Insight into Emotional Control

I woke up this morning with what I sense in my mind is some major insight. I may not be able to explain it well enough yet, writing this blog is as much for my learning as yours, but if you stick through it, and it sparks a conversation, I think it can have great value for your game.

I’ve been thinking about the word control for a while now, and this morning realized something that helps to improve the problems I’ve had with it. In the eyes of some people, I’m definitely way to nit picky/tough about certain things. I just have a hard time accepting conventional wisdom that doesn’t make sense to me and put a lot of work into to really understanding things I think are really important and uncover details that weren’t known quite as well before.

For the past year or so, control has been on my list of things that I continue to pour over, trying to better understand. Control annoyed me because it infers controlling, and in a way I felt controlled by trying to be too controlled. (Obvious connection to my own desire to be pick on small details). The thing about controlling that really bothered me was that there’s so much beyond our control, but if you try to control what you actually can’t, you get pissed off, anxious or lose confidence and motivation when things go poorly. PLUS, since you’re spending more time focused on what you can’t control, variance or other players, you spend less on what you actually can control.

So in now focusing more on what we actually do control, I first swung way too far the other way and said that we have none. I know it doesn’t make sense to even say that now, but I can’t remember my exact reasoning right now. Basically what I figured was the closest we can get to control is that we can have an influence or make an impact on a situation in much the same way an asteroid would have an impact on the moon – it makes itself known – but doesn’t actually alter the orbit. Influence and impact – at first I really liked the idea, and so did a good friend of mine, Cameron Moore, who’s a tennis coach making his way up the professional ranks. He has 3 guys he’s working with in the top 500 and one who just won the first US Open qualifier to get into the wildcard draw for the main event!

At first Cameron loved the idea too – that control can’t be had entirely and your job is instead to go out and make the greatest impact you can and encouraged his players to go out and do that in every practice and match. But steadily my thoughts and our conversations sort of naturally worked back towards control having a prominent place in performance. Plus the idea of influence and impact sounds weak, and now I see why.

What I realized this morning, I think really helps to put this in better context and settle the issue of control…at least for now.

Control is about action. When you have control, it’s something you are actively doing. You’re taking control of the situation, you’re in control of the hand, you’re in control of your emotions or your thoughts. In order to be in control you have to be actively doing it, that’s the whole point. If you relax you lose it…unless you own it.

Unconscious competence, procedural memory, mastery, ownership – all things that related to skills or knowledge that are automatic and require no thought whatsoever and if you were to think about them – which would also mean you were being over controlling – you’d get worse. Think about how you walk and you become worse, potentially even tripping, something that would never happen if you just walked. So control doesn’t apply to unconscious competence. In fact control makes it worse.

On the flip side of the Adult Learning Model you have Unconscious Incompetence: the stuff you don’t even know you’re terrible at & Conscious Incompetence: you’re now aware you suck, but don’t know yet how to fix it – which too often players think that when they become aware of something they’ve mastered it and totally mind fuck themselves because they’ve tried to run before they could walk.

So that just leaves Conscious Competence: now you’re getting good at it, but you need to think about it in order to be good, otherwise you return to sucking. You need to think, and thinking is a major form of control. That’s the conclusion – you need to control what you have the opportunity to control, which are only things that you have a good enough understanding for to even know HOW to control it.

It is fundamentally impossible to control something you don’t understand. Which is one reason why players who talk about emotional control as something that is easy to do, who don’t actually have much understanding of emotions, really just don’t get it. Emotional control is a skill that is developed like any other – it has to go through the stages of the Adult Learning Model. As my point goes today, in order to be in control of your emotions you have to have enough skill in understanding them to even be able to.

So if that’s true, and control can only happen with something that you have a good understanding for but haven’t yet mastered, that means that the term – be in control of what you actually control is really misleading in an environment when there is SO much information available about poker. It is really really easy to become Conscious of areas of your game where you suck. But just because you can become aware that you suck at say controlling tilt – it does not automatically mean you can control it and if you think that you should – you have now set yourself up for disappointment, likely more tilt, and to believe that you are less likely to be able to fix your tilt.

Another big one is variance. You can’t control variance, but you can increase your understanding of variance and by in large the poker community as a whole sucks at understanding variance beyond the obvious. It generally assumed impossible to ever really know variance to 100%, which I agree with, but that still leaves a lot on the table. As the game continues to evolve and competition gets stiffer, improving your skill in knowing variance can provide you a MAJOR edge if you work at it. I don’t know the specifics of how, but I do know that it’s possible because it like any other skill falls into the Adult Learning Model. Up until a few minute ago, many of you were unconsciously incompetent to that reality, which means you stand at the threshold of an opportunity to gain control of variance in a way that previously was not seen as being possible. You still can’t control variance, but your reactions to variance emotionally and in the quality of your play, can improve exponentially by increasing your skill in recognizing it in real time. I think there’s an idea for a video here…

I know there is more here, and I’ll probably write a follow-up at some point. Generally what are your thoughts? does it make sense? what do I need to explain better? what do you think I’ve gotten wrong? Click here to discuss in my Mental Game Forum

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