Dealing with Downswings – The Dreaded Thing We All Have to Deal With

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As poker players, we all go through downswings. And they inevitably lead to real internal struggles. In this episode, we delve into the root of the problem: the automatically recording mind. And delve into the actual possibility of playing in a world without downswings.

The Losing Stress Podcast Ep 29 – Dealing with Downswings

[00:00] Hey guys! It’s Chiggs! It’s another Losing Stress Podcast. In this episode, I’m going to be talking about dealing with downswings.

[00:08] Now to really go into this question, we have to ask:

What is a downswing?

Now, quite clearly, outwardly, a downswing is really easy to describe and understand. In that, it is a string or accumulation of losses.

A downswing is a psychological process

[00:26] And it’s this string of losses that causes this psychological struggle within us.

I’m using the word psychological here to describe what’s happening internally.

And by struggle, I mean a struggle in emotions and in thoughts, which manifests itself in our behaviours.

[00:51] And hopefully this is quite clear. In that, from the outcomes of what happens in poker, say a string of losses, there is a recording of this in our memories. Which then causes us this struggle with dealing with further losses as they occur.

[01:14] Now this is quite important because it’s important to understand that a downswing is very much a part of a psychological process.

So it’s not simply just a string of losses. It is how you deal with those string of losses through your own mind.

And by understanding the way your own mind works not just intellectually in the way that I am describing things on this podcast but also understanding it by seeing it happen in the moment then this understanding really develops.

[01:51] What I’m really trying to get at here is that rather than simply accepting the fact that dealing with downswing is a difficulty, is there a way of playing where it doesn’t become a difficulty?

[02:06] So that’s one thing.

And the other thing is if I just jump to a solution to try to deal with downswings, say by ‘sucking it up’, being courageous etc., essentially this forms this resistance to what is actually happening. That is dealing with losses. Which is quite clearly a difficult thing to deal with internally; in that, we struggle with it.  That is a fact:

“I do struggle with dealing with losses”

As all poker players do. Then from this, we have a great place to start.

Because it’s starting from an obvious fact.

A fact being something that I have had to deal with. And something I have observed that all poker players do deal with.

Social Media and Poker

[02:57] I think it’s very important to make this clear and honest.

Because if you go on a social media platform like Instagram, for example, you can see that there are a lot of poker players, bloggers and a lot of people posting the results of their sessions.

And you can see from the language that they’re using that there’s a lot of confusion surrounding how to play poker in a way that doesn’t cause your own self psychological damage.

Because you see people posting their sessions describing how they’ve gone on this run losing X amount of sessions in a row, winning X amount of sessions in a row or ‘getting buried in a session’ or any of this language used around building this perception and culture around poker.

And it even works in the other direction where people are happily posting their wins. In fact, more people do that in a way to present themselves in this positive image.

[04:00] And even if you’re not doing this, there is, of course, some language and culture that is around poker.

So this will be the conversations that you have with your poker friends or with the people that you talk to.

Or more importantly, the thoughts that you have surrounding the sessions that you play.

[04:22] Which means that when you do get into it and you start to understand how this whole influence is created. And how it very much blocks your ability to play poker in this psychologically free way.

Which even talking about it right now, a lot of people do not want to even look at or even consider. Because they are attached and addicted to this rollercoaster ride, psychologically, that is associated with playing poker.

[04:54] But what we want to go into here is for those people who are very much interested in playing in a way that downswings do not affect them.

And so we have to understand how downswings are formed psychologically.

How are downswings formed mentally?

[05:09] And it’s something that I’ve hinted at and hopefully it will be something that you see in yourself in that: a downswing is this accumulated memory internally.

Which forms this resistance to accepting in sessions happening now and also sessions happening in the future.

[05:30] When you’re entering into playing poker with this accumulated memory either consciously, unconsciously or subconsciously it is somewhere within the mind.

And so when you then deal with another loss what then happens is that this then meets this memory, which is this resistance to accepting this loss, which has just happened.

“Why haven’t I started winning yet?”

“Why do I keep losing?”

Or other thoughts of this nature perpetuate into this emotional cycle when you struggle to deal with what’s actually just happened.

[06:15] So going a step back, what we want to understand then is the fact that this memory from what’s happened is recorded in the mind when we play automatically.

When we play automatically and deal with a loss this pain of a loss causes some kind of emotional reaction within us.

And because we never really look at this resultant suffering when dealing with this pain from this loss it gets stored somewhere within our memory.

It never fully plays out.

Because we just end up struggling with it or moving away from the suffering that does happen from dealing with this loss at the time.

[07:02] So we end up thinking about it in our minds after the session.

Or in our minds when we sleep. And so in our minds when we wake up the next day.

Dissolving the Effects of a Downswing

[07:14] And so this leads us to: Is there a way of playing where this memory isn’t formed?

To discover this it really requires you see to discover something within yourself.

[07:27] How is memory formed?

Memory is associated with your emotions, which are associated with your thoughts.

And when you really start to look into it, you realise that this memory is linked to thinking about this situation in any way whatsoever.

Thinking about this situation is what forms this memory. Because thoughts are linked to emotions.

Thoughts During a Downswing

“When I don’t feel good when I lost a pot. Or I’ve been losing many days in a row”

Is a thought process built by thinking about it.

[08:07] And so it’s very important to see within yourself how thinking is a real danger.

In that, not only does it feed this negative emotional response at the time when you are dealing with losing.

But it also forms this memory even when your emotional response isn’t so strong at the time. There’s this recording of, “I’ve lost. Ok I’ve lost. I’ll go in and play the next day”.

And you see this with the way people describe it:

“OK I lost. It’s fine. I’ll go in and play the next day”

They’ll try and justify it to themselves. Rationalise it i.e. through thought rationalise that:

“It’s ok”

“I will deal with struggle”  

[08:58] Or even what I’ve seen online is another rationalisation where someone asked themselves,

“Is my lifestyle going to change from this loss?”

And if the answer is no then they were very happy with themselves.

But I won’t really get too deep into this last point. Because when you start to understand the fact that this thought that this person has rationalised to help them get out of this struggle with dealing with this loss is related to trying to create this psychological security, which ultimately doesn’t actually exist.

Because life is this one whole movement where everything is changing.

And it is thought that is always trying to create this psychological security where, “I am secure”.

Dealing Internally with a Downswing

[09:53] And so moving back to our point here, that:

Is it possible to play where I can catch myself when I’m having these thoughts that form this memory that will create this resistance (and will create this emotional reaction to what’s actually happened)?

Or even better still can I play in a way where I can think when I need to make decisions so at the right moment and at the right time.

Also, move away from thinking and into simply observing what’s happening in the game.

And what’s also happening with my own reactions to how things are being played.

[10:37] And if you are really interested in this and have experimented with actually doing it you realise that it requires a completely different level of attention to one that we normally operate in; in that, the one that we automatically operate in.

[10:54] And so operating automatically and just going into play and expecting to have this attention there is just not going to happen.

And so from this realisation, the kind of natural response to this is to then be like,

“OK with willpower and effort I am going to try to pay as much attention when I go into play.”

Downswings and Meditation

[11:18] However, when one starts to understand what meditation is about and really gets a real understanding for it, one realises that is nothing to do with effort or willpower.

Because effort or willpower is a result of thinking. It’s an intention. It is a motive.   

So essentially you can go ahead and have this attention in a way that is without effort; without a motive; without this willing it to happen.

It is not this now, “OK, now, I’m going to go ahead and focus on my breath”.

It is, in fact, this understanding of all the things that block your ability to just see very clearly and in this expanded sense.

[12:11] When you understand fully that this attention and awareness naturally flows when you understand that it has nothing to do with thinking about it, by:

  • Wanting it
  • Willing it
  • Searching for it.

By any of the movement in thought whatsoever.

[12:33] And the fact that thinking is related to time.

Which is something that I will probably podcast about because it is something that I’ve only recently fully grasped and started to understand.

To understand somebody like Eckhart Tolle. What is he really on about with the book, ‘The Power of Now’.

Or is the possibility of being in the moment even a real thing?

Or is it some ‘woo-woo’ conceptual nonsense?

[12:59] And so I will podcast about this because hopefully, it will provide a perspective that is clear and relatable and so you the listener, actually with some benefit. So that you can understand for yourself how thought and time are related.

Which is something that is very crucial and imperative if you want to understand how this attention-based way of living or how we’re describing it in this podcast with say playing poker is not a question of effort. But is really instantaneous and doing away with all the things that do not lead to this full attention.

And having this passion and energy for really being awake. 


[13:53] And I think that’s a good point to leave this podcast.

Just to sum up, what we’ve really gone into here (because it’s a good thing just to clarify what we have done) is that we’ve gone into the fact that a downswing is really psychologically, inwardly, this built-up memory.

This string of losses that get built up as a memory, which then forms this resistance, internally.

Which then creates these issues with dealing with losses as we go forward.

[14:29] It also clouds our ability to enjoy our lives as well as I’ve described in other podcasts.

So it is a very big problem. It is a real danger.

And it is a real danger because as we operate automatically, just going in to play poker with the minds that we do have, they are not efficient in dealing with this issue.

[14:52] But what is great is that there is this opportunity to not have to do deal with this psychological suffering associated with a downswing if there is this full attention.

[15:07] And that really is a great point to leave this episode.

This might be something that is very simple that we’ve arrived at. But simple doesn’t mean automatic.

[15:16] And so I’ll be back to talk again in another podcast.

The next one will likely be on this topic of how thought and time and linked.

Because I think it’s very valuable. It’s quite a high-level thing. But it’s very valuable if you do want to play poker with this freedom.

So take care guys! As always, I’ll be on Instagram. I’m @lchiggsl.