Over the past decade I have coached more than 2,000 students from over 60 countries around the world. These people have varied wildly in every category imaginable: Sex, height, weight, age, ethnicity, IQ, sexual orientation, EQ, education, and so on.
What percentage of them do you think considered themselves anxious or depressed?
Would you be surprised if I told you it was north of 80%?
When you think about how the human race evolved, this starts to make a lot of sense; 20 homo sapiens stood around an anthill, eating the ants one-by-one. One human, dissatisfied, grabbed a blade of grass to stick down the anthill. Boom. He had 14 ants and the first tool was born.
Evolution naturally means the most irritable of us keep procreating. We’re the ones who find solutions.
Contentment does not breed a willingness to change and grow.
Now, technology has changed everything. Our grandparents grew up in a world where there were almost no airplanes. They’re now trying to order from UberEATS on their iPhones.
We’re not made for this world. It makes us nervous. All this information all the time makes us anxious, naturally.
How Can We Use This?
To say I’ve had my battles with anxiety and depression would be putting it mildly. There was a time I wanted to join the armed forces in the United States. One of my dreams was to work in intelligence. Unfortunately, my psych evals would disqualify me from practically any branch of military service. I take medication daily to deal with anxiety, depression, and OCD.
Recently, I’ve begun working on dealing with these matters, meeting with a wide variety of doctors, psychologists, dieticians, and performance coaches to find out what really worked. I also read extensively on the subject, using a method where I devoured Blinkist summaries of every book on the market, and only selected books to read in full which seemed to have real value.
A great deal of what inspired me came from the book The 5-Second Rule. I’d recommend everybody read that, even if at times it reads like a puff piece.
Here is what I’ve gathered.
Anxiety And Depression Are Healthy
Obviously, anxiety and depression in excess are in fact public health issues, but regular anxiety and depression are actually quite useful.
But before we go any further, let me clarify that I am not a doctor, nor do I even play one on the internet so please don’t take my word as gospel on anything mental-health related; depression and anxiety are serious issues which should be discussed with your primary care physician.
That said, what I can tell you is that, in my experience, normal depression and anxiety can be really beneficial if approached in the optimal way.
Depression can be a way for your body to let you know something’s wrong. Oftentimes we find ourselves stuck in a job we hate, or a relationship that’s no good for us. Sometimes the resulting depression can help signal us to something we may have felt but not yet truly acknowledged. If we didn’t suffer from this completely normal negative emotions, we many never find ourselves motivated enough to change our situation for the better.
As for anxiety, well, I’ve actually done drugs that removed my anxiety. It felt amazing!
Unfortunately, it also ruined my life.
Anxiety is there for a reason. You feel anxious about your appearance, so you dress. You feel anxious about a meeting with a potential client, so you remember to be polite and show up on time.
When I got sober and learned how to manage my anxiety to healthy levels, I was actually really grateful for it. The anxiety allowed me to behave “normally” and ironically led me to never being too anxious.
I’ve now taken to reminding myself that anxiety is fuel. It’s your body’s signal to get to work.
It’s like a car revving its engine. You don’t want to let the engine rev forever, so we need to act on our anxiety to get to doing something.
My central philosophy is “do something”, which is actually a value I discovered from best-selling authors Mark Manson & Mel Robbins. Here are some of their most interesting philosophies as they relate to anxiety summarized.
1. Anxiety is your body’s fuel. Rather than running away from it, use the anxiety to drive your awareness of the situation and listen to your body telling you it’s ready to go.
2. Use your fuel to “do something.” If you have a good idea then countdown from five to stop your mind from thinking about it, and then get moving. I’m frustrated by how something so simple could be so effective. My productivity has gone through the roof since I started implementing it.
It’s very exhausting in practice, but when I think of my career it makes a ton of sense. I was always hyper-active growing up, constantly getting into trouble. I never worried about making the right move. I just studied everything in poker, watched everything, tried every bluff I could think of, and played every game.
It was horrendously inefficient, but I kept doing better than people who were much more intelligent than I was.
It finally dawned on me that this was because many of these very intelligent and capable people weren’t even making moves! They were so afraid of failure and doing the wrong thing that they just stood there, making excuses.
3. Recognize you can only do one thing at a time.
There is a ton of research that shows no one can actually multitask effectively so stop doing it!
4. Recognize life is an infinite chess board with countless pieces you could possibly move.
It’s impossible to know exactly what piece is the right one to move where, but it is possible to know that continually saying “pass” when it’s your turn to move will see you losing the game.
5. Knowing four and five to be true, we can actually surmise that if we are “doing something,” that is literally all we can do!
Therefore, don’t worry about making the best move, just make one! Accept you can only do so much in one day. Poker is a super complex game: Try focusing on just one board. On just one play. Just one video. Just one hand. Take notes. Be absorbed. Do something. The person you are competing with is not your opponent at the poker table, it’s the person you were yesterday!
Control what you can control: your diet, your attitude, and the information you consume.
We can only do one thing at a time. If we’re doing that, it is literally all we can do. We can’t know what is the exact right move, but we can know what the big moves are, the scary ones. Those are the moves we should be pursuing, little step by little step. Because if we can turn anxiety and depression into positive aspects of our mindset, the sky’s the limit!
These recent findings have helped me tremendously and I truly hope the do the same for you. Good luck to all of you on your poker journeys and remember:
BE KIND TO YOURSELF!
~ Alex Fitzgerald