Tuesday, March 4, 2008

What to do about all that "free time"?

Since "going pro" I've had a fair bit of spare time to take advantage of. I've been spending a lot of that time reading. Before University I used to read a lot, but, for whatever reason, during University I stopped. Of course, I read text books, but that's not what I am referring to. I'm referring to reading for the pleasure of reading. To experience life through the eyes of another.

But I've been revitalized and it's wonderful. I've been reading non-fiction as well as fiction and I find this balance keeps things fresh. There is a lot of really interesting, easy reading, informative, non-fiction available and when read with an open mind I think an individual can learn a lot about themselves and the world around them.

I've just finished Blink by Malcolm Gladwell and Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut and have started No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy as well as The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins. Blink is non-fiction and is about "the power of thinking without thinking", which is also the sub-title. I liked it a lot. It's a very light read with some interesting insights into human nature and our bias's that we are not even aware that we have. It also has some good information about intuition. At times I knew about the things he was talking about intuitively, but had never seen them explained before so it was still interesting.

As an aside, let me discuss one of the bias's that people have that they aren't consciously aware of. What's the average height of a North American adult male? According to Blink it's 5'9", and that seems pretty reasonable. It's what I would have guessed. Now, if I asked you to guess the average height of a Fortune 500 CEO what would you guess? Something greater than 5'9" right? You'd probably guess 6'0"+ and you'd be right. Why is it that CEO's of Fortune 500 companies are that much taller than the average person? Is it because tall people are smarter or more qualified than short people? No, that doesn't make sense at all. The answer is much simpler. We perceive help as a natural quality of leadership. This is not a conscious quality. If I asked you what you wanted in a leader you would not list height, but it's what you want. Subconsciously we are biased towards tall people.

Anyways, that is just one example that I'm paraphrasing from Blink. Another concept that I found interesting was "priming". One of the stories about priming I found interesting was about an experiment that two Dutch psychologists performed. In this experiment they took two groups of students and asked each of them 42 "fairly demanding" questions from Trivial Pursuit. Before they were given the questions one group was asked to spend five minutes thinking about what it would mean to be a professor and to write down everything that came to mind. The other group was asked to think about what it means to be a soccer hooligan and to write down everything that they thought. The first group, the "professor" group, got 55.6% of the questions correct. The second group, the "soccer hooligan" group, got 42.6% of the questions correct. That's a huge difference, and the conclusion of the experiment is not that the first group was in any way smarter than the second group. In fact, both groups would have been quite equal in that regard. The conclusion is that the first group was primed to be "smart" and thus, did better than the second group, who were primed to be "dumb". Neat eh?

Well, maybe it's not just neat. Maybe it has practical monetary applications to poker. I'm going to start each session I play by mentally priming myself before I begin. I have always noticed that if I start a session alert and anxious to play I typically do better than if I start off being a little tired or simply not into playing. Maybe it's coincidence, or maybe not. It can't hurt. I'm not exactly sure how I am going to prime myself so if you have any suggestions please feel free to post them.

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