Can one dad’s killer Mario Kart strategy hold the key to living your best life overall?
One of my favorite family traditions has somehow become our annual Mario Kart extravaganzas.
Ever since my kids got a Wii a few years back, we have filled up a few of those in-betweeny days between Christmas and New Years’ chasing each other around magical faux-racetracks, hurling virtual banana peels and turtle shells into each other at breakneck speed.
When we started this tradition, Lily, my middle child, was young enough that she could enjoy simply watching this take place. Sometimes she’d sit on a parent’s lap for a turn or two, barely touching the steering wheel. As time went by she got bigger, and developed a correlational unwillingness to take a sidelines approach. Being younger and less experienced than the rest of the family was often frustrating for her.
This year she finally came into her own as a driver, winning some races and feeling accomplished. The other day I caught myself rehashing all of Lily’s fake-driving instruction, and because fake-driving lessons are such an important part of the child-parent experience, I got poignant and nostalgic.
I realized that a lot of what I have told her about how to play Mario Kart applies to the idea of setting New Year’s resolutions. Setting up a list of self-improvement expectations for New Years is, as we all know, a holiday tradition as beloved as sweeping up dead pine needles, or throwing out spoiled eggnog.
I think the Karting advice makes it a little more palatable. Like unspoiled eggnog.
Here is my advice for those who want to better focus on their goals… and become a little sicker at Mario Kart.
1) Always drive as if you can still WIN. First piece of advice is to never give up. We all have those moments where we feel like the other 11 racers are all bombarding us with boomerangs and indestructible-stars all at the same time!!! The greatest mistake we can make at that moment is to accept the place we are in and drive as if we are just trying to run out the clock until the next race. You have to dig in and drive as if you can make it to the front of the pack.
When you drive as if you have already lost it’s depressing. You don’t have much fun in the race, and the whole time you feel like a loser. So it’s more enjoyable to drive like you plan to win, even if you finish in last place.
The other reason to drive like a winner is that you don’t know what’s going to happen. All too often we focus on the things that we cannot control, so much so that we cease trying. When we focus on what we can control, like how we drive, then we are ready for those times when the things outside our control work to our benefit. A crash, a miscalculation, or one of those horrible flying blue turtle shells could change everything. If things change in your favor, you will be glad you are driving your very best.
2) Don’t be afraid to try different Karts. You love the pipe frame cart with the sponge wheels? Good for you. But that doesn’t mean you should never try driving that other car that looks like a pirate ship. We all settle into what we are good at. Building upon your strengths is a working strategy, even more powerful than improving on your weak areas.
This doesn’t mean we should abandon opportunities to experiment. Chances are you only found your strengths by trail and error in the first place. Don’t give up on the idea that you can trial and error a little bit more, find other areas that you can improve, even new strengths.
So try new things! For crying out loud, it’s a car that looks like a pirate ship!
3) #SorryNotSorry. A big mantra in therapy is to avoid living an apologetic life. Don’t apologize for being who you are, or playing the game according to the rules. Don’t apologize for edging someone off the edge of Rainbow Road, even if it’s me and I’ve already fallen off that course seventeen times in the last ten seconds.
In our family we started saying “hashtag-sorry-not-sorry,” out loud to each other whenever we decimate each other in the Mario Kart course. It started as a joke, but we realized that saying it, and the laughing response, was a great way to give each other permission to play without holding back.
Don’t do things halfway. If you are going to play, play passionately. After all, we all want to play with you, your whole heart and soul.
4) But, don’t be Mean. This is a balancing act with the previous advice. The game requires bumping each other off the road, interpersonal mayhem, and general sabotage. That is the game. It is the way it is meant to be played. We tease each other, but we try never to hurt each other’s feelings.
Nothing malicious or designed to hurt should be tolerated, in Mario Kart and in life. You can play, and play to win, but you don’t have to be a dick about it. Even if you are a no-nonsense type-A toughie, the kind of person who sets the Alec Baldwin speech from Glengarry Glen Ross to play with your alarm clock, it’s just as important to be kind.
We need to read the situation, and be good enough at verbal and nonverbal communication to know the difference between being focused and hurting other.
5) You will get better the more you try. We always fear that we will have to face the challenges of tomorrow with only the resources of today. This discounts the value of experience. When you drive your hardest only to place at number 12, in a 12 person race, it is natural to feel like giving up.
This is especially true if your older brother habitually places higher than you do.
Not only is this a natural tendency, it is the thing that separates successful and unsuccessful people. Those that succeed aren’t necessarily the most talented person in the room; they are more often the people who get over their defeat the fastest. They move from the mourning period of failure to the practice and planning stage. They graduate to the next level of challenge when they do succeed. They understand a basic fact that change is nonlinear, that struggle is an ongoing part of accomplishment, not a stage to be transcended.
You have to be willing to do things badly in order to be able to do them better.
In summary, maybe I am motivated by a universe that allows me to celebrate my 9-year-old mercilessly mowing down princesses and fire-breathing-turtle-monsters. Maybe the Mario Kart advice is the best thing I will ever teach her. Both things are possible.
One thing I know for sure is that attacking 2016 the way I should attack the Royal Raceway or Toad’s Turnpike is a great way to trick myself into engaging in self-improvement.
Happy New Year!
Photo credit: Flickr/8c5hmy