Select Page

Previously entitled, “Guts vs. Brains”

Relief and regret—familiar with them? That’s because you’ve probably experienced one or the other after every big decision you’ve made. But what makes decision-making so difficult? Is it the decision to be made or the making? And could we make it simpler?

After a year and a half of playing a weekly poker tournament for charity, I believe relief and regret are the two emotions every player juggles throughout a single game. Personally, I’ve probably endured the latter more often than the former, but I’m not alone.

The biggest decision to make in poker is whether or not to play the hand you’ve been given. In Texas Hold ‘em, you have a chance before the flop to get out and never even give your cards the light of day. Deciding which hands to play sometimes requires much thought: position in relation to the dealer, who’s sitting directly to your left, how many people call the blind before you, did anybody raise?, etc. Thinking plays an important role in the game of poker…except when it doesn’t have to.

When I first started playing, I had so much to learn. A year later, still learning, I was becoming a threat, a small one, but a threat nonetheless. Wanting to gain more knowledge and improve my game, I sought out some reading materials. Though I had delved into knowledge and steadfast advice, my game began to regress. I was the first player out of the next two or three tournaments (so embarrassing). I was playing logically, carefully, making the right moves at the right times, or so the books had taught me. So, what was I doing wrong?

To be honest, the answer was clear; I just didn’t want to believe it. I was so eager to play “smart,” to make the “right” decisions, to justify my actions with logic, that I forgot my most important tool in the game: instinct.

After so many frustrating losses, I finally pushed much of what I had “learned” to the back of my mind and just played. You can probably guess what happened.

Winner winner, chicken dinner!

I recently enjoyed a string of small victories, making it to the final table and even winning a couple of tournaments. How did I do it? Along with a little bit of luck, I stopped making the game more complicated than it needed to be. I quit talking myself out of winning hands; I stopped thinking about what the books had taught me; I stopped making decisions based purely on logic. I started listening to my gut and taking chances.

Let’s go back to relief and regret. No one likes the latter, usually accompanied by guilt or anger or both. But let’s be honest: you’ve got an important decision to make—take the job, move to another state, which college, get married, break up—You know deep down what you want or what you need to do, but still, you make the list of pros and cons, ask for advice, wait for a sign, and ultimately make yourself sick with stress. Logic says “safe” and “justification.” But your gut says “go for it (or not).” From personal experience (and I’m not talking about poker anymore), anytime I’ve ever ignored my gut, regret weighed on me. Sometimes our “inner knowing” (note: not knowledge) is what we have to rely on. But what if we choose to rely on it more often and not just when it’s our only lifeline? How much simpler could our lives be if we just listened to our guts? How often do you hear, “I shouldn’t have listened to my gut?”

A few days ago, while I was brainstorming this post, I happened across a speech on TEDTalks Teens by a woman who, as a teen, attended a mission trip. At the last moment, she decided not to return home, but to stay based on a gut feeling. Her journey thereafter wasn’t stress-free by any means, but she certainly had no regrets. Here’s the link to the video, and I hope you’ll take the time to watch it, even for just a few minutes to get the point. Amaryllis hit the nail on the head. Copy and paste the URL. If it doesn’t work, go to the TED Talks Teens website, click on “Talks,” and choose “Following Instinct-Amaryllis Fox.” Warning: it’s just shy of 20 minutes, so only watch it when you have a few to spare.