The power of the mind and positive thinking is something I’ve been trying to focus on more in recent times and I’ve come to the conclusion that positivity in life is strongly linked with success and happiness.
One of the biggest benefits of being positive/optimistic is happiness. Optimistic people believe that negative events are temporary and manageable in that they can change their actions in the future to alter events and stop the same negative events from occurring again, i.e. learning from their mistakes. On the contrary a negative person believes that nothing is their fault and wishes failure on others to aid their jealousy issues.
Now you may ask what does this have to do with poker? In my opinion positivity is essential to being a successful poker player in the long term. No matter how good you are at this game there are going to be times when things aren’t going smoothly and you are in the middle of one of those dreaded downswings. You really learn the most about a poker player and their character not when they are winning and everything is favorable, but when times are tough and they are unsure where next months rent is coming from.
Personally I had to come through my toughest time in poker within the last year. Prior to the WSOP in 2013 I was forced to get out of backing because I had over extended myself, and made a lot of bad decisions along the way. My poker bankroll had taken a big hit and I had to drop down in stakes and concentrate predominantly on online poker until I was in a better situation. I decided once I did get in a better place I would allow myself the luxury of traveling the live circuit once again.
At first I really struggled with this because I was more focused on how much was up top in any given MTT versus just playing every hand as optimally as I could. Previously I had played poker to have fun and travel the world (enjoying the freedom and meeting new people along the way) and now at this point I was playing to make money and I found that I quickly became overly negative. I noticed myself being jealous of players whom I believed I was better than and wrote them off as just getting lucky when they won certain events. I didn’t like the person that I was becoming and decided that it was serious enough that I would talk to someone about it.
A friend of mine suggested a guy called Stephen Simpson* who is an elite performance coach from the UK and he agreed to have a couple of sessions with me in which we discussed a ton of stuff that I had never told anyone about before. In these sessions we did some basic meditation and breathing exercises and I talked about what I wanted to achieve in life both in and outside of poker. He mentioned that I needed to find ‘the zone’ while playing and if I could do that then good things would happen for me. The key to finding ‘the zone’ was to be solely focused on poker whilst playing but equally important was also to be working on myself as a person outside of poker and to set myself targets consistently. It is worth noting that I went on to win my first ever live major at the WPT just weeks after my final meeting with Stephen.
Creating your own happiness outside of poker will ultimately have a huge effect on your mentality whilst playing. If I’m not happy with myself at a certain point in time (say I’ve not worked out and eaten unhealthily for a period of time) then I will find that one or two losing sessions of poker in a row can start to alter my mindset completely. Whereas if everything in my life is going well outside of poker then I tend to look at poker in a much more objective way in terms of how I played in a particular session rather than my short term results. I’ve come to find that life goals outside of poker really help your game and achievements in poker.
I’ve always been an extremely competitive person, which is key to being a professional poker player, but sometimes it can be a hindrance in this game. At times you can want to win too much which will force you into making mistakes. This happened to me this year at the WSOP. Unfortunately I had some issues with my passport and ended up missing the first 30 events or so. Obviously it was impossible to ignore the WSOP going on because it was all over my twitter and facebook feed.
I ended up watching most of the live streams at home in the UK through the night and when I finally made it to Vegas I felt like I had never been more ready to take home one of those shiny bracelets. Unfortunately this completely backfired because I spent most of the next 3 weeks trying too hard to win the tournament on day 1. I managed just one minimum cash throughout the remainder of the WSOP in the $3k nlh, which lead me to reevaluate what I was doing and helped me learn a very important lesson along the way.
Sometimes you can actually be your own worst enemy at the tables, it is important to not get in your own head while playing poker. I have a great personal example of this recently. I was a big chip leader in the LAPC main event with four people left and felt so close to winning the title that I was already thinking about what to say in the winners interview in between hands! That quickly changed though because I became super complacent, which led to me making a few mistakes in huge hands. On top of this I didn’t allow my mind to let those mistakes go and I even ended up misreading my hand in a key spot.
Fortunately for me I went on break at the right time and remembered the important things Stephen had taught me, and just did a little mental reset. After the break ended and with nothing to lose I was able to make a comeback and show that no matter how bad of a situation you are in at the poker table, never give up.
Lastly, an essential part of being a positive person whilst playing poker is to surround yourself with positive people. Lets face it, no one likes listening to bad beats or hard luck stories and if you constantly find yourself having to deal with these whilst grinding it can only impact you negatively. In a live tournament I would much rather hang out with the person on break who I can’t tell how many chips they have by their mood and demeanor than the person who wants to talk about everything that was unlucky and went badly for them in the past two hours. Try to be the former person not the latter when playing and I promise you that you’ll enjoy the game more and likely see better things happening to you as a result.
* Stephen Simpson’s website: http://www.drstephensimpson.com
His book Push at Open Doors available here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Push-Open-Doors-mindfulness-ebook/dp/B007KIUS1G/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1336055767&sr=1-1