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A Real Life Brain Hack for Poker Players


My goal with this strategy series is to help you to make more money. I’ve had posts on the mental game in the past, but this one is going to be the most important. We’re going to essentially cover a super-simple form of meditation that is extremely practical and to the point, how to do it, mistakes to avoid and how it will affect your game.

Some people are stuck in a mode of thinking where they believe meditation is some kind of new age mysticism crap. Consider that Business Insider, Psychology Today, Forbes, Harvard Business Review and Scientific American all agree that it’s actually a systematic method that will change the composition and functioning of your brain, and start reading. It’s much more a function of simple biology and psychology than anything else.

How to Practice

The number one thing we need to be able to achieve in the mental realm as a poker player is presence in the moment. This means we need to be focused on what’s going on in the “right now” instead of what happened in the past or might happen in the future. This brings our full concentration and mental power to the task at hand while eliminating the vast majority of the potential sources of tilt. In essence, we need a way to practice focusing on the present moment and returning to that moment when we get distracted by other thoughts. Consider the following method:

  1. Sit somewhere comfortably without laying down.
  2. Take long, slow deep breaths both in and out; breathe from your abdomen.
  3. Focus exclusively on your breath, the feeling of your lungs expanding, the feeling of pushing air down into your abdomen and the control of exhaling slowly.
  4. Count in your head like this: Breathe in, and as you finish breathing out, count one. Long, deep breath in, long exhalation, count two. If you get to ten, start over at one.
  5. If you get distracted by other thoughts and lose count, that’s fine. Don’t try to remember where you were. Just start over at one.
  6. When you realize that you got distracted with other thoughts, and you will, just let that other thought go and come back to focusing on your breathing and your counting.

Exercise: Set a timer (here’s the one I use) for five minutes and try the method above until the timer goes off. Go comment in this thread, and tell me how it made you feel. I want to see if other people are having the same sort of experience as the people I’ve worked with on this personally.

The Components of This Practice

So you’re probably wondering why this works how it does. There are two components to this. The first is a natural response your brain has to changing your breathing pattern to make you a better poker player in the short-term, and the second is actively changing neural pathways to make you a better poker player in the long-term.

A Real Life Brain Hack

When you’re calm and focused, you tend to slow down and have more controlled breathing. You do this so much that your brain has these two things connected together on very strong neural pathways in your brain. Normally you think of using the “calm and focused” mood to trigger the “controlled breathing” behavior. However, because they are linked together so well, you can actually trigger it in reverse order:

Controlling your breathing like what I described above will actually trigger a calm and focused mood.

This is a pretty big deal because it gives you an interface to control your brain’s ability to make you focus like you would use a keyboard and mouse to control your computer. It’s hard to exaggerate how ridiculously important and exciting it is to be able to control your brain like this. It basically means you never have to start a poker session without being incredibly focused ever again.

Returning to the Moment

While we’re going to exploit your ability to trigger a calm and focused mood in the above, we’re going to actually build stronger neural pathways at the same time. The practice of getting distracted from your breathing and then coming back to what you were doing is exceptionally important for making you a better poker player in the long run. This act of returning to the present moment is a simple skill, and you get better at it with practice just like anything else. Once you have enough practice, it will very easily happen on its own. This means you can literally train your brain to disregard distractions immediately. Obviously this would make you much more effective and disciplined in anything you do, especially poker.

More on Interfacing With Your Brain

One of the only involuntary bodily functions that we have that we can voluntarily take over is breathing. This means that any type of mood or bodily response that’s tied into a certain type of breathing can be executed at will. For example, if you want to speed your metabolism, increase your level of emotion/anxiety, then you can start breathing very quickly. This is kind of the opposite for what we discussed above, but it’s the idea of interfacing with your brain that’s so important.

I have two resources to check out for people who are really interested more in this idea of interfacing with your brain. The first is this PsychCentral article about three ways you can use breathing to interface with your brain to elicit three separate sets of responses. The second is a book by Scott Adams (creator of Dilbert) titled How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life. This second suggestion might seem like an unlikely candidate, but it goes more into this idea of interfacing with your brain as a sort of wet, mushy computer more than anything else I’ve ever seen, and it’s a good read for mental preparation overall.

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