Since I stopped drinking me and my husband have been playing a lot of Scrabble. So much so that we’ve got a tournament going. Best of 3 games means a series, and I’m currently winning the series 11-4. God I love winning! Half the fun is C’s half pretend upset – ‘what’s the score now……Goddamnit!’. On holiday in beautiful Cornwall this week, we’re playing 3 games a night and I’m noticing how much of a metaphor for life the game is.
I’m prone to sudden switches of mood. A prime time is when I get home from work. If anything is not quite how I expect it to be I go from calm and relaxed to irritable, grumpy and unreasonable. A glass of wine would knock it on the head but now I’m having to figure out other ways. I think it comes from the anxiety of coming home from school not knowing what I would find. A clean house, tea cooking and mum smiling; or an almost empty bottle of gin with mum and her drinking buddy slumped over it, unwashed pots from breakfast in the sink. Anyway, C often asks me ‘What is it you’re telling yourself?’ (He’s a therapist if you hadn’t guessed!). I know what he’s getting at – what’s the automatic negative thought behind the emotion? What are you thinking that’s suddenly made your world appear so full of shit and deeply unsatisfying? It’s hard to catch those pesky thoughts and beliefs though when the bad mood has taken centre stage. Whilst playing Scrabble I could see them in action. A simplified version of life with the same processes at work shaping the direction of travel.
There are two variables beyond your control in Scrabble, the board and what letters you pick. The bit you can control is what you do with them but more importantly how you think about them. Do you see obstacles or opportunity? Whenever I focused on having shit letters ( 5 I s goddamnit!), or was thinking of throwing them in I invariably missed a place I could go or made a bad play. C did the same. The more we complained the worse it got. When I was more curious and open minded; treating each set of letters as a puzzle to be solved in its own right then I found the words and the scores.
Last night we were playing the 3rd deciding game. I was about 20 points ahead, all the letters were drawn and I knew C must have the Z and the Q. Both worth 10 points. I was nervous. It was his turn. He played Zinque – a made up word, laughing that I’d won anyway. ‘You could have done Zen for 22 points’ I said. ‘Yeah but then I’m left with the Q and nowhere to put that’. ‘You could have made Qi here for triple letter score’ I pointed out. ‘So I could’ve won?!’ C exclaimed. Yes he could. What stopped him winning was his focus on the barriers instead of looking for the opportunities. He’d mentally thrown in the towel and already decided he’d lost. To be fair this isn’t how C approaches life in the main at all. He just gave me the clearest Scrabble example! I’m the one who does that in real life, in spite of having a pretty damn good set of letters most of the time.
I read this morning about Dan Sullivan’s concept of ‘The Gap and the Gain’. Most of us focus on what we haven’t got, what we haven’t achieved, what went wrong – this is living in the gap. Happiness is not right now but when I have a better job, the kids are older, I’ve retired etc etc. Living in the gain is to focus on what is and how far you have come rather than where you are going. Judging yourself by what you have achieved relative to where you were, rather than where you would ideally want to be. Living in the gap is giving those automatic negative thoughts free rein to run around your mind so all you can see is what’s wrong. It’s fixing your mindset and closing doors to change. Or making changes and still being unsatisfied. Life never feeling quite good enough. Alcohol promises a temporary escape but really it’s rocket fuel for the gap mentality.
So I’m going to try and cultivate my best Scrabble attitude in my daily life. Each day is a new set of letters and it’s up to me what I make of them. Appreciate life as it’s happening, rather than focusing on what could be different. See opportunities not obstacles. Next time I come home from work I’ll take a moment to be appreciative before I open the door so I can enjoy what’s waiting behind it for what it is.