Mindset Hacks: Poker Psychology
From tracking softwares to guidebooks to observation and careful study, improving your graphs in the post-net world is easier than ever before. A hundred years ago if you wanted to improve your EV you had to sneak out the bedroom window, rappel down the house, make your way to the smoky tavern on the fringes of town, the one momma warned you away from, and hope that the roughhousers had their welcoming caps on that particular evening.
In the words of solipsists and to a lesser extent Ayn Rand, it’s all down to the individual. Making efforts to self improve is the first step towards large-scale change. Starting is often the most difficult part, clearing whatever mental hurdles cause you to stumble on the threshold, but your efforts will be in vain if you don’t cater your lessons to the individual, namely you. It’s well and good reading an article about the top ten productivity apps Elon Musk keeps installed on his iphone, but what works for the Space X CEO isn’t necessarily what works for you.
If you’re a ‘feel’ type of player who finds periods of intense concentration taxing, point 2 on this list might assist towards dissuading your budding bad habits. If you’re a regular patient pete, able to sublime without issue, you might find breathing techniques and mindfulness a helpful asset toward your lofty goals. Whichever type of player you are, take a few moments to read through our list and find the technique that brings your game to the next level.
If the Prodigy said it, it must be true. Breathing helps mindfulness. Some will balk at the word, imagining me a hippie new ager clearing encyclopedias off the shelf to make room for another Etsy crystal skull, but the fact is that research shows mindful breathing techniques are excellent tools for silencing white noise in your head.
Breathing isn’t just important for living, although you can’t argue it’s not one of its main selling points, it’s scientifically proven to help with overall calmness and emotional control. Riddle me this, at a table of two with only one staking choice offered, do you toss your lot in with captain calm and his mindful breathing techniques, or with corporal coronary and his pulsing forehead vein?
Poker can be emotional at the best of times. Unfiltered gaiety when you ship a huge pot through your own guile, untapped ire when you’re beaten to the punch and you know it’s your fault. It’s war with cards instead of shotguns, but there’s truth in the old adage that cooler heads prevail, and prevail means winning.
Practice your breathing, listen to your lungs and improve with practice. Don’t be dissuaded when your mind wanders. Recognize you’ve lost concentration and return your focus to the rise and fall of your chest. In time you’ll see results, reaching deep focus with decreasing effort until you’re at the final time breathing cool as a scuba diver. Repetition of the method will alter the very synapses of your brain until you’re veritable felt Buddha.
Rubber Band Technique, or how I learned to stop worrying and break bad habits.
Bruce Lee famously didn’t fear the man who practiced ten thousand kicks, but he who practiced one kick ten thousand times. Whether it be poker, martial arts, gardening or painting, repetition is the first step to becoming a demigod in your own discipline.
Right off the bat, having not tried it myself, I can’t fully advocate for this technique. If you can vouch for its efficacy, please tweet us or let us know in the comments, I’d be very eager to hear from a convert of the Brothers of the Band. GGPoker takes no responsibility for digits lost during conversion therapy.
Using this method, the person seeking to free themselves of unwelcome habits is urged to wind a band around the wrist. Not so tight the hand turns purple and withers like a flower in the fireplace, but enough to know it’s there. Each time your bad habit rears its mug, take the opposite hand, stretch a loop of the band outward and thwack it back into place. Again, not enough that the hand comes clean off Evil Dead II style, just enough to tell your brain something’s going on here. Your brain starts to form new associations, convincing your body the bad habit is the reason for these unseemly bouts of intermittent soreness, until suddenly you wake one day fully cleared of your neuroses.
It’s not graceful, but it is scientific. History and technological advances have proved time and again we’re easily programmed creatures, only this time it’s you hacking your own mainframe, not the evil CEOs at DoomCorps Inc. Although I must admit to some trepidation vouching for a hack that wouldn’t look out of place alongside plague-era flagellants. Looking at you, Agent Van Alden.
Pile on the miracle gro and watch that pink-veined thing shake to life. There’s two major thought schools concerning intelligence. Either the traits you’re born with are permanent, shackling you to the now, or they can be improved upon and reforged to a new purpose. Does life’s opening act resemble the beginnings of an RPG with predestined character statistics or can you respec at any time? Can a fire mage ever cast frost shard? If he believes it and has enough hypdrosophy points, yes.
Scientists and psychologists agree a growth-mindset is more beneficial to an individual. Belief that the very self can be changed through force of will and dogged determination is the cornerstone of wider success. In order to beat the best, you have to believe you are, or are at least able, to become the best yourself, rising to meet and surmount every obstacle. Never forget, we’re all made of the same creamy starmilk as the cosmos. Wittgenstein once said ‘When we understand every single secret of the universe, there will still be left the eternal mystery of the human heart.’ No matter how ominous the portents are, things can always change for the better.
You’re never too old to learn something new. The flesh frails, but the brain remains malleable as wet concrete and eager as a payday shark at the fishguts factory. Why wait until there’s nothing left of your brain but a mass of electric chewing gum. There’s never been a better time than now to read that book you’re avoiding, sign-up for that night course, buy that toolkit and build the shed you’ve always wanted. Before you know it you’ll be easily absorbing new, increasingly complex information, until with some ease and no shortage of surprise you’ll be master of your chosen field.
Embracing the Grind
You won’t get to Carnegie hall without practice. You think Jimi Hendrix spent his teenage weekends being the coolest man alive? Hell no, he sat there plucking away at his guitar from dawn until dusk, and then and only then became awesome incarnate. The road to glory is awash with tears and toil.
Progression requires the adept to learn to love the grind. Big cashes, tournament wins, bankroll explosions, all that stuff is part and parcel of the poker experience, but the true poker is in the closed-door study sessions, the hours of statuesque concentration, entire evenings spent staring at graphs like some mad pennystock seller. DC said it best, you have to embrace the grind.
Daily play is integral to long-term success. Even if it’s just for an hour, repetition is key to the brain hack. Once poker is part of your regular rotation, you’ll start to feel the very essence of the game coursing through your veins like newborn fire each time you take a seat. I find it’s easiest to find that languid, fast-twitch concentration in deep silence. Perhaps you prefer some calming music, a nice pulsing background rhythm to lead the charge, but music without lyrics, possibly some light classical, is best for your concentration. Set your ‘you’ time aside each day, switch the phone to airplane mode and really get to grips with those graphs.
It’s not like flipping a switch, but it assuredly gets easier. In time you’ll be able to switch from airy normalcy to calculated cashing in a blink. As a fidgety man who alternates between deep concentration and childish restlessness, I know from experience how difficult it is to adopt a foreign entity into your sacred daily routine, but with measured practice the brain will adopt and recognize this new force as second nature, giving you that cool, practiced edge that every shark dreams of.
Create your own poker space
Feeding nicely into our previous point, you can’t find your inner card killer without a special lair, built for purpose. You want it cosy but not so cosy you’re dozing off and trancing yourself into a half-slumped state, with a chair hard enough to keep you rigid and a steaming cup of coffee to clear that headhaze. With your amber room decorated, it’s time to christen a poker machine. If you own a mobile phone, a laptop and an underutilized tablet, perhaps consider christening the least-loved device your exclusive-poker machine. Remove everything that pings, buzzes, rings or connects to the distractornado that is the internet, escape to your fortress of solitude and set time aside for study after each session.
Sorry to be the bearer of bad news. If you haven’t been putting in your hours performing daily ayahuasca ceremonies, the hardline new agers might scoff, ‘your pineal gland isn’t up to the task’ but damn the naysayers, maybe there’s something to this quackery after all.
If seeing the word visualisation printed doesn’t get your inner alarm bells violently tintinnabulating, you might consider seeing a shrink; I’ve heard Shutter Island offers a fine service. Visualisation, as Oprah defines it, is codswallop. There’s a million ways to make a million dollars. Sitting at home greedily imagining which of your enemies is first to fall once the cheque clears is not one of them. Laws of attraction, declaring your will, doing as thou wilt with the cosmos in full support, jettisoning your burdens to the infinite hum of the big bang echoing endlessly through the aeons can feel greatly liberating, but do they correlate to a million dollar bankroll down the line? Let’s take a look.
Let’s take visualisation to mean the method by which the mind can be convinced of things that are not yet true, but might be true in the future. You have to start small. Perhaps convince yourself you’re the best hold’em player at a certain limit and with even limited success, your brain will accept these success triggers and the lie slowly becomes the truth. Boom! All of a sudden you ask yourself ‘where’s this newfound confidence and winning smile coming from?’
Perception is reality. If the outward world is a projection of your inner state, the logic rings true for visualisation; what you’re telling your brain is true becomes true. When you’re feeling down in the dumps, often the world shifts to suit your mood, but of course we know the world didn’t change, you did. Vis a vis, when you’re telling the brain things are good, we give ourselves confidence to be great.
The Fortress of the Mind
So there you have it. Six keens tips to up your mental game. Anyone successful in their chosen field will attest to the importance of the mental game, even in the most physical of undertakings. Take fighting for example, the game of inches and micromovements. Although it’s vastly physical, the greatest, fighters who sublime past their own sport into the minds of the mindstream, swear an iron mind beats an iron chin. If you’re content in yourself, in your abilities and decision making, nobody else can throw you off-kilter.
You wouldn’t dare attending a melee without your best breastplate. You wouldn’t ski without your helmet on. Why attend the poker battlegrounds with anything less than your best foot forward? Armour the mind, be the best you can be and the money will roll right in, more generous with every clink.
There you have it. Anything we missed? Perhaps you’re a Roganite and swear by sensory deprivation tanks, let us know how they’ve helped your poker game.
Until the next time,
Mike at GGPoker