''Adam says'' - Edition 4

Adam Carmichael
Reading time 3-4 minutes
''When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change'' 
                                                                - Wayne Dyer

As a poker player, it can often seem like the world is conspiring against you. The “poker gods”, the poker sites, the players and variance all seem to have a personal vendetta against you.

Your world view becomes very small and you can only see the negatives. In these moments, we often don’t realise how much we are magnifying our problems. Let me share a personal story with you from my youth which shows how this plays out.

It was a blistering cold day in the North East of England, I was completely covered in mud and shaking from head to toe - not from the cold, I was absolutely furious!

I’d just competed for my local running club in a 5000m cross country race, which had a disastrous ending for me. With the finish line in sight, I was well clear in 3rd place and could see my proud parents and coach cheering me on in the crowd.

As I got closer to the finish line I noticed the crowd (my parents in particular) started to really pick up their voices and scream for me to run faster.

I sensed someone was closing me down but felt like I had enough of a gap to be able to hold them off. I sprinted as hard as I could as my legs filled with lactic acid, the gap I had was closing with every stride and I knew this was going to come down to the wire.

I pushed one last time with 10 metres left to go and threw my body over the finish line in a dramatic dive. As I looked up, the realisation kicked in that I’d just been pipped for the bronze medal. Not by just anyone, but by my BROTHER!

I was beside myself with rage, although my brother was older he rarely beat me in cross country races and he’d never beaten me in such a dramatic fashion like this.
Nobody could console me, one of the coaches later commented that he feared I might hit my brother with one of the swedge hammers that was lying in the field - he wasn’t too far off the mark.

On the car journey home, I had to sit next to my brother who didn’t just win a cheap medal, he won a big bronze trophy which he was parading around. As dramatic as it sounds, my life felt like it was over. Absolutely nothing else mattered, I wanted revenge, I wanted to beat him, I wanted to kill him - I was in complete monkey tilt.

I kept replaying the race in my head over and over, wishing I had sprinted a bit faster or built up a bigger lead. I couldn’t let it go. My mum said it was around 3 days before I would speak to anyone again, in my head it was a lot longer.

So you’re probably wondering why I decided to share this story and what the hell it’s got to do with you as a poker player. So let me explain.

The reason losing this race hurt me so much is because I lost my perspective. All my thoughts were focusing on the fact I’d lost, how it wasn’t fair and how he didn’t deserve to beat me (sound a bit like poker?). Even though my friends and family were telling me it was only one race and that I’d “beat him next time”, it did nothing to ease my rage. If anything, it just made it worse.

As a 13 year old kid, I had no idea that the way I was feeling was in my control. I didn’t know that there were techniques that I could’ve used to ease my suffering. I thought my feelings were completely justifiable and the only thing that could possibly make me feel better was to go back in time and beat my brother.

However, I’ve since learnt that there are some very powerful perspective altering exercises that you can use to dramatically change how you feel about any situation. As a poker player, you are going to find yourself in a lot of challenging situations and having the ability to quickly change your perspective when needed is an absolute game changer.

When we are feeling angry or frustrated, we fall victim to thinking our problems are bigger than they are. Next time you have a challenging situation to deal with, try using one of the exercises below.

Exercise #1: Stretching Time (Looking Back From The Future)

This exercise will have you visualising yourself in the future and looking back on your current situation. This will allow you to put your current problems into perspective and see if they are really as big as you think they are.

So think about a situation/event that you are currently struggling with. Now envision yourself 3-5 years in the future, looking back on your current situation. Will you even remember it? On a scale of 1-10 how painful was the situation in the context of the last 5 years? Has it crippled you or did you recover?

What you’ll very often find is that you most likely won’t even remember this situation 5 years from now, let alone be affected by it.

Exercise #2: Zooming Out (Seeing The Bigger Picture)

This one is great to use when you are on a downswing or having a bad patch of results. Instead of zooming in and looking at your short term results (which most players do), practice zooming out and looking at the bigger picture.

If you are currently looking at your week's results, expand that to look at your month graph. Then zoom out even further and see how your results are looking for the year. How are you doing now? Are you still getting crushed or are things looking better when you look at a more meaningful sample?

Exercise #3: Focusing On What You Control

A lot of our problems often come from focusing too much time and energy on things we don’t control. One of the most important lessons I’ve learnt from the ancient Stoics is to break each situation down into variables that are in your control and out of your control.

To do this, get a piece of paper and draw a line down the middle. On the left hand side right down all the things that are not in your control (that you can’t change) and on the right hand side right down all the things that are in your control (that you can change).

What you’ll realise is that a lot of your thoughts and worries are on the things you can’t control (like when I was replaying the lost race in my head). At this point you need to consciously choose to shift your attention to the things you wrote on the other side of the page, which you can actually take action on to change the situation.

Looking back at my angry 13 year old self, I think using a combination of both Exercise #1 to look back from the future (to realise that I had many races ahead of me) and Exercise #3 to focus on what I controlled (i.e training harder and beating my brother next time) would’ve saved me a lot of wasted energy.

Give them a try next time you are facing a challenging situation, you’ll be surprised by how effective they are.

Your mindset and performance coach,

Adam Carmichael
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