Mental Game: Keystone Habits
Mental game comes up often in my lessons. Recently, my poker coach referred to the game of poker as “the great teacher”.
At first I thought he was giving a game of cards too much credit. But upon further reflection, I get what he means.
While there are plenty of pursuits that will teach you some serious life lessons, this one in particular possesses many distinguishing characteristics.
Monetizing the Mental Game
For instance, my hourly rate is directly tied to my state of my mind. None of my friends (outside of the poker community) face that challenge.
(Perhaps if I ran with some pro golfers or chess masters….)
My friends can get away with being a tad hungover when they show up to the office. I can’t. A hangover can cost me a day’s wages.
Also, this particular season (summer) is fraught with tempting BBQs, birthdays, and beach parties which constantly put my will power to the test. Successfully balancing an active social life with a poker career has necessitated developing certain enduring habits and life-hacks.
Last summer, I wrote about a specific technique for changing your habits. But let’s dig deeper.
In the Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg describes particular habits we establish that serve as the foundation upon which many other habits can be built. He calls these keystone habits.
For example, the simple act of waking up and making your bed, can set you up to then build and establish other good habits. It’s a small win that quickly becomes second nature. When your other habits might wane, at least you can continue to make your bed (it’s so easy anyway, right?) Then eventually you can get back on track with the others.
For me, my keystone habit has been taking cold showers. I got the idea from an amazing interview with Tony Robbins on the Tim Ferris show.
I’ve taken over 100 cold showers this year, and my longest streak was over 60 days in a row. I track this using an app called Loop Habit Tracker.
Meditation is another habit (and a crucial ingredient to a strong mental game) that I attempt to keep going every day, but even that can slip for a couple days sometimes. Yet, after getting in a groove with the cold showers, now it’s just something I do.
Well, first thing in the morning, it really serves to wake me right up. I jump in, turn on the water to full cold, and have a rinse for about 15 seconds. Talk about mental game and the “great teacher”. This experience has taught me about fear, will power, and that my wife prefers not to wake up to screaming.
And that’s the power of the keystone habit. When all else seems to be failing, it keeps going. And eventually, the others start to get back on track.
Trending and Momentum
It’s perfectly natural and should be expected that you will at times be completely on top of your mental game while at other times…not so much. The trick is not to be too hard on yourself when you slip.
Also, you can develop the skill of not just maintaining good habits, but recognizing when they’ve slipped and having a little technique that works for you to kick them off again. Perhaps it’s a check-up you schedule for the first of every month.
I definitely acknowledge the changing of the seasons and can’t help but go through some personal reflection. How are things going? Am I happy with where I am and my trajectory?
In the past I’ve done 2 week “cleanses” (basically a commitment to healthiness), or I have friends that do “sober September”.
It doesn’t necessarily have to be a huge commitment to major change (though the “100%” approach works very well for some people.) It simply can be trending in the right direction. And once you’ve established a trend, then you start to pick-up momentum.
With some regular habits under your belt, more will naturally start to follow. It becomes fun, powerful and rewarding.
Then, try reflecting on the differences in how you feel once you’ve gained this momentum and established these habits, and how you felt before. The difference can be so significant that it serves to sustain your motivation. It becomes hard to imagine going back and will help you protect these habits going forward.
What habits work for you or do you hope to implement? What more would you like to know about mine or my techniques for improving mental game?
Often the most value nuggets from this blog comes out in the comments as we carry on the conversation, so please use them!