How to Manage Emotions — Tips From Professional Poker Player Phil Hellmuth

Learning how to manage your emotions helps you make rational decisions and can improve your relationships. Poker is one game that literally “deals” in emotions. Being too emotionally affected by an opponent’s move can lead to very bad choices, often resulting in defeat. There’s also the fact that poker players also need to sometimes bluff to win hands sometimes, especially when they’re dealt with a bad hand. Hall of Famer Phil Hellmuth once said: “Poker is about understanding human behavior and managing emotions — yours and the other guy’s.”

The quote is taken from one of the most polarizing figures to have ever played the game. Hellmuth is also one of the best poker players on the planet with 15 World Series Of Poker bracelets to his name – five more than anyone else. He’s been playing since the 80s, meaning he’s one of the most experienced pros on the circuit. And he’s published a book called Play Poker Like the Pros, where he talks about his winning strategies. Coincidentally, one of the main strategies to get good at poker is managing emotions, which is crucial both at the poker table and away from it.

So without further ado, here’s what he has to say about managing emotions…

Don’t focus on negativity

In poker, you can have bad hands that may feel like the end of the world. However, Hellmuth reminds us that this is just one hand. You can’t get too worried about a bad hand otherwise it will affect the way you play for the rest of the game. If you do let it affect you, you won’t see the other opportunities for success that present themselves throughout the game. The same goes for dealing with negative emotions in daily life.

Despite having bad days, you must remind yourself that it’s only one day out of the whole week. Focusing on the negatives will put you in a bad mood, so when you actually have good days, you either won’t notice or take it for granted. Always remember that you still have lots of opportunities to change and focus on the positives instead.

Refrain from being overconfident

As a poker pro with a big reputation, Hellmuth is proud of his success. He even brags about his achievements in interviews. However, he remembers to take every opportunity to stay humble, too. He has watched many opponents become overconfident over the years, only to lose it all in the end. In poker, you may think that you’re currently above all your opponents, but that’s all it really is — you only think you are! You don’t know what cards they’re holding or what their next moves will be.

In life, you cannot be too overconfident. Perhaps you’ve recently bought a new house or got a promotion, and feel like you’ve figured it all out. But you can still lose it all if you aren’t driven toward achieving your goals. Thus, make sure you don’t get too caught up in your success that you won’t be able to function if it gets taken away.

Eliminate causes for worry

Cutting your losses in poker takes away the chances of incurring huge losses, which is what Hellmuth did in the 2004 WSOP. As a result, he was able to steady his nerves down and play rationally without worry because he knew he could be happy with his performance regardless of the end result.

This emphasizes the need to eliminate whatever is causing you to worry in your life. For example, if you’re worried about paying bills on time, reach an agreement with your partner. Maybe they can handle certain bills while you take stock of your finances or repay a loan. Whatever is causing your distress; it needs to be addressed so you can function at your best.

Poker can teach you a lot about emotions. With these tips from professional poker player Phil Hellmuth, you can learn how to better manage your emotions to improve your overall wellbeing. For more emotion management tips, see our post A Core Secret of Emotional Intelligence.

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Chris Golis - Author

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