Most poker players like to think of the mind as an objective and rational computer. But sadly, modern psychology has confirmed that’s not the case.

We are all vulnerable to various cognitive biases and logical fallacies which can cloud the way we perceive and interact with information that we receive from the world around us.

We all have a subjective lens which is colored by our unique personality, background, and emotions, which colors our experiences at the table. When you add this to the fact that poker is rife with losses, variance, and mistakes, you can see how it is likely for the mind to become overrun with irrational thoughts, unhelpful urges and negative emotions.

But, there are ways that we can reduce our irrational thinking and negative emotions and approach the game of poker with calm composure. Let’s have a look at my favorite foundational strategy:

Focus on What Is in Your Control

We should always be asking ourselves: ‘Is this something that is, or is not, in my control?‘” — Epictetus

Focusing on what is within your control may be the most essential idea in modern psychology and it has its origins in ancient Stoic philosophy. If you follow this simple rule, you will be a much more focused and calm poker player.

Continually identify, and focus exclusively on, what is within your control.

When you train your mind to start doing this, you’ll find very few things at the poker table (and in life!) are within your control. Ancient Stoics argued that the only things in your control are your thoughts and actions.

Modern psychology indicates that even many of our thoughts are not under our direct control - but we can notice them and decide how we want to react; our reactions are always under our control.

Notice what is not under our control: things that have happened in the past, other people’s decisions and actions, and most events in the natural world. Paradoxically, many things about ourselves are all outside of our immediate control.

This may seem discouraging to you, but it can be pretty empowering because it reduces the things we need to attend to & focus on dramatically.

Let’s revisit Epictetus for a bit more Stoic wisdom. He said, “There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power of our will.

You simply must get into the habit of separating what is within your control and what is not if you want to be a calmer, and dare I say it, less tilty poker player. To do this, use this framework:

  • If it’s inside your control — take actions that align with your goals! Devote the time, energy, and focus necessary to create the results you want.
  • If it’s outside your control — consciously notice this fact and let it go. Say something to yourself like, “I notice that I’m having the thought that it’s unfair that this donkey just ran me down.” Then remind yourself that the choices another poker player makes are outside of your control. Take a deep breath (or two) and move on to a helpful thought or behavior. Repeat this process as often as possible and you will see improvement in your emotional stamina. If you make it your mission to focus only on what is in your power, you will find yourself calmer, happier, and more effective both at the poker table and in life.

Want to learn more ways to train your brain to be tilt-proof? Check out the 10 Minute Tilt Cure - a short course that shows you how to create a step by step mental training process that you can use on the daily to increase your mental toughness!