The actual consequences of your actions matter far more than your actions themselves

LIV BOEREE is a poker player, TV presenter, and writer. As a European Poker Tour and World Series of Poker Champion with more than $3.5 million in tournament winnings, she is one of the best-known faces on the international poker circuit and has been nicknamed the “Iron Maiden.” Liv is a member of Team PokerStars Pro and is a four-time winner of European Female Player of the Year. Her biggest passion is science, and she holds a first class honors degree in physics with astrophysics from the University of Manchester. Liv is a strong supporter of the Effective Altruism movement, the philosophy of using evidence and rational decision-making to achieve the most good. In 2014, she co-founded Raising for Effective Giving, a fundraising organization that raises money for the world’s most cost-effective and globally impactful charities.

What is the book (or books) you’ve given most as a gift, and why? Or what are one to three books that have greatly influenced your life?
The Passion Trap: How to Right an Unbalanced Relationship by relationship therapist and psychologist Dean C. Delis. This was given to me by a friend when I was on the tail end of a very difficult relationship, and it was utterly illuminating. The author examines the psychological forces behind human attraction and explains the most common drivers of conflict in intimate relationships. A key takeaway is that it’s rarely any given partner who’s the cause for a poor relationship; more often unbalanced dynamics are to blame. The book offers numerous tactics to overcome these imbalances and I’d recommend it to anyone, whether you’re single, about to break up, or in a perfectly happy relationship.

Map and Territory and How to Actually Change Your Mind by Eliezer Yudkowsky. These two books are hands-down the best insight into modern-day rational thinking I’ve ever read, written by (in my opinion) one of the greatest minds of our time. Yudkowsky manages to explain highly complex philosophical and scientific concepts to the reader in a remarkably entertaining and palatable way. I came away feeling like I’d finally found the tools with which to understand both myself and the world around me. These two books are actually parts one and two of a six-part collection called Rationality: From AI to Zombies, sourced from Yudkowsky’s blog posts from the site LessWrong.com over the last decade.

What purchase of $100 or less has most positively impacted your life in the last six months (or in recent memory)?
Blinkist—an app that condenses nonfiction books into 15-minute reads.

What is one of the best or most worthwhile investments you’ve ever made?
Learning about modern-day rationality—I’ve found it’s added value in all domains of my life.

Poker is all about making optimal decisions, so I learned the hard way how costly my irrational screw-ups could be. This gave me extra motivation to truly identify my inherent mental flaws. Rationality (and poker) teaches you how to think more quantitatively—how to make better predictions and evaluate your beliefs more effectively so you can better achieve your goals. It also teaches you how to better control and work with your emotions, and I’ve found it made a huge improvement on my general happiness.

If you could have a gigantic billboard anywhere with anything on it, what would it say and why?
If I had a billboard, it would read: “The actual consequences of your actions matter far more than your actions themselves.”

One of my biggest “duh, of course!” moments was when a philosopher friend explained to me the difference between deontological and consequentialist thinking. A deontologist believes that for something to be ethically correct, it must abide by a predefined set of moral rules or ideologies, and if an action breaks those rules then it is immoral, regardless of the outcome. A consequentialist believes that the moral value of an action purely depends on its outcome—the act itself doesn’t carry moral weight, all that matters is whether its consequences are good or bad overall.

For example, say there’s an axe-murderer who’s about to kill a number of victims unless you kill the murderer first. A strict deontologist would say, “Killing a person is always wrong, regardless of why it is done.” A consequentialist would say, “Killing a person is wrong, because the outcome usually causes suffering. However, it is okay to do if it clearly prevents greater suffering.” Most of us can easily identify with the second mindset in that situation—we’re all familiar with the idea of the greater good—and thus it’s easy to appreciate the value in thinking consequentially.

Moral heuristics (rules of thumb) had societal benefits, especially in pre- scientific times where superstitions and evidence-less beliefs ruled and education was very poor. However, in this age of readily available scientific data, we are now able to evaluate consequences of actions more accurately than ever before, and therefore should be more open to re-evaluating many of the ideological rules of thumb we still live by.

What is an unusual habit or an absurd thing that you love?

Erm . . . Instead of shaving my legs I like to pluck the hairs one by one, and it has been my favorite form of meditation for many years. Takes forever, but it’s the most effective way for me to get into a quiet mind state!

In the last five years, what have you become better at saying no to?

I used to be an enormous social butterfly—my preferred gatherings involved as many new faces as possible. If there was a dinner being organized, I’d want to invite everyone who was around. I hated the idea of anyone I knew being left out or not getting to know one another, and I definitely enjoyed being the center of attention a little too much!

These days, I say no to most big group dinners. I prefer situations where one conversation happens at a time. Any more than five or six people and discussions tend to fragment and lose flow. I’ve found my focus has shifted to quality over quantity—I value more time with a few people as opposed to less time with more people.

In the last five years, what new belief, behavior, or habit has most improved your life?
Whenever I have to make a prediction about something uncertain, such as “Will I make this flight?” or “How likely is my partner to get mad about me not doing the dishes?” I now try to assign a numerical percentage to fuzzy words like “maybe,” “sometimes,” “occasionally,” and “probably.” Whenever I use one of those words, I try to picture exactly what I mean as a number on a sliding scale between 0 to 100 (“never” to “always”). Even though those numbers often feel very vague, I’ve found the outcomes of my decisions have improved significantly since I started the habit. After all, the physical reality we live in is governed by mathematics, so it makes sense to train our minds to think in line with that reality as much as possible.

What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
In poker, the most common error people make is overestimating their ability to read people—classic bad advice usually involves statements like “watch for their eye movements” (humans are generally very aware of their eyes when lying) or “he looked nervous, so he must be bluffing” (nervousness and excitement appear very similar). Physical tells are far less consistent and reliable than we’re taught to believe, and to truly excel at the game it’s far more important to have a solid understanding of the mathematical theory behind the game.

When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, what do you do? What questions do you ask yourself?
It’s essential to identify the root cause of that lost focus—am I just having a bad day, or is the task itself something I simply hate doing? If it’s clearly the former, and time pressures allow, I’m a big fan of just packing it in and doing something more fun until my focus comes back, even if it’s not until the next day. If it’s the latter, it’s probably relevant to investigate why I’m feeling so unmotivated. Given that I know the upsides of getting it done, feeling so icky about it might mean there’s more going on than I’d fully considered. It then helps to list those reasons to see if I can find a new way of getting the task done, avoiding the crappy parts entirely. If that’s not possible, I can now at least do a more effective cost-benefit analysis and decide whether to continue at all. If I decide the payoff is still worth it, then the motivation will be more likely to come back by itself.

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