Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Life lessons from poker players

personal growth

Sometimes in life, the most important lessons come from those who least we expect them. You just need to be attentive and open to experience. In fact, no one is so poor that has nothing to give, or rich enough not to need to receive anything.

In this sense, the poker players can be an unexpected source of inspiration for our personal development since many of the strategies used on the table can also be applied to everyday life. In fact, psychology and poker have always gone hand in hand.

Success is a matter of balance

Researchers at Cornell University assumed the task of collecting and analyzing data from 27 million poker hands. They found that, to the extent that the players increased bets, they tended to develop a more aggressive style of play. But they also found a pattern: the players who won the most were those who could maintain a balance between passivity and aggressivity. Nor too aggressive players, as well as those who adopted a passive style could win big money.

This shows us that the key in the game, as in life, is in the balance. In fact, several studies have revealed that both, the aggressive style as the passive, are related to the development of various diseases. Hostility, for example, has been linked with an increased risk of suffering from stroke and heart attacks, while the passivity has been linked to the onset of diseases like peptic ulcers and skin problems.

Therefore, we must learn that there are moments when we must remain firm and defend our rights and others when the wisest thing to do is ignore it and move on. The key to our well-being depends largely on this balance.

You have to choose which battles to fight

The good poker players know when it pays to up the ante and go all the way in one hand and when it's time to leave. To make this decision they don’t only base on logic, but also on intuition and experience.

Also in life is essential to know when you have to persevere and when is the time to leave the game, because, otherwise, you will lose too much. In fact, in our daily life we ​​are often immersed in small battles that will bring no benefit, but will leave us exhausted. On the contrary, when we choose wisely the battles we want to fight, we concentrate our resources and we get better results with less effort.

It is also important not to fall into the error of keep working on something just because we have invested time and effort on it, ignoring the signs that we are on the wrong track. We must not give up too soon or insist too long.

If you forget the people you won’t go very far

Some people think that poker comes down to the odds. It's wrong. In poker the player is in front of other people and if he forgets it, he’s finished. Unlike blackjack, in poker you can win or lose fortunes due to the human element. An experienced player, although he has some good cards and the odds in his favor, can’t ignore his opponents. In fact, if he acts too sure of himself and the others notice it, they will abandon the game quickly. Phil Hellmuth could not sum it up better: "Some people think that poker is a card game, but it really is a game of people played with cards".

In this regard, a study conducted at Harvard University found that poker players are able to quickly capture the facial expressions of their opponents, and use this information to make their decisions. In fact, this information is processed in just 10 milliseconds, with the help of the amygdala, a brain region associated with emotions and that helps us decide quickly.

In life, as in poker, the ability to connect with people is essential. In fact, it is one of the pillars of emotional intelligence and success. Therefore, it is important not to neglect the people who we have close to us, feeding those relationships and developing our most sensitive fiber. Being too egocentric will not take us far.

To win, you have to know how to lose

In poker, sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. A good player knows it and develops a tolerance to frustration, learns to deal with failure because he understands that every hand that loses is an opportunity to learn. He wonders, where I have failed? How could I have done it better? Poker players are aware that they can learn by playing. In fact, the player Mike Sexton said: "To learn how to play poker you need a minute, to control those aspects of the game, a whole life."
Developing tolerance to frustration and learning to manage failure are fundamental even in life. In fact, if we spend too much time focusing on the problem, we will not have time to find a solution. On the contrary, if we assume mistakes as learning opportunities, not only we will grow, but we will also be able to live with less stress.

Don’t take it personally

Some Finnish scientists asked several online poker players to estimate their chances of winning in different scenarios and to take their gaming decisions. This way, they saw that the more experienced players performed better. Why?

Simply because they had developed a faster thinking that allowed them to make better decisions, while inexperienced players wasted time in rumination. In practice, newbies players kept thinking incessantly about everything that could go wrong, and the consequences, while experienced players took an emotional distance that allowed them to make better decisions. William J. Florence summed up this way of thinking and acting: "The key point in poker is never lose your head. If you lose it, certainly you will lose all your chips."

Also in life is important to learn to take an emotional distance from the problems, so we will be able to make better decisions and, above all, act more quickly, before it's too late. In fact, the emotional distance that take poker players is a very old lesson of life that has its roots in Taoism: the detachment.

Laakasuo, M. et. Al. (2014) Emotional and Social Factors Influence Poker Decision Making Accuracy. J Gambl Stud; 31(3): 933-947.
Palomaki, J. et. Al. (2013) “Don’t Worry, It’s Just Poker!’’- Experience, Self-Rumination and Self-Reflection as Determinants of Decision-Making in On-Line Poker.J Gambl Stud; 29(3):491–505.
Siler, K. (2010) Social and Psychological Challenges of Poker. J Gambl Stud; 26(3): 401–420.
Schlicht, E., et. Al. (2010) Human Wagering Behavior Depends on Opponents’ Faces. PLoS ONE; 5 (7): e11663.


Keep feeding your neurons

Life lessons from poker players

Jennifer Delgado Suárez

Psicologist by profession and passion, dedicated to string words together. Discover my Books


Psychology as you never heard about...

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