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Mental Game & Life Strategy

The ability to set goals and the discipline it takes to achieve those goals without letting the rest of your life suffer are two of the most important things you need to master in order to improve as a poker player and begin getting serious about becoming a pro. One of the best parts of playing poker is getting out into the real world, playing in person, meeting new people and going on crazy adventures. This is also the riskiest part of the game because it takes you away from your comfort zone, and leaves you playing without your safety net. The solid footing of any healthy lifestyle depends balance and control, and a thriving poker lifestyle is no exception. Set realistic goals and learn to govern yourself so that you’re always working towards achieving your goals without letting the other, more glamorous things hinder your success. 

Table strategy is great to know, but you'll also need to understand how to manage yourself off the table to maximize your edge - and here’s where things get personal. I invite you to keep up-to date on my life and times as a poker player, and learn from my experiences so that you can learn from my triumphs and avoid my mistakes.  Any pro poker player will tell you your  mind is your most powerful weapon. Sharpen it, nurture it, rest it and give it peace so you can take to the tables - and your life - with killer confidence. 

Meditation for Poker Players

Evan Jarvis

Some people think meditation is a religious thing. It's not. Some people think you must be a Buddhist to meditate. You don't have to be. Some people refer to meditation as hippy shit. Other people refer to meditation as the cheat code to life. I simply refer to it as extremely beneficial, and something I'm very thankful I discovered in the summer of 2013.

The world of meditative practice is a veritable ocean of possibility, perspective and peace – but if you are just starting out, these tranquil waters can seem more like a full-blown squall.  Many of us have a hard time concentrating naturally, but add to this the fact that the world is busier than ever, and it is a recipe for inner unease at best, and total turmoil at worst. We expect more, and expect more, now. Perhaps most importantly, we are expected do more and do more now. This is a lot of pressure; pressure that leads to heroic multi-tasking and serious monkey-mind. The ability to focus seems to be a lost art, but we need to slow down and concentrate to make solid decisions. I don’t need to tell you how important this is if you want to make it as a pro (or even just generally successful) poker player.

I engage in a regular meditation practice. In fact I meditate every day, for at least 40 minutes, sometimes it is closer to 60 minutes, and when I really, really want to get deep, I'll push things out to 90 minutes. I like to use iAwake audio tracks (use code "GRIPSED" for 10% off) to help get me to this state. I’ll talk more about this later. This truly is my core secret to success, and since I get a lot of questions about how (and why) I do this, I want to share the wealth with you.
Let me start by saying this: I would not have the success I have had without meditation. Not in life in general, and certainly not at the tables. 

Meditation is much, much better than medication. 

I’m going to talk about some meditative techniques you can use, as well as typical challenges and stumbling blocks that beginners face. I'm also going to introduce some tools that will help you overcome these obstacles, and also turbo-charge your progress into the depths of the practice - but before I get into that, I want to outline some of the many benefits of meditation, and why it's a great practice to engage in. 

The Benefits of Meditation

Meditation empowers you to be PROACTIVE rather than reactive and this is a very powerful place to be coming from when you have a big picture, personal agenda.

On the physical level, meditation increases the strength of your lungs and breath. This important because your breath is your life force; it's how you take in the nutrients from the air (i.e. oxygen and such) and oxygen powers the human system. The more of it you can get, and the more effectively you can move that oxygen to the places it needs to go to help you function, the better.

Meditation also increases spinal strength, and your spinal cord is your nervous system; it's an extension of your brain, and it's where all the signals go through to control your movements, actions, internal functionality of organs, muscles, etc. An unhealthy spine leads to unhealthy everything else, including unhealthy action. The greatest gift you can give yourself in life is that of a healthy spine - and because a cornerstone of proper meditation is sitting with a straight spine for an extended period of time, you're really going to strengthen that part of your being, and as a consequence you'll also strengthen your abs and your lower back muscles. It's better to build your body from the interior to the extremities rather than vice versa.
 
On the mental level, meditation helps you turn off all the bullshit - all the distractions. Meditation allows you to shut down that monkey mind that jumps from one thought to the next, and allows you to just focus on one thing. That is, being here in the moment. The benefits of this are many:

  1. You'll be able to sleep better.
  2. You'll be able to perform better at any and every task that you do.
  3. You'll be able to enjoy experiences more, because you'll understand how to be fully in them, instead of being physically in one place, whilst mentally being in another place or many other places. 

This list can go on, but we don't have all day, so I'll just get to the most important mental benefit from focusing, being present and connecting with yourself: once you learn to feel what's going on inside you (because we all spend so much of our time and thought on what's going on outside us), once you get inside and get connected, you’ll then be able to identify what actions you need to do next to make progress on your goals, and potentially your life vision. You won't be doing what you THINK you need to be doing; you won't go off and do what OTHER PEOPLE WANT you to be doing - you will go ahead and actually do what it is you NEED to be doing to make progress.

Meditation allows you to really feel what's right, and combine that with what you think is right, so instead of being controlled by your mind, you learn to control it and have it work for you instead of against you. The net effect of this is that you'll be able to prioritize better, take action on what's most important, feel a lot better about the decisions you make, and at the end of the day, get a lot more shit done.

Also on the mental level, meditation allows you to see the ultimate vision more clearly, and before a dream can come true, it has to be manifested as an idea - and if that idea can't be seen because there's so much distraction in the way, then the manifestation of that in the physical world is also going to be scattered, cluttered and not the way you really want it to be. It will also just take way longer than it should to actually come about. So meditation allows you to have that clarity of vision, so that you can make it happen.

On a comprehensive level, meditation makes your entire system work better, because in slowing down you give your internal system a chance to do what it needs to do. Digestion, rest, whatever it is, you allow those processes to happen, whereas if you're just going from task to task to task, you never let these processes that are integral to your health to actually happen and that's one of the main reasons you might feel stressed out ALL THE TIME.

So how do we meditate then and receive these benefits? It's quite simple actually. It involves a 4 step process:

#1. Do something physical to fatigue the body (not to complete exhaustion, but enough that you've taken care of your body's need for movement, because if you don't do some movement, your body will CRAVE that movement until it gets it and a restless body, naturally leads to a restless mind).

#2. Slow things down and connect. I like to use a breathing exercise for this which balances out the brain hemispheres. We spent a LOT of time in our left brain in western society, and it's important to give the right brain its time as well so that we honor ALL of ourselves and not just part of ourselves.

#3. Get in a comfortable seated position, close your eyes and just breathe. Focus on your breathing; feel what's going on INSIDE you and don't get attached to your thoughts. They are going to come up, but as long as you don't latch onto them you will be fine. Just come back to your breathing and feel. This is where we go from DOING, to just BEING.

If you can't focus on your breath as your mind is too strong when your eyes are closed, then try lighting a candle and spending 10-20 minutes just watching the flame flicker. It's an extremely helpful tool.

#4. Once you've hit your limit, it's time to integrate what you have just experienced. In the meditative state, your brain creates new pathways, and you want to allow a small bit of time for those pathways to really integrate into your system. So lie down and just rest for 5 or 10 minutes. If you even doze off at this point its fine. Just set an alarm for 20 minutes; you'll probably wake up before it goes off.

A lot of the reason that we do the same things, and have bad habits is because we've built pathways in our brains, and that's where our thoughts flow. It's like having a superhighway whereas all the other habits and ideas you want to spend time on are the side streets. You might visit them every once in a while, but in the interest of being efficient, your mind is mostly going to use that main road. Meditation allows you to do some construction work, to develop a new highway, but it only works when you incorporate #4 - that rest - to give the new concrete a chance to solidify before you shake it you with your next activity. This process takes time - as any good construction project that's built to last does - but in doing this practice you can literally REWIRE your brain to function in a much more self-serving way that helps you be more successful, more enjoyable to be with, happier on a daily basis and just more fulfilled all around because you’re more in tune with what's really important in your life.

Now don't expect to be an expert right away because you’ve read this article. There is a lot of helpful info out there and the key is finding what works for you.  The best time to do meditation is first thing in the morning before you mind gets filled with clutter, thoughts and tasks. The next best times to do it are before dinner, when the day is winding down, or before bed to reflect and clear your mind so that sleep comes easy. NOTE: there is barely any benefit to meditating right after eating as your body will be in the process of digesting. It is ideal to wait 30 minutes after meditation to eat, if you want to experience the maximum benefit from the practice.

My biggest warning for someone who wants to try this practice is this: DO NOT BE TOO HARD ON YOURSELF. If it's something you've never done before, don't expect to be good at it the first time you try. Whatever your gift, your skill is in life right now, think about how good at it you were the first time you tried. Meditation is a process, like everything else.

Consistency is more beneficial than volume. The goal is to do the practice regularly, even if it is only for two minutes. The more consistently you do it, the more your brain will realize this is important, and devote resources to making you able to do it better. Don't make it more complicated than it needs to be: if you are taking a break from the constant doing, you are getting the benefit. It's not the kind of benefit that's a letter on a report card or a number on a screen, but trust me: the long term benefit of this is WAY more significant and way more real than any artificial ranking or reward system. It's about the cultivation of self discipline and committing to doing something regularly. Beyond that, there is no 'doing it right', there is just 'being with it', and if you can be comfortable being with it, you're benefiting from it.

Tools and Tricks of the Trade

#1. Guided meditations involve someone speaking to you, helping to guide your focus to beneficial things as opposed to toxic or wasteful thoughts. The key with this is to find a speaker you like. If their voice or speaking style doesn't work for you, don't sit through it. Turn them off and find a new guide.

#2. Brainwave entrainment tracks (these are the ones I use, which will save you months of practice and basically snap you into the meditative state). They're a mix between specific pitch frequencies and sounds of nature. I like these because a) I don't like people telling me what to do and b) they just work! As I mentioned briefly, the site I purchase mine from is iawaketechnologies.com and the program I use is the profound meditation 3.0 program (it also comes with a manual that will go deeper into techniques and practices for effective meditation). If that one's outside your price range, they just came out with a new track called deep delta, which is actually incredible. I used it recently and got very, very deep into the meditative space. I highly recommend it. I recommend it so much I’m going to give you a promo code you can use to save some coin.

Just use the code "GRIPSED" and save 10% when you buy it. 

#3. Candles. As I mentioned before, incense and essential oils (especially lavender) will help to invoke the relaxation response in your body which will help to slow down the restless, runaway mind.

#4. This should really be number 1 actually. Find a guru or skilled meditation practitioner or facilitator to guide you through the process. I wouldn't have been able to get this practice down if I didn't have a couple of mentors show me the way. Google is your best friend here and any REAL yoga studio will have meditators on their staff. There are also meditation centers, but you may find the group atmosphere is a bit 'heavy' and prefer to work one on one with someone, just to get started at least.

Beyond this, there are just a few things I want to add. If you live in a loud area, invest $2 in earplugs; they make a HUGE difference. Noise is the top enemy of meditation, not because it's evil or anything- we can meditate through noise - but it just has a way of grabbing our attention and pulling us out of state. Also you don't want to meditate when you're completely exhausted, because meditation and sleep are two different things and both give you different benefits. Make sure you're hydrated before you start, and drink water after. A lot is going on inside your body and mind during meditation, and those actions require water, so restock the shelves after you're done.

So that's it! Everything you need to know about meditation to get you started. And just because I do it, doesn't mean you have to do it. If you have extremely negative feelings about meditation then you're not going to give your practice the 100% engagement it deserves and you'll receive little if any benefit. If it's not your thing, don't feel the need to do it…or do it yet. Maybe you just want to read up more about it, or look to some of the most successful people in history and see what sort of meditative practices they engaged in. There are also such things as moving meditations which don't require you to sit in a static position for extended periods. Tai Chi, Qi Gong are just a couple of examples. Again Google is your best friend for this stuff. 

I invite you to share your thoughts about meditation. If you use any guided meditations that are free, go ahead and post them in the comments along with a brief description.  Like I said, don't feel like you have to do any of this, but if you’re curious, give it a go. I’m writing about this because people have been requesting it and I wanted to share with you the core technique and tools I've used that have helped me turn my inner vision into the reality I’m living today. At the root of this practice is empowering yourself through breath to live a more fulfilled life. 

Happy mediating!