Mindfulness isn’t new, but it’s vital

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Mindfulness has been gaining popularity in psychology, though it has been around for a while. It is beginning to be talked about in poker psychology, including being mentioned on a recent World Series of Poker telecast.

So, how can the practice of mindfulness benefit the poker player? Here are some new techniques and areas of intervention that might be useful.

Traditional sports psychology interventions, such as imagery, self-talk and goal-setting generally aim to facilitate optimal performance by helping to control the internal mental factors that can affect athletes. Mindfulness is a more Eastern way of looking at such issues. Similar to the advice we get to not be concerned with the results but be concerned with the overall process, mindfulness looks at the same issues. One does not do an exercise and expect to get better. There’s less of a direct correlation than there is in increasing biceps by doing certain exercises. Mindfulness is attention to detail, attention to interaction and creating a sense of “flow’’ or being in the zone.

Some researchers in this field suggest being mindful means noticing the context in which one acts. In this view, there is a particular emphasis on the active processing of new information and the recognition that all stimuli can be seen from multiple perspectives. Another definition of mindfulness has its roots in Buddhist philosophy and involves “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally.”

Creating a flow state is an important goal of mindfulness. An individual is so involved with the task at hand and finds the activity so inherently enjoyable, that nothing else seems to matter. We have called this being in the zone. In past articles, I have used the analogy of grokking the situation. One cannot be in a flow state unless one really enjoys the activity; it can’t be a grind. And if it is a grind, then you have to enjoy grinding.

Attention is the second major factor in achieving mindfulness. How to be patient, how to read the situation and how to keep your attention on the game when you’re not in hand are all important aspects.

Do you focus and exclude external interference? I have spoken to folks who play video games, watch movies and the like while playing; they say they do well in poker. I believe them, but they have not reached peak performance and for them that might not be important.

The idea that positive and negative emotions can affect athletic performance is established in sports psychology literature. The connection between physiology and mental state has been talked about extensively. How your body reacts to the situation and the mind-body interaction is important. For now, be mindful and keep your head in the game.

— Dr. Stephen Bloomfield is a licensed psychologist and avid poker player. Email him at editor@anteupmagazine.com.