Life is Like a Game of Cards November 2020
6 Strategies to make your hand a winner
Have you ever considered the analogy of life being like a game
of cards? In a card game there is no control or certainty of the
cards you will be dealt. They might be good, or they might be
bad but ultimately its up to you to strategize how you can make
it into a winning hand.
Some get dealt a great hand in life: brought up in a healthy,
peaceful home, given education and opportunity but play their
hands unwisely and end up losing it all. Others are dealt a
crummy hand: brought up in poverty, experienced trauma or
abuse, given limited opportunities but learn how to play their
hand well and land themselves a winning game!
In life, it’s up to us to play our hands the best we can. This means learning the rules of the game, watching, and learning from others with more experience. It takes plenty of practice and focus to make the most of every opportunity.
Although there are countless ways you can turn your poor hand into a winner, I will briefly offer 6 strategies that have been real game changers for me.
#1- Wake up and cultivate self awareness
Are you living mindfully and carefully? Or sleepwalking through life, simply going through the motions?
Many of us sleepwalk through life, unconsciously living on autopilot, not entirely sure who we are, what we want, where we are going and what will truly make us happy in this life.
Our unconscious thoughts and feelings emerge in behaviours that we may be unaware of. We are shaped by our first family experiences. We imitate what we grew up without realizing it.
Other times we act in opposition to what we saw in our childhood. Regardless, our first family influences our behaviour more than we know. Our cultural heritage, prejudices, belief systems, political leanings, where we lived, whether we were educated or not educated and the way our parents interacted with us and others all play a part in forming us.
I spent many years sleepwalking through life. I desperately wanted peace, happiness, and success, but wasn’t sure what was standing in the way or how to achieve it. I was lacking self awareness and deeply unaware of what was at the root of keeping me from moving forward in life ---- myself!
The school of hard knocks and some extremely painful life experiences eventually woke me up and got my attention. I had hit my rock bottom.
In this lowly place of brokenness and humility is where my journey of transformation began.
I discovered my need to look inward, dig deep and was hungry to learn all I could about myself.
I committed myself to counselling, countless books and articles, podcasts, videos and slowly began to awaken to my unhealthy patterns.
One of the first steps needed to create a happy, successful life is to wake up, make the unconscious- conscious, and practice self awareness.
#2- Challenge and change faulty thinking
So much of who we are - how we view ourselves, others and the world - is quietly built upon the beliefs and patterns in the families we grew up in. Through my experiences, I discovered that “distorted thinking” is at the core of many issues including low self esteem, addiction, depression, anxiety, conflict in relationships and some personality disorder. This is why in counselling, we begin with examining our automatic thoughts, and make our unconscious assumptions and beliefs conscious.
What we think, affects how we feel and behave. It’s a chain reaction! So if you want to change how you feel and behave, start by examining your thoughts.
My journey in challenging and changing my faulty thinking began when I noticed that certain thoughts would cause me emotional distress and anxiety. I became curious about this and started keeping a thought journal.
I simply began writing down my everyday thoughts. I would then ask myself how the thought affected my emotional response? Next, I questioned how my thought and emotions together affected my behaviour? Finally, I asked myself if the thought I believed was even true?
When I read my thinking out loud to myself, I realized that many of my thoughts weren’t even close to the truth! For many years I had been believing lies about myself, others, and the world.
When I finally understood how this simple exercise worked, it changed my perspective and relationships. If you are wrestling in any area of your life, consider examining what’s going on in your thought life that may be contributing to your problems.
#3- Be open to advice and critical feedback from others
King Solomon, one of the world’s wisest men penned these words in the book of Proverbs “To acquire wisdom is to love oneself. People who cherish understanding will prosper. Get all the advice and instruction you can and be wise the rest of your life.”
I couldn’t agree more with his main point. When we gain wisdom, we are loving ourselves since that wisdom will help us be successful in life.
Let’s face the truth. Taking advice and instruction from others does not come naturally for most of us, myself included. Our egos can get in the way. But when we are humble enough to accept instructions, we become stronger, even though it may feel weak. Wisdom gained from a posture of humility leads to a better life!
I have a few close, trustworthy friends who I have invited to give me honest feedback about my strengths, weaknesses, and blind spots. I trust them enough to tell me when they think I’m making poor decisions or going off course.
I also have a few trusted older mentors who give me advice and share their stories of success and failures, dreams accomplished and regrets.
It is wise to learn from others, be open to healthy criticism and forge mentorship relationships with those who have walked the path before you.
#4. Own it then release it
Owning our issues may be the most difficult and seemingly counterintuitive strategy to winning in life. It requires great vulnerability and humility. Most of us were raised in families where humility and vulnerability were considered weak, not strong! But they are critical in creating a successful hand!
Owning our mistakes and taking full responsibility for our problems are not part of human nature. Instead of being honest with ourselves we prefer to blame, hide, deny, and rationalize our problems and our participation in them. These defense mechanisms keep us bitter, frustrated, anxious depressed, discontent, and stuck!
For many years I blamed my unfortunate circumstances on other people. The truth was, I had some terrible acts done towards me. I was a victim. I was hurt. I was taken advantage of.
The problem however was that I stayed a victim. I did not rise above and beyond my experiences, so victimhood became my identity. I was stuck in unresolved bitterness toward those who had hurt me and I couldn’t move my life forward.
Finally I faced the truth, laid down my ego, quit blaming, and moved past my hurt. I recognized how staying a victim was in fact a self-defeating defense mechanism. I was sabotaging my future health and emotional wellness by letting my victimhood keep me stuck. I made the decision to move on and take responsibility for myself and my life. This was incredibly hard to do – it is much easier to stay in a place of blame and bitterness. But I will never regret the effort it took as my life turned completely around. I am a better person, in control of my future, with a fuller, richer, more satisfying life as a result!
I started my healing journey by writing out list of all the wrongs others had done to me. I documented how I was hurt and what was taken from me as a result. I spent as much time as I needed to feel and grieve, then made the choice to forgive the transgressions against me.
My victim mentality had become the center of my identity. Overcoming an issue so deeply rooted in my past was not easy. It took intentional thought and effort. This work continues as every day I need to go back and make the choice to let go of the past and live in forgiveness for my own physical, mental and spiritual well- being.
You too, will never regret your decision if you choose to take accountability for your life rather than stay in blame and deflection. The payoff is incredible when we reap the rewards from finding solutions within us. When we are in control of our lives, we experience tremendous strength, security, and inner peace.
#5. Create a new story! Live into your values and discover your identity and purpose.
What is the story you tell yourself? What are you capable of in your future? What is most important in life? Will you have a healthy relationship through the rest of your life? Will you achieve your purpose and discover the meaning of your existence?
Few people think through these questions even though they are central to where we end up in life. Too often, we our lives are put on autopilot, and we fail to set a destination that reflects what we truly value and believe is our purpose in life. The story we tell ourselves regarding what is important in life is often largely unconscious. Despite not making it to the surface of our mind, it determines what we think is possible, or not possible for ourselves and where we end up or don’t end up in our future.
One of my favorite types of therapy is narrative therapy since it focuses on assisting you create new stories about yourself, your identity, and purpose. It helps you clarify what you value. This work of "re-authoring identity" helps you focus your life on what is important to you and how to use your skills and knowledge to “live into” your values.
As with exercise, it’s not enough to have good intentions. We need focus and action if we expect real change to take place.
Who do you want to be? What do you value and want out of life? What is getting in the way of who you want to be and what you value? What behaviours and actions are you taking that support your values? What behaviours and action are you NOT taking to support your values?
In Stephen Covey’s “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” he challenges his readers with the “Funeral Exercise.” Imagine you are attending your own funeral and listening to what your best friend, family, co-workers, and community are saying about who you were and how you lived your life. What do you hope they will be saying about you? I’ll bet it won’t have anything to do with how much you accomplished, what you owned, or your popularity. Most people hope to leave a legacy of great love, purpose, grace, character, and integrity.
(See Stephen’s challenge here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1KIZK_3hbqM)
So, though keeping the end of your life in mind, create a new story, live into your values and discover your identity and purpose.
#6- Give back and help others win!
Let’s return to the card game. If you invest time in understanding how the game is played before you dive in, you will be able to make the most of the hand you are dealt. Gaining wisdom early helps us make fewer mistakes and gives us the best chance of forming it into a winning hand.
The rest of your life is the game you have yet to play. Do you want to go into life without strategy and wisdom? Or do you want to take the time to learn and grow so you gain control of how the rest of your life plays out?
Finding purpose in the pain from my past has helped me turn my poor hand into a winner. I am grateful that I have been given the opportunity to help others who have experienced similar pain rise above their challenges and walk into new, meaningful lives. I consider it a privilege help my clients see the rich opportunities you can discover no matter which hand you were dealt!
“You only win when you help others win!”
- Paul Zane Pilzer
Cheering you on!
Yours, in Body, Mind and Spirit,
RPC-C Registered Professional Counsellor
ACE Certified Personal Trainer
BCRPA Certified Group Fitness and Aquafit and Osteofit Instructor