A few things happened that year. 1) I made a lot of money. 2) I put on a lot of weight. 3) My girlfriend decided we needed ‘a break.’

After the ‘break’ turned into a ‘break-up,’ I continued to do what I had always done, cram my screen full of tables and play long days. Except now the money was flowing in the wrong direction. I gave back 6 figures the year after that break-up and my only solution was to keep doing the same things I had always done.

When we talk about our edge in poker, we usually talk about our strategic advantage over our opponents, things like them putting chips in too often or not often enough. But it’s one thing to have a stronger strategy than your opponents, and it’s another thing to execute that strategy.

Think of it this way: If your A game has a 20% ROI, and your B game has a 10% ROI, and you play each half the time, you will end up having a 15% ROI. If you can work hard to improve your strategic knowledge and improve your A game by 5%, you will end up with a 17.5% ROI. But if you focus on managing your capacity to play your best consistently, and play your A game 75% of the time, and your B game 25% of the time, your ROI will also be 17.5%.

A lot of the material you work on in the stable is focused on the former, but often the latter is the lower hanging fruit, and will have a more immediate impact on your happiness. As a bonus, managing these ‘soft skills’ will not only help you bring your ‘A’ game to the tables more often, it will help you bring your ‘A’ game to studying the hard skills, the technical stuff that makes your A game more profitable.

Here are a few simple tips that will help you maintain your mental balance so you can study and play your best:

1) Take breaks. Even if you think you’re the kind of person who can be ‘on’ all the time, you aren’t. Your nervous system is not designed to handle extended periods of highly focused functioning.

2) Be social. Online poker is a tempting hideaway for introverts. There were many weeks of my life where the only human contact I had was with the delivery driver. But humans are social creatures, and an undernourished social life is fertile ground for mental health degradation.

3) Sleep. You need it more than you think. Coffee is not a substitute for a well-rested brain.

4) Exercise and diet. Your physical health affects your mental health, especially your stamina. Exercise, like sex, floods the brain with a bunch of beneficial hormones. Don’t go overboard with either and exhaust yourself, but don’t be neglectful. Junk food is always tempting for a hard-working brain. Mix in a salad.

5) Drugs and alcohol are tempting escapes. They might take the edge off after a long day of grinding, but they take their toll. Alcohol reduces your capacity to fall into REM sleep, a crucial brain process for mental recovery. If you sometimes want a drink at the end of the day, that won’t hurt. If you often need a drink at the end of the day, it will. I shouldn’t even have to say it, but don’t play drunk or high.

6) Sex. Get some. Not only does it feel good, it releases a flood of beneficial chemicals in your brain, especially Oxytocin. It also helps satisfy your need for social contact. There’s no shame in a hooker if you’re busy (or ugly).

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