My fiancé and I were playing Crash Bandicoot last night. We are holed up in a New York City home with her parents.
We figured that once we finished watching Tiger King, we’d throw it back to some old-school games we used to play on the couch with our siblings and friends (back when games were bonding experiences and not the entertainment equivalent of heroin).
The game is hard. You must collect these little apples and jump over chasms and avoid squirrels or whatever creature the AI throws at you.
The one saving grace in the design of the game is that it provides you with checkpoints. Little moments in each level that, once acquired, lock in your progress (so each time you die, you don’t have to return to the beginning).
The game got me thinking… there’s a lesson here.
Why checkpoints are important in games – and your life
Checkpoints make a seemingly insurmountable situation a little less terrifying.
If you focus on reaching the next checkpoint (rather than beating the whole level), the situation is more manageable. Accumulate checkpoints and you’ll achieve great things.
Right now, many of us simply need to achieve getting through each day – days over which we have little control.
Most of us had checkpoints built into our day before we were furloughed into our homes. We didn’t have choices. We had to get out of bed to make it to the gym before work. We had work itself. We had commutes home, and pre-set meals (because we were so busy). Our bedtime was mandated by that early wake-up call.
Now, we have a ton of free time. We stay up late watching Planet Earth on Netflix. We wake up at 8:55 AM so we can jump on a Zoom meeting to talk about our feelings.
Our training consists of thinking about how we should workout, looking at 800 Instagram profiles for inspiration – and settling for Flamin’ Hot Cheetos and a YouTube tailslide.
We’ve lost all our order. We exist in a sea of chaos. Until we can restore a bit of control to our lives, we will continue to be a couch vegetable.
The key to restoring this order is restoring those checkpoints in our day.
While so much is out of our control, if we can find checkpoints over which we do have control, it will ease the pain of this troubling time.
Here are five recommended checkpoints:
Get to bed at the same time each evening.
Your morning starts the night before. When do you want to wake up in the morning? 6:00 AM? That means “lights out” at 10:00 PM. That means electronics must be turned off by 9:00 PM.
Set an alarm. Read a book. Do some light stretching. Talk with someone. Spend some time with your partner! Establish consistency.
Get out of bed early and at the same time each morning.
It can be tempting to wake up five minutes before you have to electronically “clock in”. Do you want your first waking moment to be filled with the dread of working?
Get up, move around, ease into your day. Find something fun or fulfilling to do in the morning before you settle in for a day of computer work.
Have a good fiction book you’re into? Read it. What about that video game you feel guilty playing when everyone’s awake? Play it.
Think about how lucky you are to be alive. Find a way to get some sick satisfaction for getting up early. It’ll be tough at first, but the rewards outweigh the discomfort.
Eat the same meals at the same time.
Let’s use Navy Seals as a great example of the power of this one.
During Basic Underwater Demolition Training – the notoriously difficult program designed to weed out the feeble-minded – Navy Seals are instructed to take the grueling initiation one meal at a time.
If that’s good enough for a special forces operative, it’s good enough for a Marketing Manager in their climate-controlled studio in Manhattan.
Having repetitive mealtimes and meal contents will bring control and familiarity to your day. Create some automation, and you have less to stress out about.
For most folks, it will suffice to focus on cementing points one through three above. That’s it. Do these three things and you’ll feel less anxiety, stress, and panic.
When you’ve nailed those points above, tackle points four and five.
Set a Training Schedule.
Sort out which days you will “train,” which days you will do active recovery, and which days you’ll rest.
Train at the same time each day. The easiest way to do this is with four days of training, two days of active recovery, and one full rest day per week.
Go with an upper-body push, upper-body pull, lower-body push, and lower-body pull.
Take a long walk or light jog on another day. YouTube a flowy vinyasa routine for the other day. Don’t do anything on your final day.
All you need is a single dumbbell or kettlebell. Focus on single-leg and single-arm movements – and don’t be shocked if your shoulders turn to boulders, your quads look like a nice Easter ham, and your biceps resemble those pythons you used to watch on Planet Earth.
Accept Your Circumstances.
The pace of life is slow right now. That’s okay.
Get up and walk to a mirror (it will have been Windexed 437 times if you live with an old Italian woman like me). Look at yourself in it, and say, “It’s okay for me to relax.”
You may not get another opportunity in your life to recharge your batteries like this. You’re doing the best you can. You’re parenting the best you can. Your kids are handling this as best their narrow field of view will allow.
Extend some grace to yourself. It’s easy to feel like you’re not good enough when you’re not being “productive” 24/7. That’s just your ego talking.