The Pain of Unlearning

Corey McComb
Jan 20 · 4 min read
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Last night Ava and I played a few hands of Gin Rummy and I was reminded of an embarrassing truth:

I can’t shuffle a deck of cards.

I don’t mean that I can’t shuffle like a casino dealer. I mean that I can’t shuffle at the level you’d expect from a small child without thumbs. Watching me try is as painful as it is amusing. I play cards with my parents and they laugh, but not without a hint of disappointment. “Maybe don’t do that in front of your friends,” my mother says lovingly.

My problem isn’t the absence of information. No one is keeping a secret from me. The problem is what I do know. I never learned the correct way, so I created my way.

Sure, I could re-learn. But that would first require me to unlearn. And that’s something I just don’t have the patience for.

You should see them. Other people when it’s my turn to deal. They watch me claw at the cards like a lobster doing origami. They offer to help, but it’s always with the rest of the table watching. Imagine walking across a busy intersection while the hand is blinking red and a stranger tells you, “Hey, you’re not walking right. You need to go back and learn how to crawl. Make the cars wait.”

My one point of solace, the thing I can hide behind, is the Underhand Shuffle. This is where you grab the deck loosely and toss sections of the cards from one hand to the other. This is the way your Grandmother might shuffle if her arthritis were to flare up. Another variation of this is the Hindu Shuffle, which is basically the same thing, except you add a fancy flair of the wrist like you’re about to perform a disappointing magic trick. Both of these styles are as ineffective as they are unimpressive.

The style you see performed by most capable human beings is called the Riffle Shuffle. The Riffle Shuffle has two parts. First, you use a Dealer’s Grip, where you place your thumbs on the top corners of the split deck, and use your knuckles to create a bend in the cards. Once the bend is in place, you let the tops of the cards cascade into each other from the opposite hand, creating a fanning sound of tension.

Next — and this where things get exciting — is the Bridge Action. This is where the cards are gracefully scooped and bent the other direction, just before falling like a waterfall back into itself, ringing out the sound of resolve.

(There is another method called the One-Handed Faro, where the deck is cut, bent, and shuffled all in one hand. Best to not play cards with someone who has mastered this.)

Now that I’ve properly explained what everyone but me already understands, I want to point out that the key to the Riffle Shuffle is in the Dealer’s Grip. A successful shuffle, it didn’t start at the bend, nor at the bridge. It starts when your hands first make contact with the deck.

Because I never learned the Dealer’s Grip, I invented the Lobster Claw. Instead of using my thumbs, I use my long and scrawny pointer fingers. It’s this early childhood choice that haunts me. And it’s what stone walls me from getting any type of bridge action, or any chance of dealing the cards out smoothly when it’s my turn.

It’s this Lobster Claw approach. This learned behavior. This unfortunate muscle memory hammered into my hands. It’s what makes me 52X less effective at shuffling cards than every other man, woman, or child.

Whoever said, “what you don’t know will kill you,” got it wrong. It’s what you do know that causes all the trouble.

Untangling knots.

Rewinding the tape.

Stirring wet cement.

Shortcuts are great, but backtracks are a bitch. And the process of unlearning the wrong way is far more painful than spending extra time learning the correct way.

The Navy Seals say, “Slow is smooth and smooth is fast.” That’s how movements and behaviors become muscle memory. First slowly, then suddenly.

When learning something new this year, keep your training wheels on just a little longer. Hold onto that beginner’s mind just a little tighter. Because in the end, it might be the difference between doing a One-Handed Faro Shuffle and playing 52-card pick up by yourself.

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Corey McComb

Written by

Author of ‘Productivity Is For Robots’ https://amzn.to/3 | Writing about freelance work, creativity, and human connection | https://bit.ly/corey-mccomb

Age of Awareness

Stories providing creative, innovative, and sustainable changes to the ways we learn

Corey McComb

Written by

Author of ‘Productivity Is For Robots’ https://amzn.to/3 | Writing about freelance work, creativity, and human connection | https://bit.ly/corey-mccomb

Age of Awareness

Stories providing creative, innovative, and sustainable changes to the ways we learn

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