Toss, Shuffle, Deal, Play: The Game of Life


Forrest Gump might be right about life being like a box of chocolates, but I like to think of it more like a card game.

Maybe this has something to do with having a magician for a dad or that said dad taught me how to play poker at a young age (and with my own money) – whatever the reason, the card game analogy sits well with me.

There is a coaching concept that says we are always in one of four sequential stages of change: Toss, Shuffle, Deal, Play.  These stages are in a cycle and the amount of time you stay in each stage, or the entire cycle, can vary significantly with each cycle. Here is a quick rundown of each stage:


Toss is the end of a game, after you have played all your cards – you either show’em or fold’em. Once you have tossed in your cards you have resigned to your fate.

Toss is what most of us did in March of 2020, when we were instructed to socially distance and stay in place.  We gave in to our circumstances – good or bad. You can toss begrudgingly or willingly but regardless if you won or lost the previous game, the game ends.  It is a stage of slowing down or even inaction.


Shuffle is the time for reflection. This is the stage of taking inventory of your values and priorities. You may be looking for the opportunity for growth after the Toss or even thinking of the next game to play.  It is a time when you have accepted the end of the last game and are now open to other possibilities.

Think of when you are actually shuffling cards between card games.  You might be thinking what game you want to play next or you may be analyzing what you could have done better in the last game.

At some point during the pandemic, after feeling defeat or victimhood,  you most likely experienced a time of reflection where you discovered, or rediscovered, what is important to you.

Example of Shuffle during the pandemic: after a moment or so of grieving that your gym is officially closed indefinitely, you see the opportunity to start running outside, something you have been wanting to do for years, but were putting it off.


There is a lot of anticipation and optimism during the Deal phase; you have plans and goals and things to look forward to accomplishing.  There is an eagerness to act and excitement to get going.  This is where card game meets Schrodinger’s cat: before you pick up your dealt cards, anything is possible – you could even have a royal flush! This stage is the precipice of change.


This is the stage of execution and presence. All the plans and goals from the Deal stage are in action. Insecurities can show up in this phase, as well as feelings of accomplishment and determination.  The Play stage is best handled with presence and flexibility.  This is truly playing the game until you 1) reach your goal (aka win the game) or fold (aka lose). Regardless of whether you think you won or lost, Play always ends and shifts to Toss.

What Phase are We in Now?

Most of us are in some part of the Deal stage.  The Deal stage is the precipice of change.  As you might imagine, it is a powerful (dare I say magical?) stage. When we are in a state of appreciation and optimism, we are primed to see more opportunities!  In other words, optimism and appreciation expands our awareness which leads to more solutions.  This is why coaches are such fans of gratefulness journals. They help you reach appreciation AND optimism, sometimes without you even realizing it.

Because there are so many individuals experiencing Deal stage at this time, there is a lot of potential energy building.  This is the time to visualize and daydream about what it is you want.  Visualize as if it you goal has already occurred. Imagine how you might feel when that goal has occurred and feel it as you visualize.  It is a time to make a plan. Now is the time to set your intention for not only what you want but how you will respond to circumstances.

No matter which phase you are currently in (by the way you can be in one phase with your relationship and another phase with your career), remember, it is helpful to identify which you are currently experiencing so you can best utilize where you are right now.

What are you excited about?

What phase are you experiencing in life, at work, with family?

If you have a question about any of these phases or what phase you may be in, send me an email. I love questions.