There’s a great article in the NY Times today about elite tennis players training mental toughness. This quote epitomizes what the article is about and is something I’ve been pushing poker players to realize for the past several years:
The brain, like a muscle, gets stronger when pushed to the point of failure. In “Rafa,” his recently published autobiography, Rafael Nadal articulated what becomes patently obvious to anyone at the Open who watches the parade of players hitting on the practice courts.
“‘If you watch the No. 10 player in the world and the No. 500 in training, you won’t necessarily be able to tell who is higher up in the rankings,’ Nadal wrote. ‘Without the pressure of competition, they’ll move and hit the ball much the same way.’”
But in the caldron of competition, cooler, clearer heads prevail.
Real mental toughness doesn’t happen by forcing yourself to be fearless or tiltless or supremely confident once or twice. You have to train it by pushing yourself to develop real mental skill and proper mental technique.
The problem is that many poker players, athletes, and people in all walks of life, react to mentally failing under pressure so negatively they can’t use that failure to become stronger mentally. When you’re in the gym lifting weights and your muscles are so tired they can’t push any farther, that’s failure. When you’re playing poker and a bad beat causes so much anger that you can’t control how you play thereafter, that’s failure. Both are equal in their opportunity to increase strength, however, tilt is rarely seen that way.