Poker is a very common hobby, and is often looked at as something of an isolating hobby. Many people play mostly online, and even those who play in person tend to stay fairly quiet and reserved. The game demands concentration, and in striving to meet that demand players can come across as somewhat introverted, awkward, or in some cases even unfriendly.
That’s all while the game is underway though. And as antisocial as things can sometimes be at the tables, in the process of playing a lot of poker players actually pick up skills that are incredibly useful in real-life social situations. That’s what I’d like to dive into here, with a handful of specific examples.
The idea of reading people often seems somewhat complex and ill-defined. Some people are more expressive than others, some are more deceitful, and you simply can’t always tell what’s going on in another person’s head. And yet, as one rundown of tips for reading people put it, the signals are always there. You may not be able to know with absolute certainty what someone is thinking or how someone feels, but if you know what to look for you can get pretty close.
Poker players learn what to look for. Much of the game comes down to deciphering the silent signals and unspoken intentions of other players, and learning these skills can go a long way toward improving your social confidence. While reading people is framed as a manipulative or competitive process within the game of poker, the skill in real life is simply a means toward greater comfort in interactions. If you have a sense of what people are really thinking, your interactions will feel a little simpler and a little more straightforward.
The concept of overcoming doubt is something that was mentioned in a poor piece her about being confident in any situation, and it’s a very important one. Overcoming self-doubt means “taking the plunge” in any situation that might otherwise intimidate you, including social interactions. And this too is something that can be learned through the game of poker. Even experienced players can be intimidated from time to time — by a losing streak, by a skilled opponent, by a particularly dramatic hand, and so on. But the successful ones learn to persevere in these situations, and to keep playing in a calm, rational manner. The game teaches resilience in the face of doubt, which is an invaluable trait to develop with respect to social interaction.
One more specific skill that poker teaches is recall. In addition to learning how to read opponents and overcome losses and doubts, successful poker players have to learn to keep track of a lot of things. Basic card values need to be known in an instant and at a glance. In-game bets (even with play money) have to be mentally logged. Nuggets of information from past games and hands need to be remembered. And the really good players know poker hand probabilities inside out as well as understanding the math behind different combinations of cards.
Now think about how few of these types of recall we practice in day-to-day life. We no longer need to remember friends’ phone numbers or family addresses, because they’re all recorded in phones. We don’t keep our own schedules, and we rely on note apps for basic reminders. These are all due to the convenience of modern tech, but they don’t help us with recall — which in turn does help us socially. Poker is a rare modern activity that emphasizes detail and memory, and someone trained to rely no recall will often be more naturally sociable. It becomes easier to remember names, keep track of details from past conversations, and so on.
Gaining Personal Confidence
Among the tips you’ll sometimes find for how to build social confidence, in general, is to master yourself first — to “get yourself together” so that you aren’t worried about personal insecurities while interacting with others. Poker won’t automatically help you do this, because of course, it can go poorly at any given time. However, there is something confidence-boosting about having a regular hobby — particularly if it’s one you can improve steadily. Many of us tend to lose self-confidence when we become stagnant; we stop recognizing progress in our own lives, become uncertain of our strengths, and ultimately struggle socially.
Taking on a hobby like a poker, however, gives you something to do, something to improve at, and a way to recognize that you’re still bettering yourself. This will often translate to a boosted sense of self-worth, which is invaluable when you’re looking to build up better social confidence.
By no means is poker the only hobby that can check some of these boxes. But it’s one worth considering, and above all else, it demonstrates how personal activity can impact you on a social level. The right hobby can help you to develop real skills that translate to the social arena, and ultimately give you more confidence interacting with other people.