Maintaining Interest

I love how social media, when it’s operating without artificial algorithms curating the content, brings things I need to see or read my way. It’s like a river of information running past me and, every now and then, stuff arrives that has value to me on a personal level. Having begun to use Mastodon, I had my first experience of this over the New Year. One example was a post by Shanna Germain on her Patreon.

Love Rant: Compounding, With Interest” is about how Shanna manages the vaunted New Year’s Resolution and has realised that “go big or go home” doesn’t work for her. I seriously doubt it works for anyone, but one particular sentence in her post resonated with me deeply:

If I’m excited about something, I give it my all, focus all my attention on it, drown myself in it and then when I’m done being excited about it, I’m just… done.

Her post outlines her approach to change which boils down to three steps:

First: What am I interested in? Because I know that things that interest me will keep my attention and I’ll be more likely to stick with them.

Second: How can I do a small amount again and again in a way that will compound my work?

Eventually the small actions become habit… It’s about consistency, not perfection. Small doable actions, not huge impossible feats. Things that interest you, not things that the world thinks you should be interested in.

I love the way in which multiple people can essentially come to the same realisations at similar points in time. It’s like the discussion I had with Johnn Four (for a forthcoming episode) in which we talked about creating a daily prep habit. In that conversation, I told him about my Tiny Prep approach too. Putting aside Shanna’s reference to New Year’s Resolutions, it’s a similar process.

Which brings me to where I sit at the dawn of a new year: struggling to maintain interest in any of my hobby stuff. Shanna’s words were a much-needed reminder of the facts about my neurology:

I’ve learned a lot about myself in recent years, including how this is absolutely a sign of my neurodivergence: If I’m excited about something, I give it my all, focus all my attention on it, drown myself in it and then when I’m done being excited about it, I’m just… done. Dopamine seeker is me.

Which all set me up for failure, of course. Because I’d done all the (for me) fun part already–the planning and plotting and prepping and thinking about how things were going to change. That left only the dull stuff, that actual work of making the big change.

That was the full quotation that I needed to read. Partly, I needed reminding that I am not alone in struggling with this particular way of being. Mostly, however, I needed a nudge to keep following the path I had already discovered. To find what interests me, no matter what other people might think or expect (or, more precisely, no matter what I think other people might be expecting), and then to break that interest down into smaller parts.

The extra bit Shanna gave me is this:

I stopped the big planning and prepping ahead of time. Because I know it’s the stuff I like and get excited about, I save it to mix it into the actual work of making the resolution happen. Then the change I’m trying to make isn’t just the plodding. It’s also the thing that interests me that and that I enjoy.

In other words, instead of planning the whole project out at the beginning, she seems to find it helpful to simply begin the work and work out the method as she goes. She also focuses on doing small things daily that move her towards her goal. Weirdly, this is pretty much how I do my professional work… but completely fail to apply to my personal projects. Perhaps the fear is that I don’t want my personal projects to feel like work?

Maintaining interest long-term is the single biggest barrier I have in my personal life and hobbies. Every time I sit down to build what I believe could be an absolutely amazing RPG campaign that will have legs, I do the planning and get excited… and then completely fail to follow through on the actual work of making the game happen.

The exception in recent years was Mystamyr, which succeeded in running for 25 sessions over 18 months. Even though (in the end) it was the big plan I started with that killed my interest, it was running things session-by-session that kept the fire alive.

While I was fumbling around with the original adventure plan on the backburner, I found it easier to prep and run Mystamyr sessions. I was also coming up with much more exciting content for the game and getting better feedback from the players. As soon as I tried to come back to the big overarching adventure, I would feel the enormity of the work to be done and quickly lose energy. Part of that is anxiety; most of it is lost interest.

Here’s my personal proposal:

  • Only agree to run games that you find interesting.
  • Set up smaller projects and work to get them up and running quickly.
  • Consider setting a session limit to the game – say 6 sessions – and agree to review with players whether to continue or change.
  • Avoid planning the whole thing out ahead of time; allow space to plan as you go.
  • Break down the stuff you need to do into small bites that can be achieved in just a few minutes of Tiny Prep each day.

With the possibility of a new regular gaming group forming over the next few weeks, I am keen to make sure that I work as much as possible to keep the flame of passion alive. As “Session Zero” looms, I aim to make sure I listen carefully to the suggestions and desires of the players, but also pay attention to what genuinely excites me as a project.

Games can be short-lived one-shot affairs, for sure. My interest lies in creating more immersive and evocative Otherworlds which reward longer-term play. The only barrier up until now has been me. Here’s hoping Shanna’s post can inspire a change.

Game on!

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