A former poker professional shares her secret to creating smarter choices


People get things wrong. A lot of. And not just insignificant things. (Do you remember when we thought the sun was going around the earth? That was fun.) Which wouldn't be a big deal if we could just accept our mistakes. But it turns out that people hate to be wrong. Because we are the unassailable hero in the story we tell ourselves. Admitting that you made a mistake or that you believed something wrong is an attack on your self-narration. It's an admission: I screwed it up. But we only learn if we screw it up. So we should really be excited about the idea of ​​being wrong.

Annie Duke realized this earlier than most. As a former professional poker player, she knew that she would never get better at poker if she couldn't admit the moments when she screwed up. She also learned that no matter how much she improved, luck and chance would play a role in the outcome of her bets – given the information she had, she could make the best decision possible and still lose money. But she also knew that betting wasn't just about the poker table. In fact, every decision we make in life is a bet: from the job to the starter we choose at dinner.

Realizing this, Annie approached life like poker – she accepted that luck and risk play a role, that uncertainty is always there, and we don't have as much control as we'd like to think, and that we should constantly question you our beliefs and look for our own mistakes so we can become better decision makers over time. (She has a very insightful and entertaining book on Thinking in Bets that is now available in paperback.)

Right now it feels like law is a status symbol. Who can shout the loudest and safest on network news or social media? Insecurity has become a sign of weakness. I wanted to talk to Annie about how we can return to some humility, how we can learn to be better wrong, and accept that all of our decisions, big and small, involve some degree of risk and luck.

"I'll learn faster if I'm not afraid of being wrong," says Duke. "I'm actually going to learn faster because I'm less likely to turn away information and try to fight it off in order to defend my own self-narrative."

Here are four of the most interesting lessons we learned from talking about making mistakes, being wrong, changing your mind, and living with uncertainty.

1. Insecurity isn't always bad – in fact, it sometimes works in your favor.
Duke points out that our relationship to uncertainty is asymmetrical. When you enter your first choice college or get the promotion you've been looking for, you will likely think yes, of course. I deserve it. There is nothing uncertain about that. You were in control. But if you don't get into that school, or get passed over for that promotion, you think, this college only allows 10 percent of applicants, so of course it's just bad luck I didn't make the cut. or Bob always sucks on the CEO so of course he got the promotion. In this case, it feels good to know that something about the process was beyond your control.

But really, uncertainty is always there, not just when we want to see it. This can be some comfort when something isn't going your way – you can feel a sense of relief knowing that it might not have been your fault. But unless you also realize how good luck and chance there is in things that go your way, you can't know when something broke your way and when it broke your way. And if you don't know, then you may not know what to do to improve your chances the next time an opportunity arises to get what you want.

2. One of the reasons why it is difficult to change our minds? Beliefs are a form of identity.
Duke credits Phil Tetlock, author of Superforecasting: The Science and Art of Prediction, for helping her understand that beliefs can be thought of as "living in two systems." First: “There are beliefs as an epistemological system. In other words, what do I know? What is true of the world? "(You would use this system if you jumped into a cage full of hungry lions. Hm, what could happen to me there?)

The second purpose of beliefs is expression. "When I express my beliefs to you, I will tell you something about my identity," says Duke. "I'll tell you something about which tribe I belong to." These beliefs don't necessarily have to do with what you believe to be true in the world – they have to do with signaling which group you belong to.

“One of the things that (a) tribe does for you … it tells you, here are the things that are true. We believe here is what we believe, ”says Duke. “We clearly long for it. From when we were in those little kinship groups to now when we were part of a political party or a certain religion or whatever. We are looking for people who tell us what is what. "

Unfortunately, this kind of tribal thinking can also prevent you from forming your own opinion. Groups to which we belong can prescribe a range of beliefs, even if those beliefs have no reason to be related. For example, why does your opinion on inheritance tax affect how you feel about climate change? "But there's kind of an expectation that these are all connected," Duke says. "To be part of the tribe, you must agree that you have the same opinion about everyone."

This is one of the reasons it is so difficult to change your mind: Changing a belief can come at the cost of social isolation.

3. We would be better off if we could lose the all-or-nothing mindset.
When Trump won the election, people were stunned that polls could be so wrong. Except that some surveys gave him a 35 percent chance of winning. Since we tend to look at things in black or white, we've rounded that 35 percent down to 0 percent. Which is not really logical. Duke demonstrated this with a particularly resonant metaphor when we first spoke: If a gun had 100 chambers and 35 bullets, would you be ready to play Russian roulette? Unlikely.

We feel uncomfortable to exist in the gray area between 0 and 100. Similarly, when it comes to our beliefs, we think that things are either entirely true or entirely false. This kind of absolutist thinking keeps us updated: you are probably not as right as you think, and other people are probably not as wrong as you think they are. Duke says she often has conversations with people who both agree they cannot tell the other person, "You are wrong," just to encourage open communication.

Another downside to this 0 or 100 mindset? It keeps us from being decisive. We think we have to be 100 percent sure about a big life decision before we make the leap. Instead, you should accept that there will always be some level of uncertainty.

"It's so liberating to approach the world like this," says Duke. "It's actually not that you get indecisive or don't believe anything. I think it's just the opposite. Because you're not afraid to be wrong, because you don't think," I have to know for sure before I do anything "You are so much freer to just do things and try and see how it works and to get yourself to a point where (you) are sure enough that this is the right thing to do."

We could also better change our minds if we socially viewed it as something to be celebrated rather than something to be shamed.

"Imagine if we found something that changed our minds, if we were going to commit to another person and you had to say," I'm so excited, I changed my mind, "Duke says." Not "Ugh, I think I was wrong." It's "I'm so excited I changed my mind." It changes the way you look at the world.

4. The phrase "Do you want to bet?" can change your life.
"There are things we know and things we don't know, and we have two roles in making better decision-makers," says Duke. “One is to put more of what we don't know in the“ Stuff We Know ”box, which means I have to be open to things you say because then I'll hear some things that I don't know. But we also have to be really good internal reviewers of the "Things We Know" box because a lot of the things there are imperfect. "

A good way to do this internal audit? Ask yourself, "Are you betting?"

When someone raises in poker, they are effectively asking you for it. You can review your own information, anything in your "Stuff I Know" box. It is a means of maintaining epistemological integrity: what do I know and how do I know it? But when someone raises, one also wonders: What do you know that I don't know? So you can also work on your "things we don't know" box.

Next, you make an important life decision and ask yourself, "Do you want to bet?" Once you are sure that you are betting, you will know that you have done your proper due diligence.

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