Treat life like poker to make better decisions
When I was a kid, I was told that life is like a game of chess. You have to learn the rules and make the right steps. One wrong move and it can mess up your entire life. So that’s what I did for a good quarter of my life. Looking back, it was mostly out of fear of failure.
I learned the ‘rules’, played the game, went to school, and did everything that everyone expected from me. In part, it was because I was under that impression that life was an all or nothing kind of deal.
Over the past few years, I’ve come to realize that life is nothing like a game of chess at all.
It’s more like endless rounds of poker.
Life as a chess game is a lie
The issue with the chess game narrative is that you only get one game. Most of us suck at chess on the first go. Now imagine playing it in real-time, for the first and only time.
The thing about chess is that it’s a game with a set of defined rules. This means that every possible combination of moves has already been predefined. An algorithm can work out every possible outcome if given enough time. It’s a mechanical process.
If you believe that life is a chess game, then it means that the steps you end up taking follow a series of predefined outcomes. There’s no room for something different, for surprises, for innovation, for creative thought, and for emotions.
It’s the idealistic path with promises of happiness and personal fulfillment.
However, reality can never guarantee it.
When it comes to life, there isn’t a single opponent you must face. There’s an entire table full of them — your teachers, your friends, your co-workers, your parents, your children, the government, your neighbors, the person interviewing you, and even your dog.
Every time we make a decision, we get given another card or end up showing our hand. Sometimes it’s a good decision. Sometimes it’s not. Sometimes, you had a good hand on you but someone else has a better one.
A chess game is too linear. A poker game, however, has more complex and influencing factors than it appears.
Your days are your chips
When your life is a chess game, you have only two outcomes — winning or losing. There is no in-between. Everyone starts on a technical playing field, then it’s up to pure skill to obtain the desired outcomes.
When it comes to poker, it’s a game of chance, luck, and making the right decision based on knowledge and past experiences. You are gauging your probability of winning based on what you currently have. There is no even playing field. All the cards get shuffled. Sometimes you get a bad hand. Sometimes you find yourself on the brink of a royal flush.
Your next steps are a series of statistical gambles based on how much you’ve got on the table and winning potential.
When life is a series of poker rounds, your days are your chips. Some people go all in, dedicating their entire life to a particular cause. Some people trickle in their chips, experimenting and learning the patterns of the other players. Every decision you make doesn’t always influence what card you’ll end up getting. It might influence the other person to increase their bet or fold.
But no one knows what that next card will be.
Whatever the situation, you will always have to figure out how to make the best of what you’ve got.
Don’t get suckered into resulting in life
Resulting is a blimp in our ability to accept the outcome and attribute the undesirable result with the choice. This is because we’ve been trained to look at things in a binary way. Things are either right or wrong based on the outcome. However, in the moments leading up the decision, the thing might be 70% right and 30% wrong.
Just because it didn’t work the way you wanted doesn’t mean that you made the wrong choice. It was the right choice at the moment, based on the limited information you had at the time. You’re always going to have an imperfect picture for the decision you’re supposed to make. It doesn’t make the 70% probability of being the right decision any less.
Resulting happens when you apply the binary 100% expected outcome on a scenario after the fact.
When you get suckered into resulting, it can lead to regret and emotional pain.
But if you accept that you made your decision based on the higher probable outcome, then you’ve done the best thing you possibly could. The outcome is out of your control and that particular poker round just didn’t go as you hoped.
However, there is always another hand to play, with whatever chips you’ve got left. What decisions you end up making determines your luck and outcome.
It’s ok to lose.
When you learn to lose, it means you have the potential to figure out how to win. Poker’s complexity is more than just luck. With poker games, as long as you’ve got chips, you can always try again.
You don’t really get a redo with a chess game.
When you play poker, you’re playing against your appetite for risk and others’ willingness to bet on your hand is worse than theirs.
A game of chess has predefined risk. Poker is a series of potential outcomes that change based on the number of people at the table, the dealer, the card shuffle process, the other people playing at a particular game when you get dealt your card, and understanding what others are thinking.
Poker also doesn’t have to be a blind gamble. It is still a structured game — but one where you can just keep playing until you run out of chips. So learn the game, build up your confidence, experiment a little, and play lots of games. It means that you’ll also start to know when to fold — to start again, with a fresh hand.
Your circumstances might still suck, but at some point, you’re going to get a good hand and you’ll need to recognize it. Doing so will help you make better decisions and increase your odds of winning. You might not win every time, but at least you’ll know what to do when the cards start shuffling in your favor.