Month: January 2014

Poker Philosophy – is the world unfair?

This is my second installment in the soon to be series of mental revelations through the ways of poker. Last one can be read http://wp.me/p3fAW9-fS. This time it will be a fundamental and groundbreaking discovery that warped my perception of life in general. Poker played a large part in my understanding that the world is unfair.

Fairness is an interesting concept and in a typical poker game the subject of earning the win comes up over and over again. Everyone likes to think that they have earned the rewards they are getting and oft times the rewards they are not getting at that moment. Even if the odds of hitting that sweet river card are not in your favor and you still go in and get lucky, chances are that after the session, when collecting winnings, you think yourself having earned it fair and square.

In case you are winning, life doesn’t seem so unfair. Of course you expect even more good things than you’re getting at that moment, but overall it’s fun. And in that moment you tend to think you deserve it, too. You reckon that you have done so much good and have been such a remarkable person. You warp you inner conscience in your own favor. In poker that takes place every game. It is not luck, it is justice for your previous bad luck.

But actually, luck is the opposite of having earned the win.

The delusion of grandeur in poker (and in life) is expecting calculated odds to carry out as they should in real life.

I define luck as the difference of probability from the actual outcome. It’s the simplest way- if the odds were in your favor and you lost, then you are unlucky, if you were more probable to lose the pot and you won it, then you are lucky. Conditions for having luck is another matter. Stakes come in and luck gets another dimension. Situations happen, where the probabilities of hands act out as they should, but the outcome is drastically different than equal. Let’s say two opponents win a coin flip each two times, but the stakes on those flips were different and one player comes out winning. You cannot control your luck, but it is somewhat possible to manage your exposure to it.

I call that controlling the process. As well as a poker player would know, the outcome is something that you cannot control. You can influence it by following odds, but in the end, your sample of hands is so tiny that the computed odds and actual odds of outcomes can differ drastically. When I go in AA vs. KK, I have 4 to 1 odds that I win. Now if the opponent hits a king and wins, then out of 1 sample hand, the real percentage of him winning against me is not 20%, but 100%.

Now that is a drastic difference. I would call it unfair even. Of course you can say that it’s bad bankroll management, when you can’t get out of an unlucky streak. But every situation in life isn’t financial.  (QI Death probability bananas cigarettes etc. )Let’s say every driver on the highway has a 0,01 percentage of getting into an accident and dying. I wouldn’t say every driver goes out giving that number a thought and even if the accident happens exactly to 1 driver out of 10000, it can’t be called “fair”. Life is a poker game against the world around you, you might beat the odds or you may not, the real gravity comes from stakes of those odds.

The main point I want to come across is that the outcome of life is highly operated by luck – you may increase your odds, but it there’s always a chance that the unwanted happens. There is no possibility of getting so much tries that the outcome would follow the theoretical probability. One thing that you can do is give yourself the highest chance of success and that’s what you should focus on. So when luck happens and you are ready for it, you have the maximum capabilities of making the most of it.

As bizarre as it seems, knowing the fact that life is unfair is a key part of reaching happiness. Your position of psychological control becomes much more impervious to outside influence. Unfair things just happen, accept it and move on, don’t dwell on it. Start another process. Move yourself into a position where odds are best and hope it goes well. Give everything you got. Even if the outcome isn’t exactly what you wanted, then know that you gave everything and life is just unfair. Move on again.

Most of all – don’t dwell on the thought of others having more luck than you. It’s just not healthy. You’ll have it one day also.

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When are you in the moment?

New year, fun times. Recommended actions: look back to the passing year and try to set goal for the next. What I do is short term (month or two) and long goals (tasks for the whole year). It’s useful, fun and surprisingly effective.

Now for less material issues. I consider myself a romanticist. I may not be romantic all the time, because I am definitely a pragmatist too, but I do wonder. And the ability to wonder is a trait that I cherish quite a lot. “Anything that tries to explain the world mechanically, has not really seen the world,” – a quote that has sparked the most emotion from me the last month. I think it’s refreshing to sometimes just shun the explanation and focus on the beauty itself. The elegance of a growing flower, a stunning view, the movement of animals, crashing waves, thick forest, herd of humans. Love it.

Following is a vision from a music festival last summer. In front of the small free stage, where a folk artist is playing for dancers, sits a little blond boy. I imagine he had blue eyes, too. And he was sitting and staring. Not watching, but glazing. Like we all do sometimes, when our attention gets lost and we stare without a thought. That boy was about 3-4 years old. I just can’t imagine, what was going on in his head at that moment. But the fact that he was not playing, dancing or watching, but instead was in the moment, surrounded by all of those things and yet he was in his own world, is so pure to me. He was in that moment, he was the moment. What could have been the reason for that boys stare? That pureness is something I would not want to lose.

Osho is a good author and I have enjoyed the few of his books, which I have read. I discovered him when I was still in business school and was looking for some book to improve my intuition. I guess to improve my poker skills or my salesman skills. And I stumbled upon Osho’s book that took a whole different approach to intuition that I had expected. And that discussion evolved into a statement: your intuition is your body and heart. Your mind is a tool. You should follow your heart and use your mind as a tool. And you can find contact with your intuition through meditation.

There's lots to learn from this guy. I wonder what he's thinking.

There’s lots to learn from this guy. I wonder what he’s thinking.

My friend Karl (not quite Pilkington, but close), who I’ve mentioned before, has defined meditation as a state of complete emptiness. A state of isolation, where you are completely alone and thus you eliminate the possibility of comparison with others and elevating through that absence. This is based upon the theory that one of the things that cause unhappiness in life is the moment of comparison with someone more successful/beautiful, etc. When you win 600 €, you might be happy, but if you find out that your neighbor has won 2000€, then you feel comparative unhappiness. I, for instance, have found this kind of meditation when playing drums. Practicing an exercise or when improvising, it’s easy for me to forget everything else, even control of my limbs and feel the flow. I discovered it when I played “Flight of the Bumblebee” on xylophone to an audience for the first time. Halfway through the piece I noticed that I don’t know what I’m playing, that my hands are moving without my thinking and that if I tried to remember what’s next, I would lose the flow and fail. What a wonderful feeling it was.

Many books and many speakers and many articles talk about why having a “non-grown up” attitude is and that people need to rediscover it. Leave your job, start having fun, etc. But I think they’re wrong. I think that the point is not in changing, but finding the joy in what you have. And that leads to getting enjoyment out of absolutely everything. And that’s because you love yourself and you love being with yourself. If you love the idea of being just with yourself, even if you are completely alone, then life becomes much less threatening and much more enjoyable. If all else fails, you still have yourself and that’s just awesome.

Some are afraid of being with themselves. Scared of being with their own thoughts. Fearful of  their own body. And that is an issue that screams for a solution. You are the only one that you can count on in this life and the only one with whom you have to spend your whole life together. If the problem of accepting yourself is solved, then you improve the rest of your entire life in one sweep. It’s a constant battle, but if the success in life is measured by happiness, then it’s a battle worth fighting. One way to build up change is to not accept the present state and use that as a motivation to change your life. But maybe a more peaceful way is to start accepting the present and let the flow of life take you with itself.

Try to find something that inspires you, be in that moment and let yourself forget everything else.