“Life is like a game of cards. The hand that is dealt you is determinism; the way you play it is free will.”
– Jawaharlal Nehru
As a coach, I’m often thinking of what we can learn if we open our minds and objectively view the hands we are dealt in life. And as a former professional poker player, I often think about this in the context of the games we play.
I love poker, and I still play regularly. Like all games, poker is played within the larger game of life and, as such, it is also a microcosm of life–a powerful laboratory where you can test your hypotheses and adjust as you go.
Recently, I’ve been thinking about what I’ve learned from playing poker over the last 20 years, and how I’ve applied these teachings to my life. Here’s my 10 poker-to-life lessons:
2. Persevere. Success comes from consistently making the right play over time. Don’t get hung up on short-term results. It’s possible to make perfect choices and still lose in the short term. The name of the game is to get clear on what your goals are and then search for the plays (tactics) that will consistently help you achieve them over time.
3. Seek the truth. Poker is a game of deciphering truth from falsehood and taking action on your beliefs. As you continue to bet on what you believe is true, stay open to learning. You’ll become a stronger and stronger truth-finder.
4. Master your mind. Watch your thinking and notice how you are feeling. Are you scared? Why? Critically observe your logic and reasoning and search for self-deception, rationalizations and limiting beliefs (“I always lose,” “I’m so unlucky,” “If only I got better cards,”“She shouldn’t have won.”).
5. Expect the unexpected. You will frequently both win and lose big pots (opportunities) unexpectedly in poker, as in life. You’ll never know when it’s going to happen and it’s almost impossible to predict. Just because something looks bleak doesn’t mean it will end up bleak. The weak hand can turn into a monster hand and vice versa. When one door closes, another one will open.
6. Stay humble. Poker, like life, will humble you if you stop learning and think you have it all figured out.
7. Focus on the now. Give your full attention to each hand and each choice. Moment-by-moment. Let go of the past and don’t stay married to your ideas about the future. Constantly reevaluate as new information become available.
8. Use both logic and intuition. Slow down, apply logic and reasoning while paying attention to your instincts. Hone both, over and over. Don’t get caught up in your emotions and honour your gut. Poker is a perfect training ground for this.
9. Read people. People have tells (and so do you). We are all constantly giving off signals about what’s really going on inside. For example, we may attempt to look strong when we are weak or weak when are strong. The more you study people, the better you’ll become at spotting the difference between authenticity/facade and truth/falsehood.
10. Fortune favors the bold. Don’t be afraid to lay it all on the line when you believe the odds are stacked in your favour. Let the chips fall where they fall, and accept that losing is actually not such a big deal (unless you make it one). The more willing you are to fail and look bad, the more you’ll win over time. The fearful are caught more often than the bold.
What games do you love playing?
What life lessons have these games given you?
I’d love to hear your story.
Play your cards well and prosper!
“Poker reveals to the frank observer something else of import. It will teach him about his own nature. Many bad players do not improve because they cannot bear self-knowledge.”
– David Mamet