How Tetris Taught Me to Cope with Modern Life

To succeed in Tetris, you have to act quickly and decisively. If things build up, you have to figure out how to fill in the gaps. The more layers you address, the faster the pace goes until finally you hit a stage where you can’t react fast enough and, laughing, you randomly move the pieces until they reach the top.

You see, successful people in today’s world are not obedient automatons, nor are they divas. This is according to the late Dr. Al Siebert, who trained employers and educators figure out how to teach or manage people to be “resilient.” Resiliency is “A human ability to recover quickly from disruptive change, or misfortune without being overwhelmed or acting in dysfunctional or harmful ways.” Forget success, even…this is a trait for survival. If life is indeed characterized by suffering, sin, injustice, or whatever you want to name it (Siebert would call it “strain”), then how do we cope with that suffering without creating more suffering for others?  This seems to be fundamentally a religious question, but it’s actually a very practical and often secular matter.  To quote Siebert:

“The workplace today does seem bewildering and disorienting to many workers who were trained by their parents and teachers to act, dress, talk, feel, and think as told. The old way of raising children conditioned them to be obedient employees in large organizations that changed very slowly. In the past, the more desirable employee was like an obedient child who cooperated with being controlled by parental authorities. Now, however, the desirable employee is self-motivated, resilient, has an attitude of professionalism, and can work without a job description.

Employers now want people who know how to make themselves useful without waiting to being told what to do. Employers want people who are constantly learning, adapt quickly, work well with others, and find ways to be successful in new and ambiguous situations.”

via Resiliency Center: To Be Resilient, Resist the Hype About Stress.

This description of the workforce could be applied more broadly to our increasingly global society. In a thousand minor ways, we are constantly being forced to learn, adapt, cooperate, and deal with ambiguity as we interact with people from different cultures and worldviews. It’s just like Tetris: we can never be sure what shape will appear next, but we have to find a way to make it fit. Nowadays, we all have to fit together to win.

I am currently trying to adapt to and deal with a straining (not “stressful!”) new situation in the middle of reading Mahatma Gandhi’s Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with Truth. As you might be able to guess from the title, Gandhi’s worldview is that there is a truth that we can find through careful examination (which some may disagree with), and that “the truth will set you free.” That is, if you focus on what experience and research shows is most effective, then you will be able to overcome suffering, injustice, and sin both personally and collectively.

In this light, combining the thoughts of Siebert and Gandhi, I need to approach my troubles like Tetris. If I’m going to be resilient and want to increase, not decrease, my quality of life through this trial, then I will cultivate:

  • problem-focused coping
  • social support
  • cohesion & unity

By the same token, significant effort will also be taken to suppress perceived stress and emotion-focused coping. In Tetris terms, this means I will focus on the piece in front of me, fit pieces together to create a unified line, and, um, ask friends to cheer for me?  I guess the metaphor doesn’t work completely, but it’s a fun game.

In practical terms, when I am feeling depressed because my husband is on call at the hospital for 30 hours straight, my 14 month old won’t stop crying, and I need to prep for a training, I should avoid spending my evenings managing my emotions (drinking soda, ignoring the dishes, telling myself to “relax”) and focus instead on managing practical solutions and building interpersonal relationships. A good excuse for email and Facebook if I ever heard one!


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