3 Things Playing with Puzzles Taught Me
Seeing the limited selection and on bare shelves in department stores and bookstores, I’m left assuming that many of us have been turning to the good ol’ jigsaw puzzle to keep us entertained during the homebound days of COVID.
My last puzzle commandeered the kitchen table for nearly 3 months. I took my time with it. I’d pass by and spend a few moments looking at it. I wasn’t rushed to get it done, in fact, I liked that it hung around as long as it did. I was patient and I let myself be easygoing rather than hasty.
When I’m in the midst of working through a puzzle, I’m often struck by recurring lessons it teaches. Lessons that apply to my life beyond matching the shapes, organizing the colours and revealing the completed picture.
It can get distracting for me, maybe even intense, to look at all of those pieces once they’ve been scattered all over the table. Where to begin? How do I start this thing? How do I choose what to do first? What if this doesn’t work well? These are the types of questions that run through my mind as I set off in a direction to begin framing a certain part of the picture. As I start, I quickly (and easily) get lured to begin searching for other parts of the puzzle instead. There are so many options, so many ways to get started. This tends to leave me pursuing multiple tracks at one time, never making meaningful progress on any of them.
I do this in life, too. Especially in my business. I can see so many possibilities; interests I want to explore, projects I want to tackle, topics I want to learn about and ideas I want to test. And if I’m honest, for a long time now, I’ve nibbled at all of them, but I’ve not taken a big bite out of any of them. Too many tracks at once and distraction winning out.
It’s a matter of deciding where to put my attention.
With jigsaw puzzles, I found that by having a single, solitary focus for a period of time, I gained momentum towards the end goal and enjoyed real tangible progress. When I put my attention on one strategy, it worked well. When I practiced looking only for pieces that were in a particular colour palette, for example, I started to see more of those colours and could reach for them and put them together. I started to appreciate how they fit together to create the bigger picture. Ultimately, the more I committed to a specific focus, the more I helped myself to accomplish what I wanted and therefore feel successful.
I believe there’s something in this lesson about deciding, committing…declaring. A decision is an example of a ‘declaration’ which is known to be the most generative and creative speech act. When we declare, we bring that possibility, action or result to life.
Deciding requires commitment to act in ways that are consistent with the fulfillment of the decision, it also requires us to take responsibility for the outcomes we yield.
By not deciding, I evade commitment and I abdicate responsibility. And the advantage to that is that I don’t risk truly owning anything. If I never get something done, I’ve not put myself in the spotlight, never risked being criticized, rejected or corrected. That might be ok for a little while, but it’s not supportive of the creative expression I seek, nor the desire to make a (positive) contribution to the world.
Deciding what to attend to is one big lesson that my latest jigsaw puzzle taught me…about me. I now have a new appreciation for the adage: “Nothing happens until you decide.”
I noticed a tightness in my jaw, tension in my head and heat in my cheeks. It felt like angst…doing a puzzle?! “Why can’t I find just that one piece?!” It bothered me that I couldn’t find what I was looking for. I knew it had to be somewhere in the pile, but it was hiding.
The more I searched, the more I frustrated myself.
The harder I tried, the more tension I felt.
The more I pressured, the more I suffered.
When I clue into the rising discomfort in my body and mind, I see that it’s time to walk away, pause and give myself a mental and physical break.
Allowing perspective to return is a healing and self-loving act.
A break is restorative and allows us to see the same thing with fresh eyes, renewed energy and a mood more conducive to helping rather than hindering. Whether it be a tough jigsaw puzzle, a challenging conversation or a dreaded menial task, taking regular breaks allows me to approach life with more lightness, openness and grace. It’s more fun and rewarding. Not surprisingly, the same amount of effort isn’t required. Easing up is both illuminating and revitalizing.
It makes me think of times when I’m imposing my point of view in a conversation; when I’m expecting that plans should go my way, when I’m looking to control an outcome. When I apply force, I receive pushback – whether directly or energetically.
The resistance is a reliable sign that it’s time to pause and reflect internally on what’s really going on. To acknowledge where I’m forcing and being controlling so that I can regroup around how and who I truly wish to be. This practice of recentering myself on what I care about is what allows me to return and take more effective action.
Jigsaw puzzles are work projects. They are complex. They require strategy, time, patience. As I’ve described above, it can be easy to get lost in the myriad of choices and possible moves. There are so many places to start. All paths lead to the same end, after all it’s in plain site on the front of the box.
Even though we know what we’re going for, it is quite likely that we will get stuck, thrown off course, get discouraged, or distracted and not always feel like we’re making progress.
Having a partner to help with a puzzle might be fun and productive – they see what we don’t. They pick out patterns and moves that are not visible to us. It can move things along at a faster pace than going it alone, for sure.
There’s another form of help that I’ve been experimenting with that has opened the door to wonderful and amusing results: I’ve been asking for help from my Higher Self. I’ve been asking her for guidance in helping me see that to which I remain blind. I ask her to shepherd my attention to those places where I’ll hit my stride and make progress. And then, I practice sensing, listening, connecting to the intuitive and mysterious hints that arrive. A lesson in receiving what it is that can be difficult: help, guidance, support, kindness and wisdom. When I allow myself to receive from this source of loving intelligence, I might see a piece of the puzzle that finishes one section or start exploring a different colour pattern altogether only to be amazed at how quickly they picture starts to transform.
Applying this lesson to life has been fun, intriguing and empowering. My Higher Self has proven to be a reliable and trustworthy source in different contexts. Sitting at my computer needing to design a class outline – I was stumped – and when I asked for help from my inner knowing, sat in silence and listened, ideas started to come forward. It’s easy to forget that there is a deeper source of wisdom within us that is waiting to be tapped and dispensed.
My belief is that there is a benevolent source within (and beyond) that wishes us well and yearns to be invited in. If we call, it answers. We forget to call, or we are skeptical to trust. My experiments have strengthened my trust in this inner force-for-good and it reminds me that it’s ever available, wishing to develop a deeper relationship with me, if only I am open to receive it.
There are many positive benefits to doing jigsaw puzzles – research tells us that they are good for cognitive abilities, short-term memory development, mental speed, meditative purposes, and pattern recognition just to name a few. While I believe these benefits are true, the lessons of deciding, pausing and receiving continue to help me to become more of who I really am.
On Feeling Dumb (and Useless) – 5 Reflections
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