One Minute Mental Game Fixes

CroppedImage320180-jared-tendlerOne of the reasons why some people are skeptical of mental game advice is because a lot of so-called self help advice makes preposterous claims to provide instant fixes. There are no magic bullets when it comes to your mental game. Many of the mental habits and flaws in your game took a long time to develop, so expecting to correct them overnight is unrealistic.

Sometimes advice can have an instant benefit, but it’s possible that benefit was just a placebo. Simply putting more focus into addressing a mental game issue can sometimes provide a short term benefit. This is much like a medical placebo where a patient takes a sugar pill thinking that it’s medicine and the sugar pill has the same effect as the actual medicine. Your mental game can improve just because you think the advice you’ve been given is the solution.

This mental trickery unfortunately doesn’t last. After a while the advice loses effectiveness, and eventually stops working. Often this leaves you feeling like you have fallen further behind than you were when you started because you were convinced you had found the solution. Now it feels like the rug was pulled out from underneath you and you’re struggling to know where to turn next.

The advice you’ve been given very likely was good advice, but it must lead to lasting improvement, otherwise it’s just a placebo. If you want to make long term improvement in your mental game—reduce tilt, play in the zone consistently, or improve focus, for example—you need to work at it. There’s no short-cut to improvement in poker and there’s not short-cut in the mental game. Over the past decade I’ve studied performance intensively, provided one-to-one counseling, coached hundreds of professional athletes and poker players, and wrote two books on the mental side of poker. If there was an instant cure I would have found it by now. And believe me you would know about it already if I did!

While long-term improvements can’t happen instantly, there are some changes you can make to your game that will have an immediate and long term effect—as long as you stick to them. These tips alone are not going to be enough to fully master your own mental game. However, they can be a great first step towards building habits that work towards consistent improvement and mastery.

Eliminate External Distractions

Tom-Dwan-TextingWe live in a culture of constant distraction and poker players are particularly prone to them. Whether it is a smartphone, chatting on Skype, watching TV or browsing the internet, it’s becoming incredibly easy to lose concentration.

The reason that’s such a problem is because your brain can only handle a limited amount of information at any one time. Within the brain is a place called “Working Memory.” Whenever you can hear yourself think, or can imagine a picture in you mind, it happens in Working Memory. This space is limited to between five and nine pieces of information at one time—even less if you are excited or on tilt. So purposely inviting more distractions is going to severely limit your ability to perform. Chatting on Skype while you play online might take up two or three pieces of Working Memory. That could be half your full capacity! If you are playing lots of tables at once, your attention is going to be even more limited per table.

One of the most beneficial changes you can make to your game is simply to remove all, or many, of these distractions before you play. Whether you play live or online, make a list of all the typical distractions and commit to removing them. Turn off your phone, shut down skype, tell your friends you won’t be available for the next three hours, turn off the TV, and eat before you play.

Set Strategic Goals

Poker-GoalsIn almost every form of competition athletes have some form of warm up. Whether that is running, performing training drills, going over strategy, or getting fired up. But a well structured warm up doesn’t happen for most poker players. In fact the only warm up some of them get is to turn on their PC or drive to the casino.

In my books The Mental Game of Poker 1 & 2 I’ve highlighted a number of ways you can build an effective warm up routine into your game so you can improve tilt or play in the zone consistently. One of the most simple, and effective ways to warm up is to set a few strategic goals before you play. By this I mean very specific short term goals about how you want to play tactically.

Think of the two or three most costly mistakes you make in your game right now. It could be something like playing too many marginal hands out of position and not being aggressive enough on the turn. Before you start to play, set a clear goal to not play marginal hands out of position and play more aggressively on the turn. You can even write these goals down and on attach it to your monitor or the back of a card protector.

When you set strategic goals like these before you play, you get your mind ready to play by thinking about the correct way to play and that makes these corrections more likely to happen. By having them written down close to hand, you can also easily remind yourself of them when things get more intense and you would normally forget. There may still be times that you make these mistakes, but over the long term you will notice the frequency drop until you’ve trained the correction to the level of instinct, and the mistake never happens again.


imagesJust like poker players rarely have a good warm up routine, in almost equal measure they tend not to have a good cool down process either. A cool down is very important because it allows you to put distance between poker and the rest of your life. If you have ever found your mind racing, getting headaches or you struggled to sleep after a long poker session, it is because you didn’t do a proper cool down.

Just like warming up, there are lots of things you can do during your cool down to put poker to bed for the day, and to also come back stronger the next day. However, if you only do one thing, I suggest you journal. By journal I mean just grab a pen and paper, or open a Word document, and write everything that is swirling around your head. This can be notes about hands you played, evaluating how you performed, it could be an opportunity to vent or just express random thoughts that may not make sense yet.

There is no right or wrong way to journal—just write. If you do not do this, you will be walking around with what I called Bloated Brain, where your mind literally feels bloated, you struggle to retain information and you can even feel fatigued. You will find that when you journal not only do you feel more refreshed after poker, you will rest and learn better over time too.

As I said at the beginning of this article, although you can see immediate and sustainable improvements by consistently doing the above, they are really just a first step. These tips are low hanging fruit that give you easy access to a few simple ways to play better, tilt less, and even play in the zone consistently.