Everyone engages in self-talk. These internal monologues are important to our performance. Most self-talk is neutral or positive. Reminding yourself to stop for a quart of milk or to get someone a birthday present is pretty neutral. Telling yourself you look good and feel good are positive.
Positive self-talk helps us achieve and perform at the highest level. Negative self-talk is destructive.
The good news is one can learn positive self-talk and how to challenge negative self-talk.
An example: You’re driving to the poker room and you tell yourself you have awesome skills and understand the game. You decide you’re going to play a cash game and don’t have time for the deepstack; you tell yourself you enjoy playing cash and have been doing well and “feel” good and will probably do well.
On the other hand, you’re driving to the poker room, you really want to play the deepstack; you realized you don’t have enough time to play to make the money you decide to play cash. Good decision. But you think about the cash game and you think about the money you have in your pocket and you say to yourself, “Well, I haven’t been doing too well at cash, but I only have $XXX with me and I can afford to lose that; if I lose that, it’s no big deal.” You have set yourself up to lose. You can’t compete with the idea that you’re going to lose. This is called self-fulfilling prophecy. Subconsciously, you’ll play to lose. On a deeper level, you may feel depressed let that depression fill your head with negative talk. You probably need to talk to someone about this interference. You can challenge your negative self-talk. Some techniques are reframing, reality-testing, perspective and goals. You can consciously change your self-talk monologue and almost make it a dialogue.
I worry I’m going to get bad cards. I’m afraid I’ll come across as a fish or not knowledgeable. I’m nervous I won’t play smart. I think I have these feelings because I’ve had similar experiences in the past where I got nervous because I didn’t have a solution and did badly. These can change to: Hey man, you need to slow down; everyone gets bad cards. You have been card dead and you know how to deal with it. Everyone gets nervous; getting nervous is just a different way of feeling excited, activated about playing. You worry too much; you know you’re a good player so just play your game. You know how to execute. You know how to focus. You know luck is part of the game and you know luck will even out eventually. Focus on yourself. Play how you know how to play to win.
In the first paragraph, the self-talk was first person. In the second, it was third person. This is useful in challenging negative self-talk. Keep your head in the game.
— Dr. Stephen Bloomfield is a licensed psychologist and avid poker player. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.