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Skin in the Game

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It is what separates the good players from the great players. It is what helps us master thoughts and emotions. It is the basis of reaching our goals.

And, we can hack it. It takes just five minutes a day according to an article in Psychology Today.

All we have to do is identify three things we are grateful for, practice mindfulness, and act “as if,” and we will be mentally tough.

Somehow it sounds too good to be true.

The truth is, as long as we don’t have to be mentally tough, we won’t be. Why would we be, when we can simply act mentally tough? After all, that sounds like a whole lot less work.

That is just the problem. Mental toughness is work – really hard work.

It is the kind of work we do not opt for. Rather, we do it only because we have no choice. We do it because we have skin in the game.

According to Nassim Nicholas Talleb, the author of Skin in the Game, “There is a difference between a charlatan and genuinely skilled member of society.”

A charlatan may have what sounds like great theories. A genuinely skilled member of society, on the other hand, has tested them.

Interestingly, there is a correlation here too. In his powerful book, Everybody Lies, Seth Davidowitz alludes to the idea that what people post on Facebook is in direct opposition to their reality.

While they may post, “Just be strong and don’t worry what other people think,” they are busy worrying about what is spoken behind their back.

Talleb points to the advice of game theorist Ariel Rubenstein, “Do your theories, don’t tell people in the real world how to apply them.”

It’s a great point. Do your theories. Test your theories. Do not preach what you do not do.

In fact, don’t preach at all. Just do.

Why? Because when you preach you are not responsible, and when you act you are.

That’s skin in the game.

When you commit yourself to something, take responsibility for it – and the tactics you use to attain it – it is your face to lose.

That is also why you don’t act sanctimoniously when your kid runs into the street. You just run after him because he is your kid and you need to protect him. What you think about it will not save your kid. But your actions will.

All the theories in the world would have done nothing for me when my father was murdered and my mother convicted for the crime fourteen months later. There was no acting as if.

There was only acting. There was only going through the motions. There was only trying every day to keep my head above water, stay in graduate school, ignore the negative media circus – that at one point implicated me in the crime – and manage my mother’s affairs.

It was in the actions – the day to day – that I learned everything I know about mental toughness. It was here that my theories – whatever they might’ve been before this event – were tested, adapted, and refined. Sometimes they were discarded altogether.

Had I simply studied mental toughness, I doubt I would have had the same result. Theory will only get you so far. It is the application that matters.

More importantly, had I not been living through an event that called for mental toughness, I would’ve had no real incentive to prove my theories. If they worked that would be nice, but ultimately I would not suffer if they didn’t.

But it was my life. It was my skin in the game. If my theories didn’t apply in real life, it was me who would suffer. Because of this, I had no choice but to find out what works.

But don’t take my word for it. If you want to be mentally tough, get your own skin in the game.

Photo by joiseyshowaa

Skin in the Game

Claire Dorotik-Nana, LMFT

Claire Dorotik-Nana LMFT is a licensed marriage and family therapist specializing in post-traumatic growth, leveraging adversity, and other epic human achievements. Claire has written multiple continuing education courses for Professional Development Resources, Zur Institute, and International Sport Science Association. Claire has also authored multiple books, including:
Leverage: The Science of Turning Setbacks into Springboards and On The Back Of A Horse: Harnessing The Healing Power Of The Human-Equine Bond. For more information about Leveraging Adversity or Claire, visit

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APA Reference
Dorotik-Nana, C. (2019). Skin in the Game. Psych Central. Retrieved on January 18, 2020, from


Last updated: 4 Mar 2019
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