Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The braggart defends himself...

OK, so here I am stuck on another flight (this one is going to Malaga: I checked) so it's time to splurge whatever random poker thoughts are swilling around my brain into another blog. Chatting to a friend on Facebook about enthusiasm, the subject of my last blog, got me thinking. I have a track record of total immersion in my latest obsession for a number of years followed by total withdrawal once my enthusiasm evaporates (and when it starts to go, boy does it go fast). I've gone through a number of different pursuits and pastimes in this way. Poker is the first one that has doubled as my livelihood so I guess I should be thinking of ways to sustain my enthusiasm for longer. A lot of the young grinders who do sick volume insist on taking 2 days a week off. I don't as yet as I just get restless on days off but will probably need to start scheduling off days at some point. I suck at resting and switching off though, which probably explains why I was a much better ultramarathon runner (where the key skill is to perform with as little rest as possible and you actually train yourself to run when already exhausted, demoralised and disheartened) than marathon runner (where rest and recovery are essential to progress).

I think I subconsciously use a number of strategies to help maintain my enthusiasm. One is to dwell on the successes and ups much more than the downs. My view on the downs is once you've reflected on them for lessons learned, you should pretty much just forget about them. But you should relive and savour the highs. My running coach used to emphasise this: enjoy and relish your successes, and on days when you find yourself struggling in a race, remember how good they felt and how proud you and those around you were of them. In poker, it's much easier to get over getting one outered in a huge pot if you remind yourself you're way up overall. This contrasts with a lot of players' view that you should dwell on your setbacks and forget your successes to avoid complacency or resting on your laurels.

Which brings me on to bragging. I think I'm well known and even despised in some quarters for the sheer volume of my brag posts on Twitter and Facebook. Opprobrium doesn't bother me in the slightest. It may be based partly by jealousy, or maybe by a misunderstanding on the reasons why I brag so much. I don't brag to be admired by others (although it's nice when other people are genuinely happy for me when I do well): I do so primarily as positive self reenforcement so I can maintain the positive mental attitude in this game where the bad beats and disappointments can drag you down.

Culturally, we Irish don't handle success very well, so we tend to downplay it if we happen stumble into it. We see bragging as unpleasant, and we applaud fake humility. I've lived here most of my life so this doesn't really bother me as I understand the reasons behind it, but my wife finds this facet of the Irish psyche almost unbearable. Her stock response to fake humility "Ah I was very lucky, I'm not that good at all at all" is "Yeah, I thought so", one guaranteed to instantly reveal the fakeness of most humility. I doubt there's a poker player in the world who doesn't think they're even better than they really are. Certainly no good ones. Would Muhammad Ali have been as compelling a figure if he had hadn't insisted on telling us he must be the greatest? I don't think so.

There is one other great thing about bragging. It tilts the Hell out of your enemies and fake friends, of which inevitably there are many in this game. Brag once to a fake friend and they'll probably muster a smile and a well done. Do so repeatedly and the facade drops and you see a more genuine response of begrudgery. As the song says, we hate it when our friends succeed. I think "we" here means people in this part of the world: other cultures seem to have a better attitude to success. I also think that if we genuinely hate it when our friends succeed, then they may be our friends, but we are not really theirs.



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