Every time you react or attach yourself to any situation or negative thought at the poker table, your brain responds by releasing a corresponding chemical into your body, in a level equivalent to your attachment or response. The chemical releases in the brain can have a negative affect on the poker table, but knowing the secret to controlling these releases can give you an advantage over your opponents.
When you attach yourself to negative thoughts at the poker table, the brain chemical Cortisol is released into the body. Cortisol is the primary co-ordinator for the reactions of stress, anger, nerves, frustration and fear. High amounts of Cortisol in the body will cause your heart to beat faster, your breathing rate to increase, and your pupils to dilate. It can cause your hands to shake and prompt faster blinking. The more Cortisol that is released, the more angry, stressed or frustrated you will feel. Then the further you attach yourself to that thought, additional Cortisol is released again and the cycle continues. At the poker table this will result in a lack of focus. Your ability to read other players will decrease, and situations will become less clear at the table as you experience distraction as a result of these negative thoughts. Your capacity to make mathematical calculations and decisions will also be diminished. The more Cortisal in your blood stream, the more likely it will become for you to tilt, have over-reactive outbursts at the table, and the easier your opponents will be able to read you.
Keeping your mind clear and free from high levels of brain chemicals will help eliminate tilt and other negative response from your game such as poor/readable body language and lack of focus. By controlling the brain chemical release you can manage your mood and energy levels and possess further consistent concentration while playing.
Step 1. Ignition Awareness.
Be aware of mood altering triggers at the table and how they impact on you personally.
Identify events or specific types of environments at the poker table that move you away from your optimum mood and energy level. This is called Ignition Awareness.
Some examples of triggers that may induce the release of the stress/anger chemical Cortisol being released are:
â€¢Disliking a player at the table or a player annoying you.
â€¢Feeling nervous about the tournament.
â€¢You get a bad beat.
â€¢Having a day where you cannot connect with a flop.
â€¢Playing a hand poorly.
Having acceptance of what events you may experience before you begin a session or a tournament will help to lower the intensity of each situation if in fact they arise.
Step 2. Prevention.
Stopping the release of Cortisol before it gets to a high level and out of control.
Once a specific mood altering trigger has occurred on the table and your Ignition Awareness has been activated, the next 10 seconds is crucial in determining the intensity of chemical release.
While it was once thought that you should vent your anger, research now shows that you actually resolve nothing and essentially aggravate the emotion.
It is best to simply observe your anger or negative thought with disinterest and focus on breathing, learning to sit quietly and let the specific thought or experience just float by. Visualise the negative thought by treating it like a fly landing on your face that you swat away and donâ€™t think about again. This is a technique of non-attachment to negative or angry thoughts and affects the brains ability to attach to the event and obstructs the chemical release from the brain into the body. This is the most successful way of preventing anger and frustration from getting out of control.
In a best case scenario, the anger will dissipate and you can move onto the next hand with a clear and focused mind.
Step 3. Cure.
If you reach this Step 3, it means that you have not been able to prevent the high release of Cortisol being released into the body. This can happen if you had poor Ignition Awareness and were not responsive to your escalating bad mood until it was too late(Step 1). It can also occur if you have not been able dissipate your anger using the technique of non-attachment to the negative experience (Step 2).
If your Cortisol levels have not elevated severely you can use a technique of self talk. Set up some key statements for each of you negative triggers. Use statement such as â€˜Let it Go*, â€˜I got my money in good*, â€˜Move On*, â€˜Next hand*, â€˜Iâ€™m good enough to get my chips back*. These self talk statements will distract your conscious mind from spiralling further into negative thoughts and impede extra Cortisol being released from the brain. This keeps your mind focused on something more empowering. Find some statements that work for you.
If you feel you are at the point of losing your composure try;
â€¢ Several deep breaths and really concentrate on them, fixate your eyes on a spot and count slowly. Focus on the counting and every time you feel yourself moving away from the numbers to negative thoughts consciously bring yourself back to the count.
â€¢ Music releases Serotonin (the brains â€œfeel-goodâ€ chemical) and can move your brain waves and help you change focus. Find what music works for you in this situation. Pick songs that have a calming or inspiring influence on you.
â€¢Leave the table. Go outside or grab a bottle of water. Removing yourself from the negative environment can help to put things in perspective and help you return to the table with a clear mind.
â€¢Get some quick exercise. Run up some stairs or take a brisk walk, or if you have limited time to be away from the table, get up and stretch your muscles. Exercise releases endorphins and gives the mind and body a natural high. This will help counteract the Cortisol in the body.
Ideally prevention is better than cure. The more you practice the techniques in Step 1 and 2, the less often you will require to use Step 3. Letting go of anger and frustration at the poker table is difficult, but when you think about the expense to your stack or bankroll that a lack of control at the table can cost, it can add up to the difference between being a winning or losing poker player.