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Inspiring Success on the Road to Recovery

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Illusion of Control

The majority of gamblers who tell their story to a group, truly believe that they accumulate experience and learn from their errors when gambling. In truth, this feeling of personal efficacy is a considerable handicap and any gambler who believes their actions influence their chances of winning are victims. They maintain the illusion they will beat the industry by defying the negative winning expectancy and recuperating their financial losses. Those gamblers have illusions of control or mirages of the mind which reinforce their motivation to continue playing.

Winning the Jackpot: An Enigma
In pursuing this objective, they integrate elements of logic, superstition, observation, or calculation. Compulsive gamblers quickly develop personal strategies, adopt ritualized behavior, imagine risks, or create systems in order to increase their chances of winning. Gamblers who believe in the use of strategies only maintain, in fact, illusory thoughts since there is nothing that will allow them to overcome the obstacle of independence of turns. Since strategy or mastery of a game has no relationship with chance, these kinds of activities reflect and “illusion of control.” Memorizing Blackjack cards, studying statistics concerning the Roulette marble, or choosing anniversary dates for lottery are examples of behaviors whose purpose is to foresee the unpredictable.

As gambling activities are not games of skill, no mental or physical skills are necessary when it comes to betting. However, the majority of gamblers are convinced it is possible for them to acquire some form of mastery in order to solve the enigma posed by these games. Each gambler develops personal strategies and those who can win are thought of as masters. Games of chance are falsely transformed into games of skill and gamblers are more deceived about the nature of the gambling activity. It is obvious chance occasionally favors gamblers; but, regardless of the strategies used, the wins they pocket are based on nothing but chance.

Gaming sessions are rich in coincidences reinforcing the idea of mastery in gamblers’ minds. Pure coincidences between behaviors and prizes won — eventually convince them certain chance events are not chance. The more they play, the more they adopt the false sense of belief their behavior has a real impact on the winning pots. It is a double edged sword: reward with a sense of personal pride winning and profound shame when losing. Curiously, repeated disappointments do not manage to destroy their illusions of mastery. In fact, they accentuate them.

Financially, when it comes time to bet, gamblers only need the financial capacity to risk capital and lose it over time. However, the cognitive universe of the gambler is much more complex than the apparently banal game lets on. In fact, there most certainly exists as many illusions of control as there are individuals who gamble.

Rarely do gamblers object to the idea of illusion of control and many even understand it easily. But, when they leave a therapist’s office or the therapy room, and they remember the experiences of past games, dissonance (lack of harmony) resonates through them. Happily, the therapist will have strategically warned them that this dissonance might happen and it is merely a sign of change.
Along the same lines, all gamblers’ objections are important, in that they allow for the discovery of other illusory thoughts. As long as gamblers speak of the game strategies and mastery, they are demonstrating they do not understand the implications of independence of turns. For this reason, it is important to frequently review this principle.

In order to free themselves from their destructive passion for gambling, gamblers must not only combat their own illusions, but also those suggested to them. Since the gambling market is extremely profitable, the industry benefits by taking advantage of gamblers’ illusions. Studies reveal the more gamblers actively participate in a gambling game, the more they fall prey to illusions of control. The majority of games found on the market are conceived and fabricated in such a way that gamblers confuse them with games of skill. It is not surprising that current games of chance offer an abundance of choices.
Illusions of control, which appear to be a natural reflex for gamblers, are generally reinforced by a game’s appearance. These illusions of mastery over the game are taken advantage of and exploited in certain non-scientific books that address methods of winning at gambling games. These books only spread false ideas by encouraging gamblers to count on their skills. Even if illusions of control sometimes appear to be of a knowledgeable character, they are often based on ludicrous suggestions or magical perceptions. Superstitions count among these disconcerting ideas that give gamblers the impression that they are increasing their power over the game.

Here are a few examples I have heard from clients:
“The 21st is a lucky day since it’s composed of the number 7 three times.”
“I often win right after having eaten a sandwich. True, it sounds bizarre, but it works.”
“When I don’t try to win, I win. My desire to win makes me lose. I must learn to play for pleasure.”
“I gamble with my deceased father’s watch. It guides me.”

Is it possible that gamblers confound real life with games of chance? Is it possible they wrongly believe their intuition could be used to their advantage in games whose long-term results are determined beforehand? In this way, gamblers are induced to understand they are committing an error and are not stupid to have superstitious thoughts. Thus, they find themselves free to maintain this belief in other realms of their life and their thought structure is saved. After all, who are we to pretend there are no situations in which intuitive thoughts pay dividends?