Life Mental Health

Thursday 27 October 2016

Wellbeing... Risky business

As in life, you won't succeed at the poker table unless you put your money where your mouth is

Published 08/09/2015 | 02:30

To succeed you have to put your money where your mouth is
To succeed you have to put your money where your mouth is

I was in a casino in Reno recently, playing my favourite game of all time: Texas Hold'em.

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I'm no pro - and it's unlikely I'll ever be - but win, lose or draw, I always come away from the poker table a little wiser, even if my wallet is a lot lighter.

The man who taught me how to play poker told me it was 'the game of life'. His words still ring in my ears whenever I hit the casino.

All games have their life lessons to offer, but poker is one of the special ones.

Every hand is a learning curve because one's poker strategy is very often a reflection of the way they play the game of life. Poker exposes weaknesses and highlights strengths, both in yourself and your fellow players.

In poker, just as in life, you have to exact self-discipline, seize momentum and fake it till you make it.

You have to play the cards you're dealt - even if they're consistently bad - just as you have to learn to capitalise on the good cards when they finally come your way.

Ultimately, you have to be willing to take risks. Just as in life, you don't get anywhere at the poker table unless you put your money where your mouth is.

"Embracing risk is key to succeeding in the bigger game of life," writes Maggie Wardell in Stop Playing Safe. "Those who lose aren't those who have dared greatly and fallen short of the mark. They are those who played so safe that they never lived at all."

It's easy to spot risk-averse types at the poker table. They can fold and fold and fold until a decent hand comes their way. Only sometimes it never does.

Those that don't take risks labour under the delusion that success happens in sequential order. They believe that they'll get promoted at work and they'll gradually move up in the world.

They think that after a few hands of consistent play, the good cards will surely come.

The truth is that the greatest progress comes from the greatest risks - and we never really know when the opportunity to take those risks will arrive.

Sometimes what we consider to be risky isn't even an estimated gamble. It's just common sense. Leaving your job to travel the world when you have no mortgage or children is a no-brainer, and sometimes staying in a relationship is more of a risk than leaving it.

Even so, many of us fail to recognise just how little we have to lose.

I've had my chip stack depleted and my confidence knocked at many a poker table. There aren't a huge amount of options in this situation, but the worst thing one can do is avoid risk in order to stay in the game.

Pride is a small chip stack. We think we have to protect it when, in fact, we have very little to lose and everything to gain.

Fear of failure is another small chip stack. It's one thing pushing 'all in' on a business venture, quite another making the first few tentative steps towards a long-term goal. Remember, it's not a risk if it's only your pride at stake.

More to the point, you have the decision to hold your head high or put your tail between your legs. It all depends on how you walk away from the table.

Those of the entrepreneurial spirit take both macro and micro risks on a daily basis. They use their contacts and they aren't afraid to ask for a favour or a loan of a few bob.

They see opportunities and act on them, or as the late novelist Andre Malraux wrote: "Often the difference between a successful person and a failure is not one has better ideas and abilities, but the courage that one has to bet on one's risks, to take a calculated risk - and to act."

When you take risks in poker, you realise that we make our own luck. This is the case away from the poker table too. The bravest people I know don't just have the most exciting careers. They also have the most fortuitous experiences. They always seem to be in the right place at the right time. This is partly because they know that some risks require a little bluffing.

Risk-takers are likely to claim they have all the essential requirements when they apply for a job (they can learn them later), and say yes to grand adventures when their bank manager says no (the money will come).

Dr Denis Waitley wrote that there is only one risk we should avoid at all costs - "the risk of doing nothing".

However, if you need to give further thought to a big decision, the risk-analysis strategy of retired neurosurgeon (and wild-card US presidential candidate) Dr Ben Carson is very helpful.

He suggests asking the following questions:

* What is the best thing that can happen if I do this?

* What is the worst thing that can happen if I do this?

* What is the best thing that can happen if I don't do it?

* What is the worst thing that can happen if I don't do it?

Otherwise, just remember that if you don't play, you can't win.

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