Self-serving bias – the tendency to attribute success to internal or personal factors but attribute failure to situational factors beyond our control.
You ever notice how people who are late never say ,”Sorry I’m late. I’m lazy and irresponsible.” No. They say, “It was raining.” or “My alarm didn’t go off.” or “Traffic was awful today!” People will use any excuse to try and dodge failure. When failure occurs, they want it to seem like they had as little control over the outcome as possible. By rejecting that they had causal influence, they also reject the blame that would come along with it. How could someone be responsible for a state of affairs they couldn’t even influence? This wouldn’t be so bad, but people actually believe the excuses they’re giving others. It’s not an excuse to them — it’s the truth.
You know that little voice in your head that immediately and automatically offers excuses when things go wrong? That’s your self-serving bias. It reliably searches out the best excuse and presents that to your higher mind as the most likely reason why failure occurred. It happens in an instant — too quick to notice. And if your mind doesn’t believe the reason right away, it will keep repeating it to you as many times as it needs to. Eventually, it will convince you that it must be the truth. It’s our minds way of shielding us from outside consequences but also to protect our psyches from the pain of being failures.
What’s the harm in not wanting to feel like a failure? Isn’t it good to feel good about yourself? To a degree, yes. But the problem with avoiding this sort of pain is that it only insures that whatever influence you did have over the situation will never come to bear in preventing failures in the future. How can you improve your behavior if you don’t believe you have control over the outcome?
Much as in life, when people get beat in poker, they rarely accept responsibility. When they lose, instead of immediately saying to themselves, “How could I have played better?”, they instead have a deeply emotional reaction. Anger highjacks them and their self-serving bias kicks into high-gear. A reasonable sounding story bubbles out of their subconscious for why they’re blameless. In poker, the standard outside circumstance is luck. “I played it perfect but got unlucky!” Others will actually blame their opponents when they lose. “I bet all-in but this idiot called me!” or even “What a horrible call! Stupid donk!”
If you make excuses for your failures in poker, you can’t get better. All growth ceases and your game stops improving. How could it? If you listen to your self-serving bias, you’ll already know that there’s nothing you can do to improve your outcomes when you lose.
For now, just know that self-serving bias is your main opponent in poker (and not the others sitting with you at the table). In my next post, I’ll be detailing how to correct for this bias. As you learn to overcome self-serving bias in poker, you’ll also begin to see parallels to real life and learn to generalize this solution to other situations as well.