How to Keep Your Composure When Life Deals You a Bad Hand

keep your composure

It’s inevitable that when you play the game of life you’ll occasionally be dealt a bad hand. But as any real winner knows, your experience of life will come down to how you play the hand you’re dealt. Poker players sometimes emerge victorious even when they have terrible cards because of their ability to maintain their composure.

Problems are part of the human experience, but, handled the right way our biggest problems often end up being the biggest blessing in disguise. There are a few simple things you can do that will help you keep your composure when you get dealt a bad hand.


Our natural temptation when something goes wrong is to panic. It’s almost a built in instinct, but it doesn’t serve us well at all. In fact when we panic our breathing becomes shallower and we start to take actions out of fear. As a result we get in too much of a hurry and end up making poor decisions. Breathing is actually a great place to start because deep breaths calm our nerves and quiet the mind. If you’ve ever listened to any guided meditation tape, you’ll notice that they almost always start with some sort of breathing exercise. Spend 10 minutes taking deep breaths and you’ll notice that your nerves calm quite a bit.

Ask Yourself What’s Possible

I found that this one simple question can dramatically change your interpretation of every experience. When you ask yourself the question what’s possible as opposed to how am I going to get out of this mess, a world of potential options open up to you. Those options are usually significantly better and ultimately you’ll find yourself in a better off place than you might have expected from being dealt a bad hand.


The way we use words has tremendous power. The minute you label something a problem or challenge, your actions align accordingly. However, if we label something an opportunity, we tend to take a completely different and much more productive set of actions. When we can reframe a situation we change the results that the situation will ultimately produce. The book The Three Laws of Performance had a great quote that I think really summed up this point well:

“As you label an object or situation, so you behave towards it.”

Think 5 Years Ahead

Do you remember something terrible that happened to you five years ago that seemed like a really big deal at the time? Maybe you broke up with somebody. Maybe you lost a job. At the time when it happened it seemed like a really big deal. But when you look back at things that happened 5 years ago they often don’t seem like such a big deal. If we take our current problems and challenges and look at what their impact might be 5 years from now all of a sudden they start to lose the power they’ve had over us.


We live in an age where it’s possible to be connected 24-7. You can search for a job for 24 hours a day if you wanted to (even though it’s a poor use of time). You can check your email all day long looking for the next catastrophe to occur in your inbox. You can worry endlessly about everything that could go wrong. Or you can simply unplug. For me unplugging means going to the beach and surfing for a few hours. I find that a few hours in the water not only gives me a fresh perspective on things, it calms my mind. Find any activity that forces you to be completely present and you’ll be amazed at just how much it will do for you mentally.

Do the Thing You’ve Been Putting Off

We tend to put things on hold quite a bit. If we purchase a self help program, we’ll often let it sit on our hard drives for months before ever going through it. We say to ourselves we’ll start that new exercise habit tomorrow and never end up starting at all. Doing that one thing that you’ve been holding off on will give you an opportunity to refocus your efforts on something that’s actually productive.

If I told you that you’ll always get great cards, and everything will be perfect I would be lying to you. Life is full of uncertainty, and the higher of a tolerance you develop for it, the better off you will be. Once you develop the ability to weather the storm, you’ll sail through the world with flying colors.

Photo by familymwr

19 thoughts on “How to Keep Your Composure When Life Deals You a Bad Hand”

  1. Terrific post, Srini!

    In a very concise way, you covered some key ground. The three things I found most helpful were your suggestions to:

    1) “Ask Yourself What’s Possible” / “When you ask yourself the question what’s possible as opposed to how am I going to get out of this mess, a world of potential options open up to you.”
    2) “Unplug” / “Find any activity that forces you to be completely present and you’ll be amazed at just how much it will do for you mentally.”
    3) “Think 5 Years Ahead” / “But when you look back at things that happened 5 years ago they often don’t seem like such a big deal.”

    I’m going to bookmark this post and come back to it regularly.


    1. Trent

      Definitely glad you identified with it. Those 3 things really can be the catalysts for very positive change. When you ask what’s possible your’e coming from a very different energy. We know that what we put out we get back. I’ve been putting out alot of negative energy lately because of some less than ideal circumstances and things have been going wrong. But after I stopped some signs that things will turn around have emerged.

      Presence: This is it for me. It’s why I surf so damn much. The addiction is not to the activity but the presence it creates.

      Finally, there were things 5 years ago that I thought were the end of the world. Now they seem insignificant. Time heals all wounds.

  2. I spoke with my mom about this today. I was dealt a ‘bad hand’ by being born into a highly ‘dysfunctional’ family. Who isn’t? Luckily, I woke up in 2007 and have made strides to ‘shift’ my life for the better. Other people in my family could do the same; however, some people are not ready to wake up or prefer playing the role of the martyr or victim. I choose to be a ‘victor’ instead of a victim of my circumstances. Many people are afraid to change because they don’t want to lose friends or tick-off family. I say, “Do what’s best for you.”

    1. It’s amazing what we’ll do in order to please others, even if means not improving our own lives. Thats’ kind of crazy when you think about it. Like you said, you can either be a victim or victor. The latter always helps you emerge stronger.

  3. Hey Srinivas, this is superb and well, easier. And of course we get take a lot in our life. We have to make calls work. When then don’t work we should do this instead of getting confused. The more fun you can have, the better.

    1. I think the very last thing you said is the real roof of it all. We should have more fun than anything else. As much as we have to keep that in mind, sometimes it’s hard when things get a bit rough

  4. Excellent article – it really made me feel good reading this. I can relate to a few things but I could definitely do with letting things go and not “sweating the small stuff”. Thanks for reminding..

    Love and Smiles :)

  5. Hi Srinivas, good post. When life deals us a bad hand it is not time to panic. it is time to use our brians and give them a work out if needed.

    I am with Rebecca. i have a very messed up family and they like to live in a world of hate, jealousy etc. and i had to learn to just walk away and fix me.

    I feel very greatful for what I have learned and know that I am a surviver. Life is wonderful even when we are handed that bad playing hand, but we sure can learn a lot and be proud afterward. And I might say thankful!
    Thank you for sharing Srinivas,
    Blessing to you,

  6. Great post, Srinivas!

    Breathing is of course the most mindful thing to do and it works for me (if I’m not too stressed )

    Unplugging is also great – it is amazing that there are in general only a few people who try to stop you if you try to unplug. The others don’t even notice: everyone looks in the first place to their own problems.

    Asking the “how important will this be in 5 year be” question is wonderful. It has the amazing power to put all in perspective and often the answer is: not important.

    Thanks for sharing!

    1. Marc,

      The one that really was great for me was to think 5 years ahead. All of a sudden the thing that we make a big deal about now becomes less significant and we are free to move forward

  7. I have found out that the most important job we have as humans is to maintain a positive state of being. How we feel, what we think produces the outer physical experience of life. It is not the other way around.

  8. This article has some pretty concise tips for such a charged topic. When I worked at a special-ed school I used to draw on similar principles when working with the kids – “deep breathing” and reframing” come to mind – and after while it suddenly dawned on me that I should be applying those techniques to my own life, too. Great post. These ideas can be really effective in altering how a situation LOOKS, which oftentimes can be a bigger problem than what’s actually happening in the moment.

    1. AS I read once in a book, when you change the way you look at things, the way you look at things changes. That’s the way I try to look at as many situations as I can in the most positive light .

  9. I think this is a wonderful post! Life is throwing lemons at me right now. And I am trying to look for ways to make lemonade out of them :) This post (and breathing) helped!!

  10. The whole write up is useful but the point about “reframing” has a special resonance for me because currently I am going through such a life phase myself. Very refreshing.

    Particularly liked the quote – “As you label an object or situation, so you behave towards it.”

    Great post Srini.

  11. This is really a great post with useful advice. Learning to adapt with the hand you are dealt in’t always an easy thing to do. “You have to be right here, right now, every time, every day. If you’re not always going back to putting one foot in front of the other, you won’t get up that mountain, whatever it is.”~ Ty Murray.

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