One of my favorite quotes comes from a neuroscientist named David Eagleman, who said,
The conscious mind is really just the broom closet in the mansion of the brain.
At any given time, a huge swath of what is going on inside our minds is taking place below the conscious threshold.
As we go through our lives, we do so with extensive psychological and emotional blind spots. That includes when we are making decisions at the slots or tables at an Online Casino.
Just thinking about these blind spots or the “mansion” of the unconscious mind is enough to make a lot of people uncomfortable. But here’s the thing: if you really want to master your gambling psychology, you are going to need to be willing to engage with your blind spots.
In this post, we are going to give you some tips that will help you to do that effectively so you can improve your gambling psychology. But first, let’s explain why it is so important to identify your blind spots and delve a little deeper into the whole concept of blind spots.
How Can Psychological Blind Spots Negatively Impact You as You Gamble?
Here are a few ways that blind spots can adversely impact you while playing casino games.
- Bad Betting Decisions
For starters, your blind spots can simply cause you to make one bad betting decision after another. Sometimes this is the result of something relatively innocuous, like lack of awareness of a skill deficit causing you to make repeated mistakes. But other times, it can be something more pernicious, like self-sabotage.
- Vulnerability At The Poker Table
There are times in our lives when other people are aware of our blind spots, whether consciously or unconsciously. When they become aware of things we miss about ourselves, they gain an advantage on us that they can exploit. This may sometimes bite you at the poker table. After all, what is a tell but a simple example of a blind spot that is literally visible to others?
- Problem Gambling
The majority of gamblers play within their means, and their gambling remains a fun, healthy part of their lives.
In extreme cases, however, some gamblers may develop compulsive problem gambling behaviors.
If others rely financially on a problem gambler, these issues can compound into (or exist adjacent to) relational problems.
You might even have met a problem gambler before who, when confronted, denied they were doing anything wrong. They might even have denied it consistently for years. If they did eventually admit to the existence of the problem, they might have protested, “But I didn’t know! How was I supposed to do anything about it when I didn’t know?”
If It Is Unconscious, Is It Still Your Responsibility?
A lot of people use the words “unconscious” and “unintentional” almost interchangeably. But just because you are doing something unconsciously, does that really mean it is never deliberate or your responsibility?
If we had to process everything we do consciously and slowly, we would have a difficult time getting through our lives, or even surviving. Events can happen fast.
When everything in the brain is working right, our unconscious activities tend to serve our wellbeing.
Take a simple example. You are at a stop light. The light turns green. Consciously, you start pushing down on the gas pedal.
Suddenly, you find yourself slamming on the brakes. Only afterward do you see the driver racing through the intersection ahead of you, ignoring their own red light. If you had not slammed on the brakes, you would be dead.
You did not consciously see the approaching vehicle. You unconsciously saved your own life. You had no idea what was happening, but your actions clearly were deliberate. After all, you wanted to live! And you made sure that you did. Disowning your unconscious as something separate from you doesn’t really make sense. In fact, in the mansion of the brain, it is arguably most of you.
How Can You See What You Don’t See?
While you probably can be at peace with the involvement of your free will in saving your life from an oncoming vehicle, there is no denying that this conversation does bring up some uncomfortable questions.
Let’s return to the problem gambler we described before, responding, “But I didn’t know! How was I supposed to do anything about it when I didn’t know?”
I think it would be unreasonable to suggest that true, unfettered, perfect free will exists in these situations. But to deny it exists at all is also unreasonable.
Laura Teal explains in this paper, “I argue that moral responsibility extends beyond free will actions, such that some unconscious actions, which would not easily be described as free, do in fact carry the weight of moral responsibility all the same. This is primarily evidenced through the clear influence that conscious decisions have on the unconscious framework for decision making that a person uses to act without conscious input.”
The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy summarizes a similar argument, explaining, “Although self-deception is not something that a person does, or actively brings about, it is something that he can guard against and try to avoid. If this is true, then we might be justified in holding the self-deceiver responsible for the negligence that contributed to his state of mind.”
While I normally would not turn to Reddit to help me explain a concept, in this case, I will. A user called kctl explained here, “I’m basically making Aristotle’s argument that there are some people for whom virtue is impossible, and yet this is their fault. This seems like a paradox, but the tension is really a tension between the present moment and the gradual habituation and sedimentation of reflexes and tendencies over an entire lifetime.”
It is hard to give a better explanation than that. The problem gambler we talked about might not have “known” what they were doing when they were in the moment making bad decisions. But they no doubt had many moments in between where they had space to contemplate and discover the situation. Ultimately, that gambler made a lot of little bad decisions over time that added up to create or sustain their problem.
Why Do We Unconsciously Steer in the Wrong Direction?
As we mentioned before, ideally, our unconscious decisions help us out by doing things like steering us away from an oncoming vehicle.
But often, what we are doing unconsciously is not effectual, and is actually maladaptive. We engage in long-term self-deception that causes us to lose money or experience other problems.
What is going on here?
You could be playing out a script from childhood that was adaptive when you were growing up, but isn’t anymore.
A lot of us feel ashamed when we make mistakes or do things that are wrong. In our desperation to avoid feeling that way, we suppress awareness of those things so we can keep avoiding dealing with them.
Tips for Identifying Your Blind Spots as a Gambler
So, what can you do as a gambler to identify your blind spots? How do you take responsibility and “see what you cannot see”?
It might still seem like a big ask, (or even impossible) but it is not. There are a lot of small, practical steps you can take to figure out what your blind spots are and address them.
Of course, the first big step is to make sure you acknowledge your blind spots exist. Just knowing there are some things you may not be consciously aware of about yourself and how you make betting decisions empowers you. It helps you pay more attention to your choices all around, and admit that not everything is always what you might think.
Let’s go over our recommendations now.
Note Patterns In The Feedback You Receive
A great way to start identifying your blind spots is to ask yourself what feedback you have received from other people. Sometimes people will try to help you identify your blind spots deliberately. Other times, they might just make offhand remarks that can give you insights.
Say, for instance, that you are scared to raise in poker, but you are not really “aware” of it. Consciously, you tell yourself that you are “just being cautious.” You are convinced that what you are doing is the right thing, even though it has bitten you multiple times.
Perhaps some opponents have remarked about it to you in the past, maybe even mocking you for it if they were not very nice, or if they were trying to goad you into raising for their own reasons. Either way, it has been brought up to you multiple times in multiple ways by multiple people.
If you pause right now, and deliberately and carefully try to make a list of things people have repeatedly said to you that you may have ignored, you might very well recall all the people who mentioned your apparent fear of raising.
Upon closer reflection, you might realize that this is one of your blind spots. You would need to ask yourself some challenging questions about why you really do not want to raise. That means for a moment considering whether it is possible that the real reason isn’t “just caution.”
This could end up being a process. You may not draw a conclusion immediately. You might instead need to resolve to start observing yourself during future poker games when those moments arise. When they do, you will need to consider what you are thinking and feeling. In that process, you might start to notice that you are actually irrationally afraid of ever raising.
After that information comes to light, you will finally be able to do something about it. You can confront those fears, and start challenging yourself to raise when there is a logical, strategic reason to do so, even if you are scared.
- Pro tip: Pay special attention when you find yourself becoming defensive in the face of feedback.
For instance, maybe in this poker example, when people would accuse you of being too scared to raise in the past, you snapped at them, wishing they would stop talking. That is a strong indication that you might be dealing with a blind spot.
Actively Solicit Feedback, And Follow Up On It
You can go a step further when it comes to using feedback to identify your blind spots. Instead of just passively watching for it, you can actively seek it out.
Actually ask other people to tell you about anything that they think you might not be aware of about yourself, positive, neutral or negative. And then seriously consider what they have to say.
So, let’s say for example that you bet on sports, and you have a friend who does as well. You tend to tell each other what bets you are taking, and sometimes even do your analysis together. So, you know that he has a pretty good feel for how you bet.
You can flat-out ask your friend what mistakes he sees you making again and again as you bet, or what opportunities you are ignoring. You can also solicit feedback about your mindset.
Now, one thing you might be wondering is whether it is better to ask for feedback on your blind spots from someone who is likely to give you an “objective” response, or someone who is likely to give you a more “supportive” response.
My recommendation is that you do both. Try and get some feedback from a person you think will not spare your feelings, and who may not have a completely rosy view of you. But then ask for additional feedback from someone who does see you in a very positive light, and who will consider your feelings.
This should give you a more balanced perspective overall. Obviously, you do not want to solely turn to overly supportive people for feedback who are strongly biased in your favor, as they might miss important weaknesses you are trying to identify.
But on the other hand, you also do not want to only get feedback from people who you think of as “objective.” They might not know you as well (in order to be so detached). Or, in some cases, they could be negatively biased, and you just do not realize it.
To continue this example, let’s say you have another friend who bets too, and is pretty familiar with your betting activities. But that friend is not as close to you, and has a habit of being critical of others.
You might think his feedback would be more valuable. But perhaps his tendency to be a harsh critic actually makes him exaggerate flaws, or see flaws that are not there in the first place. He might even project his own flaws on you. Soliciting advice from your more supportive friend may help you catch these inaccuracies in the more critical friend’s feedback.
Take Note Of Strong (Especially Critical) Emotional Reactions
One easy way to start identifying your blind spots is to look for where you feel especially critical toward other people. This goes back to our example above about the critical friend projecting on you. Sometimes, you might be the one projecting.
Imagine a scenario where you are not so great at managing money, but you are not consciously aware of it. You are convinced that the money management system you are using makes sense, despite evidence to the contrary. You tell yourself you just are unlucky.
You know another player who is also poor at money management. But with that person, it is super obvious to you. In fact, you call her out on it to no end. Something about her habits just gets under your skin, and you constantly tell your friends just what a mess she is.
This is the exact sort of scenario where you should pause and take stock. If you are willing to be painfully honest with yourself, you may realize that the reason she annoys you so much is because you recognize yourself in her. And calling attention to her mistakes is your way of pulling it away from your own.
Check If You Are Self-Sabotaging
If things go wrong for you again and again, sometimes it really is just Lady Luck being fickle or unkind. But not always.
If you notice any sort of pattern of losses, it is always worth asking yourself whether you are perhaps doing something that is resulting in your failures, and whether it might even be deliberate.
Jill was raised by parents who told her that she would fail at everything she tried. If she did do well at something, they actively punished her for it. So, she learned that as a child, failing at things was safer.
As an adult, she continues to fail at things, because that is what she ingrained on a deep level. In fact, she deliberately sabotages herself (even though she is not consciously aware of it).
At the casino, this might look like taking unnecessarily risky bets, or chasing losses. She continues to believe she just is “bad” at gambling, and avoids looking inward to see that she is still acting from the place of a scared child and choosing to fail.
But if Jill slows down and asks herself, “Is it possible I am self-sabotaging in some way?”, she might start identifying poor choices that are leading time and again to her losses at the casino.
See What You Do To Preserve Being “Right”
Do you sometimes get really concerned about the possibility that you are wrong about something? If so, that is another area to pay attention to for blind spots.
John is very attached to his roulette system. It does not produce reliable outcomes (no roulette system ever will), but he is convinced it is the ticket to riches. He might even have a convoluted explanation for why this is so, and why everyone who believes otherwise is wrong.
Over time, he becomes quite frightened of finding out he could be wrong. But he is not aware of that. His pride is at stake; if he discovers his roulette system does not work, he will feel like a complete failure, someone who is incapable of doing anything and does not have a clue.
This turns into a self-perpetuating cycle. Since he does not want to look at that, he doubles down on the roulette system and the demand to be “right.” Alas, Lady Luck has no interest in his demands, so he keeps losing.
If you catch yourself in a situation where you become frantic to prove you know what you are talking about, it could be time for a self-assessment. Maybe you don’t know what you are talking about. And maybe that is not the end of the world.
Walk Toward What Makes You Uncomfortable
We have talked throughout this post about how people will go to great lengths to avoid uncomfortable emotions like fear or shame. Often, this is exactly what perpetuates our blind spots. We will do anything, including trading the truth away, just to steer clear of those emotions and the uncertainties that go with them.
If all you do is make a decision that you are going to lean into your uncomfortable emotions and thoughts, rather than away from them, that can make a massive difference in uncovering your blind spots and addressing them.
Say John makes this decision, before being aware of anything about his roulette system being a problem. He vows that the next time he feels uncomfortable, he is going to move toward that feeling.
He has just had another bad night where he has blown all his money on overconfident roulette bets. He complains to his wife about how his luck is just against him.
His wife, frustrated, tries for the tenth time this year to tell him that the issue is not his luck, it is his overconfidence in his roulette system and subsequent poor money management decisions.
In the past, John would have immediately denied this, before he could feel more than the tiniest hint of shame. In fact, he’d immediately transmute shame into anger, snap at her, and end the conversation.
But this time, he notices that uncomfortable feeling, and he stays with it. He asks his wife to expand her feedback. He makes a promise to himself and to her that he will genuinely take it under advisement.
When he cools down, he does some serious research, and finally figures out that his roulette system really is not a goose that lays golden eggs. He can now adopt smarter gambling habits that make his bankroll last longer.
Actively Dig Into Your Underlying Beliefs And Assumptions
We all ingrain a lot of beliefs and assumptions at a very young age that continue to influence us as we grow up, even well into adulthood. If we do not check these assumptions and beliefs, they may continue to drive us unconsciously through the rest of our lives.
Sometimes these even include beliefs and assumptions about how luck works, or what we can and cannot control. If you are betting on sports or playing casino games, those beliefs are going to have a huge impact on you.
Picture a gambler who believes that ultimately, despite being able to control some small things, one’s fate is ultimately up to the whims of the fates, who are fickle.
That gambler is probably going to blow their bankroll pretty often, no matter what they are playing, even if it is a game where skill does play a part. They will resist seeing any options they have to influence their outcomes, because those options do not fit into their overall worldview.
A good way to figure out what some of your hidden beliefs and assumptions may be is to start by taking some self-assessments. Be as honest as you can when you take them, and fill them out based on how you are acting or feeling in real life, not the “ideal” way you would like to be.
You can also examine your childhood and the messages you have received from caregivers and society, as well as the messages you are still getting today.
Say our gambler in this example does this type of self-assessment, and realizes their belief. They begin to question it, and stop trying to maintain it. They challenge themselves to proceed as if they are wrong, and have more control than they feel like they do.
They then begin noticing how they have been blinding themselves to opportunities to get better at the games they play. Now they can finally start taking advantage of those opportunities and improving.
Question Your Underlying, Unconscious Motivations
Along with hidden beliefs and assumptions, many of us may have covert motivations that we are not fully aware of.
Earlier, we offered the example of Jill, the self-sabotaging gambler. Jill is actually motivated at a deep-seated level to fail. Sometimes that motivation might be conscious, while other times, it could be buried under many layers of self-deception.
Either way, Jill is failing on purpose. It isn’t that she wants to fail, it’s just that she thinks she has to fail.
If Jill takes some time when she is not gambling and her emotions are level, she could conduct a self-examination like the one we described to uncover hidden beliefs and assumptions. That is also a great way to track down hidden motivations.
Once Jill understands that she has actually been driven to fail and why, she will be able to stop abiding blindly by that script. She can make a list of triggers and warning signs to herself.
The next time she finds herself about to start chasing losses, she will have the perspective to pull back for a moment and consider her thoughts and feelings. She may realize she is feeling that familiar pull toward self-sabotage, and she can instead choose to not chase the losses.
Take A Class
Classes and courses are another excellent way to get a window into our psyches. You can find courses that teach sports betting as well as some casino games (especially poker).
Courses help you identify your blind spots in two ways:
- The course materials may expose you to different ways of thinking about betting than you have encountered elsewhere.
- If your course includes some kind of coaching, your coach may have some thoughts and ideas to offer you as well.
What you read may prompt you to ask some questions of yourself that reveal hidden blind spots.
A coach who has trained numerous players with different dispositions, assumptions and habits may have developed a strong eye for identifying students’ blind spots.
Look Critically At Your Strengths
Here is one that might surprise you, try looking not only at your weaknesses to identify blind spots, but also what you consider to be your strengths. Sometimes, positive qualities actually end up getting us into trouble.
Kim is training to become a professional video poker player. It demands a lot of time and work, and she also has a day job where she works full-time. As a result, she is quite exhausted.
Kim takes a lot of pride in her strong work ethic, as she should. But she takes so much pride in it that it does not occur to her that she has no work-life balance, and is getting more and more burned out.
Friends try to tell her sometimes that she should take a break, but she ignores them, telling them things like, “Live like nobody else does today so you can live like nobody else does tomorrow.”
Alas, her fatigue is actually eating into her performance and slowing her down in her attempts to reach her goals.
But eventually, Kim decides to take a critical look at her strengths, including her work ethic. She realizes that while it is a strength, it is out of balance right now, and is turning into a weakness. She takes steps to rebalance her life, and is surprised when her progress speeds up.
Recording yourself is sometimes recommended to increase accountability and productivity for those who are easily distracted. But it is also a fantastic way to identify your blind spots.
For starters, it will make you more self-conscious. As you pay more attention to what you are doing, you may begin making some new connections.
For another thing, you will have the recordings to review. Depending on your personality, this may not give you a ton of data, but for some, it will (i.e. if you talk aloud to yourself while betting to help you focus). In fact, you can even deliberately start speaking aloud to create an audio diary as you play.
Keep A Detailed Journal
Speaking of journals, both audio and written logs are excellent tools to help you track your blind spots.
Quite often, the power of a journal reveals itself only over a long period of time. When you look back at entries from the previous week, you might not notice anything remarkable. But when you look back at entries from months or years ago, you may be astonished by how much your perspective shifts.
What is great is that at that point, you are detached enough that you can analyze your past beliefs and decisions and how they impacted your betting much more accurately than you could assess those things in the moment.
Chances are good that if certain blind spots suddenly are jumping out at you, you already have evolved beyond them a bit. But you may well discover that much of this is a work in progress. You might have made just enough of a start to see more clearly, but still have plenty you can work on to become an even better bettor.
Dump Shame Out The Window
For many people, one of the hardest emotions to deal with is shame. In fact, it is so hard to handle that we often will push it underneath another emotion we are more willing to feel, like anger or even rage. This is a clear recipe for having blind spots, and a common factor in tilting and problem gambling behaviors.
Worse, it is a self-perpetuating cycle. We feel ashamed because we made some bad bets and lost money. To crush down that shame, we spiral into rage, which primes us for tilting. Afterward, we feel ashamed of the tilting. We want to stuff that feeling down too, so we come up with a way to do it, perhaps by rationalizing it, or getting mad at someone who tries to call our attention to it.
Why is shame so hard to deal with? Because it is actually an unhealthy emotion. When we feel guilty, we feel bad about our actions. But when we feel shame, we feel bad about ourselves.
What is the solution? It is not to suppress our emotions. As we just discussed, that makes things worse.
Instead, we suggest you take a closer look at your feelings of shame. See if you can identify where they come from (originally), and what beliefs are driving them.
The reality is that none of us need to feel ashamed, because we are all okay people. You can feel bad about your mistakes, but once you realize you are not inherently bad or a failure, you are less likely to feel shame in the future. It will be easier to maintain your emotional sobriety and see what is going on clearly.
Identify When Things Just Are Not Working
Oftentimes, we actually receive plenty of glaring direct evidence of our blind spots, yet continue to ignore it.
Say you use the Martingale system. This is an extremely popular betting system, and lots of people use it. So, you would be forgiven for making this common error. In the beginning, it may be just a simple mistake. But over the long run, it turns into something else.
The Martingale system is built on faulty logic. It does not help bettors win; it drives them into a hole. If you are using it, convinced that it works, you will receive ample evidence in the form of drawdown that it does not work, and is making things worse.
Every time you look at your record of losses, you have the opportunity to assess, and draw a logical hypothesis: “Maybe I am wrong. Perhaps Martingale does not work.”
You would then do some research and learn about the flaws with Martingale, and stop using it.
Quite a few bettors do not do this, however. They persist in their denial, lying to themselves about the reason for their losses. Those bettors have no one to blame but themselves. Always take the evidence you see seriously. If something is not working time and again, pay attention, and be ready to make a change.
Work With A Therapist Or Counselor
Finally, one more way you can remove some of the psychological or emotional barriers that are blocking your insights is to get a professional to help you.
A therapist or counselor is especially trained to identify blind spots in clients and to draw their attention to those blind spots in a way that is conducive to change and growth.
You might think this option is only for problem gamblers, but it is not. Responsible players who just want to improve and make progress toward their goals can benefit from therapy a great deal.
It can be intimidating to think of our consciousness as a mere broom in the mansion of our unconscious minds—but a broom is a tool, and it is one that can be put to good use in keeping the mansion clean.
As a gambler, you can find yourself losing money due to your unconscious decisions and blind spots. But you are not powerless to identify those blind spots and how they may be affecting you. By following the tips we gave above, you can start sweeping out your mansion and making wiser gambling decisions that extend your bankroll and give you more chances to win.
And Of Course You Don’t Want To Leave Without Also Checking Out: