LEGOs, jigsaw puzzles, and non-digital tasks

The LEGO Parisian Cafe and other assorted sets (including Elsa’s ice palace, the Harry Potter quidditch pitch, an Incredibles brickhead, and the LEGO Dimensions gateway pad) on display in Mina’s room.

When I was in the hospital, one of the items I asked Paige to grab during an errand run was a LEGO set. Any set. It didn’t matter. The idea was focusing on a task and working to put something together and feel a sense of completion when it was all done.


She came back with a Star Wars set and I overestimated how much flat surface real estate I would have in a hospital room. I didn’t end up doing the set until I returned home but the upside was that my daughter and son helped me piece it all together.


Someone asked me why, as an adult, I was so into LEGOs. It’s therapy for me. How many projects can we undertake and then completely finish with something fun to see, hold, and touch in 2-4 hours? (Depends on the LEGO set, of course. Mina and I worked on the Parisian Cafe during nights for a couple of weeks before it was finished.)


What I realize now is that working on a small project or task-focused exercise like a LEGO set forces you to live in the moment. The next thing driving you is finding that 1×4 blue block that you need to complete the siding of your LEGO house. Nothing else is creeping into your mind. Bills, to-do lists, office concerns, and material fantasies all disappear. The only thing I have to force myself to check and re-check is the clock. It’s common for me to lose an hour or two working on a set with Mina and Will and realize that their bedtime should’ve been much earlier. 


I find the same thing happens when you or a group of adults work on a jigsaw puzzle. I’m also the person that just grabs the box and spills out all of the pieces on an available table. One friend joins and helps turn the upside-down pieces over. Another friend joins and starts finding all of the edge pieces and putting them off to the side. Before too long the whole group is huddled over a table working on a scene of North Carolina waterfalls or The Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover (that’s a fun one). 


I don’t think this effect holds up for most digital tasks like playing video games or binge watching a Netflix series, even those I really like both of those activities. I think that a lot of video games now require a steep learning curve. And if you’re trying to play with someone who just doesn’t have the hand-eye coordination needed to fast-action video games then you might be having fun and in the moment but they are not, despite what they may say. For taking in TV content, even without commercials, there is too much space for anyone’s mind to wonder. What are we going to do next? Maybe I can show them my show. Do we all need some food? Are we going on that walk tomorrow?


These issues don’t exist with a set of LEGOs or a jigsaw puzzle. Grandparents can walk in and help for a bit and head out with no fuss. Everybody wins. And if it’s a game you’re after, nothing beats a good deck of cards. Spades, anyone?

Author: johncatoe

Recovering from brain surgery. Dealing with metastatic melanoma. Hoping to build some community and maybe help people out in someway.

4 thoughts on “LEGOs, jigsaw puzzles, and non-digital tasks”

  1. For many of the reasons you’ve written about, clark and I spend a lot of time in the yard. We have specific things we are building and planting and as we work all other stresses fade away. We work together to create something beautiful. It’s rewarding in the same way your LEGO sets are rewarding! Thanks for sharing your reflections. Spades sounds great! 😀

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    1. I would like to build up to gardening. I need more of an understanding of how to nuture what I plant and make sure I sustain life. I don’t think I’m up to spending lots of time in the yard yet but it would have the added benefit of directly dealing with another beautiful form of life. We are planning on planting a tree in honor of Athena and putting her ashes under it when we plant it (I plan to hug it every March 1st). Hopefully, that will be my introduction to living in the present through yard beautification.

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  2. How right you are, John. I have always loved jigsaw puzzles, but felt that during that busy time of my life, while working, keeping a household running, raising kids – that it was a luxury that I could not afford. Who
    can take time to do something like that when you just tear it apart and have nothing to show for your time. Just this year, one of my neighbors has fallen in love with a puzzle company (White Mountain Puzzles) and has made each of them she completes available to others. They have been too tempting to leave, so I have
    begun to bring one home, complete it, and return it for another. And you are right, no one can resist pausing at the puzzle table to hunt for a piece or two — and it is usually much more than that. When the boys have come with their girlfriends, everyone has ignored TV and phones and just sat down to enjoy the hunt and each other’s company!! Aunt Nancy

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