For me growing up there were three games that formed the Holy Trinity of the Nintendo 64: Super Mario 64, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, & Mario Kart 64.
Ok, so Starfox 64 and Super Smash Bros. 64 also deserve honorable mention, but Holy Quinary just sounds like a shrine to Sliders so we’ll stick with the Trinity.
Out of all those games, Mario Kart 64 easily had the biggest impression on me.
Because it taught me the secret to leading a happy, successful life.
Wisdom from the Road
Jump back a decade or so and there I am sitting in my room with friends racing full tilt around the Rainbow Road.
I was Yoshi – because we all know that Yoshi is the best – and I was losing. Badly.
Every lap I’d fought my way up to the front of the pack, and every time some catastrophic slip up had plummeted me back down to last. You should know, as an aside, that I did not handle frustration well as a child. By this point I was absolutely furious.
With each stupid turtle shell, each accidental hop off the edge into oblivion, each star-powered buffoon that blasted me out of the way I became increasingly agitated. I didn’t even notice that the more angry I got, the more I wanted to hurl my controller through the TV, the worse my racing got.
Finally, on the very last lap, something snapped.
Rather than give in to the substantial rage that had built inside me, I just let it all go. Maybe you could call it defeatism, but I think that sounds too negative. I realized at this point that I was at peace with whatever happened. I just didn’t really care anymore.
And you know what? My racing improved.
When before everything that could go wrong had been, now everything aligned perfectly. I was untouchable. I was in the zone.
I rocketed up to first like it was nothing and won the race. At first, I considered myself lucky. As time went on though I began to wonder if there was more to it than that.
I tested my theory out through more and more races and it held. The more agitated I got, the worse I played. The more detached I got, the better I played. At first I just thought learning to detach myself from worry and frustration over the outcome was just a handy trick to rock my friends on Mario Kart. Then I learned to apply it to the rest of my life.
When I made a conscious effort to do in the rest of my life what I did in Mario Kart – stop worrying and let things flow – I found that everything I did came easy to me.
No matter what it was, even things I had formerly had a really hard time with, everything always just seemed to work out in my favor. On the rare occasion things would still go wrong, it always seemed like it wasn’t so bad and some other opportunity would present itself as a result of the problem that was even better than the original.
The more I taught myself to relax and not worry, the more successful and happy my life became.
Everyone called me lucky, but I knew I was making my own luck.
How it Helps
This isn’t just anecdotal, studies have shown that people who are considered ‘lucky’ often are just benefiting from being more relaxed and mindful.
In Dr. Wiseman’s study referenced above participants were given newspapers and asked to count the number of photos in them. The group who considered themselves lucky correctly completed the task in a few seconds while the group who considered themselves unlucky took an average of two minutes.
What was the difference?
The people who considered themselves unlucky were almost always too stressed out and focused on the task of counting the photos to notice the headline inside that read “Stop Counting. There are 43 photographs in this newspaper.”
When you learn to let go of your worries you allow your relax and be observant. When you’re observant, you miss fewer opportunities.
Relaxing in this way also opens up the doors to intuition. It taps into a process akin to the Taoist concept of Wei Wu Wei – action without action.
Wei Wu Wei in very simple terms is being so attuned to the current moment that without effort you automatically take the most correct or beneficial action. It’s a topic that deserves volumes all on it’s own, but the best example is if you’ve ever been in ‘the groove’ or ‘the zone’ while playing a sport.
That feeling where everything is going right, when you’re no longer thinking about what you’re going to do you just act, that’s Wei Wu Wei. Most people that get pegged as ‘naturals’ in some activity or another are just people who are intuitively good at putting themselves in this state.
Being able to consciously put yourself in ‘the zone’ makes you act like you’re a natural at everything you set out to do.
How to Relax
Now some of you might be saying, “Wait, I am stressed all the time. You can’t expect me to just decide to not be stressed!”
It came naturally to me, but some people are just naturally high-strung. Caroline’s been learning how to de-stress and not worry so much ever since we met. Luckily, there are some techniques you can use.
- Take a long deep breath – I know it’s kind of stereotypical, but that’s only because it works. Stopping to shut out the world long enough to take a deep breath helps get your attention off of whatever is stressing you. Breath control also triggers physiological responses that produce a calming effect.
- Exist in the moment – When you’re taking that deep, slow breath focus all of your attention on it. Nothing else exists, there is no past, no future, there is only the experience of that breath. Understanding that the past is gone and the future doesn’t yet exist helps you focus on the present moment. When you do that, you find there’s no need to worry about the future anymore.
- Accept the stress – If you’re still feeling stressed after doing some controlled breathing, confront that feeling. Acknowledge the fact that you’re stressed, and dismiss it. Tell yourself that you understand why you’re so stressed, but you don’t need to be anymore and let all those feelings drift away. It sounds like hippie stuff, but trust me – it works.
- Face your fears – If you’re stressed out from worry or fear, and the realization that the future doesn’t exist and is nothing to be scared of hasn’t helped, play through the worst case scenario in your mind. Chances are, unless you’re going to literally die as a result of failure, the worst case scenario isn’t the end of the world. Once you see that even if everything fails you’ll still be fine, you can brush away the fear and be present enough in the moment to succeed.
These are just a few ways, there are even more involved methods like meditation, the point is just to get you started.
The more you teach yourself to let go of worry and stress and be present, mindful and relaxed the more successful and happy you’ll become. All because of a particularly enlightening game of Mario Kart.
Do you have any other tried and true methods for learning to let go of stress? Have you stumbled upon any other great truths while playing video games? Share them with us in the comments!
Photo Credit: Pixteca