A Psychologist’s Year in Cafe World – Part Three: Non-Stick, Non-Stuck, Cognitive Flexibility

This is the third of my posts offering psychological insights into the computer game Cafe World. 

Café World (CW) is a café-themed, goals-based computer game where players build and furnish their fantasy cafés and complete tasks, which involves “cooking” dishes, serving drinks and interacting with other cafe owners in their neighbourhood. Computer games can sometimes shine a light on the way we view the world, in particular cognitive flexibility – that is, our ability to flexibly in different situations.

Sometimes we can become fixed in our approach to goals as we adopt a one-approach fits all situations. One aspect of playing CW illustrated how personal values can affect game strategy. In CW there is a distinction between cooking dishes and serving dishes. Some tasks require players to serve a dish which means cooking for the prescribed duration and serve it. Other tasks require a player just to cook a dish, where it is enough to just get it on to the stove. It doesn’t have to be completed or served. So, the moment the beginning of the cooking duration is acknowledged, the player can click on the dish and throw it away. This process of cooking and throwing away can be repeated until the task is completed. However, some players refuse to adopt this strategy and insist on cooking all dishes to completion and serving them, because they “don’t like to waste food”. Now this value is one a whole-heartedly uphold in the real world. In fact, I actually refuse to go out for a meal with people again once I know they are ‘push it around the plate’ food wasters. However, in CW, this value and approach just doesn’t apply. I’m happy to “waste” virtual food. The dishes are nothing but pixels on a computer-screen. There is no waste.  No one goes hungry as a consequence of my actions, virtually or otherwise.

Sometimes it is vital in life not to drag values or approaches from one setting to another where they have no validity. Different situations sometimes require different approaches. This applies to goal-setting, problem solving and solution finding in the real world. It is important to take stock of the situation and context to develop an appropriate strategy and response to particular circumstances. As babies we have maximum cognitive flexibility and continue to adapt to new situations. As children we learn as we play. As we age, sometimes we forget the value of play in our lives and also fall back on a limited number of strategies. Anyway, this is my defense of spending time playing on a computer game when I could be doing more grown up stuff (and I’m sticking to it).

See also:

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A Psychologist’s Year in Cafe World – Part Two: Goal-Setting on the Table

This is the second of my posts offering psychological insights into the computer game Cafe World. For Part One of A Psychologist’s Year in Cafe World, see: Just Being Sociable

Café World (CW) is a goals-based computer game, where players build and furnish their fantasy cafés and complete tasks, which involves “cooking” dishes, serving drinks and interacting with other cafe owners in their neighbourhood. This includes requesting items, returning favours and joining forces to complete team tasks. Goals are often divided into sub-goals. On completion, players are rewarded with new recipes or kitchen appliances, such as coffee machines, slow cookers, pizza ovens and sushi bars.

The way goals are organized in CW provides insight into how we should structure our real world goals. CW has larger goals divided into several sub-goals, with each step building on the previous one. In both CW and the real world it helps build motivation to tackle larger goals. They seem less daunting and are encouraged to build on our successes. That’s where CW gets it right. Where CW gets it wrong is by overwhelming players with so many goals all requiring action. That’s when tempers become frayed and insults in the “neighbourhood” start to fly.  Of course, the demands of real life often divide our attention and our resources. We talk of “spreading ourselves too thinly” (to use a catering metaphor). However, for goal-setting in personal development, it is better not to take on too many things on one time. Progress builds motivation whereas feeling overwhelmed negatively impacts on motivation. Goals should be achievable and realistic. Sometimes in CW there is just too much going on and so people either have to select just a few goals to pursue or else give up playing.

Many of the CW goals are also time-bound. Having a target date is important to focus our attention and resources. It gives a sense of urgency and can add to the motivation. However, if the deadline is totally unrealistic, it causes negative stress and adversely affects performance. A little stress (eustress) is a good thing and boosts performance. Too much stress (distress) inhibits performance. CW often miscalculates the time players need to complete the team tasks. Inevitably this leads to panic as player frantically try to complete the game and shout at the people who are ‘just not pulling their weight”. So, having a realistic target date from the outset is important. Goals should stretch us, but not to breaking point.

So playing Café World can act as a goals tutorial. The secret is to actually apply these insights to real-life and take action. When it works well it follows the SMART acronym for goal -setting. I’ve added a couple of extra letters to make goals SMARTER:

  • Specific – you know exactly what it is you are aiming for, such as a turbo-powered stove or the right to cook a new recipe
  • Measurable – thea fixed number of steps and a fixed number of things to collect or cook
  • Achievable – the goals are possible within the realm of Café World.
  • Realistic – this is sometimes here CW gets it wrong. Do you realistically have enough friends and enough hours in the day to achieve these goals?
  • Time-bound – Again this is where CW gets it wrong. Sometimes the special tasks don’t allow enough time.
  • Enthusiastic – all goals in CW have a positive emphasis. They are about moving forward and achieving something, not moving away and avoiding something.
  • Reviewable (or Regularly Reviewed) – sometimes players give feedback on unachievable target dates and the game-makers adjust the dates. This is what exactly what we need to do: review and adjust rather than give up.

So, the challenge is to leave the safety of Café World and apply the principles to the less predictable real world, where they rewards are greater. . . and not pixellated. Start small, be SMARTER.

For more on goal-setting see:

To discuss your goal-setting and coaching needs contact Gary Wood on Facebook (Page)

A Psychologist’s Year in Cafe World – Part One: Just Being Sociable

Psychology impacts on just about every aspect of being human, and playing a computer game is no exception. After rejecting countless invitations from strangers (a.k.a. Facebook friends) to accept imaginary gifts or send culinary items, I relented and decided to see what all the fuss was about. It was the beginning on a year playing Café World (CW).  My primary motivation was just to have fun. Some of my real world friends accepted my invitations and it became another way of keeping in touch. However,  I also quickly learned that CW is a very socially oriented game. As a social psychologist this really appealed to me.

CW is a café-themed computer game where players build and furnish their fantasy cafés and complete tasks, which involves “cooking” dishes, serving drinks and interacting with other cafe owners in their neighbourhood. This includes requesting items, returning favours and joining forces to complete team tasks. In my “neighbourhood” I noticed that the one player points ahead of the rest, was also the most reliable in responding to requests.  In CW, even though it’s a competition, you succeed by co-operation. However, some people are slow to grasp this. There are also various challenges where players form teams to tackle time-bound catering goals.  Where there is a limited time to cook an insurmountable numbers of dishes, it isn’t possible to go it alone. It is these challenges that bring out the worst in people. There are some hilarious posts on Facebook profiles of bitter disputes that breakout over non-cooperation. Warnings and ultimatums are issued stating “If you don’t respond to my requests, I will no longer respond to yours”. People are accused of being “amateurs” and “not taking things seriously”. This minority, who take things far too seriously, complain, hassle and become quite aggressive with statements such as “How can we expect to succeed if you are not pulling your weight?”. They can become abusive. People gently point out that “it’s a game and none of us are getting paid for this”. For some, this does not seem to matter. They become so engrossed that they become the bullying celebrity chefs we so often see on television. This begs the question, if people behave like this playing a game, do they behave the same in the real world? What are they like as colleagues, team players and team leaders? Do we all play computer games by the same rules as we live our lives by? Did CW turn make these players a little too “enthusiastic” or just shine a spotlight on their behaviour?

Early on, I took the lead from the top player in our neighbourhood and I simply responded to all requests. I’m sure that some people hoped to prosper by taking without reciprocating, however I didn’t let their behaviour alter my strategy. I like the idea of succeeding by cooperation, so I just played my part and didn’t worry about the motivations of anyone else.

CW also appealed to my sense of fun and irony. Other non-players would scoff and tell me that I had too much time on my hands. I was told that I need to get a real life or run a real café. The implication was that my time should be put to better use. Part of me liked the fact that I was playing a “dumb game” and should know better. The gross assumption was that playing a computer game can tell us nothing about ourselves and other people. As I wrote at that start of this, psychology impacts on just about every aspect of being human, and playing a computer game is no exception. CW did not make me a more socially-oriented person, I was that before I started playing. I like the lesson that we can succeed in life by co-operation. Whether pixellated virtual reality of Café World or the “real world”, co-operation for me is not just a means to an end, it is an end point, a terminal value, in and of itself.

In the following parts I will consider how playing Café World can help us to reflect on goal-setting strategies, time-management, cognitive flexibility and transferable skills.

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Matching Your Values to Your Vote (UK General Election 2010)

One of the things I do as a personal development coach is to help people allign their values and goals. The same applies to casting a vote in an election. It’s an important decision and really needs to reflect your values and what you stand for. Sometimes when the issues are complex it’s difficult to come to a clean, unambigous conclusion. So here are three resouces designed to help you match your values and attitudes to your vote in the 2010 UK General Election:

  1. Quiz One: Who should I vote for?
  2. Quiz  Two: Who should I vote for?
  3. Quiz Three: Who should I vote for?

My field of expertise is attitudes and attitude measure so it was interesting to see that although all three quizzes take a slightly different approach, they all came to the same answer (for me a least).  So, take a few minutes and see if they work for you too.

p.s. Unfortunately quizzes 1 & 2  have a rather ‘mainsteam, three party bias’ although quizz 3 has on option to fous on each of the four UK countries.

Getting the Gratitude Attitude (Free PDF Diary Sheet)

Where as ‘bad news comes in threes’, or so it’s said, there doesn’t seem to be any comparable unit of measurement for good news. This perceptual bias of vigilance for the bad stuff at the expense of the good stuff means that our perception of the world may become distorted.

The daily hassles and uplifts theory of stress maintains that it is often the small stuff that strongly influences our stress levels. At the end of the day we mentally weigh up the hassles versus the uplifts. The result is a ‘good day’ or ‘one of those days’.

So given that we’re led to believe that ‘bad things come in threes’ maybe we need to look three times as hard to find the good stuff. That’s where The Gratitude Experiment helps. I use this technique in my training and coaching practice. It’s a simple exercise to help you to develope the gratitude attitude and focus more on the good stuff, and to balance out those hassles and uplifts.

To get started, download the free PDF diary sheet which is from my self-help and coaching book: ‘Don’t Wait For Your Ship To Come In. . . Swim Out To Meet It’). Now run off a few copies. Start with a week’s worth or better still a month’s worth. Then, every evening list three things that you were grateful for during the day, no matter how small. It could be a compliment, a perfect cappuccino, a bit of scenery, anything. You could also list three people you were grateful to that day. The second part, each morning, is to list three things you are looking forward to that day. Resist the temptation to write the same things everyday; add something new. The overall idea is to retrain your perceptions to include more of the good stuff. At the end of the week or month, assess what changes there have been in your life. The idea is also featured  Richard Wiseman’s :59 Seconds, and is grounded in evidence-based research.*

Focusing on the blessings instead of the burdens can help to improve optimism and increase happiness, and it’s so simple to achieve.

I’ve posted on this topic before but knowing that it’s sometimes the smallest of obstacles that prevent us from making changes, I’ve included a PDF download to make it just a little easier to give ‘The Gratitude Experiment’ a go. So try it and out and pass it on to family and friends and feel free to post a comment of your results.

 Links

Notes: * R.A.Simmons & M.E.McCullough (2003). ‘Counting Blessings Versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life’. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, pp 377-89.

I’m not anti-self-help. . I’m anti ‘yo-yo self-help’. Saying ‘Yes’ to Action Plans & Goals!

Judging from the flurry of activity on my blog posts about New Year’s resolutions, I’m guessing ‘nerves are becoming frayed’ and ‘will power’s on the wane’. However it’s no time to give up. . . it’s time to take stock, recoup and move forward. Stumbling on your new year’s resolutions is not about ‘failure’, it’s about feedback. And when I write ‘Say ‘No’ to New Year’s Resolutions’, I’m not anti-personal development’. Far from it. I’m just anti ‘yo-yo self help’. There’s a big difference. Making positive changes in our lives is not about random ‘getting caught up in the moment’ vague wishful thinking. Real life changes require real planning. Your will power is not the problem; your planning is, that’s all. You can fix that. Creating a compelling action plan gives you an opportunity to develop confidence in your strengths and skills.

So if you find your resolve weakening, don’t take this as an indication that you should give up on your goals. Instead, take this opportunity to use this feedback to adjust your action plan. If what you are doing is not working for you, make the necessary adjustments and try again. Don’t wait until next year or next month or any other symbolic date. Use the feedback while it’s ‘hot’ and take action, now!

The following links will help:

Links:

See my other personal development posts.

See my other posts on goal-setting.

Book: Don’t Wait For Your Ship To Come In. . . Swim Out To Meet It!

Other personal development books at: PsyStore.

Ten Good Reasons to Make a Life Change. . . Apart From “It’s the 1st of January”

Making life changes just because it’s the 1st January may be the impetus to take the first step, but will it be enough to carry you through when the going gets tough, or when things don’t go exactly to plan, or when you meet obstacles or when you stumble or falter along the way. The answer of course is no! The main problem is. . .it just can’t be January 1st everyday of the year. Everyday can’t be brimming with symbolism and significance. It’s clear you’ll need more to go on!

The problem with New Year’s resolutions is that the ritual gets in the way of the reality. We assume the first day euphoria will last, and we assume that all we need ‘will power’ to carry on. It won’t last and will power wears down. It’s like a rechargeable battery that needs topping up, regularly. The question is: ‘With what?’ The answer lies in getting in tune with what motivates you.

Start by listing TEN reasons for making a life change or setting a goal. Now consider whether these are internal (intrinsic) motivations or external (extrinsic). External motivations are things like money, praise, chocolate, adoration and so on. The motivations come from outside of yourself. The big question is: ‘What happens when the external motivations dry up or run out?’

Internal motivations are all about your values and come from within. Job satisfaction is an internal motivator. You’re doing a good job from a inner value of ‘doing a good job’ not because someone is paying you or coercing you into to do it. Wanting to feel healthier and have more energy are better motivators that gaining praise from others. You really must be doing it for yourself.

So what figures most highly on your list of motivations? Are there more internal than external or vice versa. The key to staying motivated is looking for more internal sources of motivation, as these are less likely to run out. So if you need to go back and rewrite your list, or add a few more internal motivators. You are far more likely to succeed in your goals if you are doing it for yourself. Keep adding to your list as you go along.

New Year’s resolutions often rely on one external motivation. . .it just happens to be the first day of the year in the Western world. Each day you continue with your life change is a day further away from January 1st. Of course if it’s going to help give you the kick-start of confidence you need, then use it. However, remember that it’s only the spark that ignites the flame. To fuel the flame you need to focus on your internal motivations!

Links:

Saying ‘No’ to New Year’s Resolutions & ‘Yes’ to Positive Lasting Change

New Year, new you? No chance, no change?

Every New Year our attention is drawn to personal change, which we translate, into intention in the form of resolutions. So why do they fizzle out? What’s the problem? Yes, we  start with good intention and take action, but the problem is that, more often than not, we simply don’t have a well-thought out action plan. We need a well-defined target, not a fuzzy vague ‘over there somewhere’. New Year’s resolutions simply don’t work for a number of very good reasons. So, let’s begin by looking at six common problems with them, and how to put them right:

Negativity
‘Losing’, ‘giving up’, ‘cutting out’ and ‘cutting down’ all have negative connotations. However, we tend to respond better to positively stated goals, such as ‘aiming for a target weight’ or ‘increasing healthy foods‘ or ‘increasing variety in foods‘ and ‘boosting energy levels‘.

Vagueness
Classic New Year’s Resolutions are always rather vague and wishy washy. So, it’s difficult to reach a target that’s not clearly defined.  So once, you’ve got your positively worded direction, it’s best to get specific. What exactly are you going to do to hit your target. What are the behaviours? Target specific actions, such as drinking seven glasses of water and going to the gym three times a week for 45 minutes each time.

Immeasurable
In order to measure your progress you need to make your goals measurable. Ask yourself lots of ‘how’ questions, such as ‘how much’, ‘how many’, and how often’. Just doing something ‘more often’ is vague and immeasurable. Also build up to your target so you don’t feel overwhelmed. Build steady progress into your routine, and where possible break larger goals down into smaller milestones.

Unachievable
Each year we psych ourselves up for the new year. It feels so now or never.   Of course we need goals that are going to stretch us or else we’d soon get bored. However, it’s pointless setting impossible goals. Our goals need to be achievable. Are your goals within your capabilities?

Unrealistic
It’s common to tackle too many things at once or over-plan every minute of your day. Be realistic and pick one thing at a time to work on. That way you build your confidence.

Open-ended (never-ending)
If you goal is your ‘preferred end state’ then you need a ‘preferred end date’. Putting a time scale on it helps with motivation. It provided a sense of ‘urgency’ about the goal.

The SMARTER approach to New Year’s Resolutions is to set SMARTER goals:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Realistic
  • Time-bound
  • Enthusiastically (positively) worded
  • Regularly-reviewed

Goal-setting is not a one shot deal. It’s a process. If you find your progress is slower than expected or you find yourself not hitting those milestones when expected, then GO BACK AND REVIEW! It’s only failure if you fail to use the feedback. Have a look to see if your goals really are realistic and achievable for your person circumstances. If you need to, make changes are try again. Don’t wait until next New Year’s day. . . get right back to it straight away.

Saying ‘No’ to New Year’s resolutions and using SMARTER as well as other goal-setting tools and techniques (such as PAR and GO-FLOW) means that instead of vague statements of wishful thinking, you will have concrete, action plans to channel your resources. So make your final resolution to ditch resolutions and start setting goals. . . not just once a year when you’re caught up in the New Year fever. . .but any time you want to take charge and make changes. . . positive lasting change!

[Adapted from Don’t Wait For Your Ship To Come In. . . Swim Out To Meet It!‘]

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Is New Year’s Day the Best Time to Make Life Changing Resolutions?

The first day of a brand new day brims with symbolism and significance as we ring out the old and ring in the new. What better day to make life changes? The whole ‘brand new year, brand new you’ philosophy certainly gets us started but is it enough to carry us through? And, if it’s the only thing driving you then could it be more of a millstone around your neck rather than a motivational milestone?

All too often we hit an obstacle on our ambitions resolutions and think ‘Ah f**k it, I’ll try again next year!’. The concept of a ‘resolution’ has become so tied up with ‘New Year’ that it’s difficult to think of making them at any other time but the new year. So let’s look at what the various meanings of ‘resolution’:

A resolution is a decree or a declaration. It’s a promise, an oath, a pledge, and a vow. Resolution means determination, steadfastness, tenacity and firmness. A resolution is the upshot, the solution, the answer. It’s the positive outcome. It’s the preferred end state.

Looking at these various definitions, there’s nothing about investing everything in one particular day. We can resolve to show resolve at any time. January 1st is an arbitrary day. In England before 1752 the ‘civil or legal year’ began on 25th March. So is that why the tenth month ‘October’ sounds as if it should be the eighth? Added to this we have the start of the tax year, Chinese New Year, Jewish New Year, Muslim New year, the new year that starts with your birthday. . .and so on. There are plenty of new year’s day’s to chose from. But why wait? Isn’t the first of the month a good enough place to start? What about any Monday? Any day with ‘day’ in its name? Come to think of it, any day that you chose to make a resolution becomes imbued with significance.

However, if you are one of those people who likes to go with ‘tradition’ and plan to make your New Year’s resolutions, why not get a bit of practice in beforehand? The success of resolutions hinge on the degree to which you are prepared. So before you get carried away by taking on too much, why not give your resolutions a test run to see how realistic they are? Also ask yourself this question: ‘What contingency plan do you have in place, should you meet an obstacle or stumble?’ Do you give up and wait until next year, or do you make adjustments and get right back to it, irrespective of the date? Do you resolve or resign?

Better still, say ‘No’ to new year’s resolutions, embrace the various definitions of  ‘resolution’ and resolve to set goals instead!

[Adapted from’ Don’t Wait For Your Ship To Come In. . . Swim Out to Meet It!]

Links:

Introducing PsyStore – for recommended psychology and self-help books

PsyStore for Psychology Books

Click here to visit PsyStore for recommendations of books (and other resources) with a psycholohgical and personal development emphasis

For book recommendations with a psychological and personal development emphasis, click on this link PsyStore (or link in the sidebar). Overall the store focuses on evidence based books and resources. So many self-help books tread, re-tread and veritably trample outdated research,  so the aim of the recommendations in PsyStore, is hopefully to raise the self-help bar!

Items in the store are grouped according to category for ease of browsing. New recommendations will be added as and when including brief reviews of each item. As PsyStore is an Amazon-based store, it will also show ‘similar items’ and ‘listmania’. However, these are not necessarily recommended items.

Any recommendations for items to be included in PsyStore are welcome, so please feel free to comment.

Happy Browsing.

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