Here is an article I wrote about Mindfulness and Betting Decisions. So any question about Poker and Mindfulness; This is the place to ask. :)

Mindfulness & Betting Decisions.

When it comes to improving on your betting decisions, mindfulness is the nuts.

This is because we don’t get as affected by pressure, we are able to spot tilt quicker, and we are less likely to unconsciously react to negative emotional and psychological triggers at the tables. We are able to become much more present and “in the now”.

But let’s start with looking at what we are trying to do (or rather, not do) when we are practicing mindfulness and meditation. We are trying to just “be” in the present moment, just letting things be the way they are; accepting and giving whatever is there or comes up in the form of thoughts or emotions the space they need. All we want to do is observe or try to be a witness to what comes up and not let them steal our full attention. We try to not resist them regardless if we define them as right or wrong, good or bad. That is not important right now. When we do this we have our awareness in the present moment.

The way it feels to be in the present moment is a peculiar feeling of harmony and stillness while still being alert and attentive. As soon as we notice it and start using our mind to analyze and figure out what it is, we quickly lose it. It is a moment without or with very little thought. When we are in the present moment in mindfulness, the awareness of thought and emotion is easier because the other sensory inputs we have in our daily routines are lower than usual. We try to focus our attention inwards on the inner body, and the space we are focusing on does not have sounds or smell. It also has very little visual input and touch, which leaves a lot of space and attention. We can use this “quiet” moment to observe the subtle, fleeting, and form-shifting state of our thoughts and emotions. We try to observe and witness, not judge or evaluate.

If we, during the mindfulness for example, focus the attention on the breath, and we constantly find that our mind wanders off with a thought, emotion, or concern, we haven’t made a mistake. This is what the mind and emotions do, we try to just gently notice it and kindly let them go and bring our attention back to our breath. Our thoughts might even be relative and need attention sometime in the future, or they might not, but this is not the time for that. This is when we practice letting go, as well as awareness and focusing on what we want to focus on. We let the thought and emotions go so that we can feel the stillness and harmony in this present moment. This can be quite frustrating, at least in the beginning, when we start to notice how little control we actually have over our mind. It can often feel like thinking is not a choice but something that just happens by itself. We want to be in full control of what our mind is thinking about. How many unnecessary and negative thoughts are you wasting time on every day?

Is it starting to sound familiar?

I certainly do that a lot, but I’m improving every day. I catch myself more and more, often lost in random thoughts about this or that, and then I bring myself back to the present moment. I feel that the quality of everything I do when I’m able to be in this state of presence is highly increased and almost effortless. Try to look at it like we are giving our mind and our emotions some well-deserved rest. They sure could use it from us constantly analyzing, comparing, judging, and being emotional. And I’m not talking about the important decisions, real issues or interactions with people we care for. I’m talking about all the unnecessary things we waste so much time on in our own heads, problems we create ourselves, the mind-noise that we really don’t have any use for and that takes time and focus away from issues that actually need it when they come up.

The mind is like a processor, a processor that in many of us is overworked and overheated. If left unattended it will analyze, compare, and judge every single program that pops up on the screen. Programs in the forms of people, situations, old baggage, and worries about the future. This means that if we don’t look after it, it will work itself so hard that it literally takes up every single part of our present moment, like a filter or a pair of sunglasses that blocks off our vision and therefor our experience of the world.

Ask yourself this: Out of every single day, how much time do you spend thinking, worrying, or feeling negatively about things that aren’t in proportion to the time you actually spend thinking about them? And you soon realize, as you catch yourself thinking about them, that they aren’t important at all. Imagine that you could practice both the ability of awareness to catch yourself sooner and to be able to instantly let that go and return to the present moment. In essence, the goal is to be in control of your mind so that you can focus it solely on the things you feel are important after having observed it. Enter meditation and mindfulness.

Practice being the observer or witness of those thoughts and emotions, stay with them, feel them and give them space so you intimately get to know them. With understanding comes acceptance. Then, when we feel that we have given them enough attention, we gently let them go. We are not trying to be a mindless emotionless person, but rather the opposite of that: Always fully present, alert, and in a feeling of relaxed harmonic control. We try to not instantly react to emotional turmoil or negative thoughts. Our mind is something that we want to use as a tool to solve the issues and obstacles of our choosing, not something the mind choses for us. Then it’s just mind-noise that takes our focus away from being fully aware of and appreciate the present moment. We want to be in the present! Our mind and emotions jump between the past and the future because it has nothing to solve, think about, or feel negatively about in the present moment. Sometimes it has validity, but even then it is mostly out of proportion. So we need to bring our focus back to the present moment, which can be difficult even in the calm state of meditation. When we sit at the tables, being able to hold a higher degree of awareness and presence makes us less susceptible to tilt. Let’s jump straight to a poker betting decision to see this in action.

Imagine you are on the river, (you can make the specific situation up as you like) one that you usually struggle with. When this situation comes up, there are some things that need to be considered, such as opponents, hand ranges, HUD stats and pot size, for example. This is individual for every player, so you need to look at what the best process for reaching a good decision is for you. But lets say you’re in a big pot and something happens that you hadn’t anticipated and you are not sure what the right decision is. But in this situation other things might show up; for example, thinking about results, fear of making the wrong decision, instantly reacting without thought, or your mind going blank. These thoughts and emotions are something we don’t need whatsoever for the decision-making process. It only wastes time in our time bank and clutters our minds with useless mental noise that steals our focus away from our decision making. Being able to become aware enough to catch this happening in real time is the first step towards actually being able to do something about it. We can have the best understanding of the theory of tilt and a strategy to back it up in real time, but that wont help us one bit if we aren’t able to spot tilt before it creeps up and blindsides us. If we can’t control tilt at all or only to a small extent, then we need to catch it before it gets too big. Awareness is always our scout for incoming tilt. We can spot it in swearing, punching the desk, playing our C-game, etc, but only if we are actively practicing being aware in the first place. The poker table is a great arena to practice awareness against a strong opponent, which ultimately is the game of you, your thoughts and your emotions.

I can give many other examples of areas where practicing mindfulness and meditation will directly or indirectly help tremendously:

Letting go of bad sessions

Hesitation to grind

Fear of failure

Revenge tilt

Chasing losses & protecting wins

Megamonkey tilt

Countless others

The only really interesting thing in this list is what resonates with you! You know yourself better than anyone! Take the time you need to just “be” with yourself, to look into and start the process of digging out these issues once and for all. Mindfulness and meditation costs you nothing but a few minutes a day. The worst-case scenario is that you lose a little time. But if it you put in the the time and make it work for you, then it will be one of the most valuable tools you will ever acquire and you will always have with you for the rest of your life. And we haven’t even gone very deep into the benefits you get outside of poker. Being a generally happier, calmer and nice person while also bringing less drama and negative emotions are just a few of the benefits you will reap from daily mindfulness and meditation. You will have a hard time finding better poker and life implied odds anywhere else!

Oh, and did I mention it’s free?

erik.stenqvist on Skype