When you experience a large or unexpected loss while betting on sports, how do you typically react? Do you get angry or even enraged? Do you try to “win it all back”? Do you go on tilt?
A lot of us respond to losing bets in ways that cause us to lose even more money. While there are a number of psychological factors that can contribute to these cycles, one of them is getting attached to our losses. We dwell on what happened in the past instead of living in the now.
In this post, I am going to describe an alternative option: cutting your losses. The concept of cutting our losses is one most of us are familiar with, but it is also a psychological skill many of us simply do not learn. But as we will discuss, learning how to let go of what happened in the past can empower you to create a more profitable future.
Types of Losses in Sports Betting
Before I explain what it means to cut your losses and how you can do it, we need to delve into why it matters.
Let’s start by exploring the different types of losses you can sustain in sports betting and the unprofitable ways in which you might be responding to them now.
- Individual Lost Bets
The most obvious type of loss in sports betting is a lost bet. Losing any bet is never fun, but it can be especially painful if it was a bet you felt really certain was going to be a winner. The more you have invested financially or emotionally, the harder it can be to handle the loss.
- Losing Streaks
Sometimes you might sustain a number of losses in a short time. They might even all be in a row. Losing streaks are especially difficult to deal with. While they are ongoing, they can leave you feeling “stuck.” And even after they are over, they can leave a long shadow behind them emotionally and financially.
If you lose a bet that you only took on paper, at least the lost bet itself is all you have to wrestle with. But if you wagered real money, then you have the pain of the financial loss to cope with. Hopefully you were following a responsible money management plan, and your individual losses are small. But every little bit that eats into your account can still be frustrating.
And if you made the mistake of putting a large percentage of your account on a single bet, then you might really be looking at some painful drawdown.
Every dollar you lose is one you need to win back before you can start profiting again. A losing streak that wipes out a large chunk of your account may also be setting you back days, weeks, or even months in terms of progress toward your goals. That is all time you will not get back.
- Potential Gains
Sometimes what really drives us crazy is not the money we lose, but the profit we failed to gain.
If you really believed in a particular bet that you ended up losing, you might still keep visualizing the alternate universe where it was a winner. You may find yourself obsessing with that imaginary world, forgetting that perhaps in no universe would you ever have won that bet.
- Being Right
One of the less obvious losses we can sustain while betting is the feeling of being “right.”
Again, let’s say you were so sure that a bet is going to win. Maybe you even tell your friends, who end up disagreeing and betting in the other direction. You are eager to laugh in their faces when they all lose and you are proven right—and then you end up being the one who is wrong after all.
This experience can be infuriating. But in some cases, it can be destabilizing. Some bettors may panic when they discover that their strategies are more fallible than they realized, or that their instincts were wrong. It leaves them feeling vulnerable and unsure of themselves.
- Confidence and Perceived Dignity
That brings us to one of the most insidious types of losses you can experience as a bettor: the loss of how you perceived yourself.
Actually, in some ways, this is not always a bad thing. It is good to be aware that you are fallible. Knowing you can make mistakes helps you avoid them when possible, and mitigate your risk overall.
But some bettors may struggle with their self-esteem after a loss. They may feel like they have lost their dignity, and everyone is laughing at them (you might be especially prone to this feeling if you would have laughed at someone else who lost a bet).
You might find your confidence has waned following a bad loss or a losing streak. You could end up worrying that you are only capable of winning through luck, and that there is no way for you to succeed in the future.
Unhealthy Ways to Respond to Loss
We’ve talked about the types of losses you can experience as you bet: the wagers themselves, time and money, and emotional losses too. Now let’s talk about some of the unhealthy ways that bettors sometimes deal with their losses.
Note that this is not a comprehensive list of all the unhealthy ways that bettors deal with loss, just those that are related in some way to not accepting what happened and cutting one’s losses.
One common reaction to loss while betting (or any kind of loss, really) is denial. Obviously most people are not going to literally deny the loss in their account (i.e. “That did not happen”), but there are some forms that denial can take:
Someone might become convinced that the loss they sustained was somehow the fault of the sportsbook, that perhaps there was an error, or that they were cheated in some way, that the match was fixed, the odds were manipulated, or so forth.
A bettor on a losing streak may have something wrong with their strategies, especially if the streak has exceeded what was typical during testing. But they might continue to cling stubbornly to how they are betting, insisting that it is just a temporary hiccup.
Going on tilt arguably is sometimes symptomatic of denial. A person trying to “win it all back” may simply not be admitting to themselves that it’s over. The money is gone, and it is time to stop for the day. But they are convinced that it is still within reach, if they just keep trying.
Denial is the opposite of acceptance which is something we will discuss more later in this post.
- Rage or Panic
Sometimes bettors who fail to accept and cut their losses experience extreme emotional dysregulation. They may fly into a rage or start panicking about the future, their capabilities, etc.
Even if you do accept and cut your losses, you can still experience extreme emotions, but if you are stuck on the past, you are likely to act a bit like a record that keeps repeating. It becomes harder to move on from those painful emotions.
Plus, let’s say you are experiencing denial. You refuse to accept that what’s done is done. You are trying to exert a kind of extreme form of control over reality itself, to force a different outcome. But reality keeps fighting back. Of course that is going to result in feelings of rage, panic or desperation. This is very much the state of mind of a bettor on tilt.
- The Pursuit of Revenge
Sports bettors sometimes feel a need to direct their rage somewhere when they lose. They might direct it at the sportsbook, a team, a player, a referee, or even just the activity of betting itself. Regardless, they want some kind of payback.
A lot of us feel that the best revenge is victory. That is not a bad sentiment, but if we let our emotions drive us to bet irresponsibly in the wake of a loss in the pursuit of that revenge, we just end up with more losses.
- Chasing Losses
We often try to “fix” the past. We believe that they can hit “undo” on it. It might not literally be possible to go back in time, but we try to do the next closest thing. We attempt to “win it all back.” This is referred to as “chasing losses.”
Say you lost $100 on a bet. While you may be upset that you are not likely to finish the day ahead, you might convince yourself you can be okay if you can just get that $100 back. You just cannot seem to let it go.
Like attempts at revenge, efforts to chase losses are typically ill-fated. We compromise our better judgment in our desperation to get what we think we need to end that desperation. We lose more and more money, and our despair gets worse and worse. We tilt like this until our bankrolls are depleted.
At the end, we find that we did not manage to undo the past at all, we just made sure our future followed suit.
What Does It Mean to “Cut Your Losses?”
All of the unhealthy behaviors above have something in common: they result in part from being overly attached to losses.
When people talk about “cutting their losses,” they can be speaking either about what you are doing outwardly, or what you are doing internally.
If we were just using the outward definition, we would say that cutting your losses is physically stopping doing an activity that is costing you.
But for this post, we are talking about cutting your losses psychologically and emotionally.
You do not have to stop betting to cut your losses, at least not altogether. If your current strategies are not working, yes, you should take a break and troubleshoot. That is one way to cut your losses.
But we are discussing how you respond to your losses. Cutting your losses in this context means having the emotional strength to move on from them.
It means drawing a dividing line in your mind between past and present. Imagine that your losses are like anchors, weighing you down, and you are figuratively “cutting” the ropes that bind you to them. You let that weight go, you stop trying to get back what you lost, and you are free to move forward unencumbered.
What Cutting Your Losses Does Not Mean
We have explained what it means to cut your losses. But it is worth taking a moment to point out what it doesn’t mean.
Cutting your losses does not mean that you become indifferent to them. You are letting go of what you have lost, but you are not declaring it okay to keep losing in the future. Moreover, you are not forgetting about what happened. In fact, you still should take the time you need to understand how and why you lost so that you can learn from the event and avoid repeating the same mistakes in the future.
Benefits of Cutting Your Losses in Sports Betting
Now you understand what it means to “cut your losses” as you bet. Here are some of the benefits you can look forward to if you learn this skill.
- You Accept the Reality of What Has Happened Fully
You have probably heard that acceptance is one of the stages of grief. A lot of people misunderstand what is meant by “acceptance.”
Accepting a loss does not mean saying that loss is “okay.” You are allowed to be upset about it. If you feel the loss was unfair, that is also just fine. You can continue to feel that way.
Accepting a loss just means admitting it actually happened. It means acknowledging that it is a fact, that the damage is done, and that there is no way to go back in time.
When we cut our losses, we look back on what has happened and we acknowledge that we are not going to get back what we lost, at least not in a literal sense.
We can win money in the future that eventually will compensate for what we lost, but we will never be able to “undo” the past loss and get back the particular money we lost.
The time we lost is lost forever, though the lessons we learned from it can help us make the most of the time ahead of us.
As for lost confidence, we may never feel exactly like we did before the loss. But we can build a different, more resilient type of confidence. Instead of believing we are invincible, we instead will learn that we are capable of surviving losses, learning lessons, and applying those lessons for future profits.
This whole process gets us out of the denial mindset that feeds into tilting and other dangerous behaviors. We live fully in the present reality, which empowers us in that reality.
- You Give Yourself a Chance to Truly Process Your Emotions About the Loss
Once we move past denial, we are able to really feel our feelings about our loss. This can help with emotional regulation.
That might sound contradictory, but let’s talk about tilting for a moment and the desire for control.
Bettors who go on tilt are emotionally dysregulated, but they are trying their best to find a way to stop feeling their unpleasant emotions. They want the anger, the fear and the frustration to stop, and they want it to happen now. They believe that tilting is the way to do it, that if they can “win it all back,” they will erase the loss and the emotions about it will thus be able to go away too.
We already explained how that can horribly backfire, resulting in even more painful emotions and financial losses.
But let’s say instead of doing all that, you let yourself acknowledge that the money is gone. The past is done. You may eventually make more money, but you will not “fix” this moment.
Realizing this may make you feel angry or scared, but just as you accept that the loss happened, you will accept that those emotions are the natural, normal consequence of that kind of loss. Instead of taking bad bets to try and make the emotions stop, you will just sit with them for a while.
- You Shift Your Focus From the Past to the Future
Imagine for a moment that your life is a book, and the pages describe different moments. If you refuse to let go of a loss, you are clinging to the page you are on. If you are stuck to that page, you will not be able to turn to the next page.
Cutting your losses is the act that allows you to release the current page and turn to the next one, moving into the future.
- You Are Less Likely to Chase Your Losses or Waste Time and Money On Revenge
Bettors who are unwilling to cut their losses find themselves driven by those losses. Their actions are all in service to their feelings about the past, instead of being based on what is taking place right now, or what is possible in the future.
By cutting your losses, you are no longer allowing your attachment to the past drive your actions. The urge to chase losses or get “revenge” will decrease, sometimes dramatically. The chances that you will go on tilt reduce as a result. You can preserve your remaining bankroll for more profitable activities.
- You Free Yourself Up For Fresh Opportunities
You cannot control the past, it is behind you. By accepting that and letting go, you focus on what you can control, the actions you take today.
If there are real opportunities to take that will help you increase your bottom line, then you will be able to take them. The distractions will be out of your way. Instead of trying to figure out how you can “win it all back” as quickly as possible, you might instead pursue more useful questions like, “How can I improve my betting strategies?”
- You Practice a Psychological Skill That Will Serve You Well in Other Parts of Your Life
Finally, in many ways, betting on sports is a mirror to living life. Like sports betting, life is filled with uncertainties. Some days you win, other days you lose. And you need to be able to cope effectively with that so you can press onwards.
To give a simple example, let’s say you had a traumatic childhood. Your parents were emotionally unavailable as caregivers, and left you with psychological wounds you are desperate to heal.
Instead of cutting those losses, you have persisted in a kind of denial, believing you can “undo” or “fix” that past by repeating similar scenarios as an adult. So, you keep getting into relationships with emotionally unavailable people, hoping each time you will get it “right,” and those people will treat you better than your parents.
That is the equivalent of chasing your losses. But if you instead acknowledge that you will never get what you really wanted which was a childhood with emotionally available, supportive parents, you can finally cut that loss, stop chasing it, and start getting into relationships that are truly rewarding.
It is easy to picture a scenario where a sports bettor with that kind of life situation might finally make the connection after learning how to cut their losses in betting. Such a realization could be a life-changing one.
How to Cut Your Losses
Even once you understand the benefits of cutting your losses, that does not mean you know how to do it. Many people know clear well that they should do it, but never manage it. Here are a few tips and steps to make it easier.
- Accept the Reality of What Has Happened
The first thing you need to do to cut your losses is to accept that you lost. Remind yourself that the past is immutable, it is over, and what is done is done. Nothing you can do today or tomorrow will change it.
You may not feel okay about your losses when you acknowledge them fully. Let yourself accept that too. Sometimes you just are going to feel bad.
- Take Responsibility For Your Role (If Any) In Your Losses
Sometimes we lose just because of sheer bad luck. But often, we play a role. Maybe we used underperforming strategies, or we mismanaged our money, or we let emotions steer us. It can be unpleasant to acknowledge we made a mistake, but until you do so, you will keep repeating the past.
- Let Go of False Hopes
You know the story of Pandora’s Box, where after the box is opened, all the evil is released from the box into the world, but hope also comes out of the box?
Many people interpret hope emerging from the box as a kind of silver lining, like, “bad things will happen, but at least we will have hope.” But there is another way to interpret this myth, which is that sometimes hope is the greatest evil of them all, because if it is false hope, it keeps us stuck right where we are, putting up with or even maintaining the other evils.
Imagine you have been using a particular betting strategy for some months now. It sometimes delivers good results, but never with nearly the consistency you need to be profitable.
But you just refuse to give up on your system. You keep on hoping that the strategy will produce profitable results in your account, given enough time and bets. Or you think that if you could tweak the strategy in just the right way, it will finally start working.
But perhaps these are false hopes. The strategy is simply never going to make you profitable. And as you keep struggling with it, better opportunities are passing you by.
Cutting your losses means letting go of your false hopes, mourning your losses to this point (including the loss of a strategy you believed in), and moving on to try new betting approaches.
- Figure Out What is Keeping You Attached to Your Losses
It might sound weird, but sometimes we get attached to our losses and failures, making it hard for us to let go and move forward. This can be a result of our underlying traits or beliefs.
Maybe you have a strong unconscious belief that failure is unacceptable. This belief keeps you emotionally hung up on your losses. All you can do is try and imagine ways you can “fix” the situation, despite not being able to go back in time. Sometimes this might take the form of what we described in the previous section, refusing to let go of a strategy that is failing to try a different one.
Try and relax beliefs like these that stop you from making progress. Remind yourself that failure is acceptable, and that it happens to everyone, and that it simply is a step on the road to success. You can modify other beliefs as well to make them more conducive to profitable betting.
- Get Used to Uncomfortable Emotions
Moving forward after losses requires you to confront and process some unpleasant emotions (see below).
If you are unwilling to process those emotions, you will take steps to suppress them. Often, those are the types of actions that keep you running in place.
- Mourn What You Lost
It might sound odd to talk about mourning in the context of sports betting losses, but it is appropriate.
Mourning is not just about being sad or regretful, it is about feeling those emotions specifically about loss.
In fact, allowing yourself to grieve the loss of a strategy you thought would be effective or a string of bets that ended with drawdown is part of what helps you acknowledge and accept the reality of what has happened.
So, let yourself feel whatever you do about the situation. When you know you are moving on, your feelings of frustration, loss, anger or anxiety may increase for a time. That just means you are processing the losses and getting ready to release them.
- Think About What You’ll Preserve or Grow By Cutting Your Losses
Sometimes when we get stuck on our losses, we lose perspective on everything else. Taking a simple scenario, say you just suffered a bad losing streak. If you keep focusing on that, you may be more tempted to go on tilt. But if you cut those losses and call it a day, then you can preserve what is left in your bankroll.
In a situation where you are needing to let go of a failing betting strategy, think what you could gain by doing so. You will finally break free of false hope and have the time and energy to put into finding strategies that will actually produce wins.
- Focus on What You Can Achieve Tomorrow
Have you ever thought something like, “But I put months of work into this strategy. I can’t give up now?” Yet deep down, you knew that you should let it go?
If so, you have fallen victim to the sunk cost fallacy. When we experience this cognitive bias, we have a difficult time moving away from our investments, even when all evidence tells us that further investment will be unprofitable.
The months you put into your strategy may feel like a really long time and a ton of work. But if you keep pouring everything down that black hole, you will look back months from now and think, “Why didn’t I cut my losses months ago? Now I’m really sunk in.” Ironically, you may then find it even more difficult to move on.
Wherever you are at right now, try and empathize with your future self. How is that person going to feel if you take even more of their time and put it toward an unprofitable strategy? How much better would they feel if instead, you give them the chance to build something much better?
We all lose time we can never get back on our mistakes. All you can do is focus on the best possible way to use the time you have tomorrow.
Sometimes, Cutting Your Losses is the First Step to Getting Back on Track
When we suffer a loss while betting on sports, it can be difficult sometimes to let go. But if you can cut your losses and start looking toward the future, you will have an easier time regulating your emotions, learning from what happened, and making the most of future opportunities for profit.
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