What goes up...
The good times and the...
Why can we so easily fill in the blank on these statements? Is it really as natural as gravity that our upswings be matched with downswings? Is there some internal force which brings us back down to earth? I've been thinking about whether or not downswings, in both life and poker, are natural parts of the game or caused by internal demons and conventional wisdom that tells us the good will never stay the good. Obviously I acknowledge that there is variance in the world, look at the name of the site; but to what degree are our downswings caused by our reactions to unexpected trouble. And of the same vein, how much of our upswings are within our control as well?
For instance, leading up to the birth of my first child, life was grand. I had a real upswing and I felt great all the time. Every poker session was a breeze and coming home was pleasant. Years later, after talking to many people this type of upswing seemed to be a natural phenomenon. A handful of poker players I spoke with called this the new baby upswing.
Being the skeptic that I am, I then considered the negatives that existed during that same time frame, because obviously I didn't win every day. Looking back, there was a time at the start of the third trimester when my results became noticeably poorer. I played fewer hours, and very low quality hours. I partly remember this, and I have records of it as well. I lost heavily during the last three months of the pregnancy, had a quarter-life crisis, spent a bunch of money on an expensive car to feel like a young successful person again. Basically the stress of approaching fatherhood and not knowing whether we had done everything to prepare our home for a child weighed heavily on me without me even knowing it was happening to me. I had one of my best years in poker that year, and it ended on a 3 month downer. At the time it just felt like variance, but looking back, a lot of it was just being not mentally tough enough in my personal life and that tilt spilling into my poker game.
I have always been critical of people who use the word momentum to describe any series of independent events, such as poker tournament win streaks, "momentum shifts" in a sporting event, and cash game win streaks. But as time passes and I've witnessed the happiest people continuing to win, and the troubled people continually losing, I have subscribed to the idea that your mindset matters far more or at least as much as your poker skill level. In the past year I have focused heavily on this part of my game, and it has paid dividends already.
Now don't get me wrong, downswings do exist and they can be the most mind melting, frustrating things on earth. You can be playing the absolute best poker in the world and lose for months, but I still feel confident enough in my theory on mentality's effect on poker results to say the following: The next time you hear about someone at the table going through a tough time at home, it may seem predatory, and they might be one of the better players in the game normally, but they should be your main target after the obvious "spots" at the table. And in life, if you know someone going through a tough time emotionally, talk to them about it. When you stack one negative thought per day on your shoulders you may not notice the weight until someone comes and helps you let it all fall away.