Staying Sober

May 4, 2010 — 7 Comments

“When I walk into a casino there is a soundtrack in my mind. I am hearing all those cool Rat Pack, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis songs and…it just feels like everything’s swinging, everything’s hip and it’s all gonna go my way. Ring-a-ding-ding. Cha-Ching. You know?” Gabe, Gambling Addict. Intervention.

Gabe gambles four days a week, up to 12 hours a day. He has lost over $500,000 in the last six years. His addiction is fed by the soundtrack delusion—in fact, he’s crippled by it. It’s the song the starts slow and melodic and rises up into the Second Act. The worse things get, the more he needs it—the more it divorces him from the reality and the awfulness of his situation.

He’s a nice example because of the contrast. The casino is a shitty Indian casino two hours outside Los Angeles. He’ll never be in the Rat Pack and it’s objectively not going his way. But the truth is that the fallacy is much more insidious. And we’re all addicted to it.

The best way to stay sober: practice your contemptuous expressions.

Ryan Holiday

I'm a strategist for bestselling authors and billion dollar brands like American Apparel, Tucker Max and Robert Greene. My work has been used as case studies by Twitter, YouTube and Google and has been written about in AdAge, the New York Times, Gawker and Fast Company.

7 responses to Staying Sober

  1. How long have you been sober?

  2. Have you ever seen The Gambler? It’s a really sad movie.

    When I had a sales team spiff trip in a little Wisconsin resort town, my mom happened to be at this casino there because she was playing penny slots and staying the weekend with her friends (much to the amusement of my coworkers who were like WTF is your mom doing here at the ho chunk casino hours from home?).

    mu mom told me to call her when i got to the casino, but her cell wasn’t working so i paged her. one of her friends ran over and said she’s on a lucky slot machine and can’t get up to go meet me in the lobby b/c she’s on a roll on “her machine.” watching people just sit and stare at slot machine screens is one of the most depressing things ever. casinos make me sick, just watching people wandering around with glazed looks or sitting there for hours. i wonder what soundtrack is going through their heads. these are not the blackjack table people and high rollers but the lottery scratch off ticket buyers, penny slot players.

    what was even more upsetting was that most of my colleagues were hanging back at the resort or the pool, and there was a bus that was taking people who wanted to go to the casino out for the evening activity. i took the bus b/c she said she really wanted to see me, but watching a person play a slot machine is not fun. sorry, this has no point… once again i am hijacking your comment and didn’t mean to make it about me. i had one of the shittiest nights ever and just glad you posted something.

  3. So…what you’re saying is you’ve gotten to the point of blog-laziness where you just connect dots between previous posts/’theories’ and that’s it? Nice.

  4. I liked it. I think there’s a lot of value in turning over the same ideas from a different perspective. “People need to be reminded more often than they need to be instructed.”

  5. True, by being reminded it is in a way instructing a person too b/c you can learn from past behaviors.

    History repeats itself, as do patterns. Fallacies and delusions are like little soap operas in a person’s head. By breaking a story or parting with it, a person is also bidding goodbye to a dream or dream version of their life. That is probably why people stay trapped in their patterns; its easier than the alternative of starting over again.

    Ever break up with somebody or stop being a certain role like girlfriend or wife and then think, who am i now? Or lose a job and think, what am i now? Or realize your shitty band or novel isn’t ever going to get picked up and think, okay, what next? In my older years I’ve come to realize that being a parent is perhaps the only role where it can actually stick and have some significance over a long period of time. It’s also why I’ve avoided that role too.

  6. “Objectively” there is no story, so your “objective” critism of the story is irrelevant. At least if your “fallacies” are true.

    You are falling into the trap most scientists do. Your theories include nothing but the broken. IE studying multiple damaged brains does let you know a lot about how the parts work, but it will never show you exactly what happens in an undamaged whole.

    Have Green and Max never been driven by their own story, their own ideas about the meaning of their lives? The fact that you need to stop and evaluate objectively does not mean you need to rid yourself of the story.

    Take some examples we both know well, like Alexander the Great and Lady Gaga. Do you think knowing their purpose early on in life hindered instead of helped them?

    The narrative “fallacy” is extremely important to individual success. A sense of purpose not only helps us weather the bad times so that we can carry on and do what is necessary, but it lets us know what fights are worth fighting.

    Obviously some people use this incorrectly and instead of weathering difficulties they weather all the indicators that they should stop.

    To quote System of a Down:

    “Science fails to recognise the single most

    potent element of human existence

    letting the reigns go to the unfolding

    is faith, faith, faith, faith”

  7. re: Matt– wow, I like that quote

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