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Taking a Break from Poker – Part Two

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Preparing to return is as important as stepping away

In the first article on Taking a Break from Poker -Part One, I identified some of the indicators for the need to step away from the tables and assessing how long the break should be. These are undoubtedly difficult judgement calls but they are important ones for their potential impact on your bankroll.

The Departure

In performance psychology, ideal performance states have received a lot of attention by researchers and consultants alike. You’ve probably know it as “the zone”, a popular term that has turned out to be a catch-all for a range of concepts. The particularities are not that important. However, knowing the way you feel when you play your best and when you play poorly is. This is the essence behind ideal performance states.

I broke down how challenging it can be to discern the breaking of an ideal performance state in a previous article. In sum, it is very easy to slowly drift of the imaginary line that separates our preferred, productive mindset from a destructive one. Sometimes, a big loss or a dramatic hand is accompanied by distinct emotions which clearly articulate the combustion of our preferred state. Other times it is not dramatic but subtle. The point is that getting a feel for your line is as valuable a skill as finding tells.

If you’re reading this post, you are either considering taking a break or currently on a break. Perhaps you’ve had a terrible run or you’re unhappy with how emotional the game feels right now. Regardless of your reason, you now have an opportunity (Note – You might want to read Part One (link above) before continuing). The opportunity is to revisit your ideal performance state and recharge yourself for your great return to the felt.

Your Return Ticket

Like any holiday, there are two sides to taking a break. The departure and the return. Most people take a break to get away from the stress (or borderline insanity) of the game. Once those feelings subside, the deem themselves ready to return. While they are more ready to play better poker, what has really changed?

Sure, decompressing is useful. But eliminating stress may only get you back to neutral. So the question is, how do you need to feel to play at your best? I encourage you to reflect on this on the “flight home”. Most importantly, what has to change in order for you to buffer all your tilt triggers? Do you need to get more exercise? Do you need to choose tables more carefully? Do you need to hit the books and improve your playbook?

The opportunity lies in the time you’ll have to put in this kind of prep work. This self-knowledge is half the battle. Yet, it is amazing how little time people invest in improving themselves this way.

When I work with someone, a vast majority of the time they have hit some type of obstacle like a big loss or a cold streak. They are fed up with how thing have gone. Most importantly, they’re unsure what to do next. I don’t get to talk to many people when they are at there best, I just get stories about it. By virtue of this, I know how awful it can feel to get stuck in a slump. In fact, I’ve been there, too. This is an inevitability but knowing this is sometimes not enough.

Yes, taking a break is a good approach. But, as Einstein once said, insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different result. Think about having a job with a lot of problem in the workplace. Leaving for two weeks to sip margaritas on a beach will feel great but the work environment is probably the same. How long before you “tilt” again?

So, create at take the opportunity to get yourself right before going back. Don’t leave your emotions to the whim of the poker gods.

Kelly Doell, PhD is a mental performance consultant. You can speak with him about your play at www.KellyDoell.com

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