Daryl Jace

Teacher, Blogger, Poker player.

Is positivity bad for you?

Orignially written for : http://www.tournamentpokeredge.com/dap/a/?a=961

Is there negative side effects to having positive thoughts during a session? Seems like an odd question but I think it's an important one. What I'll be doing in this article is laying down the arguments against being positive, posing an alternative and asking important questions. The arguments are as follows: 

1) High expectations lead to big let downs when things inevitably don't go your way.

2) Your thoughts should be on the hand(s) in question only.

3) Positivity can lead to complacency. For example a player who's so sure he's the best that he thinks he doesn't needs work/help with his game. 

I feel like all of these have applied to me throughout my career. When I'd get a big stack in a MTT i'd basically start playing the bling blang blaow song in my head, imagining the win before it even happens. Then when i'd hit the inevitable setback i'd start to complain, lose my composure, get distracted and sometimes i'd get tilted.

Even #3 applies to me in poker and in life. So often I try to be positive and think things will turn out fine and consequently don't work as hard as I would've if I analyzed the situation objectively. 

Have you experienced similar things in your life/poker? Can you think of other ways positivity has been counterproductive for you? Do you think the pros of positivity outweigh the cons? Before you answer listen to the alternative.

The alternative is to try and stop both negative and positive thoughts when they arise. It's basically similar to a zen/meditative approach. Every time you're playing and you find your mind wandering to negative/positive thoughts u gently bring your mind back to the task at hand. 


This isn't perfect, just like in meditation nobody can go the whole time without having their mind go astray. The key is to always bring your thoughts back when they go astray. 


The problem is if you have tried any type of mental control before, (obv u have) you know that it doesn't always work. In fact you might say that it often makes things worse. This has been studied by psychologists and they have names for it like law of reversed effort,counter will and ironic processes of mental control. 


I'll try and explain what supposably happens without getting into all the complex details (i'd prob fuck them up anyways). Mental control typically works, the times it doesn't work is when your brain is under mental load (cognitive load,time pressure,distractions,stress etc) and when that happens you get the opposite intended effect. Desired happiness becomes sadness,desired relaxation becomes anxiety,desired interest becomes boredom,desired love becomes hate and so on. 


So wtf does we do when this happens Daryl? Process theory suggests to avoid mental control when under significant cognitive load. More importantly it suggests to try make mental control automatized (subconscious) through repetition/practice. 


Theoretically,automatized operations are significantly less likely to experience ironic effects. It is said that when people "choke under pressure" it is due to them thinking about a process that should just be automatic, like a 2 foot putt or a free throw. When they make a conscious effort (mental control) coupled with the intense stress/pressure at the end of a golf tourney or Bball game (mental load) it is likely to lead to ironic effects.


This clearly isn't cut and dried,even the guy who thought of process theory (Daniel Wegner) admits there isn't overwhelming evidence to back his claims. So don't necessarily buy into it without thinking about it or doing your own research. Hope you guys enjoyed it, pz. 


Link for the fellow super geeks who wanna learn more about ironic process theory - http://www.wjh.harvard.edu/~wegner/pdfs/Wegner%20Ironic%20Processes%201994.pdf


Ads suck, and I plan to keep this site completely ad free. To do that though, I need your help. I spend 100s of hours of month on this and need to spend a lot of money to improve the site. I ask that if you enjoy what I'm doing on here to consider subscribing to recurring monthly donations or a one time donation. Any amount is appreciated, helpful and motivating. Use the button below to send a one-time or recurring donation via PayPal. All major credit cards accepted. After donating you will be returned to my blog. Thank you!