A Psychologist’s Year in Cafe World – Part Five: Managing Time & the Spice in Your Life

This is the fifth 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. As discussed in Part Four (Self-Service Motivation & Strategy), playing any game requires a strategy and that includes how to make the best use of time.
My strategy was to make the best use of my time. I allocated one hour per day. This was half hour in the morning and half an hour in the evening. I admit that I was not always disciplined in sticking to this. Goals In CW overlap like soap-opera story lines stringing the player along to the next goal and the next and the next. It’s easy to lose track of time and spend more than one intends to. Now, after a month or so, I had honed my strategy to cook dishes with the highest points on the maximum number of stoves. So, in the final weeks, I was advancing one level per day on one hour’s playing time per day, aside from occasional lapses in discipline. I found myself advancing rapidly through the levels. However, I noticed that some players were able to advance two or three levels per day. To achieve this, one must treat CW like a job and play several hours per day, seven days per week. Now this is a double edged sword, for I can see how playing CW can be considered an achievement. It does require strategy, cooperation and a time investment. However, the amount of time it requires to become a star player means there is no time left to pursue real world goals.

Intrigued, I looked at the Facebook pages for the people in my neighbourhood. Players making modest to high advancement in CW had a mixture of posts for other applications, groups and friends. For those making very rapid progress, their Facebook profiles were virtually filled with CW posts, throughout the day. Now, the concept of Work-Life balance has become a popular concept in personal and professional development. The concept of Café World-Life balance is lesser known. As the old saying goes ‘Variety is the spice of life’. This means that we have to spice our lives with more than the virtual reality of Café World.

We all want to be good at something, make a contribution and enjoy recognition for our achievements. Being great at playing CW is indeed an achievement but it should not be an end in itself. Part of the reason for writing this post is to make point that a sense of fulfilment in life can be attained by making the most of our transferable skills. Playing CW requires focus, motivation and determination and action. It also presents us with a moment for reflection.As I have revealed in this series of posts, I certainly learned something about myself and playing CW served to remind me of my life skills, at the time I was facing unfamiliar tasks in the real world. It certainly helped me reconnect with my playfulness, something as adults we often forget.

Spending hours playing CW is not necessarily a bad thing, but if it becomes the focus of our day, it robs us of the opportunity to apply these skills to real world goals. If ‘significance’ is an important value in your life, then consider what other ways this value may be supported. If you are aiming to reduce boredom, then consider other ways to make life more interesting, particularly those which support your goals. Bordeom relief is a form of emotion-focused coping. Playing CW can help to block out negative emotions, temporarily. However, emotion-focused coping should only really be a short-term solution. It’s a quick fix but it doesn’t cut to the heart of the problem, that is, boredom. Instead, it just deals with the symptoms. Negative emotions can effectively put us on a sort of remote control. We are controlled by the negative emotions and act in habitual, quick-fix ways to relieve the symptoms. (See my post Dicing with Boredom. . . and Coping Styles). So is playing CW, for hours each day, a way of coping for you?

Control-focused coping is about addressing the root cause of the problem, not just the symptoms. Café World, hopefully, will have help remind you of your transferable skills. In this series of posts we have considered values (Just Being Sociable), goal-setting (Goal-Setting On the Table), cognitive flexibility (Non-Stick, Non-Stuck, Cognitive Flexibility), motivational strategy (Self-Service Motivation & Strategy) and in this post, the use of time and emotion-focused coping. The question is, how do you apply these insights and your skills to get more of what you want out of the real world?

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Dicing with Boredom. . . & Coping Styles

If you’re constantly channel surfing and find yourself watching the same old stuff, over and over again, stuck on facebook or twitter for hours on end, and the fridge door is opening and closing at night so much that the neighbours think you’ve having a disco in the kitchen, chances are YOU ARE BORED!

None of these activities are intrinsically ‘bad’, it’s just that sticking to the same habitual patterns of of ”boredom relief‘ is hardly likely to relieve boredom. It’s important to take a reality check from time to time and ask ‘Am I hungry or bored?’ or ‘Do I really want to watch the 1930s movie in ‘brown & white’ or am I bored? Am I networking or ‘net-jerking’? To relieve boredom we usually go through the same rituals, such as eating, drinking or watching TV simply because they are our tried, tested and trusted ways of relieving boredom. There’s also an element of emotion-focused coping. This means that we use food or TV to replace the negative emotions associated with boredom. However, emotion-focused coping should only really be a short-term solution. It’s a quick fix but it doesn’t cut to the heart of the problem, that is, boredom. Instead, it just deals with the symptoms.

There’s an old saying that variety is the spice and this sounds like I’m ‘stating the bleedin’ obvious’, but you’re only bored because you aren’t doing anything that you’re really interested in at that moment! So rather than stick to the quick-fixes, here’s a little technique that helps make up your mind to do something different. I’ve borrowed the idea from the book The Dice Man by Luke Rhinehart. It’s the story of a therapist who decides to live his life according to the roll of dice, with alarming consequences. However, we are only going to subject our boredom to chance!

Here’s how:

Make a list from 1 to 21 of the things you could be doing to relieve the boredom, that doesn’t include food, drink or TV (or any other of your rituals). The reason it’s 21 things is because that’s the combinations of a numbers on a pair of dice (1 & 1, 1 & 2, 1 & 3. . .and so on up to 5 & 6 and 6 & 6). A third of the things should include things you have been putting off such as  ‘decluttering your wardrobe’. A third should be personal challenges that you never seem to make time for such as ‘learn a new language’. The remainder are things you like doing to relax such as ‘go for a walk’ or ‘read a book’, and so on.

So, the next time you feel board and find your fingers zapping the remote control or opening and closing the fridge door, reach for a pair of dice and your list. Roll the dice and add up the dots and do whatever number is on your list. No excuses, no second roll. Just do it. The afterwards review your thoughts and feelings? Did it do the trick and relieve your boredom? If not, then roll again and try something else.

Negative emotions can effectively put us on a sort of remote control. We are controlled by the negative emotions and act in habitual, quick-fix ways to relieve the symptoms. The dice technique is a fun techniques for pattern-breaking, to get us to consider other options. However, it is no substitute for making informed choices and adopting a control-focused coping style, that is, we seek to tackle the problem at its cause, not just mop up the symptoms.

So next time, you’re faced with an unpleasant emotion, instead of reaching for the cake slice or the remote control ask yourself what’s behind it, and what you can do to tackle it at source.

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