Many people have an innate flaw in the way they try to solve problems like fear, tilt, low confidence, etc. – they don’t look deep enough. I was driven to learn more about the Mental Game when traditional sports psychology material didn’t help me solve problems handling intense pressure as an aspiring professional golfer. The more I learned, the more I realized that too often people aren’t looking far enough below the surface to identify the real problems.
Let me give you an analogy. If you have pain while you are walking, what’s the problem? Is it the shoe, the material of the road you are walking on, too tight socks?
When you get curious about what’s causing the pain, you have a better chance of correcting it. Let’s say once you look closer, the problem is simple enough – you have a rock in your shoe. So is the problem the pain? No, it’s the damn rock!
Too many people think pain is the problem and don’t take the step back to understand what’s causing the pain. They look at the pain points in their mental game like fear, greed, anger, distraction, and think that’s the problem to solve. So they stop analyzing any further and focus on strategies that are essentially pain management (aka trying to reduce fear, greed, distraction, anger).
This isn’t inherently a bad strategy, especially in the short-term. But this is unreliable because emotions can actually prevent you from controlling your fear, greed or overconfidence. Plus, in the long-term you can become less adaptive, limit your potential upside, your performance will have excessive highs and lows, and you’re likely to burnout more frequently.
Instead, you have to find the rock—you need to figure out what’s causing those emotional pain points.
What is The Rock?
No, not that one. The rock, your rock, is the underlying flaw driving your emotional swings and repetitive errors.
Now, when I recommend digging deeper to get to the underlying issues, people usually assume we are going to begin talking about their personal life and looking for Mommy/Daddy issues. Cue the eye-rolling, big sighs, and impatient frustration with “psychobabble.”
Look, there are many people out there that do actually need to talk to a professional about things from their past that are impacting their daily lives. But that’s not my focus. My niche is in improving performance, and when you are looking at how psychology impacts performance, the work is more practical.
From a practical standpoint, the biggest contributor to your errors and emotional volatility is what lies below the surface, such as flaws like:
- Expecting to always be your best
- The need to be right
- Believing mistakes are inherently bad
- Believing you are unlucky
- The illusion of emotional control
- Assuming the worst/best will happen (aka being a shitty psychic)
These are examples of some of the rocks that are behind your emotional reactions. The key is for you to find the ones that are affecting you.
The Mental Hand History
The tool that I developed to help dig deeper and find the rocks in your mind is called the Mental Hand History (Follow the link to download a version you can use). The name comes from my work with poker players, as I was trying to get them to work on their mental game in the same structured way that they would work on their technical game.
The Mental Hand History helps you analyze information and identify the flaw. There are five steps:
STEP 1: Describe the problem in detail.
STEP 2: Explain why it makes sense that you have this problem, or why you think, feel, or react that way.
STEP 3: Explain why the logic in Step 2 is flawed.
STEP 4: Come up with a correction to that flawed logic.
STEP 5: Explain why that correction is correct.
Here are a few examples so you have an idea of what this looks like.
- Describe the problem in detail: Aware that I’m not being aggressive from the right levels, but when I tell myself to be more aggressive it comes out in the wrong way and I will try to force something in the opening range.
- Explain why it makes sense that you have this problem, or why you think, feel, or react that way: Feels like I’m trying to prove something to myself. That in volatile markets I can get a trade on in the opening range. It would mean that I’m capable of executing on the methodology to full extent possible.
- Explain why the logic in Step 2 is flawed: You’re making it about yourself and not about the market. You’re putting the opening range on a pedestal. It’s not the end all be all.
- Come up with a correction to that flawed logic: Take what the market gives you, not what you want it to be.
- Explain why that correction is correct: Putting pressure on myself to find something in the opening range blinds me from actually seeing an opportunity. I can find these opportunities, but NOT when blind myself!
- Describe the problem in detail: I hate when weak regs, or a reg that I know is good, plays badly and wins.
- Explain why it makes sense that you have this problem, or why you think, feel, or react that way: If they played better, or like they do normally, I would have won the hand. Obviously I should be happy since I’m winning long-term from their mistakes, but they just play so bad sometimes, it’s insane how they can show up with hands like that.
- Explain why the logic in Step 2 is flawed: I’m trying to control how they play, which obviously is impossible. And I’m focusing too much on short-term results. The worst part is that I’m losing control of my game trying to control theirs!
- Come up with a correction to that flawed logic: Rather than trying to control the decisions other players make, make sure you’re making the decisions you want to make. That’s how you can have the most control in the short-term, and long-term.
- Explain why that correction is correct: It just is.
Do the Work
Actually completing a Mental Hand History can be challenging. But just like the mapping process, where you see your mental and emotional patterns better the more you focus on them, the more you think about the cause of your problems, like the Mental Hand History trains you to do, the more details you’ll gather that will help you complete it.
Looking at examples can be a great way to get started. Enter your name and email below to see how readers of my books are completing Mental Hand Histories and using other worksheets.
Also, keep in mind that The Mental Game of Poker and The Mental Game of Trading were designed to help you complete a Mental Hand History. The Chapters on Tilt, Greed, Fear, Confidence, Discipline and Motivation are all filled with a ton of advice and perspective to help you dig out the rocks in your mind.
And while the books are there to help, you need to actively use the tools described in them. Reading examples is a great way to help you understand the material, but it does not replace your individual experience.
Use the books as guidance but complete your own Mental Hand History because the way you experience individual flaws may be different than someone else, even if you are struggling with the same challenge. In other words, your shitty psychic might make different predictions than someone else’s shitty psychic.
Do the work and go find your rock!