How b​uilding LEGO helped me with mindfulness & mental health

Article originally published by Lifeline and shared with permission from the author.

Photo by Michel Sutyadi

By Michel Sutyadi for Lifeline China

In this article, I would like to share my own experiences and how a random activity of clicking small, interlocking bricks together has positively impacted my mental health and strengthened areas of mindfulness, and has become a regular self-care practice helping me to relax. Especially in times of Covid-19, with most parts of the world in various forms of lockdown, people are still confined to their homes and finding alternative activities, which can help you stay engaged, perhaps a welcome change to binging the latest series on Netflix.

I am not a mental health expert by any means but I am volunteering for a mental health organization called Lifeline China. In addition to other capacities, I’m also a trained volunteer for Lifeline’s telephone and chat helpline service which has taught me a thing or two about the importance of regular self-care.

Taking a step back, please allow me to explain how I got into Lego in the first place, which may be similar to some young parents who probably have not touched Lego brick since their own childhood. Only after my daughter at the age of 3 or 4 years and my son (4) began to show an interest in playing with Lego, I discovered another world of Lego sets entirely designed to appeal to mostly adult fans. This is apparent due to their complexity but also their price tag which can easily be in the price range of US$350 for a Bugatti Chiron and US$800 for an Ultimate Collector Series (UCS) set like the Star Wars Millennium Falcon, which has 7541 pieces and was at that time the biggest Lego set ever produced. Those sets are not meant for play anymore just because of their sheer size and weight but mostly for display purposes only. People who are into this are referred to as “AFOLs” Adult Fans of Lego, which I now surprisingly count myself as one.

A recent Washington Post article states that the Danish toymaker has carved out a growing and lucrative demographic: “Stressed-out adults”. I am fortunately not a particularly stressed out adult, as I am a graphic designer working mostly from home, although having 2 kids at home can be challenging at times as well. Lego has seen this segment of adults as an opportunity to underline the relationship between mindfulness and building Lego bricks, which they are also highlighting on their own website.

Lego’s audience marketing strategist Capa Cruz said, “Adults with high-pressured jobs are telling us they’re using Lego to disconnect from the mania of the day. They’re looking for a relaxing and calming experience – and they like instructions because that’s what helps them be in the zone.”

My friend Rasul Majid, who works for The Genius Workshop in Shanghai, a learning center where kids learn about subjects like science, engineering, and technology using Lego bricks says, that one of their key inspirations come from the “flow state” theory. Hungarian-American psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihaly discovered that people find genuine satisfaction during a state of consciousness called ‘Flow’. In this state, they are completely absorbed in an activity, especially an activity that involves their creative abilities.


Photo by Michel Sutyadi

I experienced the ‘Flow’ a couple of years back when I purchased my first serious building set as an adult. Lego came out with the NASA Apollo 11 Lunar Lander, which they launched to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1969 moon landing. I purchased it because I loved the fact that this set ties into a historic event and doesn’t look like a toy but more like a replica of the actual lunar lander. What I realized is that the process and the experience of building it really did put me into a state of calm or flow. You occupy your hands but keep your mind loosely engaged just enough to disconnect from the stress of the day. It is similar to activities like playing a musical instrument, a video game or snowboarding down a perfectly groomed snowy mountain.

My wife is a big fan of those mindful mandala coloring books. For her, a 2000+ Lego set with 150 pages of building instruction somehow seems a bit too intimidating. I get it. It is not for everyone but my first set was far from being difficult to build. With 1,087 pieces it was easy enough to follow along with the instructions, like guided meditation. Over two or three evenings after work, no more than an hour or two per time, it was completed. The feeling of achievement you are rewarded with after completing a set is totally worth it, especially after putting in hours and hours of work. You’ve probably guessed it; this wasn’t my last Lego set.

Once you go down the rabbit hole of adult Lego sets, there is really no end to it and I am by no means a serious collector who owns rooms filled with Lego. I continued my journey with sets that were a bit more challenging, like the NASA Apollo Saturn V and the ISS before I started to really geek out on Star Wars UCS sets which are seriously taking up space in my room. From now discontinued sets like the Star Wars Y-Wing and B-Wing star fighters and Boba Fett’s Slave I to more recent sets like the Mandalorian Razor Crest, the toymaker really knows how to keep their line-up fresh and updated with licensed collaborations from movies, TV shows and video games; there is something for everyone from Marvel to Minecraft.

 

Photo by Michel Sutyadi

Back to the real world and the benefits you get from putting colorful bricks together, Lego released a self-help book called “Build Yourself Happy”. The publisher, DK, states the aim is adults, with the goal of promoting mindfulness and wellbeing, which contains mindful Lego building activities and tips.

Research has shown that doing creative activities, even for a short time each day, can help with depression, positively improve your wellbeing and mental health. It gives you a chance to reclaim some much needed “me time” in the busy pace of modern life. It fosters your creative skills, opens your mind to new possibilities and even makes you more likely to come up with innovative solutions in other areas of your life. What else can you ask for? A recognizable hobby, which feeds to the needs of your inner child, while providing meaningful benefits.

Photo from Lego Mental Health Facebook Group

Self-care or mindfulness has grown increasingly popular in recent years and has become essential strategies to cope with the stress of modern-day life. As a Lifeline China volunteer who spends time on the line listening to callers who share their stories and difficulties about coping with stress and anxiety at work, relationships, or traumatic events, this is an important practice not only for people in distress but also for the volunteer themselves who are trying to help.

As the mental health charity Mind says: “Mindfulness is a therapeutic technique that involves being more aware of the present moment. This can mean both outside, in the world around you, and inside, in your feelings and thoughts.”

Michel Sutyadi can be reached at www.sutyadi.site or michelsutyadi@gmail.com