What’s Fun About Starting Over?

What’s fun about starting over?

One of the addictive qualities of computer solitaire card games like free cell (included with the Windows operating system) is that you can replay the same hand until you get it right—if you want, you can have another chance with the same cards, a chance to learn directly from your prior mistakes.

This leads many people to replay their free cell hands over and over until they win.   When I first learned the game, someone told me that every hand could be won if approached correctly.  So whenever I lost, I would immediately replay the same hand as many times as necessary in order to win it.

(There are apparently a few unwinnable hands, but winning is still almost always possible if you play it right.)

But here is the interesting part:  No one is standing over us requiring that we replay a hand we just “lost.”  We just “failed,” so why aren’t we discouraged?  We willingly take on the challenge because we still expect that we can win.  Surely we will do better now that we know how much we’re going to need that red 8.

The other huge difference is that in free cell, the stakes are low and we are playing a game.  Our emotions aren’t involved as strongly as when we are making more consequential decisions.  We feel playful and we enjoy the challenge of figuring something out, so it’s fun.

Back in the 1970s, I worked in the Yale Psychology Department with Professor Irving Janis who did research on decision making.   (He coined the term “groupthink” in his analyses of the Cuban missile crisis and other incidents of faulty decision-making by policy makers.  He also studied adherence to personal decisions where following through was difficult, such as deciding to lose weight or quit smoking.)

Professor Janis and Professor Robert Abelson (another member of the department) used to talk about “hot cognitive processes” by which they meant the difference in decision-making on issues in which one was emotionally involved vs. those which were purely questions of logic.  (Before that, much of the academic research on decision-making had assumed that our decisions were made as Spock on Star Trek would have made them, which had resulted in a fair amount of work on decisions that were essentially trivial.)

Starting over in real life is a hot cognitive process!  It’s an understatement to say that there are often significant feelings attached.

If we are starting over in building a relationship, unresolved feelings from prior relationships are just waiting to show themselves.   If we have been fired or laid off from a job, a part of our new job search has to include managing the feelings we have about our previous work experience and how we were treated.  Otherwise we risk answering interview questions in ways that hurt our chances of creating a new opportunity.  If we are working toward regaining our health after a threatening illness, our feelings about having been vulnerable are part of the baggage we carry into our new health regimens.

None of this sounds like fun.  But if our goal is to have more fun more of the time, how can we apply that approach here?

The world keeps changing under our feet.  And the pace of change appears to be accelerating.  Many of us are going to have to start over numerous times during our lives.  (This blog is part of a new chapter for me.)  What helps make it fun when we are starting over?

Talking things out with a good listener who really pays attention makes a tremendous difference.  With someone who knows how good you are and isn’t upset by what you are discussing, burdensome feelings can lift and very serious matters can suddenly seem hysterically funny.   Sentences like “there go ten years I’ll never have again,”  “it’s only my career,” or just “I’m still here” can seem sad one minute and like the funniest joke in the world the next.

I wish I could actually hang out with you and listen to you and let you experience what I mean, but you probably already know.  Feeling connected to someone else who “gets” us is enormously reassuring.  Letting the wind blow through some of our feelings of failure and frustration makes everything start to look a little different.  It loosens up our thinking so that we become more flexible and more able to respond in a fresh way to whatever comes up.  Little mammals and little children play as a way of learning about how the world works and how they can affect what happens.  When we become a bit more playful, it helps us too.

We can choose a light and kind touch in what we say to ourselves.  So long as we’re not weighed down by disappointment and discouragement, starting over can be great fun.  A new world of possibilities awaits us.  As with playing free cell, here’s another chance to get it right.

Advertisements

What’s Fun About Recess?

Do you remember recess as the most fun part of your school day?  If so, you are probably no longer a child.  In many schools right now, recess is not that much fun. In one study, principals reported that the largest number of visits to their offices resulted from situations that arose during recess.  An alarming number of injuries and school suspensions occur because bullying and fighting are happening rather than good clean fun.  It’s obvious that many kids do not know how to play well with others.  And when they don’t know how to share or resolve conflicts, they may attempt to solve problems by using brute force or threats, making the whole situation messier and worse for everyone.

 

If our goal is for more people to have more fun more of the time, how can we help our kids with that?  One answer is to be sure that our children are learning basic social play skills.  This happens most effectively when adults and other young people model fun-loving supportive behavior and when the entire social system of the playground is set up to encourage positive interaction.  One group that has made both a science and an art of this is Playworks and a recent study, sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, has now shown the effectiveness of their approach.

 

http://www.playworks.org/research-reveals-playworks-reduces-bullying

 

Playworks works primarily with low-income schools, but also does training programs for teachers and staff at higher income schools.  A Playworks coach works as a full-time staff member in the school, setting up active inclusive play activities.  Coaches work with both teachers and students, organizing the use of playground space, establishing consciously cooperative situations, and encouraging new expectations about playing together.

 

One simple and strikingly effective method of resolving conflict involves using the old “Rock, Paper, Scissors” game to allow kids to take charge of their own decisions about who goes first or whose judgment will be followed in case of a disagreement.  The thinking behind this is that many of the conflicts kids get into are arbitrary and if they can be settled quickly, the kids can get back to playing.  Although it takes a while for everyone to learn these new norms, as kids begin to “own” these methods, their desires to keep the fun going lead them to manage themselves and their play effectively.

 

When the overall atmosphere of the playground is positive, kids have more fun and feel better about themselves and each other.  They also get more instructional time in the classroom because they settle down to work more quickly and bring fewer emotional upsets with them after recess.

 

Playworks so perfectly illustrates what I am interested in–methods of helping people to have more fun more of the time!

 

  • It’s a nuts-and-bolts action plan that replaces chaotic, negative, and violent behaviors with organized, positive, cooperative ones.

 

  • It helps shape student experience while the students are still young and sets the stage for a better overall experience in school.

 

  • It empowers kids to handle many of their own issues in productive ways.

 

  • It makes kids feel good about themselves and their school, but is not just a “self-esteem program.”   It actually teaches social skills, cooperation, respect for others, and self-management.

 

  • The Playworks coaches engage with the kids in playful ways, but also expect responsible behavior.

 

I remember so well the differences in “recess supervision styles” of my own teachers (and I’m talking a half-century ago!).   I bet you remember some of these things too, regardless of your age.   Teachers and coaches are just that important!

 

What were some of your own most positive experiences with recess?

If recess was sometimes hard for you, what could have made it better?

What have you observed about the play experiences of the children you care about?

Paying Taxes

What’s fun about paying taxes?

I recently spent a surprisingly enjoyable couple of hours meeting with my accountant to file my taxes.  Given the terrible press usually associated with taxpaying and my personal goal of examining everything through the lens of fun, this struck me as too good an experience to ignore!

What made our tax visit fun?  Jokes.  A congenial atmosphere between us.  He was hassled (duh – it’s tax season!), he complained about it loudly and enthusiastically, we both laughed a lot, and that set the tone.   We have done this tax filing process together for the past dozen years and have a pretty good idea of how to proceed.  The sheer reality of cooperation and teamwork was enjoyable.  Little quips here and there kept us in a good balance between work and play modes.

Later on, as I was trying over and over again to understand how the various figures fit together, I argued that this couldn’t be right, since business in general was down and therefore our taxes should also go down – a lot.  I ended up asking what he assures me is the every-day question in the tax preparation business: “how can I owe this much?”

So it wasn’t fun because I am wealthy or didn’t owe anything, or enjoy watching my bank balance drop before my eyes.  It was fun because of a working relationship, our senses of humor, and our unspoken agreement about being able to argue about facts and ideas without being angry at each other.  It was fun because we like each other.  We would never hang out socially, it’s a totally professional relationship, but we like each other and cooperate easily.

On a personal level, it can also be fun to get more of a hold on where our money has gone.  Even if it’s only for a few days a year, we get to notice the big picture of what we are taking in and what we are spending.   On a more meta level, it could be fun to consider how our resources are going to be used when they leave our hands, but it’s hard for most of us to get our minds around the numbers that are often involved in discussions of governmental spending.  As individuals, we feel relatively powerless to affect choices about the national budget.  We each carry a world of strong emotions stemming from our own relationships to money.  Whether we have struggled hard all our lives to make ends meet or have grown up thinking that we deserve more than other people, simply because we have always had more than others around us, we are all trying to punch our way through our early conditioning to a clearer view of reality about this resource called money.

What’s fun about paying taxes?  Finding people you can joke about money and taxes with, having some laughs, and keeping your brains in gear at the same time.  Just holding out the possibility that even paying taxes can be fun can make a difference.   We have to pay them either way, so we may as well enjoy the scenery.

Now come on and comment.  Write some “smart remarks” and give us all a smile!

Women Want to Dance

Many more women than men want to dance.   Cyndi Lauper wrote “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” and I’m saying “women want to dance.”  This appears to be true all the way up and down the age spectrum.  There are always men who are excellent dancers and love to dance too, but they are relatively rare.  (Any of you guys looking for love, take notice!  If you are a good dancer, a genuinely nice guy, and not skeevy, you’ve really got something!)

An internet video called “Dance like nobody’s watching: mall” shows a woman (Angela Trimbur) dancing alone (and very well) in a mall and being almost completely ignored by passers by.

And there it is, my point entirely:

Who is dancing? Where?  Why?  And who is noticing?

I’ve had a great vantage point as a bandleader and singer for observing how people’s responses to music and dancing have changed over the past three decades. I’m going to write one post every week for the next four weeks on how these kinds of fun have changed.  So for this week, the issue is women’s experiences of fun with dancing.

From the 1940s through the 1960s, dancing in male-female couples was a cultural model of heterosexual romance and a familiar experience for many Americans.  Big band swing, ballroom dances, and early rock n roll supplied soundtracks for couples to dance to.  A breaking point came with the Twist in 1960.  Couples could now dance separately, without touching.

Over the past fifty years since then, couple dancing has ebbed and flowed in popularity, influenced by musical and dance styles such as disco and dance movies such as Saturday Night Fever (1977) and Dirty Dancing (1987).  Since then, dance styles have been heavily influenced by hiphop, rap, and music videos that feature solo or group dancers more often than couples.

However, a British survey in 2007 found that Dirty Dancing remained number one on their list of women’s most-watched movies and those dance scenes still hold special appeal for women.  Women still think dancing is fun—as well as potentially romantic or sexy.

Several months ago our band played a wedding in which “I Had the Time of My Life” was a theme song and the bride expressed hope that the end of the wedding would resemble that ending scene from Dirty Dancing  (it did).   Such joyful, intergenerational celebrations are not easy to find in places other than weddings these days.  The dinner dances that clubs and organizations used to sponsor occur much less frequently now.  Weddings are often the only chances for social dancing that many people have.  I hear “maybe I can get my husband to dance with me” often enough to know that many women still want to dance more than their male partners do. Bands and DJs try to meet this pent-up demand from women by playing female anthems like “I Will Survive” and “Dancing Queen” that women can dance to in a group.  We also know that structured activities like line dances allow women to participate without having partners.

But what if no one you know is getting married?  Where else can you dance?  If a need isn’t being met in one place, it will often show itself somewhere else.  So women are dancing in exercise classes (typically with other women and led by a woman), we are dancing in gyms, YMCA’s, pools, and now even the mall; we are dancing for fitness, to enjoy movement and music, to have fun and feel sexy, and to be happy, but we are not dancing in couples that much or in traditional social situations the way people danced years ago.

Dancing and physical movement to music are just too much fun to miss.  Think about your own experience.  When was the last time you danced?  How did you feel about it?  Was it fun?  Why or why not?

What’s fun about?

What’s fun about?

And is it possible to make almost anything fun, if it’s handled right?

These are the questions I’m wrestling with – or maybe I draw a smile-y face and write “playing with,” since my goal is to live the stance I’m writing about.

This blog will be an exploration of all kinds of topics, some straightforward and some a little off-the-beaten-track, but all addressed through the lens of fun.

As situations in our world become more stressful and as economic and social pressures increase for us and around us, it’s going to be increasingly useful for each of us to be able to think well about what is really fun for us and how we can help those around us have more fun more of the time.

Having fun together is social glue and social grease.  It bonds us together and smoothes our interactions.  It also releases tension, makes us feel good, strengthens our desire for the well-being of others we have fun with, and enables us to tackle harder issues more cooperatively and effectively.

We know it’s fun to play when we have time “off.”  Are there also ways to get work done while having fun and helping other people have fun too?

Let’s find out!  Let’s explore!  What’s fun about…

Serial Patchwork Employment (We’re all playing single dates now.)

What’s fun about serial patchwork employment?  (We’re all playing single dates now.)

Musicians know that diverse sources of work are often needed in order to make ends meet.  The rest of the world seems to be catching on to this now.   Many career coaches advise that each person consider themselves the CEO of their own company.  This may be a stretch, since many people don’t feel very similar to a CEO in many areas of their lives.  It’s more useful to say that the current realities of economic uncertainty and free-lance casual employment make everyone a gig player.

Musicians create a patchwork of “gigs,” many of which may be single date engagements  (my main source of income for many years).  The musician’s patchwork can include playing concerts with a band or orchestra, teaching classes or lessons, performing in bars or for social events, selling or servicing equipment, writing arrangements, recording, DJ-ing, or doing other forms of musical work. Musicians may also have “day jobs” involved with technology or computers, since there is a natural carry-over of skills between music and these fields.

The tremendous range of activities is part of what makes this fun.  We may not get rich, but the variety keeps it interesting and engages us on many different levels.

Gigging experience is going to be relevant to more and more people if current trends persist. The old model of security with one company until you retire is something only the older ones of us even remember.  If all of us are journeymen now, what can we learn about fun from musicians, the people who have been patching it together all along?

1.  Transferable Skills – Gig players have a certain body of skills that we constantly maintain or add to, which equip us to step into many situations competently.  The situations constantly change, but the underlying skills remain, and a professional gigger is usually a great deal better at adapting to new situations than a lay person will be.

For musicians, there is basic repertoire to know, basic patterns that exist within various styles of music, skills such as sight-reading, having “good ears,” or getting into a groove with others, that equip you to hit the ground running.  With these basics, a pro can often play well with others, even with little or no rehearsal.  There’s a certain sense of scrambling sometimes, but it can be fun and even exhilarating, so long as you aren’t drastically outside your own comfort and competence zone.  And when things get rough, the knowledge that “this too shall pass – and it’s gonna be a great story later!” helps keep it fun.

2.  Responsibility, professionalism, and playing your position – Just as in so many other areas of life, responsibility and professionalism, combined with a sense of humor, make someone a welcome presence on the bandstand.  As in many team sports, the understanding of one’s position and the physical and mental ability to play it well are crucial.  It’s important to be able to step up and take center stage when appropriate and yet remain a team player and not take up too much space when it’s not your moment to do so.

3.  Playing well with others – The level of cooperation that musicians usually engage in while playing together makes gigging fun.  The sense of being “a band” is a wonderful contradiction to the isolation that free-lancers can feel when they are not working (and that many of us can feel simply because of how our lives are organized).  A good leader promotes this group spirit, but sometimes a “bad” leader brings the team together too, as the musicians unite and joke about his or her counterproductive behaviors!

4.  Work breeds work– To keep a full calendar of single dates, we need a large number of referral sources and good word-of-mouth, both from clients and from others in our own fields.  If we “come to play” on every gig, our network will see and hear that.  Likewise when we see or hear others doing something well, we want to support them.

The two most meaningful forms of support for artists are being knocked out by their work and helping them get access to other paying gigs.   We never know where the next opportunity will come from, but work breeds work, both for ourselves and for others.  As supportive members of our extended communities, we can pay this forward and help keep this wheel turning for ourselves and for those we respect and admire.

One way to prepare ourselves for the world of work we’ll face in the future is to expect that we are all going to play many gigs in our lifetimes, patching our work together one piece at a time.

What basics are needed in order for someone to have a possibility of connecting with people, getting work, and having fun in your world?