Tuesday, June 08, 2004

A New Resolve

How often is it that you learn a life lesson from playing poker? I'd wager that it's not too often. I decided to do some thinking about this past weekend's debacle and see if I could let something positive result from it. I believe I have.

For the last few months, I think I've been letting myself react to the situations occurring around me in completely inappropriate ways. At work, at home, even at the virtual poker tables I was struggling to understand why things were going the way they were and why my attempts to control them were futile. The simple answer was that I couldn't control those situations, as much as I tried or thought that I could.

I am a control freak, no doubt about it. I hate flying for this very reason - I'm not the pilot in control of the flight. For whatever reason, my ego needs to believe I'm in control. My ego believes that I'm smarter than most of the people with which I interact; and as such, should be able to manipulate the outcomes of every encounter to just my liking.

Truth is, I can't. Never could. Even when I thought I was controlling things, I wasn't.

When my attempts at controlling my environment would go awry, I'd fly off the handle and get upset at those around me for not behaving as they should such that the situation would properly go my way. This included getting upset at my wife for asking me to hold her keys. When we both ended up forgetting that I had them, I had to turn around from my drive to work only to return home and give them to her. My thoughts: "Her fault." Even at work, where I support over 1,000 users of a software program I develop, I get angry at the simplest of questions. "Idiots!" I say. I create documents and utilities to help these users diagnose and solve the problems for themselves, yet they still come to me with these questions.

And especially at the poker tables.

Bad beats-a-plenty were causing me to pound my fists on the desk, scream obscenities at the monitor and basically go on tilt like never before.

The bottom line was that I was not truly happy with myself. Now what follows might sound trite, but I had a moment of self discovery where I made what will hopefully be a change for the better. I decided that I can't really control many of the situations where I formerly thought I could. What I can control, however, is my reactions to those situations. I am the one causing me to get angry, nobody else.

As much as I'd like to think that playing a certain style of poker will control your outcome on a hand to hand basis, I now know this is blantantly untrue. I can't make someone fold J,8 off suit when I'm holding A,A no matter how much I raise. It is their decision to fold, all I can do is offer evidence to them of the strength of my hand. Their play decisions are under their control not mine. If they choose to fold, that's great. If they choose to chase me and beat me, well I've just got to live with that. I couldn't have done anything differently.

I said I'd be taking a break in my previous post. Well my break lasted about 18 hours. I played some more last night with a resolve to hold true to my new mindset. It worked, at least last night it did. I had some bad beats early on for sure. How did I react. I smiled. My set of 7's didn't hold up and I actually properly folded them knowing someone hit either the straight or flush draw on board. Didn't phase me.

During yesterday's work day, there were several opportunities for me to lose my cool. But I didn't. Now I'm not so naive to think that such a drastic change can take place overnight. In fact, it's not a trivial amount of work to change your initial reactions. I found myself several times heading down the previous path towards contempt for situations that would come up during the day. I was able to turn those thoughts around and move on. To me, this is much different than simply hiding your true reactions. That would be worse than before. I had to really and truly change the way I was thinking. It's going to take practice but I hope that this lesson will stay with me for a while.

It was either that or begin chanting "Serenity Now, Serenity Now"....

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