If I were to define the spectrum for mental game performance in poker, at one end you would have Tilt (and other mental game issues) and at the other you would have the Zone. Tilt and the Zone were respectively the core focus of my two books, The Mental Game of Poker 1 & 2. You all know what it’s like to perform in the Zone and wish you could do it all the time, but unfortunately, players are more often more motivated to avoid the pain of losing than they are by aspiration to be in the Zone more often. Tilt is a much more immediate issue for many players and ultimately, you can’t perform in the Zone when you have a recurring Tilt issue.
So even though I think my work on the Zone is equally as important as my work on Tilt, it is entirely understandable why poker players are much more incentivized to look me up for the latter. I get many more clients who hire me to solve a Tilt problem than I ever get to try and perform in the Zone more frequently. Has to be at least 30:1.
I really want to make the poker community realize just how important it is to work towards playing in the Zone more often. I think the first big barrier to that is how unattainable and random it seems. But, just like Tilt, once you know what to look for, you’ll find it is a lot more predictable and controllable than it first appears.
So over the next few days I’m going to produce a series of immediate actionable tips you can implement right away that will, if you stick to them, will make the Zone more achievable because they eliminate some of the problems that prevent the Zone from happening.
To begin with, let’s look at some of the common errors many poker players make every time they play:
One of the hallmarks of the Zone is that feeling of laser like focus where you are very aware of everything at the table, and have full access to your entire range of poker knowledge. It really shouldn’t need saying that when you have Skype messages popping up, your friend calls you on your cell phone and you are scanning Twitter, that you are unlikely to be performing in the Zone. Eliminate all distractions before you play, shut off your cell phone, close all your browsers. There will be a feeling of resistance at first, but even if you don’t get into the Zone, you will instantly be performing better than a majority of the other regulars.
I constantly try to draw parallels between poker and sport, in part because the metaphors tend to be useful, but mostly because the mind is much more similar to the body than many realize. Not only does it have a limited capacity just as your muscles do, but the more energy you have, the better and longer your mind can perform in the Zone.
So my next tip is to do whatever you can, right now, to improve your overall energy levels. You will probably know immediately what you could be doing better. Whether it is reducing coffee, going to bed earlier, going to the gym more or eating healthier. Don’t worry too much about becoming an elite athlete tomorrow, right now just think of one tangible change you can make and stick to it. Then later on make a second actionable change. Just as with the last tip, even if you don’t perform more in the Zone, you will see a benefit.
Rest your brain
Not only are we constantly distracted these days, but our brains have not evolved to handle the amount of information we take in on a daily basis. Just think of how much time you spend online these days and how much data you consume. Poker is also very labor intensive on our brain, especially if you play long sessions and many tables. Tons of information and tons of hands can leave you feeling mentally overwhelmed and tired. This is a concept I call ‘Bloated Brain’ and if you have ever found yourself exhausted and unable to retain information much like, for example, cramming for an exam, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. Bloated Brain will stop you from performing in the Zone.
This is why it is important to take mental breaks. Get some time, every day, where you are away from screens completely. Ideally this would be going to the gym or for a walk. It’s also a good idea in general to have your smartphone in another room when you go to sleep. Likewise it’s good to have an entire day off from poker every week. Meditating will also help if that’s your thing and I particularly like journaling as a way of decluttering the mind.
I go into much more detail about why the above three tips are useful in making the Zone happen more often in my book The Mental Game of Poker 2. However, I firmly believe that if you do just the above three things right now and stick with them for a week, you’ll see an immediate benefit in your performance and how you feel afterwards.
Stay tuned as I will be delivering some more free tips for getting in the Zone more consistently. Join my mailing list below to be the first to see them.
If you are interested in some of the insights in this post, I cover them in more detail in The Mental Game of Poker 2, which you can currently get for $15 off. You can also download either of my books for free on Audiobook when opening a new account at Audible.