Suddenly, we can’t get enough of puzzles at our house. Once reserved for a rare idle evening, now we’re dusting off forgotten boxes, clearing the kitchen table and forming committees to separate edge pieces from centers.
We’ve joined an international phenomenon. You’ve probably heard puzzles are sold out worldwide, neighbors are trading favorites and resellers are quadrupling the price for desperate puzzling junkies.
It’s not boredom. Your brain is seeking puzzles because it’s seeking solutions. Your brain hates confusion and when the world is full of uncertainty, your subconscious finds solace in placing the right piece in just the right spot. While some might view puzzles as time-wasters, those little cut up pictures cultivate logical thinking, encourage patience and nurture cooperation.
You’ve likely noticed similar excitement over baking and gaming. Yeast and flour are sold out in every store as millions seek to perfect loaves and pastries, online gamers are playing in unprecedented numbers and for unrivaled hours. Your brain wants a solution; it wants you to win.
Just as the brain LOVES setting every piece in place, pulling the perfect loaf out of the oven and winning a video game, we also rebel when it’s too easy or too hard. No one truly wants to solve a puzzle effortlessly and very few people want to attempt an ‘impossible puzzle’ (all white, clear, micro pieces, etc.). For my family, the perfect puzzle right now is 1000 pieces, a picture with plenty of colors and unique details. Challenging enough to demand our concentration with the utter simplicity of needing no tools, manuals, instructions or rules (and we get that fabulous serotonin hit each time we place a piece).
I started quarantine with ambitious goals for my free time, but once I’ve slogged through my work for the day, I find myself craving something simple tasks, guaranteed wins. If you are struggling to accomplish more complicated projects, you’re normal. Your subconscious is busy running ‘what if?’ scenarios, the same way a computer runs background tasks. Just as those background tasks slow a computer, they slow you down too.
Whether you feel stressed or not, your brain is dealing with uncertainty right now. Look for small ways to help yourself and your family ‘win.’ Spend time creating of list of positive coping activities and keep them simple. I hope you’re reaching all your lofty beginning-of-quarantine goals— mastering a new language, extraordinary fitness, writing a novel. But embrace those small moments to learn a new dance step, to sample the latest kitchen creation and find just the right puzzle piece. Give yourself a win.