Imagine for the investment of 10-20 minutes in a daily habit you could experience these results. 

  • Relaxation, joy, and a positive start to your day
  • Humility 
  • Engaging conversations with friends & strangers
  • Patience and perseverance
  • Problem-solving strategies
  • Reframe of mistakes

You have to admit, that’s a pretty powerful list of benefits for the mere investment of 10-20 minutes in a daily habit. Well, yes sometimes it might take a bit more time, but also sometimes less. 

Get ready! This story is personal. Yes, it’s all about me. But I promise that the 5 minutes you invest in reading it will be worth your while.  

In 2013, I found an unexpected passion—solving Sudoku puzzles. I confess, initially, it was an obsession. Then it became a daily habit that generates all the benefits listed above.

Relaxation—Joy—Positive Start

My morning ritual involves picking up the morning paper and flipping through to find the Sudoku puzzle. My local paper likes to make this an adventure. So, Sudoku can show up in any section but is found most frequently on the Sports page. Only complication: on the weekends I have to negotiate possession of that page with my husband. But he’s usually very generous.

Puzzle secured. Next, I pick up my designated pen, pencil, and all-important eraser. Vital to have all three! With these tools secured, I settle in to start. Quickly I feel myself relaxed and focused. Concentration comes easily. Every stage of this daily habit, triggered by my puzzle search in the newspaper, releases neural chemicals that evoke great pleasure. Whether creating the thrill of anticipation, the excitement of the challenge, or the thrill of victory, Sudoku makes me happy.

  • Sudoku Gives Me: A simple daily habit that sets a positive tone for my day. 
  • Sudoku Teaches Me: Positive habits are powerful and transferable! I can replicate the focus I quickly obtain from this simple ritual by creating a ritual to begin my daily writing.  

Dose of Humility

Newspaper puzzles increase in difficulty as the week progresses. Monday’s puzzle is super simple. Tuesday’s easy, on and on until the weekend when the puzzles hold the real challenge. You get the picture. Yet, again and again, I’ve discovered I frequently make more mistakes with the easier puzzles early in the week. I become careless. I’m convinced I know how to solve it. It feels simple—not that interesting. That dismissive reasoning lures me into making very rookie mistakes.

  • Sudoku Gives Me: A dose of humility and a valuable reminder that as I become certain and self-assured that I know everything I need to know for the challenge before me, I stop being curious, not open to learning. 
  • Sudoku Teaches Me: Certainty and assumptions open the door to careless, unnecessary mistakes. 

No “Stranger Danger” with Sudoku

In the six years I’ve been enthralled with Sudoku I’ve had fun and interesting conversations with other Sudoku lovers, including two travel buddies. Not only do I enjoy these conversations with friends, but I never pass up an opportunity to connect with anyone I see in the act of working a Sudoku puzzle. These exchanges bond perfect strangers over our common experience of Sudoku as fun, challenging, and frustrating at times. I’ve also learned from these conversations that people use widely varying approaches to solving the puzzles with personalized getting-started techniques. Plus, everyone has practiced strategies for getting past the stuck moments.

  • Sudoku Gives Me: Connections with friends and strangers alike and a realization that similar small pleasures can be shared by people who otherwise have nothing in common. 
  • Sudoku Teaches Me: There are many effective methods for arriving at a shared goal.

Patience and Perseverance

Unlike messy life problems, every Sudoku puzzle has a solution. Knowing a solution is available motivates me to keep working. The tough part comes when I can’t find that solution. Yet as frustrating as that can be, working through these stuck points produces the new insights and the moments of greatest Sudoku exhilaration. 

  • Sudoku Gives Me: A manufactured challenge that enhances my determination and stretches my perseverance muscle.
  • Sudoku Teaches Me: Patience! And that challenge, frustration, and falling short are all necessary stops along the way to succeeding.

Problem-Solving Strategies

Solving challenging puzzles, especially if the solution includes a stuck phase, feels amazing! Discovering a new strategy or approach even better. Admittedly, Sudoku solving skills aren’t in high demand. But the insights that emerge from solving these puzzles is definitely transferrable! 

Again, and again I’ve experienced getting stuck, leaving the puzzle and then returning to quickly see something I’d become blind to previously. I discover that when I approach a puzzle with my tried and true techniques some of them don’t work as well on particular puzzles. (I’m convinced that puzzles are generated with an algorithm that fit some techniques better.)

  • Sudoku Gives Me: Permission to walk away from a stuck problem and rest my mind. There’s a time to work hard and a time to let go. 
  • Sudoku Teaches Me:So much!!
    • Even when I bring experience and skills, my experience and skills might not be what the challenge needs. 
    • Regardless of my experience level, I always have something new to learn. 
    • I will do better when I’m fully present with the particular challenge in front of me and don’t bring my preconceived ideas about the solution or approach.
    • When I push and push on the same problem, I become blind to what will be obvious later.  A fresh perspective yields powerful insight!

Coping with Mistakes:

The moment I notice I’ve repeated a number in a column or row, I experience a jolt of frustration or a flash of anger, and, yes often utter an expletive (though, as my family will attest, my expletives tend to be unconventional). At that moment it feels like I’ve wasted my time. Not only am I’m losing out on my morning high, but I feel foolish, careless, incapable. I can quickly start a litany of self-criticism. Or I can choose to whip out a blank sheet of paper, recreate the puzzle and get going again. At other times, the situation demands that I simply accept that I’ve messed up, let it go and move on. 

  • Sudoku Gives Me: A chance to observe myself when I mess up. It gives me the opportunity to notice if I practice what I preach about resiliency and embracing imperfection even as I learn from my mistakes. 
  • Sudoku Teaches Me: I have many choices when dealing with mistakes, frustrations, and problems (even ones I create). Sudoku teaches me to keep these in perspective and look for a way forward without needless self-criticism and regret. 

Find Your Powerful Daily Habit

My feelings are not hurt if you don’t love Sudoku nor if you never consider trying it. But I’d love to challenge you to identify something in your life that meets all these needs for you. Maybe it won’t be one thing. But imagine devoting 10-20 minutes every day to something that’s joyful, stimulating, and fun. Even better if you’re able to start your day with that habit. 

Photo by Oliver Dumoulin on Unsplash