Matt: In this episode, we explore the mental game of world champion performers; examine the emotional issues preventing you from achieving what you want to achieve; how those issues happen in predictable patterns that you can discover and solve; look at why people choke under pressure; and discuss how to build mental toughness with mental game coach, Jared Tendler. In our previous episode, we explored one of the biggest things disrupting your sleep; examined strategies for getting a better night’s rest; dug into sleep cycles; talked about the 30-day no alcohol challenge; and broke down how to read books more effectively with James Swanwick. If you want to sleep better and be more productive, listen to that episode. Today we have another amazing guest on the show, Jared Tendler. Jared is an internationally recognized mental game coach. His clients include world champion poker players, the number one ranked pool player in the world, professional golfers, and financial traders. He’s the author of two highly acclaimed books: The Mental Game of Poker 1 and 2. And host of the popular podcast, The Mental Game. Jared, welcome of the show.
Jared: Thanks, man. Good to be here.
Matt: So, for listeners who may not be familiar with you, tell us a little bit about kind of your story and your background.
Jared: I was an aspiring professional golfer. I was a kid. Kind of got a little bit of a later start, you know, around 13 to 14 is when I started really asking it seriously. This is kind of pre-Tiger in his heyday. I kind of grew up maybe three to four years behind him in terms of amateur golf, so I’m 38 now. I’m saying that, in part, because if you got started as an aspiring golfer at 13 years old right now, you’re severely behind the eight ball. The game has just become so, so highly competitive. So, I was behind the eight ball 25 years ago, and today it would be even worse. But, got to college, and was able to become a three-time all-American. Played some big national events, and in particular, the US Open qualifier, and was finding myself choking. So, I was having a lot of success in sort of the smaller events, more regional events, but when I was getting to the big stage, I was choking. And, you know, it was really on the cusp of being able to break through, but it was sort of my mental and emotional issues that was blocking me. So, rather than become a professional golfer, I’m not one to just try something just for the sake of trying it, I needed to feel like I actually had a chance of being successful. I went to get a master’s degree in counseling psychology. And then, subsequently got licensed as a traditional therapist. Really, to better understand the reasons why I was choking, and the reasons why I think a lot of athletes, in particular, golfers, that their game doesn’t perform under that kind of pressure as well as they’d like. And the reason I did that is because, what I felt like was the predominant mode of sports psychology at the time, was very, sort of, surface-level. It was, “You’re not focused, you’re losing confidence, you're getting too anxious. We’re going to teach you how to focus, how to be confident, how to relax in those environments.” It didn't really understand the “Why?” Why was I not confident? Why was my focus elsewhere? Why was I thinking about the future or the past? And I think... To me, that was the, I think the essential question to ask in order to find the real cause of the problem, so that sustainable improvements could be made. So, I made a lot of improvements using the typical sports psychology advice. My game got better, I was certainly performing better by the time I was a senior than I was a freshman, but the essential pattern of really breaking down under that big-time stress hadn’t changed. And I felt like there was something deeper that had be found. And so, after I got my Master’s degree and felt like I had kind of understood the problem solving methodology of a therapist, I flew to Arizona and started up my golf psychology practice and was kind of cold-calling and knocking on country club doors, trying to find some swinging structures for me to partner with. I felt like, you know, if I could have some kind of strong relationship between another instructor that the two of us could kind of create a well-rounded team for, especially professional golfers, but even really serious amateurs or junior players. That's what I did, and so I was working with golfers for about three and a half years. Before poker came bout, which, you know, kind of defined my career for the last eight years.
Matt: So, how did you get into the world of poker?
Jared: So, poker was somewhat spontaneous. I had actually begun playing some professional golf myself. I was... It felt like I had solved a lot of the issues that I had needed to, and was playing some of the best golf in my life. Got hooked up with a group of guys that...one of which was a former professional golfer, and he, unfortunately had to stop playing golf because he had a heart attack at 22. Was not drug induced. It was some genetic mutation that caused his heart to...the arteries to spasm. And so, he ended up going into professional online poker. And it was an interesting transition. The guy was an incredibly hard worker, with his golf. Growing up, was the guy that spent hours and hours hitting balls and was kind of just the equivalent of a gym rat in golf. He actually broke Tiger Woods’ record for most tournament victories in the state of California in one summer. I think he won 35 events, had a lot of competence in working and obviously as a player, and then saw online poker back in 2004, or 2005 is when he started. This was during the online poker boom, prior to when the government stepped in. There was a lot of money to be made, and he was making around $20,000 to $30,000 per month when he and I met. He ended up seeking my advice for psychologically, was because he was getting so angry that he was literally, like, taking his desktop computer and ripping it out of the wall and smashing it, and breaking monitors and mice and keyboards. And poker, there’s a lot of short-term luck. Imagine a golfer hitting a perfect drive down the middle of the fairway, and it hitting a sprinkler head and going straight out of bounds. And then doing that five times in a row. You’re in a professional golf tournament, and you make a 15 on a hole, 9 or 10 over par, and you don’t even hit a bad shot. In poker, that happens every single day. The better players lose a lot because of the short-term luck. And that’s important as a professional poker player, because that’s where a lot of their money is made. Not necessarily just the differential in skill, but the differential in the perception of skill. Bad players need to win in order to think that they’re good, in order to play against players who are the equivalent of a 15-handicapped golfer, or playing up against a PGA tour player and not getting any strokes to even out the match. There’s never a scenario where that PGA tour player is going to lose to that player. Or, imagine the New York Yankees playing up against a high school baseball team. There’s never scenario where the Yankees are losing. But in poker, that dynamic happens every single day. The best players in the world lose to some of the worst players in the world, and that’s a reality. So, for him, dealing with that reality was incredibly difficult, especially coming from golf where he had a lot more control over his results. So, our interactions began with me kind of doing a typical dissection of my clients. I have them fill out a very detailed questionnaire to try to understand what their issues are, and then we get to work. Within a few months, the results were almost too obvious to note. I mean, it was... He went from, as I said making from $20,000-$30,000 a month, to making $150,000-$200,000 a month. And yes, there certainly can be some good luck involved in that, but for the most part, being able to remain calm, remain focused, be in the zone more, was a big part of his success. So, he happened to be part, being able to remain calm, remain focused, be in the zone more, was a big part of his success, so he happened to be part owner in an online-training site that taught people how to play poker, which was a new phenomenon at the time. And because it was new and there wasn’t really anybody doing sports psychology in poker, it gave me sort of a big avenue for me to take my job. You know, as I said, I started playing some professional golf and so it became a difficult choice point. Do I pursue my dream? Or do I take on this seemingly risky thing to just hop into poker? And I decided that it was going to cost about $250,000 over two or three years to try to make it as a professional golfer. You know, I was getting older at this point, I was 27. So, it was a risk. I decided that poker was the safer bet, and I would just dive into it, continue to play some tournaments and see where it went. And it just sort of took off. I just had a large influx of clients very quickly, and really just saw a huge opportunity within that field. It gave me a chance, really, to work with players longer term. The golfers seemingly were a lot more fickle. They wanted results quickly. They’re the people who buy clubs regularly, thinking that’s the solution. Even the professionals, they wanted things faster than the process would kind of allow for. But for some reason, poker players, maybe because it’s the money, the money was happening every day. It was like working with an employee, or just somebody's who's working a business. Golfers don’t play tournaments every single day, the poker players just seem to be committed to it. Really, it was a lot of fun to me to work with a lot of people who are committed to doing that kind of work. That was eight years ago, 2007 to 2008 when I got started with that website. At this point, I’ve worked with well over 500 poker players, some of the best players in the world, as you mentioned the books that I’ve written. It’s been a very enjoyable ride going through poker.
Matt: So, I definitely want to dig into smashing computers and dealing with guilt and all of that, but before we do, tell me why do people choke?
Jared: There are lots of reasons. One reason can be that their expectations are too high relative to their actual capacity. There, sometimes can be some traumatic experiences, and then, you know, those traumatic experiences then continued to get replayed. The mind has the ability to imprint a memory. So, then in a physical capacity, that motor pattern gets replayed, gets triggered when the circumstances cause a lot of stress. From a decision making standpoint, the mind has the ability... Or the brain, I should say. The brain has the ability to shut down higher brain function. People often are familiar with what’s called the flight or fight mechanism. So, if you are in a blind rage, that is the equivalent of choking. Except, we’re talking about the difference between anger and pressure. But, both circumstances are caused by the same tripping of the wiring in your brain where higher brain function gets shut off. If you’re feeling euphoric on your wedding day, or your child gets born, there’s this rush of emotion and it shuts down higher brain function. My daughter is two years old now, if I was told right after she was born, that I had to make some very complex calculations, or I had to help somebody with a very severe problem, there’s no way that I could do that. The emotions are too intense. And that mechanism goes back to your primitive processes in the brain, and I’m sure you’ve talked a lot about this in your podcast. The key in my mind is that we have to understand what creates that tripping. What’s causing that excessive emotion in more normal circumstances, marriage and baby aside. When we’re able to understand what that is, then we can decrease the neurological activity in the emotional center, so that the higher brain functions can actually click back in and you’re able to make decisions, or as an athlete you’re able to think through and see and perceive the environment around you to know what to do. As a golfer, you need your sense to be able to perceive the environment to have your body react to that particular shot. The same is true with a lot of athletes, right? If you lose that perception, then your capacity as an athlete is severely diminished. But what often remains is those exception that you should be able to perform at levels that would be the case without that severe emotion present. And that is what causes, or is a big cause of people choking, is that differential. In their minds, not being able to reconcile that difference. It’s basically like, if you were to... If I were to put you on the edge of the cliff, and it was, let’s say, 30 feet wide. And I would say, “Matt, I want you to jump across that.” You should choke at attempting to do that. You should not do it, because it’s an impossible thing to do. But when players are faced with a similar kind of chasm, they don’t realize how big the gap is between what they’re normally expecting of themselves, and what they’re actually capable of in that moment. And that causes predictable paralysis, and causes people to choke.
Matt: What creates the tripping or kind of trips the wire of excessive emotion? I know there may be many different causes, but have you seen some commonalities among what triggers that in people?
Jared: Yeah, it’s... So, the tripping, I would call a trigger. I think that comes from cognitive psychology, or cognitive behavioral psychology and therapy. So, it’s not a new term. But these triggers, these things that spark the emotion can be... There’s almost like an infinite amount of things it could be. The commonalities would be: Losing, making mistakes, seeing somebody else successful — that might spark judgment, or some jealousy. Actually, winning, can actually cause excessive emotion to tend to. But, you know, it’s the dynamics of the game are varied, right? So, we sort of extrapolate within poker, within golf, within trading — What does winning and losing look like? What do mistakes look like? Those are going to be, by and large, a lot of things that people are going to be triggered by. The reaction that they have is going to be varied, right? Some people are going to feel like losing causes a sense of injustice. Some people are going to feel like they deserve not to get bad luck, or they deserve to win. Some people are going to feel like their sense of competitive balance is off, and they’re going to feel like they’re fighting for their goals, and so they’re going to be triggered in that way. Other people are going to have some wishes that they could win more. They’re going to lose some confidence and have difficulty not being able to control the outcome or believing that when they win, that that means they should always win. There’s a lot of reactions that happen that can cause more of the chaotic array of emotional issues that come about, but I think that’s a lot of it.
Matt: And what do you advise people to do to, kind of in the moment, decrease that neurological activity that is caused by excess emotions?
Jared: There’s a few things. Number one, you have to understand the cause of that excessive emotional activity. So, the things that I’ve mentioned so far, you know, they may or may not necessarily get to the root of it, right? So, if you don’t have a sense of the root cause, then your attempts in the moment to control the emotion, which is really all you can do, is minimized. So, for example, we take somebody who has a sense of entitlement, right? That sense of entitlement causes them to get angry at situations where they think the outcome should be different, and they get very pissed off at that, right? A sense of entitlement often comes as a result of a weakness in confidence, right? And some over-confidence. Well, that over-confidence may be caused by an illusion of control. So, they believe they’re in more control of the outcome than is real. So, the reaction that is entitlement, that in the moment frustration that they’re not getting the results that they want requires a reminder that speaks to that illusion of control. So, you might have a statement that says something like, “I can’t control all of the results.” You know, no one can. There’s short-terms luck, there’s short-term things that I can’t control, like the actions of other players or competitors, and so all I can control are XYZ, or all I can control is how well I am focused, how well I’m prepared, how well I’m playing. Whatever might be specific to that person, and they’re using that statement as a way of correcting that deeper flaw, which is critical to long-term resolution of the issue. And in the short-term, it creates some control so that they’re able to decrease a little of that emotion and actually continue to make good decisions, or perform well. But the process I use requires several steps to get to that point. Number one is recognition early on. The longer that it takes for you to recognize that your emotions are rising, the harder it is for you to use that logic, to use that statement, to gain control of the emotion. And it should make sense, right? The bigger the emotion, the more strength is required to control it. The faster you can identify it, when it’s small, the more of an effect it will have. Because that same dynamic is at play. Which is when the emotions rise too high, they shut down higher brain function proportionally to that size of the emotion. So, the bigger the emotion is, the weaker your mind is, and the weaker that statement will have as you say it in those moments. And I actually think this is one of the biggest mistakes that cognitive behavioral therapists have made. Cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the most effective treatments, for a whole range of issues, both clinical, personal, as well as within the sphere of performance and sports and whatnot. But they might a big mistake in not emphasizing this point that I’m making now, which is that you have to use that cognition, use that thought process, at a time when your thoughts are the most powerful. Which is when the emotions are small. So, what I advise people to do is create very detailed mappings of the escalation of their emotions. Right. People in business, or in sports, in poker, in trading, the issues that we experience happen in very predictable patterns. And it’s our job to become aware of that pattern so that we can apply corrections, at times, where the mind can actually receive it. So, it takes a little bit of studying, and so I advise my clients to spend a week or two weeks taking detailed notes of the situations in which they’re looking for control. One of the cool things about online poker is that there’s a high frequency of emotional reactions, and so they may have a bad reaction to losing, happen five times within a particular day. And certain businesses, you may not be faced with those situations. Might have happened several times a year, but when they do happen, your reaction is so severe that it is really impairing your functioning as an employee or as a business owner. So, you’ve got to do your best to, in those situations, go back into your memory bank, and think about how you’ve reacted in similar situations in the past. But you don’t want to do that just once. I mean, you don’t want to spend one day or one hour thinking about it. You want to spend 15 to 20 minutes, five times a week for several weeks really thinking about it. Make it a habit where you’re trying to uncover and articulate this pattern. It is such an important principle I can’t overestimate it. That recognition is the X factor. If you can’t recognize the emotion prior to it becoming to the point where it’s going to shut down our brain function, you have little to no change of actually gaining control. And, in fact, actually, people with very high expectations, really just go completely mental in spots where they’re expecting to be in control, but the emotions are so high. Very often, when the emotions are high, you... It doesn’t mean your brain is completely gone. You still have the ability to think. And you might even know this logic statement. You might know what is logical to correct that emotion. But you’re doing it at a time when emotions are so high that it doesn't have an impact. It’s so... The emotions are so powerful and so strong, that what cognition you have is very weak. But if you have the expectations that what little cognition you have should be able to control that emotion, then your mind is just going to boil up. You’re going to become so angry, like my friend Dusty, my first poker player, who was ripping his desktop computer out of the wall. So, again, first step is to recognize, and then in the moment, once you’ve recognized it and it’s small, then you’re taking a couple deep breaths. Very, very quickly, very, well... I say quickly, more up to the point is efficiency. You don’t have to take these long, drawn out, deep breaths like a meditative kind of thing. The purpose is more about creating separation between the reaction and the correction, which is the third step. The deep breath is the equivalent of stepping out of the room when you’re having a heated argument with a friend or a spouse. If you just keep fighting, or you keep arguing, there doesn’t become any chance of coming to some conclusion or some reconciliation of the issue, right? When you both step out of the room, cooler heads are able to prevail, you’re able to get some perspective, and that’s the idea. The deep breaths give you some space, and some separation from that reaction, to then be able to apply the logic. Now if you’re in an environment where your decision making allows you the opportunity to take some longer, deeper breaths to calm down, then take that opportunity, it's not going to hurt you. But if you’re a poker player, if you’re a day trader, if you're a golfer, you may not have the time or the luxury to be able to spend a minute actually doing some deep breathing to prepare yourself for the logic. That third step is injecting that logic, right? The cognitive behavioral strategy of having that correction to that root flaw. Then the fourth step is what I call a strategic reminder. The reason this is important is because, just because we’ve stabilized or controlled our emotions in that moment, it doesn’t automatically mean that our performance is going to be as high as we want it to be. For poker players, they're being reminded of the common mistakes that they might make. They’re thinking about their decision making process and kind of filling in some of the holes that might typically be there when they’re upset. So, they're forcing their attention to correct those mistakes. A golfer might, you know, focus on a particular part of their technique, or a particular part of their decision making. They might forget to calculate the impact of the wind, and so they’ve got to make sure and force themselves to consider that. Because, just because they’re calm again, doesn’t mean they’re going to automatically think about that part of their decision making, or their performance. So, while you’re competing, you’ve got to go through that cycle of those four steps over, and over again. And that to me is really how you build mental strength. It’s the force that is required to apply these corrections in these moments, and repeating them time, and time again as they happen throughout your day, throughout your performance. And it’s a bit like going to the gym and working out, right? That’s where the strength comes from, it’s pushing yourself at a time that’s very difficult. And this is, you know, less so for athletes that are competing in kind of time dependent scenarios. You don’t want to keep pushing yourself beyond the point where you need to quit, right? You can’t just lift a certain amount of weight at the gym a hundred times, when you can only do it ten times. You want to push yourself to be able to do twelve, not a hundred. A hundred is not doable. So, quitting, taking breaks, resting, is very, very important to the strengthening of the mind, much like it is the body. So, quitting at an appropriate time where you don’t risk rein jury is an important part of the overall whole. We’re creating containment and then day after day, that containment ought to get stronger and stronger, if you’re allowing your mind to recover.
Matt: So, what are some strategies to boost recognition and train people to more effectively recognize the beginning of an emotional reaction?
Jared: The first thing is to start with what’s obvious, right. Even if it’s at the point past where the emotions have kind of shut down your thinking. You just start writing it down. There’s a very simple framework that I use which is called the spectrum of emotion, and you just sort of scale it 1 to 10 or 10 to 1--however you want to describe it--one being when the emotion is at its lowest, ten being when it’s at its highest. And you just start to take notes in each of those ten spaces, about what it’s like when your emotional reaction is at its lowest point or at its highest point or somewhere in between. Somewhere around your emotional system is shutting down higher brain function. And you’re also paying attention to the changes in your decision making, the changes in your tactical performance, and so you’re trying to create a map. This is the map. What does the pattern look like, right? So, when it’s very small, the anger issue might appear as some minor irritation, like some kind of extra noise in your head where you’re like “Agghhh!” Or you kind of sigh deeply, or maybe even pound the desk a little bit. Not that serious, but you’re like, “Goddammit!” And so you’re writing down the physical changes, you’re writing down the specific thoughts that you have in your head, like, “I can’t believe I was such an idiot!” If you’re reacting to a mistake. So, it’s physical reactions, emotional signs, the specific thoughts that you have or the things that you say out loud, and any of the technical, sort of specific to your area of performance that changes at each of those different levels. So, your reaction to a mistake might begin with some, just kind of like tension in your head, or you’re like, “Dammit, I can’t believe I did that.” But when it’s at a ten and you’re just in a blind rage about the mistake that you’ve made, or you just can’t possibly even think. It’s like, you feel like you’re just the dumbest person in the world, and can’t comprehend how you’ve made such a bone-headed obvious mistake. And whatever is going on in your mind at the time is what you’re writing down.
Matt: What do you do if you’re in the heat of the moment and you apply, or try to apply, a correction and it doesn’t work?
Jared: In that particular moment, it depends on the scenario. If you’re a golfer, a poker player, a trader who’s performance is so time dependent that you don’t really have the ability to take a bigger step backwards, then there’s not much you can do. The only thing you really can do, and this is true for sort of other people as well, is to better understand the pattern. If control at that point is gone, then your option is to better understand the pattern. It is going to happen again, and the reason it happened this time is because you didn’t understand the pattern to begin with. Or, at least understand the cause of it. So, let’s assume that you knew the pattern well but you couldn’t gain control of it. It means that your injecting logic didn’t work. It means that your understanding of the pattern was not strong enough. Or it means that there is an accumulation of emotion that is rapidly overwhelming your mind. It is possible for people in a particular moment to get triggered by something so severely, that their emotions rise so high so quick, that it bypasses our ability to have any option to inject logic or to inject some cognitive correction. In which case, we’re dealing with a much deeper issue, a much more long lasting issue that is not going to be corrected in that moment, and you have to do some real, much, much deeper work to uncover the cause of that and start to break apart that accumulated emotion, and give yourself the option to have some mental control.
Matt: So, the creation of the map of this pattern, is that the primary tool that you recommend for, let’s say, off the felt or when you’re not actually in the heat of the moment, building that understanding of the root cause?
Jared: It’s a building of an understanding of what’s going on, but it’s only sort of the beginnings of being able to understand the root cause. So the pattern that you’re writing about is really like the symptom pattern, and then the root cause is the cause of that symptom. So, me thinking I’m an idiot would be the symptom of, let’s say low-confidence caused by high expectations. This is a common phenomenon around a lot of the people that I work with. Perhaps a lot of people that listen to this podcast, who believe that high expectations are a good thing. I’m not saying they’re a bad thing; high expectations have led to a lot of successes. But what happens is that they can often also add to a reduced sense of confidence. Because and expectation implies a guarantee. And goals imply learning a development required to achieve the same end outcome. So you might think that your expectations are goals, but if you think what you’re aiming for is, in essence, guaranteed. Even if you don’t necessarily have the capacity right now to reach that goal. If you assume that you’re going to, then it’s still an expectation. What that does is it makes the learning process more chaotic. You might still end up achieving the same goal, but you’re going to have a feeling like you’re an idiot sometimes. Rather than seeing that the mistakes you’re making today are way, way, less severe than the mistakes you make five years ago. So, how could you really be an idiot if you are already that much more capable, you know? You’re not an idiot, it’s just that you’re overreacting to a mistake because you believe you shouldn’t make them, and so the root cause right here is the flaw in mistaking goals for expectations. So, we take this sort of symptom pattern and then we drill down and figure out what is at the root of it, then you start correcting the root. Over time, that symptom pattern starts to dissipate and disappear. and that is true resolution. That is when you’ve actually defused the bomb. You’ve taken the trigger and made it... It no longer is going to spark, so no I can make mistakes. And I’m not saying I’m happy about it, but I’m at least dealing with the mistake in a much more objective, rational way towards reaching my end goals, which is ultimately... Solving this mistake is an essential part of that.
Matt: So, how do we drill down and really kind of get to and understand what that root cause is?
Jared: That is the most complex part of the whole process. I think at this point probably what is my greatest expertise as a coach is being able to kind of work with my clients to be able to do deduce what’s going on behind the scenes. This is the unearthing of the unconscious processes behind our emotional reactions. There’s a process I use, and it’s in the first book, actually it’s in both books now that I think of it. That helps players to break down their symptoms, their issues, to try to identify that root cause. And these are the steps: The first step is to describe the problem in as much detail as you can. So, you can certainly build off of that map, that spectrum of emotion, to create and articulate the description of the problem. The second step is to describe why it makes sense that you would think, feel, or react this way. Now, this is I think one of the most important steps for many, many people. Because they often think that their emotional reactions are illogical, or irrational, and so if you think that your emotions are irrational, then there’s really no way to solve it. The fundamental flaw is the emotion itself. The anger is the problem. in my opinion, the anger, the fear, the loss of confidence, the loss of motivation, the boredom, the distraction. All of those are symptoms, they’re never the actual problem. They’re sort of like the messenger trying to highlight what’s going on beneath the surface. So, you have to change your mentality about problem solving by acknowledging the reality that everything that is occurring is very logical and predictable. I just don’t know the reason yet. It appears, to me, to be irrational, because I don’t know why it is. So, rationality is that second step. I’m not saying that step is without flaw, I’m not saying it’s correct long-term, but there is a reason why you’re thinking that way. So, my step one description might be, I have very, very strong reactions to mistakes. I really hate making mistakes. Well, why does it make sense that I would feel that way? It makes sense because I have high expectations of myself, because I hold myself to a really high standard and I really want to avoid these mistakes. I think that they shouldn’t be happening. Step three: Why is that logic flawed? And this is where we start to get to the root cause. In the example that I gave before, it’s my high expectations. I’m equating the learning process, the process of accomplishing my goals is occurring without making mistakes. So, my expectations are just excessive. They’re not realistic. So, what is the correct? The correction is: I need to be aggressive in my pursuit of my goal, and I need to look at mistakes as the opportunities to grow and improve, and as really is the essential things to be able to accomplish my things. Because if, and this is something I tell a lot of my clients, if you are pursuing a goal where you’re not going to make mistakes, then it’s not really something that’s worth chasing. It’s too basic. You’re not really pushing yourself. You’re not really trying. Anything that you’ve got to try and really push yourself to accomplish, you have to make mistakes. It’s inevitable. So, that step four, what is the correction, often times becomes the injecting logic statement. Step five is: Why is that correction correct? And this just sort of looks to get at a little more of the theory behind it. It’s correct because the learning process isn’t predictable. I can’t always know the mistakes I’m going to make. That would require me to be a psychic, and I’m not psychic, so I have to make these mistakes. That theory becomes extra footing helping to root the correction in our minds, because I kind of vision the root system to a bush or to a tree, kind of like the interactions or the intricacies of the neurons in our mind. It kind of has a visual that is similar, there’s a lot of these off-shoots. It’s not just about implanting this very simple idea of mistakes are predictable, it’s about the complex idea that you’re trying to firmly root, which will then automatically change how you react to them in the future.
Matt: I love the concept that emotions are the messenger, and not the root cause of performance issues.
Jared: It’s the only thing that seems logical to me. I mean, I think, in large measure they’ve been downgraded for a long time but they have particular messaging when you pay attention to it. Anger is the emotion of conflict, right? That conflict can exist between people, that conflict can exist within ourselves. Fear or anxiety is the messenger for uncertainty. There’s a lot of uncertainty in the world, certainly in business if you’re making an investment where there is 100% certainty, well, then there’s probably not much reward for that investment. You’re buying US Treasury bonds that are paying next to nothing. The more uncertainty that exists, the greater the reward is. The greater the investment will pay off, and that’s true with poker players, with golfers, with athletes as well. Confidence, the emotion of confidence — I think that’s an important distinction because I think people very often are not thinking about confidence as an emotion. Confidence is a reflection of skill and competence, but more importantly, it’s our perception of our skill and our competence. So, it’s not just a pure reflection of our confidence. If that were the case, my God, poker would not be profitable. The world would be a much more simple place. But we have our own biases, our own perceptions of our skill and competence that plays into our feelings of confidence. So, when you’re looking at dissecting what the messenger of confidence is saying, it’s a measurement of your perception of skill, and a measurement of your actual skill. Motivation is a byproduct of your goals, and so it’s going to reflect conflict between goals. It’s going to reflect inconsistencies, or goal that are too high or too low, and your motivation is going to be affected based on those flaws.
Matt: So, let’s flip this on its head a little bit. I’m curious: What are some common traits you see among people who have incredible mental strength, or really peak mental performers?
Jared: They have, I think, an almost intuitive or innate understanding of the learning process. The learning process is something that many people get wrong and don’t realize how much emotional chaos gets created as a result of it. My example of mistakes is a perfect example of that. So, they have a very intuitive process or innate process for understanding the learning. They have a great ability to be objective with themselves, so that their performance is evaluated without as much emotionality towards it. It doesn’t mean they’re any less driven to excel, it means that when they fall short, or when they excel, they’re equally as objective, and it’s a form of feedback. When you go and compete, it’s a test. And being able to grade that test is essential, good or bad, because then it helps to guide the next steps. So, they’re also... They’re long-term thinkers. They’re long-term performers, they’re not just seeing today in isolation, they’re seeing today in the bigger picture. Again, that doesn’t take away from their desire to excel today, because they know that when they excel today, they’re going to also be learning at a very high level. This is a relationship that I talk a lot about in my second book that performance and learning are intimately tied. They’re kind of like yin and yang. So when you’re performing at a very high level, you’re also learning at a very high level. So they’re driven to excel because of what it allows them to accomplish today, and what it’s also going to lead towards tomorrow. They’re constantly seeking the advice and counsel of other people They understand their own biases or their own limitations in their thinking, and they’re looking for other people to shed light on their weak spots. To shed light on their blind spots, but they’re also not going to do so blindly. They have a sense of their skill set and so when there are things that are brought to their attention that seem irrelevant, they’re not going to give it a second thought. Maybe down the line they will again, but that relevancy for them is very temporal. It’s relevant today, they’re not going to say, they’re not going to focus too much on the thing that’s going to be very relevant two years from now. They might note it so they don’t forget it, but they’re not going to over-emphasize it today. I think those are a lot of the big ones. Mental toughness and having the right temperament and the right personality... Those are things I think that are very personal. I try not to get into the personal characteristics or dynamics that make up the ideal, because I think there’s a lot of ways to accomplish it, and if you have some of the more basic essential elements, however your personality allows you to materialize it is kind of the fun of it. Kind of the diversity of it.
Matt: I think one of the most critical things you’ve mentioned is the importance of feedback and actively seeking out your weaknesses and your flaws, but also in a way that you’re aware of... You have to be very cognizant of what is the source of the feedback, and is this particular piece of advice or whatever it might be, relevant to where I am now and what I’m trying to do.
Jared: Yeah. It’s very easy... I’ll say it this way. It’s easy for people to get caught up in taking advice for many, many different people. But when that happens, it’s evidence of a weakness in confidence. And that weakness in confidence might be because you don’t understand your skill set well enough. So, there is a perceptual weakness, not an actual weakness. So, the perception gets strengthen when you have a more clear understanding of what your skills actually are. Then you get to take that understanding and match it with the feedback that you're getting rather than getting pulled in many, many different directions because you’re allowing it to happen, because you don’t have that centering, that grounding that comes from being the one who is in control of your performance. As the athlete, you’re the one that has to do it. There’s no one who can actually do it for you. The people around you are supporting your ability to do that, and if you’re getting pulled in many directions, it means that they’re just some inner knowledge that’s lacking.
Matt: Long time listeners will know that I’m an avid poker player. I’d love to dig in a little bit to some poker-specific stuff. I’m sure we’ve touched on some of the conceptual framework behind this, but let’s get back into smashing computers and ripping mice from the wall. How do you recommend, or what are some strategies specifically for things like tilt control. For those who may not know, would you briefly explain what tilt is?
Jared: Yeah. So, tilt... I’ll actually say it in two ways. Tilt, before I came into poker was a poker player’s way of saying that any reason they would play less than their best would be called “tilt”. Tilt, as I define it, is about anger. When I studied poker players for years—and I’m not really a very good poker player myself; I’m kind of the outsider that came in and observed what was going on—well over 80% of the conversations that players are having are the descriptions they were giving about tilt, meant that they got angry, and they were doing stupid stuff, and they were losing. Very rarely are players tilting and winning. They’re usually tilting because they’re losing, and or their tilt is causing them to lose. So, the strategies for correcting tilt are identical to the things we’ve already mapped out in terms of the framework. What I’ve done in my first book is to map out seven different types of tilt that I’ve just observed. To date, my first book came over five years ago, no one has yet been able to come up with another type of tilt that could explain a situation at the poker table where someone would get pissed off. So, I continue to have that challenge out there and certainly welcome anybody that can find another one. And the reason is because each of these seven types of tilt are focused on that root cause. There are hundreds of reasons why poker players tilt. The triggers that we’re talking about earlier. Hundreds of reasons why players have their tilt triggered. But they’re only a handful of them when you dig down beneath the surface and see what’s going on. So, the first step... So, when we’re talking about solving tilt, you’ve got to understand what’s causing it and by mapping these out in seven... I think that’s helped a lot of player be able to narrow down their focus so they could actually solve their tilt problem. The first one is called “running bad tilt.” Running bad tilt in poker means that you’re losing a lot in short of succession, and a bad run of cards, basically means you’re just getting a lot of bad luck in short succession. So, if you were flipping coins, you should... The mass says that half the time you’re going to flip heads, half the time you’re going to flip tails. What about when you flip a coin and ten times in a row it comes up tails. You’re betting on heads, right? So now you’ve had a bad run, so that’s a very simple example for those who don’t play poker to understand that there’s a lot of math involved in poker, and you get into situations where the bad luck is just against you. There’s literally nothing you can do other than to continue to play a very strong, strategically long-term strategy. But obviously that’s not what happens to a lot of players. They handle that bad run by getting angry and then play worse. They try to recapture their money, they try to force the action, they try to be more aggressive and make more money. Of course, the good players are waiting for that to happen, because that’s what bad players do. So, a good player can turn into a bad player very quickly when they’re on tilt. So, running bad tilt is one. The second one is called injustice tilt. The name should imply it, right. This is a feeling like what’s happening is unfair, unjust, as if the poker Gods are against them. Entitlement tilt is the next one. Entitlement tilt and injustice tilt are very similar in terms of the language, but with entitlement tilt, it’s more of a sense of deserving. It’s a more personal feeling, as I mentioned earlier, it’s over confidence. Injustice is kind of outwardly. It’s more about, like what the poker Gods, or what poker’s not giving to you, you’re not getting what you deserve, whereas with entitlement, it’s a feeling of superiority over other players, right? You’re better than this player, so you deserve to win, not like you’re getting bad cards and feeling a sense of injustice. Hate losing tilt, otherwise known as competitive tilt. These are the highly competitive people who just hate losing, and that losing causes a lot of anger. Mistake tilt is the next one, we talked about that already. Revenge tilt, one of my always favorites just because players get so crazy and they start attacking others. It’s amusing for me. Desperation tilt is the last one, and desperation tilt is not necessarily a unique type of tilt, any of the other types of tilt that I’ve mentioned can cause desperation tilt, but I specifically carve out desperation tilt because it is the line between a poker player who is successful, who is profitable, that is having a very, very difficult time controlling themselves with a player who actually has a gambling problem. Desperation tilt is a performance issue; a gambling problem is somebody who can’t handle the losses, doesn’t have actual skill in the game, and needs clinical help. I am trained as therapist, but I’m not practicing as one. I am a coach working in performance, and yes I do get into personal issues because inevitably they're part of a player’s performance. But that’s not my primary issue of focus and I refer anybody that I believe that has a gambling problem to therapist who are specialized in that. So, desperation tilt, you know, oftentimes includes players jumping up in stakes. So, they start playing for a lot more money than their bank roll can support. They’re basically playing for all of their money, right? As a poker player, you have to have the ability to tolerate a lot of losses. And if you don’t have the cash to support the fluctuations and profitability, then you can go bust, and that’s what ends up happening to a lot of poker players. They end up playing for all of their bank roll. They’ve got $20,000, and they really should only be playing for $200 or $400 at a time, and they go play against a very skilled player for 20 grand. Most likely they’re going to lose it. Of course they can get lucky in that spot, but that’s not going to solve their desperation tilt problem.
Matt: The funny thing about a lot of these forms of tilt, especially things like injustice tilt, entitlement tilt, mistake tilt, you see this same exact thing sabotaging many people in all kinds of different areas in life. So, somebody who’s listening that thinks these mistakes that apply to poker players, I think you’re sorely mistaken.
Jared: I completely agree.
Matt: One other concept I wanted to dig into, and we touched on this earlier, is the concept of the idea of, specifically in poker and I think in many areas in life like trading, investing, a lot of business decisions, there’s a huge gap between making the correct decision and seeing the results that you would like. How do you help people cope with that?
Jared: We’re talking about uncertainty. And so, in all of those fears, we’re trying to narrow in on this idea of what happened. You hit a poor golf shot, you make an investment that doesn’t pay off, you open up a business that doesn’t work out, and you want to know why. And very often, you can’t get an answer that satisfies you to 100%. But, as it turns out, psychological research doesn’t have that standard. And I’m saying that particularly because in statistics there’s what’s called a confidence interval. And so in psychological research, the research that gets published has over a 95% reliability that the data is representing the effect that they’re seeing. So, what you can do, is you can start to create confidence intervals, right. I’m 30% sure, I’m 50% sure, I’m 70% sure that what happened was X, and what that does is it keeps you open minded, so as you go and make other investments, open other businesses, talk to other people who have opened businesses or you know, hit other golf shots, play more poker, that you can start to gather more information that’s going to raise your confidence interval, to the point that you might eventually know what happened two years ago, but it might take you two years to know for sure. But you’re not stopping everything to find out what happened to 100% because you might have to go and continue to play the game, whatever game it is that you're playing, in order to have that confidence interval rise. And I think that’s a mistake that a lot of people make. They end up getting paralyzed after some big things happen, and that paralysis makes them a little bit gun shy to take additional steps, and they want to be more right. They want to avoid having another misstep. I think, to a degree, that can be evidence of a confidence problem. At a deeper level, they don’t have the confidence to be able to learn from it to be able to absorb it, their expectations might be too high, they might think that they ought to be in more control of the outcome, they might think that the success they had early on meant that they were guaranteed to have success, so they got a little bit lazy, staying sharp and reevaluating the investment, maybe had they re-looked at it three months before things went belly-up, the writing was on the wall but they were kind of blinded by it. Same thing with a business, same thing as a golfer. Golfers who might get on a good run, things are going really well, might not be taking care of their bodies as well so they start not sleeping as much, and their performance can start to dissipate as a result of that. So, the point is you're trying to gain information that will help you to become certain, but you’re not doing so by just staying on the sidelines. You have to keep getting back in the game, and gaining more information, because that’s generally the only place you can do that.
Matt: So what is one piece of homework that you would give people listening to this podcast?
Jared: Map your problems, like I spoke a lot about early on. They happen in predictable patterns, very often people are blind to them. They happen, and sometimes when they happen, like “Eh, it was a one-off, that’s so unlike me, I’ll never do that again.” You know, two days later it happens again. Month later, it happens again. So, you kind of have to take away the irrationality of it, you have to take away the unpredictability of it, and assume that all of the emotional issues that are getting in the way of you performing or succeeding at the level that you want are happening in very predictable patterns, and your job is to uncover that prediction. The data is there, and like a lot of things, as you pay more attention to it, as you learn more, you develop more skill. And in this particular case, you actually create vision for yourself. It’s like you’re wearing a very dark pair of glasses, and then over time as you gain greater clarity and recognition, those glasses become less dark and become clear. You see the pattern and it’s not enough to be able to see the pattern off the felt, out of the action, you have to be able to see it in real time. So, if, right now you can see the pattern, but in the moment you can’t, then it’s about training. Or it’s about recognizing the accumulative emotion that’s rapidly overwhelming your ability to see. But yeah, mapping is the number-one priority. That’s why I have all of my clients fill out a very detailed questionnaire before we even get started. Because that helps them and me to gain a sense of what is going on and, you know, when I come across players... There’s been a handful of times where I’ve attempted to sell my services to people who weren’t ready. And when that happens, it fails. I’ve had almost zero success selling myself to somebody who wasn’t ready, and at this point I’ve stopped trying. And in large measure it’s because they don’t see it. I can’t force them to see something that they’re not ready to see. So, if you are ready to see, start doing the mapping and paying very close attention to what’s getting in your way, because you can’t get it out of your way, you can’t solve it until you can see it.
Matt: What are some resources that you would recommend for listeners who want to do more research on some of the stuff we’ve talked about today?
Jared: That’s a good question. Obviously my books are helpful resources. They’re written in the language of poker. There may be very few poker players that are listening which I understand. I think The Power of Habit is a great book. I guess I’m giving more sort of general resources, not necessarily particular to what we’re discussing here. Deep Work by Cal Newport, I think is a fantastic book. The Feeling of What Happens by Antonio Damasio, it’s been around for I think 10 to 15 years now, but it’s a great book as well. Fooled by Randomness I think is a must-read, by most people. You don’t necessarily have to read the entire thing to get the basic premises of it. Those are the big ones that come to mind.
Matt: And where can people find you online?
Jared: JaredTendler.com, JaredTendlerPoker.com. They can also follow me on Twitter — @JaredTendler.
Matt: Awesome. Well, Jared, thank you so much. This has been incredibly insightful.
Jared: Happy to hear that, Matt. Thanks for having me.