Life has not turned out like I expected. I’m 70 lbs. overweight. I’m on three different medications for high blood pressure. I have two part-time jobs, both of which I love but pay a pittance. I’ve got debt that constantly hangs over my head like a dark cloud. I have a family that I love more than anything in the world but can’t afford to do all the things I’d like to do with them. For twenty years I’ve also been suffering from debilitating panic attacks that have come with general anxiety and bouts of agoraphobia. So that’s been fun. Things haven’t always been this bad. In fact, it kind of snuck up on me. The debt of course wasn’t created overnight, neither was the weight. Who knows why the panic attacks started; a dozen or so different therapists and doctors have never been able to figure that out, so I doubt I ever will.
Yet I’ve also never been one to just resign himself to his fate. Calling myself a fighter feels a little too clichéd but it’s also not that far off. I worked for twenty years in the entertainment industry in L.A., an industry that’s notoriously competitive and cutthroat and though I may not have fulfilled all the dreams I had as kid, I achieved many of them, starring in over three dozen national commercials, working as a writer and producer in the late night comedy field, and getting to work with people I had idolized as a teenager. I also overcame one of the biggest regrets of my life by returning to college at almost forty years old and finally getting a degree from the type of university I could never even have gotten into as a young man. But recently I’ve just been feeling a little overwhelmed by it all. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not feeling down. In fact I’m feeling surprisingly hopeful. That’s mostly because things have started to change. And the reason is poker.
After I graduated from college last year, I started playing poker again. I played during the post-Moneymaker boom in the card rooms in L.A. and was a small winner (that’s not saying much. A monkey could have figured out how to beat those games.) but never took the game all that seriously. I didn’t study much or keep diligent records or even keep a separate bankroll. I was definitely just your run-of-the-mill recreational player looking at poker as a fun hobby to break up the monotony of my daily life. In 2011 my wife and I moved to Virginia so I could attend the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, and I stopped playing completely and concentrated all my energy on school. After graduation, I found myself with a little more free time and picked up the game again. Only this time I went about it much more seriously and studiously. Maybe it was the influence of four years in academia, but the game only interested me as something to be closely studied and mastered. Just kind of playing blindly for fun wasn’t satisfying anymore. So I started reading everything I could get my hands on. I registered with a training site and started watching the videos and participating in the forums. And most importantly, I got a couple of coaches (one for strategy and one for the mental game) who have been leading me down the path to becoming a hairy, fang-toothed, sharp-clawed poker beast. And during all this poker study, I stumbled upon something that has had a profound effect on me and is what I hope is the first step in completely transforming my life and the life of my family.
Meditation has become kind of buzz word in the poker community lately, especially with players like me who are obsessed with the mental game. I had tried meditation before. It’s one of those things that’s frequently recommended by therapists for dealing with panic attacks. So I of course gave it a shot. It just never seemed to take. I could never do it consistently. My heart just wasn’t in it. I guess what I needed to start taking meditation seriously was to connect it to something I was passionate about. That thing was poker. Once I heard that meditation could improve your game, making you much more calm, focused, and disciplined at the table, I was in. I started a practice of sitting that has only grown longer and more consistent. And all of the benefits people claimed it would have on my game have been entirely true. I am a much more calm, focused, and disciplined player than I’ve ever been. The coolest part is the impact meditation has had on the rest of my life. I am not only more calm, focused, and disciplined at the table, but in all aspects of my life. The temper that would suddenly emerge during arguments with my wife has slowly faded away and our relationship which was already pretty awesome, has become so much better for it. And this got me thinking. If poker led me to meditation, which has so greatly improved my life, maybe I could use poker as the catalyst for improving all the other areas of my life I find lacking.
So that’s where I find myself now – a semi-professional poker player, loaded down with debt, a couple of part-time jobs, and a bunch of excess weight, all wrapped up in a nice little bundle of anxiety and panic, looking to build on a new practice of meditation and make some drastic changes in my life. And the plan is to chronicle it all here on this blog.
I’ve chosen to call this the Poker Monk blog for a couple of reasons. When I think of monks, I picture a state of calm, mindful stillness, a quality that no doubt would be beneficial both on and off the table. More importantly, I picture dedicating oneself to the study of a single topic in a distraction free environment. Obviously I have no desire to live in a monastery. The no sex thing kind of sucks. Plus I’m sure the food’s pretty bland. But I think I can use the spirit of it as inspiration to find small swaths of distraction-free time in which to focus on deep work and study. Studying and living my life with the dedication and intense study habits of a monk will be the most important thing I can do for myself. I believe that the key component for me will be, not just in poker but in virtually all aspects of my life, discipline combined with consistent and deliberate practice. Consistent and deliberate practice has been proven time and again to be the clearest path to achievement and I hope to make it the foundation of my life going forward.
My plan for the blog is to cover lots of different subjects but I do plan to cover some of the following topics in depth:
- Maximizing Study and Practice Time – There will be a huge emphasis on off-felt practice. I feel like the idea of practicing poker has been grossly neglected in both my own study and that of the majority of low-limit players. A large part of my study time will be dedicated to breaking down the fundamental aspects of the game and trying to master them through deliberate, consistent practice. So I’ll be talking a lot in this blog about the practice techniques I’m learning from my coaches and the one’s I’m developing myself.
- Minimalism – Leading a more simple life that revolves less around consumerism seems like a no-brainer for a serious poker student like myself. Owning and consuming less will help my game in countless ways. The less money I need to support my lifestyle, the less I’ll need to make at the table and the less pressure I’ll feel as I play. Also, having less stuff to deal with and clean will free up more time for study and play. I’ve been reading a ton about minimalism and I’m really excited about pursuing it aggressively.
- Morality in Poker – As a player and former dealer, I have seen some pretty shady shit at the tables. Poker can bring out the absolute worst in people. I can’t help but wonder if the lifestyle I hope to live, one of compassion and purposefulness is even possible in this sort of environment.
- Reviews – I hope readers will find this blog to be a great place to come and hear about things like new books, training sites, coaches, poker rooms and casinos and all the other stuff that goes along with being a thinking poker player.
What I probably won’t be covering much is strategy. I feel like there’s so many better places to get that material and I plan to recommend several of them both in my posts and on my extensive recommendation page.
So that’s the plan. Welcome to The Poker Monk blog. I’d love to hear what you think, any ideas you’d like me to cover, or just a simple hello. Please leave your comments below.