Maria Konnikova: Less Certainty, More Inquiry [The Knowledge Project Ep. #89]

Professional poker player, psychologist and author of two New York Times best-sellers, Maria Konnikova discusses her mentors, making decisions in environments of uncertainty, the importance of reflection, cooling down your emotions and Sherlock Holmes.

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

There are just factors completely outside our control and chance is just, it’s variance. It doesn’t care if you’re a good person, it doesn’t care how hard you’ve worked. It doesn’t care about anything. I mean, it’s just random stuff that happens.

You have to go back through your own decision process and ask the questions, “Okay, am I making the right decisions? Is my decision process solid regardless of the outcome?” I think that’s why poker’s such a valuable tool.

You need to know people and you need to understand dynamics and you need to understand emotions and you need to approach it from that perspective and that’s what’s going to give you your biggest edge in live games.

To start reflecting on elements of my thought process that I didn’t even realize were there, because I would just kind of do things. It really, let me tell you, transferred out of poker very quickly. I found myself doing this in all sorts of situations, but at the time it was just helping me become a more thoughtful player.

Sometimes our intuitions are spot on and sometimes they’re completely wrong, but we can’t tell the difference. Poker really forced me to go deeper into that and to figure out why can’t we tell the difference and how can you become more confident in your intuitions?

A lot of the book was about learning how to both see and observe, how to be more mindful. I think that really gets to the heart of how you become better at identifying your emotions. It’s practice being with yourself, practice kind of taking a step back and trying to sift through your own mind. At first you’re going to be wrong and at first it’s going to be hard, but over time it gets easier.

I’ve learned just how important it is to really take kind of a pause from life. To take a pause from everything that’s going on and to make that kind of a regular part of your day.

A lot of people are incapable of that adjustment in any realm of life. I mean, if you think about academia where I came from, right? You have all of these old guard, professors who have tenure, who made their reputation on some big theory and then something newer comes along that actually forces them to reconsider some of their ideas. It’s the rare person who’s actually able to say, “Oh yeah, things have changed, this is wrong. I’ve got to update it.”

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