LIFE: A PROBLEM-SOLVING GAME

By Gwen Randall

“Life is to be lived, not controlled; and humanity is won by continuing to play in face of certain defeat.” ― Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man

Games involve challenges, be they sports, board games, card games, video games or televised survivor games. We enjoy the challenges and often try to improve our skills so we can conquer those challenges. If we are not overly competitive, we can even laugh at ourselves like I did when my four-year-old grandson annihilated me at Wii. I could not even stay on the track!

Sometimes a young child who is frustrated because he or she is losing a board game will suddenly flip the board over abruptly ending the game. The vision the child had of how the game should go did not materialize, and so he fell apart.

As we grow, we learn not to over-identify with the outcome of a game. We learn that sometimes we win, sometimes we lose, but that is all part of the game. A more confident and self-assured individual does not equate a game outcome with his or her self-worth.

Life can be viewed as a kind of survivor game in which we are presented with challenges or problems we must solve. If we looked at it this way, we would not be upset or surprised by problems. We would expect them. When they came, we would immediately start to form a strategy for dealing with or solving the problem.

Over time we would, as in a video game, have mastered the lower level problems to the degree that they would not cause stress or upset; we would just take those things in stride.

Unfortunately most do not view life this way. It is like the inner child is still at the level of wanting to “win” and sees setbacks as adverse events thwarting the vision of how one’s life is ‘supposed’ to be. Challenges are taken personally: “Why do these things happen to me?”

In this ‘game’ the opponent is not another player, but life itself!  Time, energy and emotion are devoted to fighting life. A ten-year-old client described how at recess the boys all fought because all the right players were on one team. They argued and argued about it. No one tried to find a solution!

This is not surprising because children do not have models that do not get angry, do not get into conflict, but rather calmly try to generate solutions to issues that arise. Rather they see the people around them having emotional reactions to things that happen.

Different religious or philosophical perspectives emphasize the point that there is no use fighting against that which we cannot control. Marianne Williamson says there are only two things in life you have to know: the first is “God’s plan works.” The second is: “Yours doesn’t.”

The Buddhist philosophy says that all human suffering comes from attachment. We get attached to things or people being a certain way. Since we do not have the control to ensure our outcomes, we suffer. Victor Frankl argues that when we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.

Life is about experiencing, changing and growing. It is about being out there on the field and embracing the game, not sitting in the stands and being mad, sad, angry, resentful or disappointed when the play does not go our way.

A shift in perspective can happen in an instant, can make a world of difference, and can last a lifetime. The choice is ours.

Gwen Randall-Young is an author and award-winning Psychotherapist.  For permission to reprint this article, or to obtain books or cds, visit www.gwen.ca and ‘like’ Gwen on FaceBook