Know Yourself to Have the Confidence to Breakthrough

James Chin is a guest columnist and a professional poker player living in Las Vegas, Nevada.  He has a J.D. from the University of Michigan Law School and a B.S. in Electrical Engineering from The University of Texas.  

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On the one hand, if you’ve had bad results for an extended period of time, then you must be receptive to the possibility that you’ve been doing something wrong and, if so, have the courage to change.  On the other hand, if you’ve analyzed your decisions and can find nothing wrong (i.e., if you could have a do-over, you’d do the same thing you did before), then being results-oriented can be the worst mindset because it causes you to doubt your decisions.

Ultimately, you must have the mindset that good results will come in the long run if you keep on making good decisions.  The problem is that you have no control over how long the “long run” is.  So focus on those things which you do have control over: your decisions.  This means not only experimenting and adapting to make sure you do have a genuine long-term winning strategy, but also deciding on your response to those short-term intervening losses.

What might the best response be?  Whatever motivates you to persevere in the face of difficulty.  For others, that might be anger or a sense of pride, and if those emotions work for you, awesome.  John McEnroe was a winner, despite seemingly being on tilt half the time.  But for me, the answer is equanimity.  I’ve found that a sense of calm is the most sustainable emotion for me to have in continuing to put in good work.

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How do I draw on that sense of calm?  One answer I’ve mentioned previously is a mantra that helps keep me present and centered on the action.  But another answer is an awareness of my history of using a calm mindset with an eye toward improvement.  It becomes a positive feedback loop because I’ve already experienced those smaller wins that happened when I kept calm and kept working, so this winning mindset for me gets reinforced.

It comes down to self-awareness.  You ought to have a sense of your own history, of what has worked for you in the past, of productive patterns.  You already have a foundation of past success that short-term present losses can’t take away from you; be mindful of and build on that foundation, and your future success will come.