Managing Life Changes the Tetris Way (or How to Let the Blocks Fall with Skill and Grace)

Are you undergoing a major life change? Or merely trying to manage the daily barrage of things hurtling your way? In either case, you might feel you spend most of your time maneuvering through an endless stream of new challenges.

If so, take a lesson from the popular video game Tetris. If you're not familiar with Tetris, the game is played with different-shaped blocks which fall in random order from the top of the playing screen. Your goal is to rotate the blocks "mid-air" so that, upon landing at the bottom, they fit together to form solid rows which then disappear. You earn points for each row you successfully remove. The game ends when non-fitting blocks stack up all the way to the top of the screen.

So, what does this simple game have to do with managing life changes? Believe it or not, there are many similarities.

1. Create space for randomness. Perhaps the most obvious correlation is that Tetris blocks fall randomly and continuously, much like life. In the game, the best way to handle this is to have enough time and space to decide how you want to place the next falling block. In life, leave yourself some extra time and space as well. Don't overschedule or overextend yourself, particularly during a big change. Give yourself enough buffer room to handle whatever comes along.

2. Pay attention. The key to Tetris is to pay attention to several things at once: spaces, block shapes and orientation, number of incomplete rows. In life change, it's important not only to be aware of new external circumstances, but also to shifts occurring inside of you. A successful life change includes a personal transition as you learn to identify with your new situation.

3. Rotate your perspective. The key strategy in Tetris is to rotate each block so it fits perfectly in an available space upon landing. In life, we do best when we remain flexible and view our situation from different perspectives. Ask yourself what someone you admire would do in your situation. Force-fitting answers based on old ideas or patterns can leave us stuck and frustrated.

4. Don't let debris build up. Tetris blocks pile up quickly when you don't remove old rows; it gets harder to rotate and fit new blocks as the pile grows. This same thing happens in life when we let old baggage build up. When making big changes, ask yourself "What's no longer working for me? What can I let go of?"

5. Plan for the hard stuff. Some Tetris blocks are inherently easier to fit than others, so it's best to leave spaces that match those blocks. In life, some unexpected changes (car trouble, company dropping in) are much easier to deal with than others (job layoff, major illness). It doesn't hurt to have a contingency plan for the big stuff. Not only will you be more prepared if the time comes, but the process of planning for big changes gives you more confidence in handling the smaller stuff.

6. Look ahead. Tetris has a setting that allows you to briefly preview the next block to come. While we don't have a "preview" setting in life, we do have a powerful alternative: our imagination. Use your creativity to play with different scenarios, and experiment with new, innovative solutions during your change.

7. Change strategies. In Tetris, you can adopt different strategies for removing rows: trying to eliminate one row at a time, or working several rows at once. It makes sense during a big change to be open to different strategies as well. Sometimes quick, decisive action is the key. Other times, being still and listening to your intuition uncovers the best solutions.

8. Use a soft focus. To get good at Tetris, you learn how to relax and get into a "zone," softly focusing on the whole field, not just individual blocks. This soft, relaxed focus works well in life, too. Zeroing in on individual setbacks can be taxing. Instead, step back and see your situation from a wider perspective, one dramatic chapter in the book that is your life. Ask yourself "How am I different because of this? How does this help me be a better person?"

9. Advance to new levels. About the time you get into a good rhythm, Tetris bumps you to a new level where blocks (and points) accumulate faster. Too, it seems like just when you've got the hang of your new life situation, something else challenges you. Know that this just means that you're ready for that challenge, with new opportunities for greater growth and insight.

10. Reset. Once all the Tetris bricks hit the top, the game starts over. If you find yourself "hitting the ceiling" in dealing with major life change, take time to reset. Stop, take a breather, engage in self-care. Do something nurturing and fun for yourself. This is not slacking! The inner transition that goes with change takes time and energy. For us to thrive during life changes, we need to go out of our way to be good to ourselves.

So let the blocks fall where they may, using these strategies to help you thrive during life changes, large and small. And if you forget how, go play a game of Tetris.

Sue Brundege, a certified coach, helps adult children of aging parents maintain a healthy life balance and achieve their personal goals. For practical information, visit"> and subscribe to my free newsletter.