Don’t Gamble – Develop a System, and Stick With It

I spent the last couple days in Vegas, and one thing was abundantly clear to me: I’m not much of a gambler.

Some people might view the various choices that I’ve made over the years and think that I like gambling. That I’m drawn to risk.

Truth: I don’t mind risk, but I hate gambling.

Sure, I’ve left jobs and security for the unknown. I’ve invested in new ventures, played the stock market, purchased and sold real estate. I’ve pursued a freelance life over a steady income. Choices like these might seem packed with inherent risk, and they are, but because I’ve always tried to apply systematic thinking to evaluate and execute each of these endeavors, I’ve never considered them “gambling.”

Full disclosure: I haven’t been perfect (duh, no-one is!). I may hate gambling, but I’ve definitely spent my share of time at the “roulette table.”

Gambling is seductive – Vegas was built on that fact. On occasion, I’ve impulsively “put it all on black” and ignored my own “system warning lights.” And almost always I’ve regretted these occasions, because when I ignored my own system, I was gambling.

But deep down, I hate gambling.

To me, gambling is impulsive. Gambling is trusting wholly to luck. Gambling is rolling the dice and hoping for the best. Gambling loses people their savings, causes families hardships, and wrecks lives as individuals grow addicted to speculation like some kind of drug.

But I’ve had professional poker players tell me straight-faced that they don’t consider themselves gamblers. They told me that because they use systems and rules, developed through study and practice, even gambling isn’t gambling.

My take away from the times I’ve used systems thinking and witnessed others used systems thinking: If we develop logical algorithms for decision making, based on solid principles, devoid of emotion, designed to lock in gains and limit losses, we aren’t gambling. If we apply a system consistently, without deviation, we aren’t gambling.

Yes, there IS RISK in all ventures. Life is inherently risky. But we can build risk into our systems. We can manage risk. We can hedge risk by acknowledging its existence and by building in stop-gaps to limit downside exposure.

Of course, because we aren’t “gambling” we might miss out on the big wins. We might not experience the “thrill” of speculation. Having a system might limit upside. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather have a steady string of smaller wins over a spectacular win any day, if pursuing the big win might wipe me out.

So here’s my goal – to always apply systems thinking to avoid the impulsive desire to “gamble.”

It’s not difficult to develop “systems.” Whatever the venture, I just have to first think, “what rules should I follow for evaluating and making decisions?” One way to figure that out: read, learn about, and talk to those who came before me. What systems did they use?

Then, as Bruce Lee said, “Absorb what is useful, discard what is useless and add what is specifically your own.”

The harder part: Once I develop a system, I have to stick with it. Apply it consistently. Tweak it and improve it as necessary, but never ignore it.

Because, if I ignore my system and make impulsive decisions, I’m just “gambling.” And again, I hate gambling. So why would I want to do that?

What about you? Are you a gambler? Or do you apply systems thinking? Has it worked for you, or do you think it’s just a more sophisticated form of gambling? I would love to hear your opinion!


Writer. Producer. Entrepreneur. Traveler. Sagittarius. Life Enthusiast.

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