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Several months back I was playing Tic Tac Toe with my kindergarten daughter. The game is predictable once you learn its secret, but playing anything with my little girl (and also watching her competitiveness come out) is always a blast. I was also curious to see if she’d pick up on the strategy or how she’d react after a lengthy losing streak. After several losses I could see her gears starting to turn, “Daddy, now it’s your turn to be O’s.” She lost. “Daddy, I’ll go first this time,” she said. We tied. A few losses and/or ties later and with a perplexed look she finally asked how I was winning or playing to a tie, but she could never outright win. I looked at her, raised a single eyebrow, and confidently said, “Strategery.” I could tell by the look on her face that she didn’t appreciate the reference. So after lamenting the sad state of our nation’s kindergartener’s grasp of political satire I began to break down the concept of strategy. After some explanation and an example game, she got the idea and understood that you need to play the game with the ending in mind instead of just reacting to where the opponent placed their X or O.

Tic Tac Toe requires a very elementary level of strategic understanding, while other things in life require a much higher level. Unfortunately, we don’t always think about strategy in our daily lives. We are often caught “losing at Tic Tac Toe” when it comes to our emotions and responses. “O” is placed on the grid of our lives and our “X” is immediately placed in response, usually with little awareness or insight as to why we did this or whether or not it is the most effective move in that moment. To complicate things further, we sometimes after the fact begin to justify our automatic responses by explaining away why it was a good response. We then start to fool ourselves into thinking these responses actually are the most effective reactions and a self-defeating cycle is born.

Honest self-awareness is a helpful tool for building an effective life strategy and avoiding self-defeating reactions. It allows us to slow down and understand how we are being affected by what happened on the grid. Additionally, as we become more aware of our own gut reactions, emotions, thoughts, and desires we begin to see more clearly how our actions and reactions impact the environment around us. The entire grid is now in view and we can anticipate the “butterfly effect” of each move and how that impacts our goals.

True self-awareness comes from authentically facing your deepest fears, joys, brokenness, and dreams. We all have them (it’s part of what makes us human), but we also have varying degrees of shame and/or inadequacies attached to them that are painful when faced and exposed. The process of becoming more self-aware is hard and sacred work. It breeds hope and possibility and it is worth it as it allows us to live more meaningful and purposeful lives. My colleagues and I have made it our purpose to provide a safe, compassionate, and confidential place for this work to be done. If you find yourself ready to begin this process, we would be honored to hear from you.