by EMILY ORTON
I’m betting woman...now. I'm practicing separating decisions from outcomes. It’s helping me appreciate good stuff more and be frustrated less. I got this idea listening to Annie Duke, author of Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don't Have All the Facts, who got National Science Foundation Fellowship in cognitive psychology, but became sick during the academic hiring season and took a 20-year detour as a professional poker player before returning to psychology. She says life is a lot more like poker than it is like chess. I played poker for the first time last month and I agree with her. In chess, whoever makes the best decisions wins. In poker, that is not the case.
Probability for a good outcome goes up when decisions are based on quality information, which includes experience, but there are no guarantees. You might make a well-reasoned decision in poker and lose, or you could make a thoughtless choice and end up winning. I know this is true because another player pointed out to me that I won a couple of rounds. I didn’t know. We were using my daughter Alison’s laundry quarters and promised to return them all after the game. I had 80% of the cash in my hands just before the last round. I truly had no real idea what I was doing. I was lucky. I appreciated my luck without getting any false sense of skill or merit.
I’ve been applying this to my life for the past few weeks and it’s helping me keep things in perspective. I used to apply the outcome to the total when calculating the quality of a decision. If things didn’t go well, that meant it was a bad decision, a lousy bet. That meant it was somebody’s fault. Usually mine. I’m not trying to shirk my responsibilities, but a lot of the time, it’s just the way things are.
We are in Yosemite National Park. We made a sound decision to arrive before the main tourist season but while the weather is usually good. It was a good bet to assume there would be lots of climbing partners. We gave ourselves ample time to account for vetting partners and changing weather. We could not have predicted a flood that cleared all the climbers out of the valley. We could not have anticipated nighttime lows in the teens and twenties. It was a good bet with an unexpected uncomfortable outcome.
We considered a new decision to cut our losses and drive California’s Big Sur coastline instead of freezing our tails off in unseasonably cold Yosemite weather. But then a climbing buddy for Erik showed up. Some friends offered us two more nights in a campsite and the forecasts improved. We never guessed that by staying we would participate in a writer’s workshop with the author of Burn Wild where we would make new friends.
We have a place to sleep. The temperature is above freezing at night. Erik and his climbing buddy already have their gear stashed on the 4th pitch of El Cap and they’ll climb it this weekend. I’m with my family in one of my favorite places on earth. We’ve made a few friends in the park. One let us bake brownies in her oven. One took us on a tour of the post office. Another invited us to some fascinating park theatrical events.
We get as much good information as we can. We use our intellect to figure out what will lead to the best outcomes. Then we recognize that good and bad circumstances arise because they just do. If we stay limber, as Erik says, we can roll with the frustrating parts. Once they are past, inconvenience and discomfort make us grateful. We thankfully acknowledge the good—sometimes amazing—stuff.
We made a plan A which detoured into plan B. While we were frigidly working on plan C, shifts beyond our control made plan A possible. As one dear friend once said, “The only thing I know for sure is that things will get a little better and then they’ll get a little worse and then they’ll get a little better. And they just keep going like that.” Right now, it looks like things are a little better. There is a lot I don’t know about poker and even more that I don’t know about life, but I bet this is a good hand.
Luck favors the prepared.
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