How to make better decisions: Practical exercises from professional poker

icon picker
How to make better decisions: Practical exercises from professional poker

A companion toolkit for my book "How to Decide: Simple Tools for Making Better Choices."
There are exactly two things that determine how your life will turn out: luck and the quality of your decisions.
Luck, by definition, is something you can’t control. The quality of your decisions is something you can.
High quality decision-making requires a consistent and top notch decision process. Yet, when it comes to decision-making, most people have processes that are all over the map.
When you need to make a big decision, like where you should live, whether to take a job, who you should date, or, more broadly, what strategies or tactics you might use to achieve your goals, you might make a list of pros and cons. Or you might with your gut. Or you might make decisions by consensus.
Or maybe as you weigh the options before making the decision, you find yourself in analysis paralysis—constantly looking for that one extra piece of data or the input of just one more person that might get you to an illusory certainty that will allow you to finally decide.
The result? Lower quality decisions.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
To help people make high-quality decisions, I published How to Decide: Simple Tools for Making Better Choices (
). The book contains many exercises laying out the decision-making processes I’ve developed from years of playing and consulting with high-performing executives and firms.
To help my readers implement the exercises in the book, I created this Coda doc with some of the most popular exercises from the book.

From poker strategies to business and life

The decision-making strategies I teach come from merging my work in cognitive science at the University of Pennsylvania and my years of experience in the high-stakes, fast-paced decision-making world of poker.
It turns out poker has a lot to teach us about business and life choices. After all, you’re making bets in each. In fact, every decision you make is a bet, a bet on which of your available options will be the most likely to advance you toward your goals, given the resources that you have to invest.
The decisions you make are always uncertain because the future is unknown. Information is nearly always incomplete when you have to decide because you aren’t omniscient. Luck nearly always influences how your decisions turn out. Of all the possible ways the future could unfold, you can’t be sure which way it will actually unfold because you don’t have a time machine. Whether it’s the potential success of a new idea or the next card that gets dealt, you’ll never have enough information to guarantee how your bet will turn out in the short run.
Without the right framework and the right set of tools, it’s hard to make good decisions when there is a lot of uncertainty. It’s even harder to figure out, in retrospect, whether a decision you made in the past was good or bad, particularly when you can make a great decision that turns out poorly or a bad decision that turns out well.
Ultimately, the goal is to get better at separating the outcome of a decision from the decision quality, like when you make a good decision on a bet even though you lose the hand. The difference between low- and high-quality decisions comes down to the ability to embrace the uncertainty and include it in your decision process. That is why I made this doc.

Developing decision skills

Making great decisions isn’t a skill that comes naturally to us. Most everyone has learned at least a little something about the negative influence of cognitive biases and heuristics on our decisions. When it comes to decisions, we take lots of shortcuts. Worse yet, we have a tendency to interpret the world to confirm the beliefs we already have.
It takes work to hone your decisions skills and develop the tools, habits, and dispositions that will improve the quality of your decision making. With these skills, you’ll get better at thinking probabilistically, and you’ll get better at making more accurate and more educated guesses about how any option you are considering might turn out. You’ll get out of your own way by learning to reduce the impact of cognitive bias. And you’ll be more comfortable updating your beliefs when you receive new information.
I discussed decision skills with Maria Marquis at Coda’s Block Party 2021:

Reframe decisions as bets—with this Coda doc

My books offer lots of practical advice on how to incorporate thinking in bets into your decision process. You can put that advice into action with this toolkit. Every exercise here is personally tested by me and the various businesses I consult for—trust me when I say that they all work.
Each exercise can be done as an individual or as a team. Click one of the cards below to learn more about an exercise and to get started.
Have a question or feedback on my doc? Tweet at me () or . If you would like to try this technique and need help implementing it, the Coda team has graciously offered to help. Click this button to get assistance:

👉 Start with:

Want to print your doc?
This is not the way.
Try clicking the ⋯ next to your doc name or using a keyboard shortcut (
) instead.