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Playing Your Cards Well for a Better Life
Categories: Caregiving Articles, Taking Care of Yourself | Posted: 1/11/2015 | Views: 5939

 In life, we are given a set of situations, gifts, challenges, and tasks.  Just like in cards, we have to decide how to play what we are dealt. We may get a seemingly “good” or “bad” hand – depending on your viewpoint. But, also just like cards, we have strategic choices to make our lives the best they can possibly be.

I learned once in a psychology class that we have sort of three “personalities.” They were officially called "superego, ego, and id."  But they were described as the "parent," the "adult," and the "child."

The “parent” represents society and the rules that govern our lives. These rules of the "parent" are all of our  “shoulds.”   If we were all parent, we would be super responsible and probably never have much fun at all.  This part of us operates on guilt.

Then we have the “child” who just wants to have fun – may act impulsively and doesn’t really concern itself with consequences or “tomorrow.”  If we were all "child," we may get into some serious trouble quickly.  This is the part of us that is mostly impulse.

Then, we have a sort of mediator called the “adult” who tries its best to meet our desires within the confines of the society we live in. The adult says “you could steal those cookies from the store and go eat the whole package (what the child wants to do!) – but that will get you weight you don’t want and some jail time (says the "parent") – so how about you go home and have some dinner and a small piece of that chocolate bar you’ve been saving?” 

The people who seem happiest are those who have a well developed adult that can meet their needs and desires efficiently within the context of their environment without suffering too many of the consequences that reality dishes out.

So, developing your inner "adult" means that you learn to ask yourself what you want and figure out the best, most strategic way to get it. We need limits of our own conscience and the world around us or else we would all still be children. But, sadly, many of us have a very small child who doesn’t get to play much or have much joy in this life. We take on a lot of responsibilities and find ourselves not necessarily enjoying things as much as we could. For many of us, we have long ago stopped even asking ourselves what we want and what would make us happy.


The real goal, then, is to balance our needs to be good people (society's demands and the "parent") with our own needs and wants (the "child").  A lot of people who find themselves in a caregiver role are wonderful people who care about others! But, in another way, if we are too much "parent," we can miss out on all that life has to offer and find ourselves depleted or resentful if we do not get our own needs met often enough.

So, life is like playing cards, and developing a strong adult inside of us is like learning how to play your cards well. You will not always win if you play well, and you still “shouldn’t” cheat. But, if you play well, you can find ways to win more often and enjoy the game.

Don't Even Know What is Important Anymore?

Not sure which card game you are even playing?  Some tools to help us decide what is important to us are journaling, meditation, and list making. One thing that often bothers people who are caring for others a lot is that feeling of “Gee, I have no idea what I want - have not had time to think about it!?”

So, start with a simple brainstorming list. Prioritize that list and start taking actions today to get some goals that involve your deepest desires. How do you prioritize?  Try a “priority grid.” Here is a good example of one. This grid works by allowing you to only compare two things at a time instead of trying to rank 10 things at once. If we have not used our "adult" muscle in a while, we may not be in touch with our own priorities.  This grid helps us get to our feelings about what is most important to us - or to stick with the analogy - to find out the deepest desires of our inner "child."

This grid can also be helpful for decision-making. Sometimes you have two good choices and you are not sure which choice is best. By listing the pros and cons and then prioritizing which pros and cons are most important to you, you can start to see which decision to go with.

Test for Whether You Ought to Do Something or Not

Another great tool for when you are not sure if you are making the best choices for yourself is to ask if your choice is something you enjoy and/or really “ought to” do. If it is not enjoyable and it is not necessary, consider dropping it. Obviously, none of us consider paying taxes “enjoyable” – but it would have to be listed as an “ought to do.” A friend of mine once said she stopped doing things that were neither:

  • enjoyable
  • nor necessary

and found it has made all the difference in the quality of her life!

So ask yourself:  "Is this something I want to do?" and "Is this something I ought to do?"  If you say "no" to both of these, it is likely something you don't really need in your life.  Now, you may not want to go to a distant cousin's wedding, but you may decide you "ought" to because it would be important to your mom - who is important to you. 

In the end, when you make this choice, the task becomes easier if you choose to go because it will feel like a choice and not a "have to" and you will be clear about why you are choosing to do it.

Playing to Win

Setting your goals, prioritizing which are most important to you, and getting rid of (or "dis-carding") things that are both unnecessary and unenjoyable are like playing your cards well.  Most of us don't think of life as a card game - but in many ways, this can be a good way to remember that you are worth the strategic effort!

However you play your cards, your task is to get more out of life and start enjoying yourself more. There is no delight in playing cards with someone who cheats, doesn't really care about the game or acts like a poor sport. The best games happen when people try to win, don’t cheat, and play well. Again, you may not always win – but you may win more often.  In the end, the people you play with will also have more fun!


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