Why We Get Fatigued From Poker
Feeling particularly tired after finishing a long session I started reading the introduction to Elliot Roe’s Recovery MP3. The following made me feel a lot better as it spoke to me directly:
“It’s scary how little attention most poker players give to mental recovery.
A long poker sessions is one of the most mentally draining activities imaginable.
The amount of decisions you need to make in one session is probably more than the average person will make in an entire month.
The simple truth is, decision making fatigues your brain massively…”
While I will still be buying this mp3, this also got me to thinking what else I could do about it. Things got interesting when I found out that Decision Fatigue is actually a known problem and there has been a good deal of research carried out in this branch of Psychology.
What is Decision Fatigue? “In its simplest terms, decision fatigue refers to the idea that people tend to make worse decisions after having made a lot of decisions. Much like muscle fatigue, if you flex your “decision” muscle too much it will fail you. In everyday life for ‘normal’ people this is symptomatic from the day job, kids, relationships, bills, etc. all bundled together. It’s common that someone suffering from decision fatigue that they will come home and not want to do anything productive and plans to paint the spare room or eat a healthy dinner gets scrapped for sitting on the couch and ordering a pizza. This isn’t necessarily because they’re tired from running around all day, but due to making a lot of decisions and now being low on mental energy. This is something that supermarkets have known for a long time, hence the sweets and other crap near the register: you’re tired from deciding between hundreds of things to buy and now have decision fatigue and those sweets are placed there for you to impulse buy because your decision making ability is weakened. This is also apparent in car dealerships where, after buying a car and having been given a ton of options on it, it’s much easier to sell that rust proofing coat as an extra. After facing many decisions and suffering from this fatigue, people will go for the simplest option or path of least resistance. Once the brain suffers from decision fatigue the person will deal with it in one of two ways: to become reckless/impulsive or to do nothing.
How exactly does this affect us poker players? I think this has many ramifications and much can be drawn from it. For example, knowing a villain is at the end of a long session we can expect them to be playing more honestly and more to their true basic player types. I would try adjusting by squeezing out more value from that villain with high wtsd with bigger bet-sizing perhaps. Maybe you think you’re tilted but it’s actually decision fatigue? Or it’s a sizeable part of why we get tilted?
But more definitively and more importantly, how does it affect us? Hopefully by now this has made you think about your own sessions and your own drained/tired/fatigued frame of mind x no. of times per week. It certainly did for me.
So how do we deal with it? Here are the solutions:
- Don’t make any more decisions for some time (take a break and don’t play computer games, rather read, exercise, watch tv..)
- I.e. sleep or take a nap.
- The most important of all: eat!
Traditional research said that pleasurable acts (achem! Not that…) help the brain recover most quickly from decision fatigue. But in an experiment where 2 groups were both given milkshake, the first were given awesome milkshakes and the second group were given horrible ones. Interestingly both groups recovered the same amount – and much more than a group that were given no milkshakes. The reason? Your brain requires food: glucose. So the most important recovery method is to eat small meals that have a low glycaemic index. I.e. they need to be healthy. A banana or a small sandwich with protein on it should do the trick. Small snacks before, during and after sessions is best.
We’ve known for a long time that exercise, eating well and rest are important for poker. I think the concept of decision fatigue adds a bit more theory for that and at least for me, I’ll be focusing more on doing things correctly off the table so I can perform better on it.
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