Former World Series of Poker champion Annie Duke once said that when she wins or loses a hand, she tries her best to prevent that from affecting her mood. Instead, to determine whether to feel happy or sad, she thinks back to her key decision moments earlier in the hand:
On the flop, was she right to have raised the bet given the knowledge she had at the time? On the river, was she right to have assumed that no one at the table had a flush? Etc.
To improve at something, you need the right feedback loop – one that rewards you when you do something right and punishes you when you do something wrong. In her poker career, instead of letting herself feel emotional reward and punishment from the outcomes of her hands, Annie Duke taught herself to feel either happy (emotionally rewarded) or sad (emotionally punished) depending on her objective assessment of how well she played.
Duke’s poker trick applies equally well to dating, because dating similarly has a big element of luck, so dating outcomes are similarly a noisy signal to use as positive/negative reinforcement for learning. But most people don’t know about that trick – they take emotional feedback from their outcomes. Pretty soon their dating skills stop improving because there’s too much random noise in their feedback loop.
To make matters worse, most people don’t even get the basic idea that dating is a game and there’s such a thing as dating skill. It’s as if most people learned poker from a handbook full of advice to “trust your unreliable intuition and let it be honed by noisy outcomes”, which sounds ridiculous – until you change the subject to dating and rephrase it as “just do what feels right”, and then it suddenly sounds like sage wisdom.
If you’ve ever noticed someone with a weird dating quirk, like being way too aggressive about grinding strangers on the dance floor, it’s probably because they had a lucky outcome with it at some point. That’s positive outcome-reinforcement gone awry. This person should look back to their decision moment and ask, “Is this the way I should be dancing?”
The bigger issue though is negative outcome-reinforcement gone awry. You strike up a conversation with a stranger at a bar, but 5 minutes later it seems to be fizzling out, so you walk back to your friends and say “that’s not going anywhere; flirting with strangers is pointless”. Wrong. Flirting with strangers is the right move. You should do it. And then, regardless of whether it leads somewhere or fizzles out, you should take pride in the fact that you did it.
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