The reason I love writing about poker is it’s very much writing about life. If you don’t have your life in order, you will not play winning poker. Unless your training is simply impeccable, you will fly off the handle at some point. It takes years and years of deliberate study to get your game down to a science. But it merely takes daily discipline to make sure you show up to the game with an open mind, willing to take what the table gives you.Here’s what you’ll learn:
- A Dog’s Life
- Listen to the Wiser
- 1. Control the Media You Consume
- 2. Control the Culture Around You
- 3. Control What Goes Into Your Body
- 4. Control Your Sleep
- 5. Control Your Exercise
A Dog’s Life
It never ceases to amaze me how humans will treat their dogs better than themselves.
You’ll hear many intelligent people say, “oh, he’s an Aussie Shepard. He needs to exercise every day or he’ll go nuts. He also needs to work on problems. Agility tests, herding, learning new commands…something. Otherwise, that dog will just chew on themselves.”
If you put any dog in a small room, it will go insane.
Yet, humans have no respect for how they are a far more complex and easily exasperated animal than a dog. They will put themselves in a small room all day, giving themselves no mental or physical stimulation.
Listen to the Wiser
I started my adult life renting out a garage. I paid for my garage with landscaping work. I literally didn’t have a toilet in the place. The landlord was a great guy and let me use his when he was awake, but at night I’d have to go run to some nearby bushes to take care of my business. That summer, I worked as a commercial fisherman. I put in literal 100+ hour weeks while everyone else was partying before college started.
I now live in Queens, about ten minutes outside of Manhattan. I have health insurance and most of my teeth. I haven’t worked a “real” job since 2006. I’m not rich, but I enjoy myself. I like working on my own schedule. I have time to read. I get to travel a good deal. I’m happy.
I got from point A to point B without any special talent. What I did do is pay attention to people wealthier than I was. Successful people love to share their wisdom if you’re humble enough to accept it. Nobody ever asks them about their process. When they tell you what they did to reach the top, they get to relive the thrill of the hunt, the thrill of the game. You both benefit from this relationship.
What you’ll learn from all of them is more or less the same thing:
- They control what goes into their gas tank.
- You can’t run on fumes. Similarly, you can’t succeed with a fatalist culture surrounding you in either your friend group or your chosen media.
- No dog can become the best in show if it’s locked up in a kennel.
Almost every one of my mentors taught me the following rules. I hope they can help you enjoy your life more.
1. Control The Media You Consume
This is a big one that hasn’t been discussed much in poker literature.
Constantly exposing yourself to drama will burn you out. It will also give you a glib view of the world that will carry over to your execution of fundamentals.
To stay informed, find a neutral news source from another country. BBC will cover the United States, for example, and will not offer their opinion on any of the developments. You’ll also get the main beats of the story in three minutes as opposed to thirty.
To stay informed about poker, it’s better you cultivate small groups of guys who are devouring different strategy materials. If you trust the person, they can curate what is important and what isn’t.
When you watch strategy materials, it’s important you don’t waste time on bad ones. Whenever possible, download the videos and play them on 2X speed and listen for what the person is saying. If it’s meaningful, go back to the important section and watch it several times while taking notes.
There’s almost no need to pay attention to poker gossip. It could be to your benefit to not know who just won what. You will take people as they are when you play with them, as opposed to psyching yourself out with their recent results.
2. Control the Culture Around You
There are many fatalist types in poker. They create a programming you can’t get out of. “You lost? Must be because you’re unlucky.” That statement means you can’t do anything about it.
The guys who tell you, “lawl standard!” are essentially saying the science is settled in poker. There’s no room for improvement, for anyone. We’re all just supposed to trade coolers until we die.
Most successful people surround themselves with people who don’t like excuses. Sports psychologists will hear a client’s particularly dreadful claims and go, “Wow, that sucks, but what are you going to do about it?” There’s no room for judgment or unwarranted sympathy.
You want people around you who will always be asking, “what are you going to do about it?” Real winners are not judgmental, but they don’t want to hear your excuses either. They’ll go, “what can we do about this?” They’ll give you their notes. They will make it clear that your success is your responsibility, and they will help you on the mission.
3. Control What Goes Into Your Body
If a scientist came up to you and said, “I’ll pay you a $100 to eat nothing but free McDonald’s for a week” what would you say?
Most of us would say no. We know we would feel so terrible at the end of the week it wouldn’t be worth the $100 and the lack of a grocery bill.
Why would we feel terrible? McDonald’s is full of carbs in the burgers and fries and sugars in the soft drinks.
Yet, many of us will run that exact same experiment without being paid every week of our lives. We get something which is filled with carbs in the morning, be it a muffin, hash brown, toast, or cereal. All those low fat “healthy” options of yogurt and cereal bars are just loaded with sugar. We get to lunch and dinner and load up on processed food which is loaded with sugars. At night, we have a couple of beers, which is essentially liquid bread.
Most hyper-successful people seem to have the same diet: They’re extremely careful about the processed food they put in their system. They stay away from sugar and carbs. They’ll go with fruit if they’re getting carb cravings. Some of the hardcore health nuts will go headfirst into the vegetables (the golden standard of human fuel), but many just eat fish, eggs, poultry, mixed nuts, and other proteins that keep them full.
They’ll still eat bad on occasion. They’re human. But they’ll wait till the weekend or when they are away from work to indulge. They won’t do it for more than one or two meals a week.
Many people reading this are going, “yeah, I’ve read this before” but they don’t understand the severity of the situation. Tons of poker players got to that next level when they overhauled their diet. There’s basic scientific reasoning for this too.
According to Dr. Robert H. Lustig, who wrote The Hacking Of The American Mind, sugar is one of the key precursors to depression and lethargy. However, tryptophan (nuts, cheese, chicken, beans, turkey, eggs) increases serotonin, which helps ward off depression and lethargy. Omega 3s (wild-caught fish, nuts) have been shown in some newer studies to help patients with their depression, although the science is still catching up with the fish oil trend.
4. Control Your Sleep
Again, we’re hitting the basics here, but if we can’t master the basics we won’t get anywhere.
Many poker players have gotten to another level by simply monitoring their sleep hygiene.
On a personal note, I have abused my sleep cycles more than any other person I’ve met my age. I’ve probably pulled more all-nighters than anyone should ever pull in their life. My longest sessions were 40+ hours, and I used to engage in them with regularity. I slept six hours a night for years while I was building businesses.
I can say with full confidence it’s almost never intelligent to engage in any of that activity. If you’re working intelligently and without distractions, you can always get eight hours of sleep. It makes a world of difference when it comes to emotional regulation, problem solving, and short-term memory.
To get the best sleep you can get, it’s recommended you find the right temperature you like to sleep in. Professional athletes are freaks about this for a reason. It’s been shown to change performance. You should also wear a sleeping mask, because light coming through the windows to any degree will disturb your sleep quality.
Also, use a Sleep Cycle alarm clock, which determines when you’re in light sleep. Due to our circadian rhythms, we can sometimes have an alarm clock wake us up during a deep sleep, which will leave us feeling screwed up for hours, if not the whole day.
Blue light is known to obliterate good sleep, so get blue light blocking glasses. Don’t drink caffeine within eight hours of bedtime. You might still be sleeping eight hours, but it won’t be of the same quality if you have caffeine bubbling through your skull.
5. Control Your Exercise
Finally, don’t leave yourself in a kennel all day. Dogs go crazy when they’re stuck in a small area, and you’re far more complex than a dog.
You don’t have to go be a muscle head somewhere. Just get outside. Go for a walk and listen to audiobooks, at the very least. Get some fresh air. Let your mind idle a bit outside of the office or family life. Take a moment for yourself.
If you want to increase your energy the most, the best bang for your buck is the weight room. I was a distance runner for the first seven years I played poker professionally. However, consistent cardio left me brittle with a little runner’s belly, even if I could run 50+ miles in a week.
Weight lifting is essentially intense stretching. You can do a squat without weight. However, if you add a bar and put some weight on it, you’ll get the benefits of hundreds of squats in a matter of seconds.
If you build even moderate muscle it will help you burn more calories. You’ll feel more clearheaded at the table with the endorphin rush of lifting in the morning. It will leave you feeling loose and without stress. A surprising number of elite performers, both men and women, love weight room exercises for these reasons.