Building Resilience by Wasting Time


Can playing Angry Birds make you a more resilient leader?

Game designer Jane McGonigal says "Yes." In an article for Harvard Business Review the author of Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better, identified four aspects for snapping back, including "wasting a little time."

Jane McGonigal is a Ph.D., game designer, Fortune 500 consultant, and a woman out to change the world. Her plan to improve the planet? Harness the exploding world of gaming.  

McGonigal's efforts were both hindered and helped by a concussion she experienced in 2009. Doctors ordered three months of "brain rest" to help the recovery process. This was a frustrating period, but enlightening as well.

McGonigal noted that her rehabilitation was aided by things that were seemingly wastes of time. Intrigued, she immersed herself in the scientific literature about resilience. Drawing on neuroscience, medicine, and psychology, she identified four aspects that contribute to resilience in a leader.

Four Aspects To Snapping Back

Physical resilience

We build resilience when we stamp out a sedentary lifestyle. Even simple steps can help; things like periodically taking a brief break from your desk to get up, stretch, and take a walk. "Physical resilience is crucial because it allows your heart, lungs, and brain to react efficiently to stressful situations.

Mental resilience

We build resilience when we exercise our mental willpower. McGonigal notes, "Tackling a pointless but mildly challenging task, such as snapping your fingers exactly 50 times or counting backward from 100 by sevens, is a scientifically backed way to improve focus and determination--and thus mental resilience."

Emotional resilience

We build resilience when we build positive emotions. Some scientists champion the 3:1 ratio, "try to experience, on average, three positive emotions for every one negative emotion over the course of the day." This could be gazing at beautiful photography or making a satisfying hit on Angry Birds.

Social resilience

We build resilience when we strengthen personal relationships. Gratitude and touch are key. Simply sending a thank-you note once a day by email, or holding the grip just a little longer when shaking hands can make a difference. "If you [hold the handshake] for a full six seconds, the touch will boost oxytocin levels in your bloodstream and your colleague's. (Elevated levels of it have been associated with truth.)"

The X Factor

McGonigal's article was fascinating. Actually, it was an eye-opener for me. I am NOT a proponent of video games. As she points out, people spend 7 billion hours a week on gaming, and 300 million minutes a day on Angry Birds alone. Seems like a lot of wasted time. Still, understanding how appropriate use can contribute to emotional resilience makes sense. I downloaded her book so I can dig deeper.

As I reflected on "Building Resilience by Wasting Time" from a Christian worldview, I couldn't help thinking that science often misses the supernatural. The Scriptures are replete with reminders that God's people have the X Factor for raising their resilience. Isaiah 40 is just one of the places where a leader is reminded of the hidden strength reserved for those who lean on God:

28 Do you not know?

Have you not heard?

The Lord is the everlasting God,

the Creator of the ends of the earth.

He will not grow tired or weary,

and his understanding no one can fathom.

29 He gives strength to the weary

and increases the power of the weak.

30 Even youths grow tired and weary,

and young men stumble and fall;

31 but those who hope in the Lord

will renew their strength.

They will soar on wings like eagles;

they will run and not grow weary,

they will walk and not be faint.

Yes, you can bounce back. You can become more resilient. God has wired you to do the amazing. But attempting to soar on human strength alone will ultimately leave you grounded and a "very angry bird."

God has the strength you need to soar. Take your challenge to Him today. Put your hope in Him.

NOTE: All quotes are from "Building Resilience by Wasting Time" by Jane McGonigal, Harvard Business Review (October 2012).

  • You can click here for to read her column. The article is brief and interesting.
  • To find out more about McGonigal's book, Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World (Penguing Press 2011), click here.
  • Click here to read an enlightening article about Jane McGonigal by the New York Times.