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5: Correcting Your Emotions

Imagine you’re walking down the street and experience some pain in your foot. You stop and sit down, wondering what the problem is. Is there something wrong with the shoe you’re wearing? Maybe you’ve tied them too tight, or worse, perhaps there’s a problem with your muscles or ligaments? The bottom line is that you’re curious about what’s causing your pain. You don’t ignore it, you examine it with interest because doing so is required to fix the problem and eliminate the pain.

Now imagine if you approached your emotions with that same curiosity. Instead, many people, punters included, treat their emotions as the problem, and contort themselves to avoid, deny or rationalise their fear, anger or lack of confidence. What if you did that with the pain in your foot? In that analogy you’re treating the pain as the problem. But what if you’ve just got a rock in your shoe!? The rock is the problem, not the pain. The pain is signaling a problem for you to examine. Guess what, your emotions operate that way as well.

I hope your approach to emotions is beginning to change as you’ve read through the first four articles in this series, especially part I and part II. In this article I’m going to show you how to dig around to find the metaphorical rocks in the back of your mind. These are the flaws, biases, illusions, wishes, or hopes that affect your perception of punting, yourself, your model, etc. They are the real cause of the costly mistakes affecting you.

When I talk about digging around in the back of your mind there is always someone who immediately assumes I want to get into their personal life and talk about their childhood issues with their parents. While there are people for whom that would be helpful, that’s not the focus of my work. I want to improve your performance. That means looking practically at your mistakes, the emotions surrounding them, and identifying the cause. For example, you could:

  • Believe that mistakes should never happen
  • Expect to always be at your best
  • Have an excessive need to be right
  • Expect perfection
  • Be unable to handle uncertainty
  • Think that taking on risk is gambling
  • Wish that you could win a lot of money
  • Listen to too many outside opinions

These are just a handful of the many potential “rocks” in the back of your mind that trigger strong emotional reactions.

Find the Cause of Your Emotions

To correct the emotions that lead to problems, you first need to find them. The tool that I developed to help clients do this is called the Mental Hand History. You can download a copy for yourself here. The name comes from my attempts to get poker players 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’s an example of a Mental Hand History to give you an idea what this looks like:

Step 1: Describe the problem in detail.

Losing streaks bring on a fear of the systems failing. The fear is that I have put in all this hard work and it won't continue to be profitable. It is a fear of losing what I imagine is possible with the winnings. Particularly I fear the fact that I would need to continue working when I want working at a job to be a choice not a necessity. I can handle one or two losing days even if they are large. It is when a string of days occurs in a short period of time that the fear sets in.

Step 2: Explain why it makes sense that you have this problem, or why you think, feel, or react that way.

It is logical because for me, the pain of losses is felt 10 times more than the excitement of winning. A lot of people lose in gambling and I know it requires a lot of work to remain in the top few winning punters. It's understandable that I don't like losses as this brings on fear of failure, fear of loss and fear of humiliation.

Step 3: Explain why the logic in Step 2 is flawed.

The logic is flawed because I have a long-term record that is profitable, and I put in the work and analysis that is needed to keep the models improving and making more money. I have many models being bet and they do not all need to be profitable for me to continue winning, and it would be almost impossible for all my models to start losing simultaneously.

Step 4: Come up with a correction to that flawed logic.

After a number of losing days, I should evaluate the 90 day and 180 day trend to remind myself of all of the winning I have been doing in the previous 3 to 6 months. I should compare the long-term profit with my paying job income. My profits on punting can be much larger than most people’s jobs.

Step 5: Explain why that correction is correct.

The markets will evolve and I have the knowledge and work ethic to make it work. Losses are part of the game and I have bounced back many times from drawdown positions to have a bank high. It’s about outlasting the losing runs, improving the models so they don't lose as much during the down periods and pushing through to a new bank high when the winning runs happen. It's the long term not short term that wins.

Tips For Finding Your Flaws

Completing these steps can be difficult the first time you do it. Your overall approach to solving mental and emotional problems is changing, so that alone gives many people difficulty. Do the best you can by creating a draft of your answers, then put it down for a day or two and come back to it. This is most important for step 2; a step that gives people the biggest headache. “Why does it make sense that I have this problem?! What are you talking about, I’m just being an idiot. This is illogical or irrational,” Is a common response. But this isn’t a matter of intelligence, and your emotions are never illogical – you just lack the rationale to explain what’s going on.

Secondly, you’re also constrained by your knowledge of the mental game. So using resources like my books, or other articles, blogs and videos can help you to identify and break down the flaws in your mind. In fact, both The Mental Game of Trading and The Mental Game of Poker were designed to make it easier to complete the Mental Hand History – which shows you how much I value this tool!

Lastly, try to generate new insight or understanding rather than just dumping knowledge you already have into each answer. Most often to truly correct your emotions, you need to uncover something new.

Once you have a Mental Hand History that has deepened your understanding, you can use your answers to steps 2 through 5 to correct your emotional reactions in real time. Here’s how: When you recognize that your emotions have been triggered, ideally before they’ve become too intense, remind yourself of the knowledge reflected in your answers. From the example above, you might say: “Losses are part of it and I’ve bounced back before. It’s the long-term that matters.”

Do this is a strong way and it will have an effect on your emotions. Why? Because you're getting straight to the heart of the issue. Then do it again and again and again, whenever your emotions are triggered, and over time your emotional reactions will become less intense and eventually nonexistent.

Just like the rock stops causing you pain when you take it out of your shoe, your fear, anger or lack of confidence stop being triggered when you correct the flaw causing them.

Jared Tendler, MS is a mental game coach for world champion poker players, PGA Tour players, sports bettors and financial traders from 45 countries. He is the author of three highly acclaimed books, The Mental Game of Poker 1 & 2 and his newest book The Mental Game of Trading. Find out more about Jared’s work at: