You know those drinking game bingo cards that pop up when it’s presidential debate time? For a long time, I’ve recommended that same tool for clients who know they are walking into a contentious or uncomfortable situation, and they just can’t avoid doing it.

(Not so much for the drinking aspect, mind you. Though there is a version of that, see below.)

Bingo winner in Montreal, 1941. One day, you'll feel this excited about winning your own personal bingo game.
Bingo winner in Montreal, 1941. One day, you’ll feel this excited about winning your own personal bingo game.

I remain amazed at how well this technique works to defuse anxiety, so I thought it was high time to share it. The holidays are filled with potential (likely?) landmines of unmet expectations, both yours and those foisted on you.

Rather than get all worked up about Aunt Gertrude’s insensitive comments about your weight, your lack of children, your lackluster career or your lack of $1M in the bank, put her likely carping on the card.

Here’s one sample card. Instead of Bingo, I call it Uh-Oh.

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You may have family or friends who say some of these things to you, and other favorites that get lobbed frequently. Use your very own, special pet phrases and make this yours to enjoy.

Why does this work? It doesn’t spoil the effectiveness, so I’ll just tell you: Psychologically speaking, it creates a detachment from the comments. Rather than experiencing them as truth, your mind treats the comments more like neutral data. When it comes to hurtful, untruthful things, detachment is very, very good. It keeps you from expending energy in a hopeless defense. Because most likely, you’re not going to change many minds, no matter how brilliant your reasoning is against the assertion. Plus, it might help you see how these comments say much more about the speaker than they do about you, or any alleged truth.

Instructions For Use:

There are many ways to play.

  1. You can keep your own, private scorecard, and check off each box. When you get a row, reward yourself with a small treat. It can be food, time away from the madness, a trip to the bookstore, other shopping, etc. You get the idea. If you are stuck in the situation long enough to rack up checks in every single box, a large treat is in order. Think vacation, a somewhat extravagant purchase, or heck even a couple months of career coaching.
  2. You can make your card, and a friend can make one. During that precious family visit, text your friend whenever you get a checked box. Have your friend do likewise. Agree on a prize beforehand for whoever gets a row first. Maybe lunch somewhere nice. Maybe a massage.
  3. If (and only if) you are not social media friends with anyone likely to trigger a checked box, you can always post the running score, and the moment you complete a row, on Facebook or other social media. Avoid naming names, though.
  4. Of course, there is always the drinking option. I’m not a fan of misusing alcohol to numb out. But if you are laughing about the card and drinking anyway, go ahead and take a swig whenever you get a checked box.

You don’t have to save the Uh-Oh game for high drama like holidays. You can use it for difficult conversations with semi-unreasonable people, annual reviews, or even your inner critic’s sniping. Anything that can precipitate anxiety, or even exasperation, is fair game. Get creative, and have fun with it.

I’d love to hear if this tool worked for you. Drop me a line and tell me about it.

Jennifer Alvey is a recovering attorney who still hears the voices from her long-ago escape from law practice. She just thinks they’re amusing, now. If you need help laughing at the voices inside or outside of your head, schedule a sample coaching session by emailing Jennifer at