Rationalizing is the process of thinking about or describing something in a way that explains it. This is usually done to make something we have done seem appropriate or correct. It is really a fancy way of making excuses for our behavior. If you play poker, you probably rationalize a lot.
We do it to make ourselves feel better about our mistakes or our decisions. We try to make reasonable attributions for our actions so that we protect our egos. The problem is that this purpose lends itself to a process of bullshitting ourselves. In essence, our egos happily lie to us with creative excuses for our poor play at the table.
What does rationalizing sound like?
“I had to push even though I knew I was beat”
“I had to start playing looser to be less predictable”
“I’m only playing poorly because I’m tilting”
“I had to call their raise to show them I can’t be pushed around”
These are just a small sample of how we justify our actions to ourselves. Sometimes we do this in an inner-dialogue no one else can hear and other times we vocalize it to a friend or competitor.
I’ve written before about how poisonous our egos can be. Sometimes it is so involved in our performance, even our lives, that we just accept it as common place to have a voice feeding us a stream of thoughts as if this is how thing should be. In fact, you would not be alone if you have never even considered this stream of thinking as driven by the ego. I mean, why would we have to justify our actions to ourselves in the first place? Rationalizing thoughts like the above are an extension of the ego. You, the real you, is the person that hears them.
When you acknowledge this, you can begin to see how troublesome the ego is. It rationalizes to protect itself. In poker, rationalizing usually happens to protect the idea that your ego believes you/it are a good poker player. Evidence to the contrary must be explained in a way that deflects a threat to that concept. Making excuses is an essential tool for the ego.
I am convinced more and more that the emotional side of the game, in fact any game beyond poker, is not a competition between you and another player or a table of players. The only competition that truly exists is with your own ego. And it is a clever adversary. So clever that many do not know it exists.
There are many strategies, techniques or tips that are touted as performance enhancing in performance psychology. Thinking more positively is one of them, for instance. When you look beyond the surface of these methods, you see that most focus on controlling the ego. The most significant thing you need to do to take your play to another level is not setting better goals or thinking more confidently. It is recognizing the role of the ego.
The good news is that once you acknowledge that there is an ego and it is involved in your daily life, you can start to see it. It doesn’t like that. It loses power. This happens because, unlike being unaware and susceptible, you create separation from it and know you don’t have to believe what it says. Furthermore, you can hear its excuses or rationalizations and know that this is not good information even if you feel good hearing it. It gets in the way of seeing that you really did make a mistake and that you should learn from that. It gets in the way of seeing how losing a big pot hurts it way more than it hurts you. It tilts, not you.
So the next time you catch yourself defending yourself by making rationalizations, ask yourself what you are defending yourself from? What is on the attack? It is usually nothing. This is just the ego protecting its investment in the idea that you are a good poker player (or smarter than the other players etc.) and, as such, you should not make mistakes and you should not lose or go on cold streaks.
Just listen to what you hear. Believe it or not, you don’t have to believe it. Without shining light on the ego in this way, we will believe what we hear because we believe it is really us saying it.
Kelly Doell, PhD is a mental performance consultant. Learn more about how his work can help your performance at www.KellyDoell.com