The last week I have had a blast playing Epic Mickey; two blasts actually. In the game you’re Mickey Mouse, and your primary tool is an enchanted paintbrush, which sprays two different substances with very different effects. The first is a magical blue paint, which can make invisible things real, and make an enemy in the game turn blue and become a friend. The second is a magical green paint thinner, which can make real things invisible, and thin an enemy into nothing.
There are good reasons to do both of these things, but the unnecessary obstacle in the game is that there is a limited amount of paint and thinner, and so if you use too much too quickly, you have to wait until a cooldown replenishes it, or until you find a power-up. Power-ups, in case you aren’t familiar, are items in the game you can come across that replenish your health, and in the case of Epic Mickey, your paint supply.
The game is a Wii game, and so the motion controller is how you aim the paintbrush to paint or thin. And when I started playing it quickly became apparent that I was going to have to get better at aiming if I wanted to accomplish anything before running out of paint/thinner.
Epic Mickey teaches therapists, gamers, and anyone else who wants to learn through video games some important lessons about living life and frittering away your resources. The game has very simple mechanics, but life often has more complicated ones. Fortunately, this video game can help serve as a meditation on mindfulness and achieving goals.
Lesson 1: Paint Vs. Thinner
When approaching a problem, relationship, or business, it isn’t always immediately apparent whether to add paint or thinner. Do we need to add more stuff or clear some off our plate? Will additional effort reveal opportunities that were invisible moments ago? Do we need to process more with our partner, or less? Perhaps we need to simplify, reduce or focus our practice niche? Maybe we need to remove an obstacle, rather than spray creativity all over the place. One of my favorite paint thinners in real life is Occam’s Razor, which has been often interpreted as “the simplest explanation is most likely the correct one.” Or to put it more like it was originally intended, we should try to avoid any unnecessary pluralities, and tend towards the simpler theories or applications. Sounds like thinner to me, who would have thought Mickey Mouse to be a Scholastic thinker?
And to make things more complicated, Epic Mickey shows us how if we can’t make up our minds we will go back and forth between paint and thinner, undoing anything we may have started and wasting time and effort. So whether we decide we need to add something or take something away, we need to commit to a course of action, or we’ll be confusing dithering with effort. In Epic Mickey so far, I have found that many problems can be solved in a variety of ways, some using paint, some using thinner. I suspect life is like that too.
Lesson 2: Keep an Eye on Your Power Reserves
In the game, you always have to keep an eye on your paint and thinner meters to make sure you pace yourself and don’t run out. They will replenish automatically over time, but slowly. In my business I can attest that this is also true. I usually have a couple of irons in the fire, but I have learned to pace myself. I remember a few years back I was seeing 25 patients a week, supervising three interns and therapists, teaching two classes, taking another, sitting on 2 commissions and trying to write. I had to learn the painful lesson that I was doing a subpar job of every one of these because I wasn’t prioritizing, and perhaps more importantly, I wasn’t allowing time for replenishing myself. Nowadays, I try to pace myself and make time to do fun stuff, like running at least once a week, playing some games, spending time with my family chilling or getting a massage, eat regularly and get enough sleep. Not only are these things rejuvenating, but if I can resist multitasking they block off time so I don’t get exhausted and put out subpar work.
Are you keeping an eye on your reserves? And more importantly, are you willing to give up a few things so that you can devote more time to living life and having fun so you have the energy to do others? I certainly didn’t want to give up any of the activities I was doing, I liked doing them all, just not all at once. Often I hear colleagues say “I just don’t have enough time to simplify and relax,” as if it is a luxury rather than a choice. Sure giving up a couple of things is going to discombobulate you, especially if you’ve learned to pride yourself on being busy. But you won’t run out of paint as often.
Lesson 3: Keep an Eye Out for Power-Ups
In Epic Mickey, time isn’t the only way to replenish, there are treasure chests with power-ups. When I recently defeated the Clock Tower Boss, the way I did it was to keep an eye out for power ups, and sometimes pass up what seemed a perfect shot to get a power-up. In the long run, keeping an eye out for the things that power you, your relationship or your work up will be worth foregoing the perfect shot. This is especially true in relationships: It can be very hard for us to resist zinging that perfect shot, but backing away and taking time to do something replenishing will usually make things turn out more harmoniously!
What are your Power-Ups? Is it a massage, a walk in a botanical garden, meditation, playing Super Mario or spending time with your kids? It’s your responsibility to figure out what these are, make a little time for them regularly, and do them even when you aren’t feeling totally depleted. Pay attention to what happens when you do certain things, eat a certain way, or take something else into your being. Do you double in size and power? Become able to hurl fireballs? Defeat previously impossible monsters? If so, chances are whatever you just took in is a power-up.
Lesson 4: Focus stops Frittering
Last, the more targeted you are in what you’re trying to do, the less wasted energy and resources you’ll have. In life, like in Epic Mickey, you often need to aim for something. Sure, sometimes random efforts yield surprising results. When it does, huzzah, but that’s no excuse for not trying to be focused. Mindfulness is in a large part about focusing your mind and body on something, letting distractions drift by. Use the Force Luke–if you don’t you will probably find yourself feeling depleted, frustrated, and confused as to why.
Yes, focusing means giving up on something else. Frittering means giving up on everything while deluding yourself you haven’t. Parents who become obsessed with quality time rather than choosing a game night are frittering. Saying you want a committed marriage while you’re out every night drinking beer with the buddies is frittering. Complaining about managed care and lower fees rather than marketing your business or helping a forward-thinking candidate is frittering. And there are a thousand other ways that all of us confuse dithering with effort. So pick something and try to focus on it single-mindedly. At least that’s what works for Epic Mickey, and can an 83 year-old mouse who can still defeat monsters and jump over chasms be all wrong? I think not.