Saturday, May 3, 2014

The Secret of Life?

The Secret of Life

(I wrote this a over a year ago, but watching the Kings tie the Ducks to go to OT with 7 seconds left on the clock reminded me of this, so I thought I would post it.)

(update: Kings up 2-0 over Rangers in finals-  see end of blog)

I have a secret.  It's a way to relate to, possibly even trick the universe into giving me what I want.  It won me(my L.A. Kings) a Stanley Cup.  It's won me numerous hands and virtual money playing online poker.  It's helped my son break out of a scoring slump.  I'm still working on winning the lottery.  That hasn't happened yet.  Probably never will.

I realize that in reality, I have nothing to do with the outcome of many, if any,  of these examples.  But I would like to make the case that the less emotionally invested I can make myself in the outcome, the more likely the result I prefer occurs.

Here's the deal...it seems the more I want something the less likely I am to see it come to fruition.  I'll use the simple example of online poker.  Let's say there are a total of five people at the table.  The two pocket cards are dealt to me that only I am privy to.  It could be as good as pair of aces or as dismal as an unsuited 3 and an 8.  I either check, raise or fold based on whether or not I think my odds of winning the hand are favorable.  

I've played enough to realize that what appears to be a good hand turns out not to be and what looks unlikely can end up being a winner.  Worse yet, I've seen that often when I stay with a hand hoping to draw a needed card, it rarely comes.   Only to fold with what looks like a poor hand and then end up with 4 of a kind had I stayed with it.

The conclusion is:  I can't win!

The more I play the more I realize that the cards don't care, the results aren't personal, there is no such thing as luck.  

Here is what I mean and how I implement these observations into a winning strategy.  The cards don't care.  So, I place my bet, raise or fold depending on the actual odds, understanding that what ever cards are revealed are pure chance.  I expect to lose.  So my bets are commensurate with not expecting to draw the card or cards I would need for a straight, a flush or 3 of a kind, etc.  I expect that if I fold, the cards that are revealed during the flop, the turn or the river will be the exact cards I needed.

I rarely bet based on hoping or needing to draw a card.  I'm willing to fold and miss a great hand.  It's better to live to play another hand than to go all in or make a large bet praying for the poker gods to save my ass.

The underlying theme is to let go of any expectations for any needed result.  Again, the results aren't personal.  The result of the hand have nothing to do with how lucky or unlucky I am.  The cards are what the cards are.  They don't care how I feel about the outcome...in fact, the more invested my emotions are in the outcome, my experience is that it usually goes against me.

I noticed last year during the hockey season that sitting in front of the tv watching, hoping, needing the Kings to score that they rarely did.  Then  I started to notice that as soon as I took my attention off of the game, they would score.  Of course I realize their scoring or not scoring have nothing to do with me sitting there on my couch.  The puck goes in or it doesn't.  It doesn't matter what I think, feel or do.    However, as I continued watching the Kings over the rest of the season and into the playoffs, I practiced this mindful letting go of the result while watching the game.  

When the number eight seed Kings faced the top seeded Vancouver Canucks, things didn't look good for L.A.  I sat on my couch and expected the worse.  Then a funny thing began to happen.  The Kings who have rarely had playoff success marched through every round of the playoffs and ended up winning the Stanley Cup.  Did I have anything to do with that?  Of course not.  But in my own little internal reality, good things happen when I let go.  When I hold on to hope and have an emotional stake in the outcome things tend to be frustrating and fruitless.

A couple of years ago when my son was playing junior hockey, he was in the midst of a several game scoring slump.  I was watching his games live online.  The games were frustrating to watch.  I was not enjoying the thing that I enjoy most in the world.   There was a lot at stake.  My son was in the midst of his final year of junior hockey and the college recruiting process was in full swing.  He needed to produce to get recruited.  I watched every shot he would take with intensity, hoping and praying it would go in.  But the shots were blocked, would go wide or would hit the post.  Nothing was going in.  He would set up a nice goal for a line mate and then the ref would not credit him with the assist.  

I stopped and realized how miserable this was for me, not to mention for my son.  It occurred to me that I was missing the enjoyment and satisfaction of watching my kid skate.  He's a beautiful skater.  A magician of a playmaker.  Sometimes he scores and sometimes he doesn't.  I decided to put my theory to the test and take my attention off of the result and focus on enjoying watching him skate.    The next game I was a mindfully detached observer.  He scored, then again and then two more times.  He scored four goals that day.  His best game ever.  He went on to finish in the top four or five in scoring for the league.

This past year, his freshman college season, he was having a rough go.  He wasn't getting much ice time and when he did he wasn't being productive.  He got a chance to play in a game in January vs. Middlebury College...a team that had beaten his team earlier in the season, 3-2.  I detached while I watched.  Two goals and an assist later and 7-1 victory and I had to laugh.  

I went to the Kings game two in the Western Conference semi-finals vs. San Jose.(this was last year-2013)   With 1:43 left in the game and trailing 3-2, I jokingly said, "Ok, time to stop caring".   :22 seconds later the Kings scored the go ahead goal to make it a 4-3 win.

Did I have anything to do with it?  No.  I am fully aware of this.  But, the results are there and I have more internal peace than had I stressed out everytime a hand was dealt, the Kings played or my son shot the puck.

It's Tuesday, I'm off to buy a lottery ticket.  Will I win?  I don't expect to.

(update: Tonight is Monday.  Game 3 of the Kings vs. Rangers Stanley Cup Finals.  Saturday night I was home watching game two with my wife and son.  The score was all knotted at 4-4 in the second overtime period.  My daughter, who happens to be driving cross country texted me.  She said: Was that the final?  I responded: What final?

I thought about it for a second and it occurred to me she may was either listening to the game or someone had texted her that the game was over.  But the game wasn't over.  I was still watching and it was tied at 4-4.  Then I realized that maybe our TV was lagging a bit behind. Maybe I'd paused it at one point.  Who knows...but it occurred to me that we weren't watching in real time and my daughter had gotten the score ahead of us.

So I boldly proclaimed, as the Kings were entering the zone that they were about to score to win the game.  I called it right on the nose.  Just like that the puck came around to the point, Dustin Brown tipped it in and the Kings won.  I couldn't have made it up any better.

For a few minutes I let my wife and son think I'd actually called the goal.  Then I fessed up and told them about the heads up text I got from my daughter.

A bit later, I called my daughter and she had no idea what I was talking about.  She wasn't listening to the game.  No one had updated her.  The goal had not yet happened.  We were actually watching in real time.

As accidental and coincidental as it was I pulled that one out of thin air and called that goal.  Of course, I realize this was all just circumstance and timing, but it was pretty funny how it played out.

Game three is in four hours...I'm not calling anything.)