I Asked a Psychologist to Explain MASH—Turns Out It’s More Than Just a Nostalgic Game

published Oct 20, 2020
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Credit: Laura Supnik

Picture this: You’re sitting in seventh grade homeroom, awaiting the start of the school day, when your best friend turns to you, graph-lined notebook in hand. “Want to play MASH?” they ask, the four letters already written atop the page (complete with the Super S, of course). You immediately twist around in your chair, ready to name your top three celebrity crushes to marry, picture-perfect cities in which to live, and fantastical animals to keep as pets.

The game was clearly outrageous in every way possible—but that’s what made it so enticing. You probably knew you’d never exchange vows with any of the stars named, nor would you live in an oceanside Hawaii mansion with a pet unicorn, but the fact that a piece of paper said you could made it feel possible. It tapped into an ability to daydream without limits, to visualize a future that existed purely within the realm of hypothetical. Even as middle schoolers, the allure of planning out your life might have felt too sparkly to resist.

According to Cicely Horsham-Brathwaite, Ph.D., a psychologist and mindset coach in New York City, games like MASH are actually a form of self-expression. They allow us to experiment with who we are at the time of playing them—and who we want to be. “Childhood is a time of exploration that allows us to try new things and learn what we like and dislike, based upon what we see in our environment,” she tells Apartment Therapy. “By doing so, we begin to define who we are, and what matters. I think of games like MASH as a dress rehearsal for our future life that allows children the opportunity to practice navigating the joys and challenges of adulthood that can set them up for future success.”

While there’s nothing quite like the vast imagination of childhood, the very core of MASH can likely still be found in your life today, though perhaps you’ve updated your daydreams to center on career goals and home decor. If you’ve ever used a Pinterest board to plan out your ideal apartment, made a list of New Year’s resolutions, or outlined a five-year plan, you’re probably tapping into the same brain power that you used on that day in seventh grade homeroom. 

Horsham-Brathwaite notes that practicing visualization exercises is an effective planning tool because doing so helps build a picture of something desired, even if it isn’t directly connected to a person’s lived experience. “Sometimes it’s challenging for people to fully articulate a plan until they have stepped out of the current construct of their lives and begin dreaming,” she explains. “In other words, it provides freedom and flexibility to engage in thought experiments about the future without fear, judgment, and limiting beliefs that can keep us stuck or fearful of making changes. Visualization can help people tap into their creativity, which extends their perspective about what is possible.”

Obviously, playing MASH/visualization alone isn’t going to bring your goal to fruition. The act of purposeful visualization is sometimes referred to as manifestation—or the idea that you can bring something into existence through focus, energy, and action. As Annie Sanchez, CEO of strategic planning and coaching firm Mariposa Strategies, puts it: “To manifest what we want is to make it real. In order to make it real, we have to create it. In order to create it, we have to know how we’re going to do it. At the end of the day, it requires a plan.”

Horsham-Brathwaite notes that manifestation is actually a multistep process, beginning with the clarification of your vision. “From there, you should prepare by learning new skills and changing the habits that might keep you from your goal,” she suggests. Other crucial steps? “Keep your eye out for opportunities that can help you move toward your goal, develop a plan for dealing with roadblocks that arise along the way, and take one step at a time.”

It’s a process that Ella Cajayon, a social media specialist and freelance writer from Virginia, knows well. The 27-year-old always loved watching TV shows set in New York City when she was a kid, and it cemented her resolve toward moving there as soon as she could. “It was portrayed to me as the one place in the world where you could be anyone you ever wanted to be,” she says. “It’s electric, and I felt like if I could be around such incredibly driven and inspiring people, I could slowly build myself up to be one of those people too.” 

But making that dream a reality didn’t happen overnight. “When I first moved in 2015, I was couch surfing and room renting for a year and a half before signing a lease of my own in 2017,” Cajayon says. “For a long time, it felt like I was just a visitor in someone else’s home.” She also devoted nights and weekends to several side hustles on top of her regular fashion job in order to save and prepare for her goal. “I’m incredibly grateful for where I am now, and I can honestly say I got here by zeroing in on what I felt I had to do,” she says.

In many ways, Cajayon’s journey of bringing her ideal home to life felt a lot like playing MASH as a kid. “The beauty of MASH was speaking out loud and writing down your wildest dreams, no matter how far out they seemed, and trusting what felt like fate at the time,” she says. “My love of that game boiled down to unabashedly dreaming big, and wanting to imagine an unbelievably exciting future for myself.”