As I've been immersing myself in poker, I've been overwhelmed by the parallels with pickup, in theory, practice, and in my experience as a student.
I'm not sure if this is pure coincidence, my mind trying to find a pattern where there's not one, or a genuine underlying pattern that probably extends to other areas of learning.
Pickup is the only other thing I can think of that I learned rapidly and by immersion. I made it my world for a year or two. As a result, I remember the learning process, whereas something like web development I can't really remember because I've been learning gradually.
The way I feel about poker now is how I felt with pickup a few months in. I could read a book that explained a certain line of logic. The terminology made sense, and the logic clicked in my head. But then when I went to practice what I'd learnt, I wouldn't come up with the same logic. I could understand, but I couldn't speak, to draw an analogy from language learning.
The same is true now of poker. I read a book and they explain why they take a certain action in a hand. It makes sense. Of COURSE you raise here. But then when I get in similar situations I don't necessarily make the same choices.
And like pickup where initially I may have had some success just by being out there, I sometimes win big pots in poker. Sometimes it's because I played the hand right, and other times it's because I just got lucky.
I was reading in a poker book today about the different levels of thinking. At the first level you're only thinking about where you are. If your hand is good you bet or raise. If it's bad you check or you fold. Pair of Aces? Bet. Two and seven? Fold.
The next level, which I'd say I'm employing to 10% of it's power, involves thinking about what the opponent might have. He raised preflop and then is betting again. It's likely that he has a hand with an ace in it.
From what I've read, most people stop there if they even get that far.
The next level is thinking about what you think you opponent thinks you have. I checked preflop and bet the flop, so he might think I made a small pair.
After that you think about what he thinks you think he has. He bet big, so he probably thinks that I think he has an ace.
There are deeper levels too, of course, which are reserved for the people you see on TV.
One of my favorite concepts in pickup mirrors this almost exactly. It's my favorite because when you fully understand it, EVERY interaction with ANYONE becomes a lot more interesting.
It's the concept of subtext.
Everything anyone says has a subtext. That's just a semi-fancy word to describe the emotion or intent behind something someone says.
For example, "Is that all the cake you want?" could have the subtext of "You aren't eating much cake." If it's said in a sarcastic tone, it would mean the opposite.
"I'm sort of seeing someone right now" could mean a variety of things ranging from, "I'm about to make out with you and I want it to be your fault instead of mine." to "I'm not in any way attracted to you."
How do you know which it means? Body language, context, tone, timing, etc. There's a lot to it, but once you get good at interpreting the subtext, you understand why everyone says almost anything. This is one of the main phenomena that cause people to call learning pickup "seeing the matrix".
In my estimation there are four levels of communication, presented here in descending order of depth.
To be socially savvy you want to control one and four and understand two and three. Actually, one and two are almost irrelevant.
Most GUYS only INTENTIONALLY communicate on levels one and two. I say INTENTIONALLY because everyone communicates on level four as well, but most people have little control over it. They say things and they listen to what girls say (some girls would probably tell you that they know guys who only communicate on level one).
Girls, on the other hand, almost ALWAYS communicate on levels one through three. That means that they almost always understand why you're saying what you're saying. This accounts for girls having wildly better social skills than us guys in general.
If you say something out of insecurity, she will know. If you're saying it out of genuine confidence, she will also know.
A slightly exaggerated example. Imagine that Jane and Bob just went on a date and he's dropping her off. The subtext is in parenthesis.
Jane, smiling and looking down, says, "I had a great time". (The date went well and I hope you'll kiss me)
Bob says, "Really? Me too. . I really like you a lot. You're so beautiful." (I am insecure and generally don't do well on dates with girls of your caliber)
Jane says, "Oh, thank you. I like you too" (You just ruined it, I don't really like you now, and I feel kind of uncomfortable)
Bob is really happy to hear that she likes him and replies, "Can I kiss you?" (I want to kiss you, but I'm too timid to just do it)
Jane says, "I don't kiss on the first date." (I would have kissed you, now I won't, and I will ignore your calls)
That went terribly. The reason is twofold. First, the surface conversation is smooth, but the subtext is disjointed. They aren't responding to the other person's subtext properly. Second, Bob is inadvertently using his subtext to say terrible things about himself.
A better example:
Jane, smiling and looking down, says, "I had a great time". (The date went well and I hope you'll kiss me)
Bob replies, "I had a terrible time." (my goal is to have fun, not to jump on the first chance to kiss you, but I'm still flirting with you)
Jane says, "You liar!" (I know you're just joking and I like that you're fun)
Bob takes a step closer, looks her in the eyes, and kisses her. (I'm confident and I know that you want to kiss me)
Okay, so that was a lot better. He could have just kissed her after the first line too, but I added more to illustrate it better. Notice how in this interaction the surface conversations is disjointed, but the subtext flows smoothly? The subtext is all that matters. That doesn't mean that surface conversation SHOULD be disjointed, just that it doesn't matter.
This is also why you can't just learn lines and expect to be good at pickup. The lines don't matter, the subtext does. Good pickup artists will say something with the right subtext and it will work, but then a new guy will say it with the wrong subtext (his default subtext as he's starting out will be something like "I am scared out of my mind"), and it won't work.
You don't need to constantly manipulate your subtext. In general it should mesh with what you're saying. You DO want to be AWARE of it, though. Is it responding to her subtext? If you're 90% confident, but 10% nervous, there's a good chance that nervousness is going to come out in the subtext. Don't let it.
The most important thing, though, is to understand her subtext. Why is she saying what she's saying? What is her emotional drive for it? What response does she hope to elicit? What does she really mean?
I say "she", because our example is pickup, but the truth is that once you build the habit of tuning in to the subtext of a conversation, you will see it everywhere.
I wonder if the similarities here are due partly to the fact that both pickup and poker are forms of gambling. My preferred form of gambling is currency trading. I am currently trading a micro account to hone my skills to the point where I can do it professionally. Similar to your playing the .25/.50 games to keep the "tuition cost" down.
Trading, poker, and pickup all share a common thread that in any individual hand, pickup attempt, or trade, the outcome is often heavily dependent on luck. Sometimes you can do everything right and it still doesn't work. You lose the hand, the girl isn't interested for whatever reason, and the trade goes against you; occasionally, you can do everything wrong, or nearly so, and it does work. This is called inconsistent reinforcement, and it can make learning proper behaviour in uncertain situations damnably difficult.
I find that the trick is to remember that while there may be occasional anomalies, on any series of hands, approaches, or trades, skill becomes more and more the determining factor the longer the series. Therefore, while doing everything wrong may still sometimes result in a rare win and a sporadic loss or two might ensue even getting everything right, over the long haul, doing it right wins bigger and more often than it loses and vice versa.
At that point it becomes a matter of disciplining oneself to constantly improve skills to give yourself that little bit of extra edge.
Hope I'm not imposing a pattern here on unrelated things.
Haha the funny thing about this post is that I did a second year university linguistics exam last week, and we actually had to study this stuff for it, but just using more complicated sounding words ;-)
I just stumbled upon your blog recently and have been reading through the archives randomly. I have to say that this is my favorite post that I've read so far. I think it's right on the money and it shows how a confident mindset is the most important thing to have in pickup.
Great post. I cover a ton of this in PickUp Podcast. Maybe you should come back on and do another episode.
See you this weekend bro.
Great post. I thought it was funny that just after reading it, I came across this comic:
I agree, there are loads of similarities between poker and pick up. It's all about applying the right mindest in any situation.
This post is gold. This in particular
Good pickup artists will say something with the right subtext and it will work, but then a new guy will say it with the wrong subtext (his default subtext as heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s starting out will be something like Ã¢â‚¬Å“I am scared out of my mindÃ¢â‚¬), and it wonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t work.
I get an annoying amount of email from people asking me how to gamble like I used to. The truth is that what I used to do isn't profitable anymore. It was a right time, right place sort of scenario. Although I'm not a professional gambler anymore, I have been spending time studying and improving at poker (I'm a break-even or slightly profitable player), and I have friends who are pros. There are surely several different paths you can take to make a living gambling; this is the one that I'm aware of and is feasible for someone of above average intelligence.
Despite offering a rough guide to making money gambling, I don't necessarily recommend that you do so. I gambled professionally for seven years. During that time I made a lot of money and enjoyed my life. One morning I woke up and all of my money was gone. The story behind that is complicated, but the gist is that "they caught on". The strongest emotion I felt was a sense of relief. Gambling is fun, but it's not "big". It doesn't contribute in a meaningful way or leave you with a body of work.
Most casino games have a house advantage ranging from 2-5%, assuming "perfect play". That means that if you play perfectly, you can expect to lose, on average, about 2-5% of the action you put through a machine. Perfect play for slot machines is simply to bet the maximum amount of coins (the jackpot is skewed heavily in favor of maximum coins). For blackjack you need to memorize what to do for every combination of player hands vs. dealer hands, specific to each set of rules (hit on soft 17, resplitting aces, etc).
Being a business owner, I have a bit of a different perspective on life than most people. For one thing, to me work is more of a passion than a job. Owning a business is like having a child. Even though I don't have any children (yet), I think I can imagine what it's like based on the parallels: You have to tend to the business at all hours, things are never as easy as they seem they should be, you have to put the business before yourself, etc.
One of the perspectives I've gained is the importance of keeping everyone in the company on the same page & prioritizing the company's needs correctly. And I've learned that there are two really, really important aspects to this: One is setting commitments and the second is always attaching a date to those commitments.
Sounds obvious right? It's not. Here's the difference in interaction I'm referring to:
Bob: Hey I have a great idea - let's create a widget! Jane: I don't know, Bob, we already have 10 different widget types. Bob: Well I'll look into it some more, but I think it's a great idea. Jane: OK let me know.
Being a business owner, I have a bit of a different perspective on life than most people. For one thing, to me work is more of a passion than a job. Owning a business is like having a child. Even though I don't have any children (yet), I think I can imagine what it's like based on the parallels: You have to tend to the business at all hours, things are never as easy as they seem they should be, you have to put the business before yourself, etc. One of the perspectives I've gained is the importance of keeping everyone in the company on the same page & prioritizing the company's needs correctly. And I've learned that there are two really, really important aspects to this: One is setting commitments and the second is always attaching a date to those commitments. Sounds obvious right? It's not. Here's the difference in interaction I'm referring to: Bob: Hey I have a great idea - let's create a widget! Jane: I don't know, Bob, we already have 10 different widget types. Bob: Well I'll look into it some more, but I think it's a great idea. Jane: OK let me know. Versus: Bob: Hey I have a great idea - let's create a widget! Jane: I don't know, Bob, we already have 10 different widget types. Bob: Well I'll look into it some more, but I think it's a great idea. Jane: OK when can you let me know? Bob: I'm not sure yet, but how about this - I'll let you know by Friday when I'll know for sure if it's a good idea. Do you see the HUGE difference here? Jane is asking Bob to give her a date by which he will give her a date. He is telling her that on Friday, he will tell her when he will know on what date he'll be able to determine if it's a good idea. So when Friday comes around, Bob might say, "Hey Jane, I'll know by March 31st if this is a good idea." But the important thing here is that he is committing to a date NOW instead of leaving things hanging, even though the date he is committing to is just to give Jane another date. This is an incredibly hard habit to get into. You have to really force yourself to always give dates by which you'll do things - even if the date is just a date by which you'll give a date, as in the example above. I learned this when I worked at GE. In fact, GE takes this one step further, requiring anyone who comes up with an idea to either take ownership of the idea - with a date attached, of course - or immediately relegate the idea to the "good idea, but no action" bin. In order to accurately track tasks with employees, I use a hosted task service called TasksPro. It's an inexpensive way to track the tasks employees commit to doing, and I have a weekly review meeting to go over progress. You'll be astounded at the difference insisting on dates makes. Just try catching yourself and those around you when an idea or action item comes up and force yourselves to commit to dates, and then track the dates. I'd love to hear about your experiences.