2 years of self improvement

I’ll start by saying I don’t intend for this to be a typical blog with a big introduction and any sort of regular structure to it.  I’m writing this mostly for selfish reasons.  I’ve recently become interested in writing a blog to share and take feedback on my thoughts, and also to simply get the data out of my head.  I have been doing this for a long time in private and decided to have a go at making at least some of it public.

I think that many of us poker players, or perhaps anyone who greatly favors their logical/analytical side, can be vulnerable to the same issues.  I also hope that my sharing can provide relief or at least a sense of understanding to anyone who may be dealing with this stuff.  So onto the first post on my (on-going) experience with self-improvement.

Roughly 2 years ago I hit a bottom of sorts as far as self-esteem and confidence go.  I hadn’t been a confident person since I was maybe 12 years old, but things had been going downhill at an increasingly worrisome pace.  I don’t wish to write up a full back story here, so I will just give the basic information in favor of spending more time writing about what is working and what isn’t.

-  I have dealt with varying degrees of anxiety and depression for a long time, and had extremely low self-esteem during that time.

-  I felt that I was wasting my life, and that if I did not make a change I would never be happy.  I did not want to live as that person anymore.

-  I could not imagine getting out of this place.  How would I do it?  What would it feel like?  This was all that I knew.


It’s January 2012 and I’ve just arrived in Malta.  A good friend of mine who knew where I stood with all of this recommended me a book called “8 Minute Meditation”.  In my first session I was to focus on the sensation just under my nose as I breathed in and out (through my nose).  I nearly blacked out.  I stood up, had the black spots everywhere, and my heart was pounding out of my chest.  I was completely unaware of what my natural breathing rhythm felt like, and I had been sitting there hyper-ventilating for 8 minutes.  All of us who deal with anxiety have been told to breathe, or to focus on our breathing, but I want to make it clear that this is a developed skill and not a magic trick.  You can’t just be nervous and decide you’ll focus on your breathing and everything will be okay.  You might even make things worse.  You have to practice and train yourself.  I want to stress that this program is only 10 minutes a day, and that I found it incredibly difficult to stick with.  It is boring.  It feels like it’s not working.  I think that I am terrible at meditating.  All of these thoughts, every time.  I was making progress though, and as my skill developed I found myself turning inward to my breathing and finding great relief in stress or anxiety provoking situations.  It’s a wonderful reset to the present that pulls you out of spiraling thoughts and destructive inner dialogue.  I still have a long way to go, and would love to increase my time to 12, 15, or even 20 minute sessions.  I believe the benefits will continue to increase with skill.

Try things and have an opinion

There will be a couple of sources cited throughout this section from books and articles that I’ve read and will be touching on here.

One of my favorite quotes in the last year came from another poker playing friend of mine.  He told me, and maybe you can guess who he is by his use of language, “Yo Ben, look at it like this – nobody knows how to act.  Everyone just looks at other people and does the same shit that they’re doing.”  This was big for me, because when I started to think about what he said I realized that someone out there is starting this stuff.  The way that we speak, dress, the music we listen to, the things we buy and do, someone is out there choosing stuff and popularizing it by people following their choices.  The next thought was, why can’t it be me?  I’m an intelligent guy, my opinions/thoughts/style/whatever are valuable.  I can put them out there.  I can be one of those people that does something on their own, and then see what happens.  If nothing else, at least I’m doing things that I truly like instead of wearing this 10k watch because that’s what men with money do, they wear a nice watch.

This is admittedly difficult to do, because it makes you vulnerable.  Sharing yourself without reservations is an extremely vulnerable thing to do, but it’s good, and here’s the argument presented to me by writer Mark Manson of postmasculine.com.  When you make yourself vulnerable you polarize the responses you receive from others.  You get the highs and the lows.  You experience rejection, and you find people who love you for who you are.  Nobody wants to hang out with the unremarkable guy who looks like everyone else, never says anything controversial, never has an opinion, goes out of his way at all costs to be agreeable with everyone, etc.  That is a lack of true confidence in one’s own thoughts and convictions.  That person cares more about the opinions and responses of others than he cares about his actual thoughts/desires/ideas/style/whatever.

So I suggest that you to try stuff.  Like that loud jacket?  Buy it.  Want a massive colorful tattoo across your torso?  Go get it.  Want to wear lulu pants to the bar?  Stop, you look like scrub.  Just kidding, go for it.  In conversation, think about what is being said, analyze it, and give your opinion.  Make decisions, try stuff.  Analyze and gather feedback.  Figure out what does and doesn’t work for you.  I think that if you do you’ll find that you begin to attract people that you truly like and get along with.

Sources:   The 6 Pillars of Self Esteem by Nathaniel Branden

Models by Mark Manson, and a great deal of the content on Mark’s site postmasculine.com

Looks like I will be breaking this up into at least two posts as this is already quite long and I’m out of gas for the moment.  So good talk, I’ll see ya out there.

10 thoughts on “2 years of self improvement

  1. Finally something worth reading in a link from Facebook. It’s a courageous move you’ve made and sharing it shows your true nature. I’ve always found my own confidence levels and happiness have fluctuated massively throughout my life and I suspect this is the same for most of us. Self-doubt can be crippling if you’re riddled with it. Good luck with your quest.

  2. Great blog, good points. I feel a lot of the successful online poker pros get into self development (myself included), probably because it takes some degree of a lot of alone time (which would correlate with introversion/lack of innate social skills) and a success oriented mindset (which would get you to get into self development) to make it out. It’s a great thing IMO, the more people get into bettering themselves, the better we’ll all be in the long run.

    About leading in society, I think it’s a natural thing. Dogs are a good example to me: they NEED a leader and followers to survive as a group; it’s same thing in most aspects of human life, celebrities acting as fashion leaders is a good example. It’s an evolutionary thing IMO, seeing most people do something historically confirms its value. If you saw everyone avoid a beautiful woman like the pest in a bar, it would be a rational decision to assume something is seriously wrong with her and not go up to chat her; in other words you’d assume the rationality of the rest of the people in the bar.

    The fun thing I realize more and more as I do thinking similar to what’s in this post is that these evolutionary traits are often exploitable. A 10k watch is ridiculous; its only redeeming feature is that it’s expensive. It does the same job as a $150 watch. You effectively get hacked by Rollex when you buy one of those (and their profit margit would agree).

    On the other hand, individuals can hack te system too, what you said in the post is a good way IMO.

    BTW, a good book I was reading in the past while about meditation and mindsets is “The Art of Happiness” by the Dalai Lama and a psychiatrist. I would highly reccomend it.

  3. I’ve actually been working on self- improvement as well and I just wanted to recommend a book to you for your journey on self-improvement, A Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl.

    From a fellow TTU redraider

  4. Just want to say that I loved reading what you had to say and I will be sharing some of it with my high school leadership class. Thinking of you and proud of the man you have become, cousin.

  5. Awesome, great post! I just started a blog to talk about meditation and poker too, but it’s in portuguese. I’ve struggled with some similar stuff than you.
    About meditation, the books I’m loving the most are Jon Kabat-zinn’s. I’m reading one called “wherever you go, there you are”, and I highly recommend it!

    Gl :)

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