As I make my way through Maria Konnikova's book about learning poker, "The Biggest Bluff," I keep my eye out for insights by this Ph.D. psychologist that pertain to a churchless way of life.
Below are some passages I read this morning that are pertinent to those who are wondering whether they should stick with a religion, spiritual path, or mystical teaching that no longer seems to make sense.
Konnikova speaks of the sunk cost fallacy. Basically, it means that you keep on doing something because you're invested in it. The investment could be money, but it also could be psychological, mental, emotional.
You're reluctant to give the thing up even though if you had to do it over again, you wouldn't want that thing. But those sunk costs make you think that you need to hold on, even though this is irrational, as in the saying "Don't throw good money after bad." A Wikipedia entry on this subject offers an example:
In an everyday example, a person may purchase a ticket to a baseball game and find after several innings that they are not enjoying the game. Their options at this point are:
- Accepting the waste of money on the ticket price and watching the remainder of the game without enjoyment; or
- Accepting the waste of money on the ticket price and leaving to do something else.
The economist will suggest that, since the second option involves suffering in only one way (wasted money), while the first involves suffering in two (wasted money plus wasted time), option two is preferable.
In either case, the ticket-buyer has paid the price of the ticket so that part of the decision should no longer affect the future. If the ticket-buyer regrets buying the ticket, the current decision should be based on whether they want to see the game at all, regardless of the price, just as if they were to go to a free baseball game.
Many people, however, would feel obliged to stay for the rest of the game despite not really wanting to, perhaps because they feel that doing otherwise would be wasting the money they spent on the ticket.
They may feel they have passed the point of no return. Economists regard this behavior as irrational. It is inefficient because it misallocates resources by taking irrelevant information into account.
With that introduction, here's excerpts from Konnikova's book.
Why not exercise some creative thinking in what my journey is going to be?
I am too married to what it is all "supposed" to look like, and not critical enough of the fact that I simply made some decisions earlier on with incomplete information -- and now that I know more, I should change course. No one is telling me to quit poker, merely to reassess where I am.
But somehow I convince myself that swerving wouldn't be a demonstration of my adaptability and flexible thinking. Instead, it would be a hit to my reputation, a demonstration of failure, of a lack of ability.
It's the classic sunk cost fallacy in action: you keep to your course because of the resources you've already invested.
I've written about it many times. Only it seems that when it comes down to it, I don't quite apply it to myself, right now. In my mind, sunk costs are supposed to be physical. Somehow it doesn't occur to me that they can also be intangible.
An accurate self-reassessment would have shown that I was nowhere near ready to take on what I had planned, and that the bigger blow to my reputation might actually be proceeding with my set course. No matter.
It's easy to spot sunk costs in others. This person held on to their investment too long. That CEO didn't switch his management strategy in response to a new market environment. That company didn't recognize that their star product was going obsolete.
In yourself, it can become more difficult -- especially when you're dealing not with a concrete action but rather a lack of action.
One of the most important lessons of poker strategy, intimately connected to self-assessment, is this: sometimes, it's the hands you don't play that win you the title. We remember the hero calls. What about the hero folds? What you don't do rather than what you do -- that can be greatness.
The art of letting go can be the truly strong one. Acknowledging when you're behind rather than continuing to put good money after bad. Acknowledging when the landscape has shifted and you need to make a shift yourself as a result.
It happens all the time in our lives. We find ourselves in an appealing situation -- and then we hold on to it for dear life, even when any objective outside observer would tell us that the appeal is long gone. We start at a promising job, only to be stymied in promotions over and over -- yet we cling to the notion that the job is great.
We embark on a promising relationship, only to find that we have less and less in common with our partner -- yet we forge ahead, refusing to admit that what seemed so right is now wrong.
Sometimes, the most difficult thing of all is to stop playing. All too often, we stay in a hand long after we should have gotten out.
...In 2018, Kaitlin Woolley and Jane Risen demonstrated that people will often actively avoid information that would help them make a more informed decision when their intuition, or inner preference, is already decided.
They will, for example, avoid learning how many calories are in an attractive dessert, or how much they will be paid if they choose to take on a boring task instead of a more exciting one. Part of them knows that the information might mean they need to change their decision, so they choose to ignore it.
...Never feel like you have to do something just because it's expected of you -- even if you're the one who expects it of you. Know when to step back. Know when to recalibrate. Know when you need to reassess your strategy, prior plans be damned.