PART TWO: The Mental Solution: Shifting Perspective

PART TWO: The Mental Solution: Shifting Perspective

As discussed in Part 1, Physical solutions may help after a disastrous losing session. But what about a long term downswing? A losing month, terrible World Series, or, in the extreme case of “Saxophone,” going broke? For this, a shift in mental perspective is required.


1) Count the Loss:

I often put off tallying losses because accepting the reality is too much to bear. But the sooner I do it, the sooner I can come to terms with the fact that it’s real. After I physically write the number down, I allow myself time to lament. Sometimes I go even further and torture myself by calculating how my financial situation would have been different if I hadn’t taken that bad beat.

2) Acceptance:

It is the hardest part. I continue my agony by comparing my two numbers side by side (my current financial situation and the “could have been” one).

Then, I think long and hard about my life outside of poker. What activities do I enjoy? I actually list them: writing, exercise, cooking, yoga, friends, reading and nature.

I take time to appreciate what they have in common: they are all free. I realize deeply that everything I need to be happy is within my grasp and my life would be no different with the additional money.

This realization is the moment of epiphany when things start to turn around.

3) Recovery

In this phase, I begin doing my list of activities, even if it means forcing myself to go through the motions. It is common for a simple task to seem overwhelming, like it is for a depressed patient to get out of bed. To make things easier, the night before I make a schedule. Again, I write it out. I set myself up for success by starting the day with something simple: 5 minutes of stretching or 20 deep breaths, and gradually toward more challenging activities. Regardless of time and place, I set an alarm for 7 am and get moving.

I take time for introspective moments of gratitude. I kick off each day with a simple practice. I set a timer for 2 minutes and list as many things I can think I’m thankful for.

The more trivial the better. Raw almonds, my juicer, The New Yorker, Omar Little. It doesn’t matter, just get it out.

As Oscar Wilde said, we should delight in even the extremest moments of pain, because they are, in fact, extraordinary.


The Problem:

What affected “Saxophone” was not that he lost his $500,000 bankroll, but his idea of what that money means. In the thread on 2p2, he admitted the money had no specific value to him. His biggest concern seemed that he could no longer compete at the games highest levels. Understood. Going broke is the poker equivalent of a serious injury for a sports star. Depending on how fast one can recover, he may be out a week, year or a lifetime.

While not being able to immediately play the biggest games is frustrating, it’s no cause for depression. What’s difficult to comprehend is the sheer amount of money lost. Even a year later, he admits being overwhelmed.

Here’s why: Money has no purpose. There’s no clear reason one needs the dough, other than they want it. (In actuality,”Saxophone” doesn’t need the cash). With no void to replace the number that’s burdening him, the pain continues so long as he cannot recover the arbitrary number, because currently, that’s how his success is measured.

Consider this: Is it possible to conceive he would be less unhappy if the number he lost was $300,000? What if he began with $10,000,000 and lost $9,500,000? He would still have the $500,000 he laments losing, but I believe he would feel an equivalent sense of loss. The problem then is not in the figure, but his idea of it.

The Solution:

Give your chosen non poker activities meaning by making goals and working towards them.

I recommend using Tim FerrissDreamlines and his Monthly Expense Calendar. Ferriss’ best-selling book: Four Hour Work Week covers, in detail, how to create your ideal lifestyle and the steps to cultivate and calculate it.

I’ve done this successfully for years and never once has my annual Dreamline exceeded $100,000. Please note: I’m high maintenance and my girlfriend calls me “Little Prince.”

Once we realize that the money we need to do what we want is far less than we think, it’s easier to accept the loss. Contentment comes the moment we appreciate the fact that we’re no happier with $100,000 or $10,000,000.

Lasting Happiness:

There are two types of goals: extrinsic and intrinsic. Extrinsic ones involve material, status and fame, while Intrinsic goals involve personal growth, relationships and experiences. I cannot stress how much more rewarding intrinsic goals have been in my life. Learning Italian, backpacking through New Zealand and playing piano crush owning a new wardrobe, more twitter followers and a bigger bankroll.

Happiness should be our religion and the basis on which we make our decisions. Fortunately, since it is a mental state of being, it is also a skill we can develop. Practicing Happiness should be embedded into our daily lives. Gratitude, kindness and modest expectations should be applied to not set ourselves up for disappointment. As little as five minutes a day can make all the difference.

Contentment is not a mysterious place at the end of the rainbow. It exists here and now. Most of all, when choosing an industry where money is the standard way to measure success, we must remember, the goal is not to be rich, but to be happy.

Be happy for this moments. This moments is your life.” – Omar Khayyam

Join the Discussion, Send Over Your Thoughts!

You May Also Like


  • Andy Vaughn March 19, 2012 12:35 pm

    Very nice post, Alec. And, I say this as both a poker player and M.S. in Sport Psychology.

    • Alec March 19, 2012 10:48 pm

      Thanks Andy. Glad you enjoyed it.

  • Alex March 25, 2012 1:28 pm

    Finally someone that knows what real value is about, this made my day and I REALLY hope people take this to heart more than anything in the world.

    The world we live in is selfish/egocentric for the sole reason that the values in our society or rather the values our society puts on us has nothing to do with HUMAN values at all, but material bullshit. It is nothing but a shield that makes us feel good about ourself because we don`t dare to explore who we are and what we actually feel and believe in. We are taught (guys mostly) that showing emotion and feeling our own pain and accepting it is not manly or macho. People just need a huge wakeup call and get their head out of their ass and smell the fresh air. Don`t get me wrong this is not gonna be done over night or even in the next 2 years of your life probably(depending on your situation of course), but everybody has to start somewhere and dare to feel and analyze themselves and not believe everything you read/hear.

    The key to most things are objectivity, having the capacity to understand other peoples point of view instead of taking everything "negative" said towards you as a personal attack and instead trying to find out from which direction can his/her view make sense. I can assure you that most of the things you have felt as a personal attack hits you for a reason. Instead of acting with anger and rage(which is what most guys are again taught to do cause it hurts the pride), take a good look at yourself in the mirror when you`re alone and think very carefully about what that person just said and analyze yourself through their words. I can almost assure you that if you are not to deep into your own egocentric bullshit you gonna find and answer, and it will probably not be one you like, but one that you need to learn to accept or change if need be.

    This went far out of only poker, but a lot of the things I point out here can easily be put into poker as well. Just gives a me bit hope in humanity when I see someone that has done some serious "soul" searching and I am pretty sure that you have become a better person because of it.

    • Alec Torelli March 25, 2012 11:23 pm

      Thanks Alex, some good words.

      Andy, much appreciated as well.

Leave a Reply