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The Jigsaw of Life

by Lisbeth Stewart 9 months ago in table top
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Strategies for puzzles and for life

My finished jigsaw: experience, process, product and inspirational metaphor

I love jigsaw puzzles.

The challenge of putting them all together. The wonderful knowledge that it is possible to succeed, even if you don’t see it when you look at a pile of pieces. The feeling of successful completion, and satisfaction of having something tangible to show for your work.

Lots of other people also love jigsaw puzzles. I’ve heard of them being in Little Free Libraries, and I’ve seen them shared back and forth in Buy Nothing Groups.

Before you begin a jigsaw puzzle, you know what it looks like, from the picture on the box. You also know how many pieces it is, and, if you care to measure out the dimensions given on the box, you know how big it is. All the parameters are known. The outcome is known.

The satisfaction of successfully completing it is also known. Even though the picture on the box is better because it doesn’t have join lines all through it!

What is unknown is how long it will take you to complete, how difficult you will find it, and whether all the pieces are actually there.

I assume that I will complete each puzzle, because every one that is made is possible to complete.

I was once defeated by someone else’s Simpson’s puzzle, but I’m certain there were multiple pieces missing, like: about ¼ of the puzzle!

I recently enjoyed putting together a 1000 piece puzzle over several days. Not every day, just when I felt like it. I felt so satisfied to finish it! Completion. Ahh.

Of course I took photos of my progress!

A beginning...well...after a couple of days!

In progress - second last day

Pulling it apart to pack it away reminded me of the process of putting it together.

First I used organisation skills: I sorted the pieces, organising them into groups by colour and by parts printed on the pieces, eg. That’s a red window shutter, those pink flowers all go together etc.

The edge pieces are a vital first step. Once you have the edges together, you know how big the puzzle is, and the reference points to locate other pieces.

Then I joined together parts that I could tell go together eg. Boat, table and chairs, a building of distinctive colour etc.

Literally piece by piece I added to the existing groups: edges and identified features of the picture.

I used the picture on the box to help me decipher what I was looking at, and where things would go in relation to one another.

Things were moved around as I realised they needed to. Eg. It took several days to realise that some missing edge pieces on one side had been placed on a different side.

As I worked, I was pleased to realise that my memory and subconscious are operating very well. I would be attaching a piece and remember that I had seen a similar piece, and then find it. Like the card game “Memory” when I was a child, where you have to remember where the matching card is. This was a bit easier: I could look at all the pieces! I did notice, though, that often I was at least looking in the right place, and sometimes put my hand on the piece straight away.

Of course, some parts were quite difficult, where I tried different pieces, in different orientations/ rotations, and none of them seemed to fit. Then, just as I’d given up, I’d “accidentally” pick up the piece that fitted perfectly! Hooray! That was so much more exciting than just placing piece by piece with no difficulty.

Sometimes I matched the piece by the physical shape of the adjacent pieces, and the negative space that was left.

Near the end of the puzzle, when there were a couple of dozen holes and the same number of pieces that didn’t seem to match anything, I organised the pieces again, by shape and number of “out” and “in” joins. Then I systematically matched each of these to their correct space.

If you have trouble completing jigsaw puzzles, try those strategies!

I often find a life analogy in small, everyday things. Jigsaw puzzles are no different.

Here’s a list of life lessons from Jigsaw Puzzles:

Our life has set parameters and known factors:

We are born, one day we will die.

Some of what happens in between isn’t up to us, but a lot of it is.

People like to share things that they love with other people who love them.

It’s easier to reach a destination or outcome if we have a picture (or map, or plan, or goals) of what we’re trying to achieve.

We can use organisation strategies to help structure, plan and achieve success.

We can use observation and memory to help us achieve our tasks.

We need to be prepared to admit we’re wrong and make changes when needed, for a successful outcome.

Looking at both the positives and negatives can be useful.

Trust yourself: your subconscious mind and intuition are working for you.

Go at your own pace - this is your activity, not someone else's

We might need to try several different ways to do something before we find the best way.

What works one day, or for one situation won’t necessarily work for another. It’s good to not always do the same thing.

Completing something is a great feeling, so don’t give up just before you get there. Take a break and come back another day. It’s worth it.

Overcoming difficulty is more exciting than plodding along. Like a story with a plot twist.

The doing of it is as important as the outcome. Pay attention.

Sometimes life is fun, and progress is easy and rapid.

Sometimes you just have to stick with it and be organised, methodical, systematic.

A range of skills and approaches makes for an easier, well-balanced life. Some people call this a “toolbox” of skills.

If you can’t complete a puzzle because some pieces are really missing and can’t be found, move on. Let it go - literally into the bin, so no-one else is unnecessarily frustrated by it in the future. (Unless it’s someone else’s, in which case: give it back to them and explain.)

When you’ve finished one puzzle (project, phase of life), you can put it away and start another one. There isn’t really a limit.

Did I miss any of the lessons?

‘Scuse me...I’m off to start a new jigsaw...

table top

About the author

Lisbeth Stewart

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