By Mike McMahan, LPC
I have written extensively about the power of narratives in psychotherapy, particularly in one of my favorite pieces, concerning the films of Quentin Tarantino. So I was kinda blown away when I ran across this article from Wired that makes a lot of the same points I’ve tried to make, only really cool because it’s about nuclear bombs going off in video games. I’m being sarcastic, but not really; my whole reason for this blog is to help people think about therapy and self-help in terms of pop culture that they enjoy in everyday life and to remove the stigma of mental health by helping people realize that tools are all around them and already in their personal arsenal. Your arsenal, that is. You hold the keys to solving current problems by examining past successes.
The section that most struck me from the Wired piece was “But losing is important. I’m not saying that games should be harder. I’m talking about the importance of failure to narrative.” This applies not just to challenging players in video games, but also to movies and to life. Think about something like Star Wars. Would it have been the same if, instead of getting caught by a tractor beam, the Millennium Falcon had simply waltzed up to the Death Star and blown it up? If Obi-Wan had never been killed by Vader (*spoiler alert--haha*)? No. Luke learned about the meaning of struggle, which gave his ultimate victory of blowing up the Death Star (and ultimately toppling the Empire) more meaning. He had to sacrifice to get there. Things inherently have more value in stories, and in life, if they are hard to get. Which is the point of failure in video games and the article on their lack, at times.
Think back about a time in your life when you have failed at something. And I’m not talking last week. Maybe several months or even years ago. There is the cliché that “there is always a silver lining,” but I think oftentimes we make that silver lining ourselves. When I was in grad school, I got a much lower than expected grade on an assessment exercise. As a result, I really applied myself and did much better and was commended by the professor on a project later in the semester. I realized that I didn’t quite understand what I was supposed to do, so I took a harder look at the textbook and other materials. My final work was much better and even meant more to me. Was I annoyed at the initial low grade? You better believe it. So there was a silver lining, but only because I did something differently.
So consider the failure that you identified from above. What did you learn from that failure? What did you do differently as a result of that failure? If you learned a new skill, how did you learn it? If you adjusted your attitude, how did you make that adjustment? What victory did this lead to and did it mean more to you once you defeated a challenge?
Now think of a challenge that you are facing currently, today, right now in your life. What lesson can you apply from a past defeat followed by victory. What about that new skill? What about a reminder that sometimes you do have to check your attitude or outlook? What about a reminder that things take time and patience is required, even if it’s hard? All of these, and more, can spring from failure. There is power in failure, but you have to harness it.
Mike McMahan, LPC is a psychotherapist based in San Antonio, Tx.
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Therapy Goes POP
Perspectives on therapy and mental health as viewed through the lens of popular culture