I was 18 years old and in the middle of a significant personal crisis that spanned multiple aspects of my life (health, finances, career, relationships) – it was my ‘dark night of the soul.’ During this intense time I called into question all of the theories, beliefs and attitudes I felt I had wittingly or unwittingly subscribed to in life in an effort to weed out the ones that had gotten me into the situation I found myself in. I became skeptical about everything I thought I knew. After all, “How could I trust it if it all lead me here?” I thought. This cycle – of hoping to understand, considering a perspective and then my doubt shredding it to pieces – repeated again and again until my whole world felt trapped by uncertainty; I was entering a complete breakdown of the structures I had leaned on to create my identity. I remember concluding that I just didn’t know the formula for being ‘successful’ or happy in life.

It was at this point of believing in my internal and external failure that I found myself contemplating the nature of reality. In particular, I began thinking about the pros and cons of believing that we have free will and an eternal aspect or soul, that on some higher level mine chose to be here for this experience. I remember half-joking to myself that there was no point in giving up because on some level my soul knew the potential challenges I would face and chose them anyway.

It was in that moment that I realised my inner skeptic had lost its footing: there was no anxious muttering, no denigrating commentary, no paralysing feeling of doubt. I was so shocked I began to laugh. My loose notion of a higher free will was apparently some irrefutable, resolute ‘knowing’ or ‘truth’ I simply knew without knowing how. When I reflected upon this again, the feeling of certainty repeated. I was relieved. Finally, I had found a thought I could trust. This was a significant step for me on my path of listening to my inner knowing and became an important part of the framework through which I rebuilt my approach to life.

I could feel in some quiet part of me that I was eternally committed to life on a much deeper level than my rational mind could define or argue with. I could see clearly that ‘giving up’ or surrendering to apathy or fear only seemed like a real option simply because I had lost the wider, eternal view or understanding of life and my essential nature. I began to see there was never really going to be a ‘running away’, there was never ever going to be a ‘giving up’ on a soul level. If anything, there was only ever going to be procrastination on the human level. The only sensible thing to do, it seemed, was for me to try again, and again, and again until I figured out a way to overcome the challenges in my life.

This deep inner knowing that a part of me was eternal completely changed the landscape of my priorities. I began to think about the bigger picture of my life and my eternal self, what I really was here for, what the point of it all was. I contemplated what was really vital for me to focus on so that I might foster a sense of fulfillment in my daily life as well as at the end of my life. This process of identifying what made me feel good and what thoughts and beliefs inspired me to overcome my challenges lead me to some interesting conclusions. In the end it was not the outer (the status, the university degree, the achievements, the material wealth, etc.) that motivated me the most. While all those things could be enjoyable, what became most important to me were the positive emotions I was capable of feeling. I knew that material things and external achievements were a part of the experience I wanted to have, but if I had all those things and didn’t feel positive emotion as a felt sense experience, then I knew for me they would never be enough. I concluded then, that any thought, belief or habit that supported an expansion of my consciousness and cultivated positive emotion must be life-affirming and was something I could use to create a solid, reliable value structure. As a result, nurturing my ability to feel authentic, positive emotion became my number one priority, and my values shifted accordingly.

All of the positive change that has occurred in my life since this time was possible largely because I took some time out to contemplate the bigger picture of my life and to outline my values and aims early on. I then used these values to inform my daily decisions so that the results of those decisions would line up with my long term goals. I played the long game.

This approach has given me an internal strength and tenacity in the face of challenges in my life. It has taught me the value of patience. It enables me to look back on the past with greater peace and have a vision for my future motivated by a feeling of trust. It has created a sense of ultimate fulfillment.

‘Playing the long game’ is all about perspective and vision. It is about taking a broad, long-term view of ourselves and our life goals and using that wider view to inform our decisions about what we do today in order to realise the vision we have for ourselves. By making the long game stretch into eternity we are challenged to begin the process of uncovering our long-lasting values, the elements in life which are essential for us to enjoy life, to feel free, to heal, to experience love, to experience abundance and contentment. Whether or not we believe in the continuation of consciousness after death of the body, this approach is a tool through which we can come into more alignment with our inner selves from the outset.

What could applying the long game do for you next time you feel stuck, overwhelmed, burdened, sick or suffer from fear of some kind?
When you remove your fear, what becomes your priority? Is it love? Freedom? Joy?
What are the prerequisites for you to feel those feelings in your life?
What thoughts do you need to let go of, what new thoughts and habits are essential for you to thrive?
What happens if you let those goals shape your decisions, what would your life look like in 1, 5, 10, 20, 30, 50 years?

I encourage you to give it a go. After all, if giving up is truly an illusion in the wider context of life, and there is never really an end of the journey, then apathy and procrastination only postpone an inevitable learning curve.

Now is really the perfect time to begin overcoming your challenges and to reach for the stars.

How to play the long game:

STEP 1. Write down the feeling states that are important for you to experience in your daily life and the ones you want to feel when you look back on your life. Examples for this are: joy, love, compassion, aliveness, vitality, peace, happiness, freedom, excitement, adventure. This will help you to identify your long-lasting values. Identifying your enduring, core values helps you to prioritise more effectively and make decisions that are in alignment with what you really want to experience in life, leading to more fulfillment long-term.

STEP 2. Think about and begin implementing the thoughts, beliefs, habits and actions that will support growing those feelings and creating those experiences you desire in your life. Often we need to be prepared to challenge and change some beliefs we hold about life, ourselves and others in order to free ourselves enough to walk our desired path. If this is you, then you can write down the beliefs you have that make you unhappy and find a positive feeling alternative to replace it with. Create an entirely new model of thought if this is what it takes. Be loyal to the thoughts that uplift you.

STEP 3. Keep updating and working on your vision and internal and external alignment with your values to reflect your own inner changes and growth. Course-correct if you need to. Sooner is most times easier than later. Remember to cultivate attitudes and beliefs that allow you happiness now as well as later, in other words, start the way you mean to finish.

STEP 4. Have courage. Be patient. Work at it. Break things down into manageable steps. Perhaps you can find comfort in the notion that there is an eternal part of you that values the process, the ‘each day of you getting there’, not just the ‘there’. Celebrate your small victories as much as you can. Develop a habit of compassion and forgiveness for yourself and others, this will help you to pick yourself up faster when you fall down. Let go, recalibrate and adjust or change what needs changing by reminding yourself of your values, and keep growing to realise your vision. No matter what, keep going.