’s constant escalation of success. Don’t even show up unless you have some dramatic before and after pics. That video? Not worth uploading unless it’ll make you a national treasure. And fall in line behind the independently wealthy with ten streams of passive income. There's success and then there's internet-inflated success. Keep up.
But what if I just let the result go? The amount of weight lost, the job title, the number of books read -- what if just the doing is enough instead? This is somehow starting to feel like a Dr. Seuss poem but let me tell you, the idea itself is freeing. It’s surprisingly (dare I say?) motivating. Most of all, it feels like a relief.
Don’t get me wrong, this isn't some magically defining moment – that To Do list of expectations is still prominently on my desk and I’m still, you know, me. I don’t suddenly look at all my shortcomings with grace, applaud every effort, or feel proud of just showing up. And a part of me that I don’t really want to acknowledge just looks at the thought experiment as a means to an end rather than the end itself. You know, the old bait-and-switch from “just do anything” to “it must be absolutely perfect".
For now, though, I’m going to choose to lean into the semantics of the goal – just “consider”. Outside of writing this post, I’m guessing that lasted a solid 15 minutes which is at least 5 sacrificed games of solitaire so I’d say I totally nailed it. And that means I already have my first 2023 Real Life Win. Cue the flying cards.