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OTB #011: How to overcome poker's top 4 mental barriers

Updated: Jan 24

This week, the On The Button issue is written by my Poker On The Mind Podcast co-host, Dr Tricia Cardner.

To subscribe to her newsletter, please click here.


What would you say is the most common factor that holds poker players back from achieving their poker goals?

Common guesses include:

  • lack of proper bankroll

  • lack of time (or other resources) and even...

  • lack of intelligence.

But it's actually something else entirely...

The biggest obstacle to poker success is limiting beliefs.

As a performance psychology coach for poker players, the most common mental barriers I see are all centred around fear.

That’s right... FEAR.

There are four very common fears that can wreak havoc on your mental game and keep you from realising your full potential.

Today I want to explain what they are and how to finally break free from them.

Let's dive in...

1. Fear of failure: "What if I lose?"

Many poker players grapple with the question, "What if I’m not good enough to win?"

This fear of losing, of not measuring up, can hold them back from taking the risks essential for success.

How to break free: Recognise that failure is an inevitable part of growth.

Rather than viewing a loss as a reflection of your self-worth, see it as a learning opportunity.

Each hand is a lesson, and each decision, whether leading to a win or a loss, is a stepping stone to mastery.

Practise asking yourself: what can I learn from this experience?

2. Fear of criticism: "What will others think?”

Some players are plagued by the fear of potential judgment from their peers.

This fear is amplified in a poker setting where every decision is observed and sometimes loudly criticised across social media.

How to break free: Keep in mind that every poker player has made choices that are open to scrutiny—sometimes multiple times in just one session.

We’ve all faced difficult decisions and made mistakes. Ground yourself in your own journey and knowledge. Seek constructive feedback, but always differentiate between genuine advice and noise.

Practise asking yourself: Do these people’s opinions even matter?

3. Fear of success: "Can I handle the spotlight?"

As odd as it may sound, some players fear success.

They're concerned about the expectations and pressures that come with winning. "What if I can't maintain this streak or these results?" they may wonder.

How to break free: See success as a reflection of your hard work and study.

Understand that, in poker as in life, there will always be ups and downs. Focus on consistency, continuous learning, and personal growth, rather than external validation.

Practice asking yourself: What’s next?

4. Fear of the unknown: "What if the unexpected happens?"

Poker is full of uncertainty, and there are many uncontrollable elements.

The game's unpredictable nature, from the uncertainty of the next card to the mysterious strategies of opponents, can fuel anxiety.

How to break free: If you want to overcome this fear, you must embrace uncertainty as an inherent aspect of poker.

Develop adaptability. Instead of dreading the unknown, see it as a challenge to your skills. Remember, even the most seasoned players can't predict every outcome. What they can control, however, is their response to the unexpected.

Practice asking yourself: What’s the best decision I can make with the information I do have?


How to break free:

  1. Recognise that failure is an inevitable part of growth.

  2. Ground yourself in your own journey and knowledge.

  3. See success as a reflection of your hard work and study.

  4. Embrace uncertainty as an inherent aspect of poker.

Limiting beliefs, while common, are not insurmountable.

Recognising and tackling these fears head-on allows you to break free from these mental constraints, setting the stage for success at the table and beyond.

Remember, your mind is your most important tool and it’s important that you train it wisely by preparing mentally for any mental barriers that might come up.

Good luck!


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