You can find valuable life lessons everywhere!
When we think about personal development and self-improvement, we tend to think about reading books, watching videos, events and online courses to learn. You may not think about poker as a source of information, but it’s closely related to real life. In this post, I’m going to share life lessons from poker that you can go all-in on!
Yes, pun intended.
Table of Contents
Poker Life Lesson #1: Poker & Life Are Games of Skill, Not Luck!
Let’s take a quick sidestep to basketball.
In basketball, a difference in skill is easy to spot. If you put me against a professional or even intermediate player, it becomes crystal clear within 2 minutes that I am no match for the other player. The same goes for many other sports and skills, like playing an instrument for example.
But in poker and life, people think it’s different.
In the basketball example, I wouldn’t keep playing the game against a pro without them having a severe handicap to create a leveled playing field. There’s no way I would win and I know that. However, at the poker table, there is luck involved to some degree. And so a novice player will keep on playing, blaming previous losses on bad luck while in reality he/she is outclassed by the opponents at the table.
Life is similar.
People will often assume that someone else got lucky when they see their success. Or they will think that you need to have a lucky break in life and that’s how you become successful. Just like in poker, there is some luck involved, but the vast majority of highly successful people do so through hard work and learning the right skills! Stop comparing and focus on your own skills instead.
I’ll put it simply:
If you are blaming your circumstances, childhood, upbringing or anything else for your current situation, you are exactly as the novice poker player blaming bad luck! And just like that poker player, you will continue to lose time after time until you get the skills to reach your next level!
It’s not about luck!
It’s about skill.
Sure, you may get dealt a bad hand from time to time, but take one of the best lessons from poker you could take and learn how to play your cards right! Yes, you can’t help being born into unfavorable situations, but staying at that level is 100% on you!
Improve your own game.
Poker Life Lesson #2: Zero-Sum Games Versus Abundance
Poker is what we call a zero-sum game.
If we are sitting together at a poker table and I’m winning, that means that someone else at the table is losing. In poker, the amount one player wins has to be equal to what the other players lose. Hence the term zero-sum. This is one of the life lessons you can learn from poker because there are areas of life where the same rule applies.
Here are some examples:
- If you get hired for a job, someone else is rejected.
- If your crush is dating then (s)he is not available for you.
- Your sports team losing means that the other team won.
- Many investors lose money while others make money.
- For Amazon to become so big, many other stores lost revenue.
There are 2 things I want you to take from this:
Yes, there are zero-sum games in life, and it’s important to realize this. When you’re in these kinds of situations, you need to bring your A-game. In a job interview, wear your best clothes, be prepared for difficult questions and show your best self.
I think that part is clear for many people.
However, the opposite is even more important:
So many people have a scarcity mindset, the idea that there is not enough to go around for them. It’s something that brings out the worst in people. Not only that, but it closes their minds to opportunity, which is literally all around us. Scarcity is a losers’ mindset!
The world really is abundant:
- Didn’t get hired? There are plenty of other jobs (or possible businesses)!
- Crush taken? There are tons of attractive people in your town!
- Lost money in the markets? Learn about them and find better chances!
- Up against Amazon? You can thrive with a solid marketing plan!
Those are just a few examples.
The truth is that in most situations in life, someone else winning does NOT mean that you will lose! Money is plentiful, opportunity is plentiful, and people that like you for who you are are plentiful. The limitation in most cases is simply in your head rather than out there in the world.
There is no need for jealousy, instead let other people’s success inspire you to do more yourself!
Life gets better when you realize the abundance we have!
Poker Life Lesson #3: Calculated Risk
Professional poker players would make great investors.
That’s because one of the most important lessons from poker is to learn how to calculate and guestimate odds. In poker for example, a good poker player knows that if they have a pair in their hand, there’s roughly an 11% chance of making three of a kind during the flop (first 3 cards on the table).
Let’s play out a situation:
An amateur player may look at their cards and see 2 Aces, which is the best hand pre-flop. It’s exciting to see and it’s tempting to be high in order to hopefully get a huge payoff. Which is what most amateur players would do in these situations, some of them might even go all-in right away.
The professional on the other hand understands risk way better. They know that if they hit a 3rd Ace, they will win most hands. But they also understand that their hand is vulnerable if they don’t hit the Ace. Knowing there’s only an 11% chance of hitting it right away, they won’t be going all-in because it’s too risky and they will bet less (on average) than the amateurs would.
Back to real life.
What can you learn from poker players?
For starters, I’ve seen plenty of people rush into business without a solid plan and resources, only to get surprised when things don’t work out in their favor. It’s the same situation as a poker player going all in with a mediocre hand and hoping for the best.
Seek to understand the risks first.
Here’s a friend’s definition of risk (that I’m going to blatantly steal from him):
Risk is the chance that something bad happens multiplied by the severity of the consequences (yes, he loves math).
Let me explain that in a way where you’ll be able to apply this to your own life. If I were to go into the city and ask random girls to marry me, the risk of me getting rejected is nearly 100%. However, the risk in this situation is literally 0, because rejection from a total stranger doesn’t have any impact on my life.
On the other hand:
If I were to quit my job and use all my savings to start a business, then the severity of failure is extreme as I could lose literally everything I own. To illustrate the point, if there was a 0% chance of failure, then this would not be a risky move at all. However, even at a 10% chance of failure, this would be an extremely risky move!
How to Apply This Lesson From Poker to Your Life
Before you make any kind of important decision in your life, think about both the best and the worst-case scenarios. What are the consequences of each scenario? What do you think the chances are of them happening? What are the possible rewards versus the possible risks?
Then decide if the risk is worth the possible reward.
Just don’t blindly rush in!
The second lesson you can learn from looking at odds is protecting yourself. One of the lessons you can learn from a good poker player is how to test the waters. In our example above, that would be making a smaller raise instead of going all-in.
An example of this would be that instead of quitting your job to pursue a business idea, you keep your job and hustle for a few hours every night on a small scale. There’s still a significant risk of failure, but if you fail, you’ll be fine because you still have a stable source of income.
Poker Life Lesson #4: Learn to Read People
This is possibly the most important life lesson from poker!
Ever since I was a child, there were 3 things I have always studied: marketing & business (I’m an entrepreneur by heart) as well as psychology. My reasoning has always been pretty straightforward. I wanted to learn the first two because I knew they would help me out tremendously when I start my own business. As for psychology, it is important for everyone! No matter what you do in life, if you’re able to read, understand and connect with people, you will always have an edge over those that don’t!
In poker, this is pretty straightforward.
Players want to deceive others or at least make them doubt their choices. At the same time, they want their own intentions and emotional reactions to stay hidden from their opponents. Good poker players know how to observe others and notice subtle shifts in behavior that could (remember lesson 3) signal that someone is bluffing.
It’s a hard skill to learn and master for sure.
However, when you do, it’s a superpower!
This video is a great starting point:
How to Apply This Lesson from Poker to Your Life
It’s going to depend on what you do, however reading people is always valuable.
Let me give you a few examples:
I’m not the best at reading people in real life. It’s something I’m looking to improve at. However, I’m pretty decent at reading and understanding people’s posts on Reddit for example. By the language people use, I can find an underlying problem, even when the other person doesn’t know what the issue is.
Body language and non-verbals are instant.
Let’s say you come home with good news from work and you’re excited to tell your significant other. You start “Hey, I got this promotion at work, so I thought it would be a great idea to go out for dinner and catch a movie tonight!”. But then you see a certain look on their face that signals they don’t really want to take the effort to dress up and go out.
And so you add: “But then I thought it would be even better to make ourselves comfortable, order something and watch Netflix instead.” And this time, you see a smile and they tell you that this is a lovely idea!
Without that read on them, you could have put them in a tough spot without knowing it.
Knowing how to read people is an invaluable skill, but it’s difficult to learn. What I would recommend is picking up Joe Navarro’s (the guy in the video above) book called The Dictionary of Body Language. Learn these things and then try them out one by one in real life to see if you can recognize certain kinds of behavior.
Poker Life Lesson #5: Patience
If you have ever played poker, you know this to some degree.
In poker, most of the hands you get are going to be useless. A mistake that many beginner poker players make is that they play way too many hands that they should just be folding instead. They are impatient and they want to do something, rather than wait for a better opportunity.
In real life, a lack of patience cripples people as well.
The first way in which you should be applying this lesson from poker is to be patient and wait for the right opportunity. Of course, you need to train yourself to look for opportunity so that you recognize it, but so many people are willing to jump into something, anything, at a moment’s notice.
And so, they are not prepared when a better opportunity presents itself.
The second way in which people are impatient is equally destructive.
Many people are in the right vehicle for changing their life, whether that is working out, building a side business, practicing a new sport or hobby or improving themselves in some other way. The problem is that they are way too impatient! People often want to have instant gratification, and so people give up way too soon.
I joke about it, but many people are serious in their reasoning.
I was going to the gym for the first with a roommate of mine and told him afterward “Bro, I don’t have a 6-pack yet, what the hell?!” I’m joking of course and realize that it will take months, if not years to reach that. But most people give up on something after a few weeks or a few months when they would have been wildly successful if they just had the patience to stick with it.
Poker Life Lesson #6: Decision Making
This is another major one.
One of the skills that you learn from poker is to make good decisions quickly while being under a lot of pressure. You don’t have time at a poker table to contemplate life for hours. As a poker player you have to use whatever information you have available to you right then and there, and use your best judgment to make a decision.
One of the best lessons you can take from this is to be daring.
In life, we often get paralyzed because we have so many options available to us. And oftentimes, this leads to us not making a decision at all, or delaying that decision for so long that it actually hurts us. The best thing you can do for yourself here is to know exactly what you want and why you want it! Then make the decisions you need to make based on your goals and your values.
There’s a saying that always stuck with me:
Let that sink in for a moment!
Yes, in life you will probably need to change your route regularly in order to get to your destination. The differentiating factor is that successful people keep going for the same destination instead of changing it constantly. That’s what allows them to make quick decisions! Know what you want, and make up your mind with the information you have to guide you towards it!
Poker Life Lesson #7: Sometimes You Win, Sometimes You Lose
While poker is a game of skill, there is also luck involved.
You can play your cards perfectly, both in poker and in life, and still lose due to some unexpected turn of events. That’s just the game you’re playing. One of the lessons you can learn from poker is to be attached to your actions, not the outcome. Losing is part of both life and poker, so get used to it!
Many people are unable to accept defeat.
One of the reasons, especially with the younger generation is the way they were raised. Parents try to shield their children from every piece of negativity, tell them a thousand times how special they are and give them 17th place trophies. That seems to be “conventional wisdom” among many parents, but something to drop right now!
Failure does not mean failure!
You’re going to lose sometimes, that’s part of the path towards success.
How to Apply This Lesson From Poker to Your Life:
There are 2 important things here:
Firstly, you need to be attached to your actions. Meaning that you need to take an honest look at your actions and decisions. Many times in life, your “loss” is nothing more than feedback. It’s a sign that your methods or decisions were flawed in some way.
In order words, your losses are lessons for you to learn something new and try again.
Sometimes you may come to the conclusion that your decision-making and actions were correct. This is a sign for you to keep on going and push through! Next time a poker player is dealt the same hand, they will play it similarly if they determined they played it optimally last times. You need to step up your game in these situations as well!
Poker Life Lesson #8: Don’t Let Your Emotions Get the Best of You!
In poker, we call this “tilting”.
A professional player can probably explain this better than I can, but it basically comes down to a player getting into a highly emotional state where they are unable to think objectively. This often happens after losing a hand to bad luck or a bad judgment call, like the kind of situation from the lesson above.
One of the most important lessons you can learn from poker is to stay level-headed.
Your emotions serve very important functions, but when making important decisions, you need to do so rationally. One of the best things you can do is to postpone a decision when you are feeling either really good or really bad since both states lead to irrational decisions.
They are 2 important decision making rules.
Use your emotions to think, but don’t think with your emotions!
Gut feelings and intuition are great, humanity wouldn’t be alive without it. However, in a world that is getting more and more complex by the week, it is NOT enough! Always remember to actually switch your brain on when you’re faced with decisions to be made or put on the spot!
Don’t run on emotions alone!
Will You Fold or Call Life?
That’s the real question here.
The odds of you being alive are literally a couple of trillion to one… let that sink in for a moment. The chance of even being alive is so ridiculously small that it begs the question of what you’re actually doing with this gift of life that you have been given?
Many people fold…
They never raise their game and go all-out in life. No sir! People will rather play it safe and live their life by going through the motions rather than to push themselves to the higher level that they actually desire. They let fear and uncertainty push them into submission!
So, what about you?
You ready to go all-in on life?