Poker and Emotional Sterility

Posted on Feb 15, 2007 by Gugel in Psychology

There’s an interesting post on the 2+2 psychology forums right now about how playing poker trains you to minimize your emotions. Emotions are the bane of poker players. We want to make rational and unbiased decisions at the table. Emotions just get in the way. The more and more we play, the more we become inoculated against variance and tilt. But that has dramatic side effects in other parts of our lives. I felt nothing as my car temporarily skidded out of control in an ice storm. Nothing. It’s just not the way life is meant to be lived. I’ve realized that I wouldn’t trade my emotions in for all the money in the world. I know that’s kinda cliche, but it was a very insightful moment when I came to that realization. Money doesn’t mean anything if you don’t have your health: you can’t enjoy your wealth if you’re dead/seriously ill. Along those lines, money means nothing if you don’t feel happiness.

But maybe it’s not poker that causing me to feel emotionally sterile. Freud, although he was largely misunderstood and taken too literally, has a lot of insight here. Basically, everyone is destined to be unsatisfied with their lives. It is a fundamental human condition that serves to motivate us. Hell, if it wasn’t there, we’d still be cavemen, satisfied with fulfilling our basic survival needs. When we move towards our goals, however, that base dissatisfaction temporarily decreases. As long as we constantly move towards our goals, whatever they might be, we will feel happy. If we move away from our goals or are stagnant, we will all eventually become dissatisfied. On on hand, it’s kind of a depressing thought. We are all to a certain extent doomed to be fighting an uphill battle against being dissatisfied with our lives. On the other hand, it’s rather comforting to know that every human in the world is fighting the same battle.

As I’m writing this, I realize that at least part of the reason that poker has sterilized my emotions and made me unsatisfied is that I had spent way too much time on it. I neglected my the other important goals in my life and focused only on getting better in poker and making money. That may be important, but while I was moving towards my goals (and satisfaction) in one way, I was going in the opposite direction in terms of my health and social relationships.

I’ve only stopped playing poker for a month or so. I’ve been going to the gym three or four times a week and hanging out with my buddies a lot more. I’m not ready to take it up again, but I know that if I ever do it in the future, I know where my priorities will stand.

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