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5 Ways to Cure Your Social Anxiety at the Poker Table
Have you seen Mr Robot, yet? No?
Come on; Game of Thrones Season 7 won't be on until sometime in the spring so I know you have a hole to fill.
Mr Robot is a show about a guy named Elliot. He is a brilliant mind, a genius hacker, but he doesn't know how to relate to people.
The lad can bring down the world's economic system but he can't get over his social anxiety. In a way he reminds me of a lot of poker players that have crossed my path.
When I grew up there were two types of kids:
Type #1: You were into sports, liked girls and were thick as shit.
Type #2: You were into books, were scared of girls and were smart.
The Type #1 people would eventually end up smoking, drinking and gambling. The Type #2 people would end up working for SpaceX.
A Godsend for Type #2
Poker was a Godsend for Type #2 people and it was often online poker that was the gateway drug.
They could use their intellect to win obscene amounts of money; and they got brave enough to type things into the chat box like:
"I hope you get cancer and have to have your balls removed."
And then one day, by accident, they won a satellite into a live event.
There will be people there - yellow people, brown people, people in wheelchairs, scary bald-headed people with swastika tattoos on their skull, lesbians, gays, transgenders, cowboys, Indians, fat ones, bulimic ones, alcoholics, drug addicts, the ones with yellow stains on their fingers that drive you crazy because you don't know if it's turmeric or nicotine, old people who smell of piss, and those scary looking young kids with baseball caps, sunglasses and hoodies.
What will I do with my social anxiety! Chill, Winston. I have a few ideas for you.
1. What’s The Worst That Can Happen?
A lesson from the Stoics. Nobody likes to lose, and if you think about it you will lose far more hands than you are ever going to win. That sucks.
What makes a great poker player is they always come to the table believing they will lose. But they aren't all Pessimistic Petes.
They believe in their ability to win but they also understand the luck factor in poker. By thinking you will lose in the short term but will win in the long run all great poker players find calm in the storm of a major loss.
This can also help with social anxiety. Think about your fears. What scares you? Now multiply those feelings tenfold.
Imagine one of your competitors is Negan from The Walking Dead and he's taking your head off with Lucille after getting fed up of being constantly three-bet. Imagine someone else pulling out a gun and putting a cap in your ass.
Seriously, what’s the worst that can happen? None of those things will happen. Nobody will die. You will live.
You aren't afraid of what people will do to you. You are scared of the feelings that rise from the pit of your stomach such as embarrassment or shame. You own those feelings. You can change them.
2. Change Your Beliefs; Change Your Feelings
Imagine your wife of 30 years tells you that she wants a divorce and has been banging your best mate for donkey's years. I believe you would feel anger, self-pity and shame.
Now imagine that your wife of 30 years tells you that she wants a divorce and has been banging your best mate for donkey’s years, and then later you find out she was a serial killer.
How would you feel?
I imagine you would feel relieved and probably happy you never woke up like John Wayne Bobbit. It's not the getting dumped part that bothers you; it's the feelings that you create in reaction to being dropped.
Think about that. Nothing that anyone at a poker table does can affect you. Only you can create damage by creating negative emotions in reaction to their actions.
This is poker, baby. People are going to try and get under your skin. Change your beliefs and it will change your feelings.
3. Create an Exposure Hierarchy
What is going to send the social butterfly into the chrysalis?
Make a list of all the scenarios that arise in your mind and note them down on paper. This is now your goals list.
Rate them from the most intimidating to the least.
Now, remember, poker is a game won over the long term. The short term, instant gratification thing is for losers. So we have all year. Hell, we have your entire life to get this right.
Let’s turn this into a game within a game. Take the least worrisome thing on your list and set a goal to challenge yourself in that area during your first session.
Keep working at it until it becomes comfortable. Then move your way up the list until you are asking the dealer out for a date.
4. Don’t Focus on You
"I am scared."
"I don't want to feel shame."
"I don't want to look stupid."
"What will I wear?"
"How shall I riffle my chips?"
Do you see the theme? All of these statement/questions focus on YOU.
If you focus on yourself you start to become self-conscious. And guess what? It's likely they are doing the same, and this makes for awkward conversations that stimulate anxiety.
Focus on them. Listen to them. If you don't want to speak, then nod. If you don't know what to say, then reflect back the last few sentences they said and it will act as a trigger for them to keep talking.
Ask questions. By behaving in this way to increase their self-esteem and in return the conversation becomes all flowy like newly cleaned curtains on a washing line. The same washing line you wanted to hang yourself from moments earlier.
If you try points 1-4 and are still a quivering mess, run to the washroom and practice some Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT).
This form of psychological acupressure, using fingers instead of needles, helps release blockages within your energy systems such as anxiety, fear, and worry. Here, check it out:
I know it looks a little far out but let's face it -- before you started reading this you were worried about talking to another human being.
Just don't forget to do this in the washroom. If you start doing it at the table you might give the other players social anxiety.