What Poker Can Teach Us About Focusing on What We Can Control
Wharton’s Katherine Milkman talks with psychologist Maria Konnikova about her new book, The Biggest Bluff, and how we can make decisions in an environment in which we have very little information.
In her new book, The Biggest Bluff, psychologist and journalist Maria Konnikova writes about her immersion into the world of high-stakes poker. Starting as a novice who knew nothing about the game, she eventually rose to become a world-class professional poker player.
Yet, poker was never just about the money for Konnikova, and neither is her book. Instead, she picked up poker as a means to explore human decision-making in an environment where every player has little control.
Wharton professor Katherine Milkman recently spoke with Konnikova about what poker has taught her about letting go of the control we think we have over our lives, and using the control we do have to make the world a better place.
Maria Konnikova: The book is, on the face of it, about poker, but it really isn’t.
What I was really interested in writing about was luck & the nature of chance, and how we can learn to tell the difference between things we control & things we don’t.
Milkman: If your readers left this book with one thing, what would you want it to be?
Konnikova: I would want it to be something we started this conversation with: Focus on the things you can control. There’s so much about life that you are never going to be able to control. And that’s okay. Just learn to let go of that and focus on yourself.
What can I control? Well, I can control my decisions. I can control my reactions to people. I can control my mindset. I can control my interactions. I can control what I do.
I can’t control other people. I can’t control the world. So what do I do to make the world as good as I possibly can, knowing that my abilities are limited?
Focusing on yourself is so powerful because you’ll maximize a lot of the things that can make the world a better place.