Tuesday, June 18, 2013


The Mindfulness Game

Since various nervous habits have been edging up throughout the school
year I vowed to play what I’ve come to think of as “The Mindfulness
Game” again this summer. As I wrote about in ”Making A Game of
), this had been the most effective technique I’d ever tried,
successfully eliminating them by the end of the summer. Just as Jane
McGonigal wrote in “Reality is Broken, How Games    “ playing my daily
life as a game made me pay closer attention to everything I did. When
I spilled some cranberry juice while pouring it in a glass, I lost
three points for a minor careless mistake. But it’s amusing to look at
it this way with pleasure we always get when we pay attention.
Conscious attention develops my prefrontal cortex and strengthens my
capacity to direct attention. The pleasure is the dopamine, the reward
demonstrating what evolution encourages. It’s a way of increasing
involvement in life, and as happiness experts say, involvement is
central to joy in being.
In my own game I’ve revised my point list, adjusting all the behaviors
I want to encourage and breaking them into more specific actions.
Every time I smile at someone I get a point. A friendly exchange with
someone in person is three. I lose a point for every instance of any
of my nervous behaviors. The same for each bit of excess. Anger,
irritation and impatience lose points according to how long and how

Mindfulness makes life exciting. Once you notice what you’re doing,
you direct attention and focus on actual experience. When you’re fully
in life, it’s natural to do everything the very best you can, to feel
the edges of capability being stretched. Whether it’s paying attention
to someone’s story in a waiting room, or pursuing personally chosen
work, full involvement gives back in new knowledge and good brain
chemistry. The brain grows with all lived experience. If we’re not
paying attention, it just slides by unnoticed. Most of the advice in
the I Ching revolves around cultivating character, that the quality of
a person grows from the parts that get attention. “The Mindfulness
Game” is a way to use the mindfulness natural to games to gain more
control over attention in daily life. Even better, it’s a way to
define what you care about, what you want to encourage and what should
be penalized. Making a point list is a revelation. When a friend
wondered why I didn’t give points for doing email, I didn’t realize at
the time that email itself was the arena for many ways to earn points
or lose them, a small or large nice act is often by email. The
business communications I tend to avoid have high point values.
This summer I’ve been graphing my daily scores to see if there are any
patterns I could learn from and to see how I’m doing over all. Though
it offers a smile’s worth of pleasure when I do well, the enjoyment is
in the playing and giving the ordinary a dose of game consciousness.

Friday, June 7, 2013


In tennis a "winner" is a shot the opponent can't hit. It's an action, not a person. Enjoy lots of them in the French Open finals this weekend. Serena Williams has been magnificent and plays last year's champion, Maria Sharapova. Rafael Nadal plays David Ferrer on Sunday. Both are at 9AM.

Sports Perspective

The idea of perspective is both literal as how things look from where
we stand, and a key metaphor for representing point-of-view. Every
different perspective enlarges our own and as we gain a broader
outlook we can see, not just from another’s point-of-view, but how all
the parts of the picture function together, the value of each entwined
with the whole. We each stand in a particular place in time and space
and understand better than anyone else what it’s like within that
group of relationships. It’s an understanding of a set of patterns
that can be recognized in different circumstances.  Our view will
match some circumstances and not others. Warring views are a waste of
energy that would be better spent matching and integrating so that the
multiple views and relationships between them become the broader
perspective of big picture thinking. This is why the hierarchical
models that dominate so much of life have done so much harm. It’s
often more about power, what view takes charge, and not about what
would be best for a circumstance. It’s where competition interferes
with perspective.

In sports, competition is what can bring out the best in an athlete.
Every member of a team has their own role and attendant perspective.
Each trusts the other players to be guided by theirs. Players make
their own decisions in the realm in which they’ve trained. Even in
opposition there is the straightforward acknowledgment of the other’s
goal. There’s respect for the worthy opponent. Watching the first
round tennis in the French Open, Venus Williams against Urzsula
Radwanska demonstrated in dramatic fashion the paramount advantage of
competition. Each can push the other to heights not achievable in
isolation. By the end Venus had figured out exactly what was beyond
reach and put it there consistently, yet Urzsula was able to come back
with outstanding shots of her own leaving me cheering and smiling. I
wanted them both to win. Flush with all the endorphins and dopamine I
realized that competition goes off the rails when its focus is solely
on winning and not on the opportunity to achieve new heights, discover
capabilities never before glimpsed and be in life to the fullest.
Though Venus lost, my respect for her was the highest it’s been since
her time as an early champion, her play was so precise and beautiful
to watch. With an opponent ready to capitalize on any failure of
concentration, the long rallies for a single point permit no lapses,
requiring the focus of a yogi. Watching kept me in the moment too,
staying with the point sharpened my own power of attention.

This is quite different from a culture led by dominant opinions that
ignore or exploit large groups of people as though it’s the right of a
particular perspective, distorting the picture everyone has to live
with. Where once there was an art to debate that enabled more about an
issue to come out and inform the whole, now it’s become a battle of
obfuscation, denunciation and rigidity that doesn’t come close to
including the true range of ideas on a subject. When research says
small schools work better, why the increasing trend to consolidating
and industrializing schools. Obviously there are motives that aren’t
about teaching. When research says fitness programs do more for
overall scores than sports, why are school physical education programs
still focused on sports which often put too much emphasis on winning
not excellence. Horror stories of coaches who are abusive to players
have little to do with excellence. It’s been a long time since I heard
someone say, “It doesn’t matter if you win or lose, it’s how you play
the game.” Reflecting the days when playing sports was about building
character, the goal to win just a means to personal excellence. She
might have lost, but for me the meaning of that match was Venus
Williams and what it means to be a champion.