Thoughts on Returning to Poker: Life's Tilting, Life's Emotional Healing

December 12th, 2014

While getting ready to resume poker, I am studying blogs and videos from our amazing trainers and very talented PSO members and am continually drawn to the concept of tilting. (Trust me, such also speaks to my ongoing recovery.) A few months ago, I read the following from our outstanding PSO team member, Chris 'Fadyen':

"Hey folks! As I sit here typing, I must admit to you all that for the first time in some months, I am on tilt. Serious, raging, keyboard smashing tilt! A vast contrast to how the month began, so full of hope, optimism and joy...This led me to do something I normally never do, play at the weekend. For some reason, still unknown to me, weekends don't agree with me. I always figure it's in my head but yet again, the last weekend of the month just about destroyed me."

I remember when one bad hand devastated me. For me, tilting had much to do with my sense of perfectionism.  Reading  Jared Tendler's and Barry Carter's  'Mental Game of Poker' definitely helped me analyze the problem and I highly recommend both books and be sure to take advantage of the 'Ask Jared Tendler' thread in the forum. Having been sucessful at bridge, medical school, as a psychiatrist and such, I could not tolerate imperfection which inevitably led to tilting as poker is inherintly as much a game of success as imperfection. Gareth and Dave 'TheLangolier' have also been very influential in turning this around: I remember Gareth being asked about tilting and like a Buddha, he responded that he stays grounded regardless of  good or bad decisions he makes, regardless of good or bad luck. Dave speaks and blogs about the same: he instils in students that bad luck, bad decisions are part of the game. One of the most oustanding changes which took place during private lessons with Dave was indeed my ability not to dive down as I exacted awful results from poorly played or unlucky hands.

But for a number of months I could not tolerate recovery from life-saving surgery, being unable to navigate my body as I also struggled with my memory. This was the worst type of 'tilting' I had yet to experience. One day I remember a revelation that tilting is a form of jousting with oneself. What do I mean by this? We all 'self-talk' and  the competition of poker with money and prestige on the line often leads to tell ourselves  such statements as "I am not as good as those opponents"; "I will never master this game"; I lose money on the weekends" amd so on. In response to negative self talk, a popular form of therapy has evolved, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and this was my life saver from constant tilting. Here the work focuses on individual thoughts, known as cognitive patterns in order to change one's behaviour and emotional states. By way of example, I learned to accept that my memory was comprimised so over time and work instead of berating myself, feeling shame and stupidity for what I didn't remember, I focussed on what I did remember and learned self-praise. Reading through a number of blogs, I cannot help but notice that so many of us at PSO don't take such a perspective as we tend to self-criticism.

The path of CBT is in many ways different than that of  Biofeedback which aims to reduce levels of stress and  is currently being introduced to PSO members. Through monitoring and learning to control mainly heart rate and blood pressure, biofeedback is used medically to help alleviate headaches, chronic pain and other such conditions which can be caused or aggravated by stress.. Sports therapists have also found that Biofeedback, which aims to induce relaxation, like CBT, can produce  inner confidence as one gains control over one's emotions.

So as I venture back into poker play, I must continually focus on positive self-talk with mindfulness. That is huge as just three months ago I was thrown a very unexpected and serious hurdle, and I worry about what may be lurking around the corner. Nonetheless, I have started study hours by reviewing basic course material. It was such an awesome experience in that I had not reviewed this material since I started playing more seriously, about a year ago. Reading basic course material made huge sense to me beyond the written word, compared to when I first read the lessons as all was then in a vacuum. I am also working through Randy 'nanonoko' Lew's terrific five-part videos on ZoomPacing myself is vital so Live Trainings and reading blogs and viewing videos will be selective. While I was playing $25 Zoom,  I will start at $2-$5. This is humbling given I accumulated over $2200 and 9620 VPPs playing $25 Zoom over five months prior to my 'medical leave' from poker.Humbling, but necessary.

It is not surprising to me that I think about tilting given life can bring us many situations where we emotionally struggle. Indeed,  it was my biggest hurdle in recovering as one step back morphed into 20 steps back. Not until I believed in my ability to recover and heard such self-talk was I able to contain one step back as just that, like one bad decision or  unlucky hand,There will be more of those to come as such is the nature of life,  but it is in my control that one doesn't expand into full tilting.

So I am ready to see you at the tables and I am pleased to say that Fadyen made close to $400 during November. We don't give up!

May all your aspirations come to fruition.