I was recently introduced to a very popular game of poker called "Texas hold'em" in a low stakes friendly game with a bunch of novices on a Saturday night. As the game transpired, the personalities of the players came through in different ways. I found myself, when faced with possibility of losing the big pot, playing very aggressively and opening up the high-betting rounds. The experience was revealing, and taught me a lot about what helps one achieve success. Of course, in cards, there is always an element of luck...and yes, I lost my $20...! What do they say? Unlucky in cards, lucky in love? Hmm...
5 Lessons I learned about Success from Playing Poker
1/ You can't win if you don't play
To actually play the game of poker requires you to gamble. You are required to place a bet if you want to play. You must commit, and in the game of poker, you are committing money in the form of chips that you "ante in".
Just like life - there is no way you achieve "x", unless you are willing to work towards it. My favorite expression, made famous by the Punk Rock Band D.O.A. is "Talk - Action = Zero." No amount of wishing or hoping will get you what you want. After visualizing, and planning, you have to take action if you want to achieve your goals. You have to be willing to play the game.
Reflection question: 1/ Is there any area of your life in which you have been hesitant, or fearful to jump in and play the game? Is there any area of your life in which you have been stalled or have done a lot of talking, but have not yet acted? Where have you been holding back? Relationships? Business? Health?
Action point: What one small action could you accomplish today in your hold-back area to get you into the game again?
2/ Play the player, not the game
The rules of the game are important guidelines, but each poker game is different depending on the players. You must allow for the nuances and impact of the individuality of your fellow players and their influence on the outcome.
To succeed, remember, when developing your action plan, to keep it flexible, with room to shift and change and adapt to your changing environment. Everything is not a cookie-cutter prescription. It is critical that no matter what the game, to stay in the moment and assess your situation, the players, and the environment and use your creativity to make your own decisions to shift as appropriate in the moment.
Reflection Question: Think of a situation, or a project that didn't go the way you expected it to. Did you flex yourself and go with the flow? Or did you resist and get frustrated? What might have happened if you thought about "playing the player" and accepting and then adapting to the situation?
Action point: When you find yourself getting anxious, or annoyed because something is not going the way you expected it to, take a breath and intentionally embrace the situation as a learning opportunity.
3/ Folding does not mean failure
In poker, when you decide you don't want to play a hand any more, you "fold". Based on the cards you have, the betting of the other players, and the statistical probability of your winning the hand, you decide when the best time to fold will be. You get yourself out of the game on purpose so you don't lose any more money. Folding is not failure; it is part of the game. Another hand will soon be dealt and the game will continue.
Sometimes, in life, you need to fold. When something isn't working out, you may need to cut your losses and get out. Think of that as being part of the game. Not a failure. It is simply an opening for an opportunity to play a new hand and to embrace a new adventure that will come around soon.
Reflection Question: When do you fold? At the first hint of adversity? Or do you stick it out come hell or high water? How does each of those approaches hurt or help you in life?
Action Point: Low risk-takers - Next time you are tempted to throw in the towel, consider experimenting with staying in for another hand. Notice what happens when you do that. High risk-takers - Consider folding or changing paths before the situation becomes a win or lose-all situations. What is the upshot or the downside of folding before a crisis sets in?
4/ If you wanna win big, you gotta risk big
In poker, like anything in life, you have to take a risk to get the big prize. Robert F. Kennedy was quoted as saying: "Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly." If you are going to go down, why not go down in flames?
Reflection question: Think of your current goals in any area of your life. What would playing bigger look like? What would you need to be able to be brave enough to risk that expanded step?
Action Point: Take a risk today. Maybe that's something small, like going outside your routine and shaking things up a bit. Maybe it's something bigger like enrolling in that yoga class you have always wanted to try. Maybe it's huge for you - like telling your loved one your dream of retiring in Costa Rica. Go ahead. Take a risk... Feeling queasy just thinking about that? Remember, the bigger the dream, the bigger the self-doubt.
5/Trust your gut and believe in yourself
Think you have a good hand? Are others betting wildly, making you doubt yourself? Just like life, what is most important if you think you are on the right track is to stay with your convictions, believe in and trust yourself. No matter what is happening around you.
And, as evidenced in our friendly poker game, the others are often bluffing. Have the courage of your convictions.
Reflection Question: Remember a time you second-guessed yourself and bowed to the weight of opposition. How did it feel?
Action Point: When you feel doubt about a decision begin to needle into your brain, respect yourself by affirming your intelligence in making your original decision. Your decision is the right decision for you.