The trip to see the Torelli’s was definitely worth the effort. However, even armed with only neophyte knowledge of cognitive dissonance theory (Festinger, 1962), which states we seek out confirming post-hoc evidence to support our decisions, did you expect I would travel 10,000 miles to have a conversation and not try to convince you that I made the right choice?
Of course not! Individuals have a need to feel competent and actively try to validate the accuracy of their decisions and the superiority of their beliefs, and you can read about those two topics in Chapter Two of Motivation for Learning & Performance. For now, let’s try and figure out Alec.
Speaking of beliefs, many of us have stereotyped impressions (otherwise known as implicit cognitions) that guide our interpretations of the world. You probably have a generalized “theory” as to why Alec would spend most of his waking hours since the age of 16 thinking about playing poker. So what do YOU visualize when you think about a poker player, or what I like to call a professional risk analyst? If you watch any of the numerous poker tournaments on television you might envision a gregarious, mysterious, flamboyant mind manipulator, constantly focused on deceiving others to gain an upper hand and score piles of cash. Well, if that’s what you think about Alec, you are completely wrong.
Alec is an anomaly, and clearly not a media hack looking for lucrative endorsements. Sure, he wants to win cash, because money is the metric of success. However, he values privacy, spirituality, and personal growth. His cerebral qualities are demonstrated by his introspective and insightful nature. A master of mathematics and probability, he is a boss of patience and self-regulation, despite the emotional turbulence and unpredictable outcomes that are built into to the game of poker.
Alec can have a miserable financial day, but still be a resounding success when he reflects on his performance. Winning IS important, but managing yourself effectively is a critical skill that Alec has refined. Good hands or bad, win or lose, the personal metric of success for Alec is making the right decisions. He approaches the game, and life in general, with a well-thought out plan. He sets both short-term and long-term goals. Each successive hand brings him closer to what he values most; his family and independence.
During play he follows a routine, or in motivational terms a “strategic heuristic”, a formula designed to maintain an even keel and outwit his opponents. Like an engaged classroom learner he monitors his thoughts and emotions, controlling his motivation with unwavering attention to the task at hand. He uses a variety of tools to regulate his body and mind before, during, an after play.
Most importantly he knows himself, his vulnerabilities and his strengths, and isn't afraid to acknowledge that he doesn't always make the best decisions. It’s quite ironic that his greatest strength is his ability to regulate his emotions, because he rarely shows anyone how he really feels, regardless of size of the pot or the cards on the table.
At the end of the day he doesn't ruminate or complain to his lovely wife Ambra, it’s just another day and another lesson, bringing him closer to his ultimate goal. Alec Torelli has found his MO, and he always looks forward, waiting and planning for the next golden opportunity to demonstrate that strength of mind and body can overcome any hand he is dealt.
Festinger, L. (1962). A theory of cognitive dissonance (Vol. 2). Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.