Subscribe to Annie's Substack

PODCAST: Beautifully Equipped

“I’m allowed to be completely confident in my embracing of uncertainty.”

Annie Duke is an author, speaker, and consultant on the behavior of decision making. Previous to this, she had an 18-year career as a professional poker player and is the only woman to have won the World Series of Poker Tournament of Champions. Pairing all of this with a cognitive psychology education, we invited her to tell us why all our decisions are bets on the future. (Psst: The good news is that we can improve the odds of our bets.)

We learn by having feedback tied closely in time to decisions and actions. For example, in scientific studies, a caged rat quickly learns that if he pulls a lever, he will be rewarded with food. The food is the feedback he gets for making the decision to pull the lever and the learning feedback loop begins.

Annie quickly noticed that in poker the learning feedback loop doesn’t occur. People play a hand and they win or lose. Players are stuck in the way they think about the game—they don’t learn or change their strategies even in the face of feedback, which in this case is losing money. This is because they have an escape hatch: luck. They’re either lucky or unlucky in any given hand.

The truth is, whether we’re playing a card game, deciding what to order at a restaurant, or solving a work problem, we have no idea how our decisions will turn out. The meal might be overcooked or the work solution may not be favored by others. Since we can’t control the outcome, being unlucky is one way for us to avoid negative self-talk or feeling bad about making a poor decision.

So why are all decisions bets on future? By making any decision, we’re trying to figure out which option is the best to invest our time, money or energy into, without being sure of the outcome.

By owning the fact that the future is uncertain, we can learn to make more calculated choices. We can look back at our decisions and ask ourselves if we should have done anything differently, even if the outcome felt like a win. We learn from what went right and what didn’t. However, stopping to examine the ‘why’ behind the results isn’t easy to do.

As you’ll hear from this week’s 50 Women, 50 States guest, there is a mental tension that happens in all of us—we want to feel good in the present which often means avoiding taking note of what could have been done differently. On the flip side, if we don’t look for ways to improve, we won’t learn and we won’t meet the goals we envision for ourselves in the future. It’s like the person who complains that things never go their way but they don’t stop to ask if their actions may have something to do with it. They perpetuate their own bad luck.

These show notes only cover a portion of this interview with Annie. Once you listen to this interview, we know you’ll want to grab her book, Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don’t Have All the Facts. The paperback version comes out May 7th!

For now, we’ll leave you with one of Annie’s decision making tips:
Ask yourself if the choices you’re deciding on right now will impact your happiness next week or one year from now. Let your answer help you choose how much weight to give them.