Burnout is a result of intense levels of focus that have been sustained for long periods of time. It is equivalent to what happens to an athlete when they over-train—their strength, speed, and stamina suffer. When a poker player burns out, they experience these symptoms:
• Trouble reaching the zone
• Difficulty sustaining their standard level of focus
• Decreased interest in poker
• Trouble getting out of bed and constantly feeling tired
• Increased levels of distractibility and tilt, and a lack of motivation
The problem is that many players don’t know how to distinguish burnout from other focus or mental game issues, such as laziness. Mental exhaus- tion can be tough to pinpoint for players with a strong work ethic. They don’t want to make excuses, especially when they don’t know exactly why they’re having so much trouble focusing. These questions will help you to begin recognizing when you’re burned out:
• What is your mind like when it’s less sharp than usual? Is it slower? Do important thoughts get lost while making a decision? Do obvi- ous pieces of information get overlooked? When players are burned out, their mind is sluggish and less receptive to details of the action.
• Are you having trouble falling asleep? Extreme fatigue can make it hard for the mind to digest all the data that accumulated from playing. So, even though you feel exhausted and are desperate for sleep, your mind can’t stop working.
• Have you recently been working harder than normal? Often players with a strong work ethic have a hard time recognizing when their workload increases. The chances that you’re burned out are higher if you recently have been playing more, studying harder, or avoiding a day off.
The best time to do research on your pattern of burnout is after each occurrence. Sometimes it’s not until you’re back playing well again that hindsight enables you to clearly see the signs that you had been burned out. Take good notes, so the next time around, you’re prepared to spot them early on. There will certainly be times when burnout is impossible to avoid, such as going for Supernova Elite and competing in a rake race or prop bet. Being aware of how this issue affects you is critical—you don’t want to expect too much of yourself. If you’re burned out and still have to play, lower your expectations and work hard to at least play your B-game. When it’s time to recover from burnout, keep in mind that the more severe it is, the longer it will take for you to get back to peak mental functioning. So, make sure to give yourself enough time and space to rest.
Mid- and Highstakes PLO POKERSTARS TEAM ONLINE
“Towards the end of last year, I was forced to play a ton in order to get Supernova Elite. I had made Supernova Elite before, but this time I had struggled to stay ahead of pace throughout the year. I knew mental and physical energy were important, but I couldn’t clearly see when I was burning out. There were times when I kind of knew I was, but I just thought it was my style to go through phases where I would play a ton of poker and then not play at all. I wanted to play, but would look for excuses not to. Poker felt like a chore, and I was constantly looking for something else to do. Eventually, my mind would reset and I’d be fired up to play a ton, only to repeat the cycle again later on.
I was never really opposed to a schedule previously, but I also never sat down and planned my day; I just played a lot. With no schedule, I felt like I always had to be playing. I would play seven days a week, several months in a row—which is where the burnout came from. Recognizing that I was in fact burned out, as opposed to just saying that I couldn’t play anymore, really helped me to come up with a much healthier plan. Now I take breaks on a regular basis—I play six days, then take one off, with more breaks within each day. After paying closer attention to my focus, I also found that my play deteriorates a little around 90 minutes into a session. Now, I take a short break every 90 minutes and come back refreshed.
One thing that proved to be really helpful was seeing the difference between being burned out and feeling drained from a downswing. The difference for me was clear once I looked at it more closely: When poker feels like a chore, I’m burned out. I never feel that way when I’m just running bad. When I am running bad, I might make excuses not to play and look for other things to do, but I always remain super motivated to work on my game and work through it. So now, as soon as I start to feel like poker has become a chore, I know it’s time to take a break. Knowing this distinction has made it really easy to make deci- sions about when to grind away and when to take a break.
I wasn’t able to get to Supernova Elite in the end. I just got too far behind and made an overall life EV decision to stop trying for it a few weeks before the end of the year. But, this new approach has really helped my overall grinding ability. Before, in my downtime I wanted nothing to do with poker. Now, with proper breaks, I am more excited about playing and learning, and this has reignited my passion for the game. I didn’t realize just how much the excessive volume was stifling my growth as a player. With the new schedule, the amount of volume is the same as before, but now I’m playing with a clearer head, feeling excited to play, and consistently working on my game. My previous approach to getting Supernova Elite was like cramming for a test. Had I not been in this cycle of cramming and burning out, I probably would have gotten it again. Still, I’m happy with my decision and with my newfound schedule and approach to grinding.”
Here are a few ideas from TMGP on how to avoid burning out:
- During times when you’re intensely motivated, ease off the throttle just a bit. When emotion—even motivation—is too high, it can cause you to play sub-optimally and slow down the learning process.
- Take at least one day off per week and five days off per month. On your days off, think about and do other things besides poker.
- Have a hobby other than poker that you enjoy doing and don’t take too seriously.
- For online players, make sure to take some time away from all electronics each day.
- Evaluateyourgameattheendofeachdaythatyouplay.Thishelps you to mentally put poker down and allows your mind to relax.