Goal Setting with Minecraft

My kid loves Minecraft. The t-shirts, the wallpapers, watching videos on YouTube. On days they’re free to do nothing on purpose, it’s their go-to game. As an outsider, watching the lead-up to Minecraft is like watching someone prepare for an outdoor excursion. There’s a bowl of something: cereal, popcorn, sunflower seed shells, juice, a pillow, a blanket — all required items as they curl up to play this game. “I’m doing caves today,” they’ll say in my direction but mostly to themselves. They begin to compile their checklist. Their mom, me, a whole planner and battle-tested to-do lister, couldn’t help but watch how their specific video game goal-setting plays out. Here are some things I took away.

Use what you have to get what you want

When you first land into Minecraft, you have nothing. You can explore, but be wary of wandering too far should you have to start over all the way back at your beginning point. Wherever you land, you literally have to build from the ground up. There are a couple things at your disposal. With those, you wield a wood pickaxe. From there, you move up to better, stronger tools as you successfully complete more goals. Notice you aren’t given a diamond pickaxe as soon as you drop into the game. You are instead tasked with creating with what’s available to you. 

That’s a lot like life: most of us aren’t born with all we need at the ready. We do, however, have ingrained skill sets and abilities that help us to reach our goals, no matter where life has plopped us. Use your abilities to carve out your niches, to raise a grade in that one class that seems impossible, to try to beat your highest score. In setting new goals where you are, you are challenging yourself to be your best.

Face the scary things head-on

The Nether is the space where expectations go to weep. Not nearly as jump-scary as Five Nights at Freddy’s (another game that held my kid’s attention for a lengthy stretch of time), The Nether hosts Minecraft’s ultimate challenges. It takes much skill and planning to reach The Nether and, more than anything, it takes bravery.

Doing something while scared requires a big step: acknowledging those scary feelings and deciding to move forward anyway. Sometimes the goals your parents, guardians, or teachers have set for you may seem too hard to reach. Sometimes, they are.

In Minecraft, here is where you would begin to take them on all by yourself. First, you’d lay out each goal, ask why you’re afraid of this goal, and when you’re ready, start at the top with the scariest goal first. Ask yourself what can you do to accomplish this goal. Is it hard to see how it will look on the other side of this goal? Are others’ expectations of you too high? Is the pressure just too strong? Give those feelings the attention they deserve. Once you do, you’ll begin to see your fears shift from terror to curiosity. Now you actually want to know what lies on the other side of those caves (aka those goals.) A hint: there are diamonds and rare finds in there. Keep digging past those fears and set your sights on accomplishing your specific goals.

Starting over doesn’t equal failure

My kid HATES change. It’s the one part of life they could happily do without. In past Minecraft viewings, I’ve watched them dismantle a boulder in a matter of seconds. I’ve also witnessed their despair turn into rage when all they’ve built has been destroyed. During those heartbreaking moments, they’ve learned how to take a breath and start again.

The goals we set for ourselves can be exhilarating to create and disheartening to watch crumble. We’ve told ourselves we’re going to decorate our lockers, get this week’s homework assignments in early, run fast for an entire minute without stopping in gym class, or speak to the new person in school and hopefully make a new friend. Then life happens. And that goal list seems to get longer and your desire to get any of it done grows shorter. Take a break. Reset. Allow yourself some breathing room. You don’t have to get it all done today. We exist in a world where there’s constant movement, with so many of us are moving while standing still. Give yourself some grace here. Tear up the old goals (that’s allowed) and begin new ones that hold true to what you’re able to do right now.