Getting Out of the Zone

Getting Out of the Zone

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Exit your comfort zone says Nick Wealthall.

‘The answers to your problems lie outside your comfort zones'

I heard that line at a seminar a few years ago. It was one of those seminars where you’re in a room full of people trying to have a big idea that validates the genius they’ve always thought they had while trying to get over their parents' divorce. I fit in perfectly.

Honestly, I can’t remember too much about it except that brilliant line.

As the speaker explained, if there’s something you don’t have the answer to or aren’t moving forward with as you’d like, it must lie outside your comfort zones (as in outside your normal behavior or knowledge base) otherwise you’d already have the answer. That’s what a lot of people miss when they want to improve at something or achieve a goal they haven’t hit yet – you actually have to challenge your current ways of doing things and…terrifying word upcoming….change. Otherwise your results can’t change.

This is all terrible news for me as I love comfort. I’m a comfort junkie. I’m the comfort-meister in chief. I wallow in comfort and wrap myself in a metaphorical and also an actual 15-tog continental duvet on a daily basis. I’m writing this to you in the middle of winter and it’s cold and dark outside but I’m wearing a thin t-shirt and shorts because the heating is on continuous and the thermostat is permanently at about 25 degrees. Why? Because I refuse to not be comfortable. Human evolution has given me the gift of central heating and I’m riding this bad boy into ozone-destroying oblivion.

The thing is, while I love a bit of personal comfort and lap of luxury stuff, I fight hard to push back against comfort zones in everything else and constantly ask the same questions:
"What more can I do?"
"What else can I learn?"
"What else can I achieve?"

It’s not easy - this world and your nature are set up to stop you moving out of your comfort zones.

As we humans were evolving, we did so in a scarce environment where resources were limited, unless the resource you were after was ‘barren African landscapes’. Because of this we’ve come to value what we have and the habits we create to get it.

As an example, study after study has shown that when it comes to valuing something you already own, you attribute it twice it’s actual worth. We hate the idea of loss and of giving stuff up because it feels risky, negative and even survival-threatening.

That’s why it is so easy to slip into safe options in your relationships, career and daily routines, and why it can be so tough sometimes to push through your comfort zones to something better that you know you can achieve but that isn’t guaranteed.

This is all true with your poker. I meet so many players who are stuck in a rut, actually stuck at a certain buy in limit but also stuck in terms of how they play and their understanding of the game.

In poker the best players are those who have constantly pushed their comfort zones. Where most people learn some basic strategy, the ones that really excel aren’t afraid to try, to experiment, and to sometimes fail and look silly - all in an attempt to improve. The average player will learn Aces is the best hand and raising or reraising preflop is generally a good idea. The exceptional player will experiment with flat calling with Aces preflop to see if they can extract a bigger edge post flop. Or try making a huge reraise instead of a standard one to see just how wide his calling station opponent will still call ('very wide' is often the answer – the thing about players deemed ‘calling stations’ is that the clue’s in the title). They’ll try these moves in a deliberate attempt to discover not just a good play but a great one, not just a small edge but the optimal one.

In No Limit Hold'em you constantly want to be the player trying to push other people out of their comfort zone, to put them in spots they hate to be in, to disappoint them with your decisions. If your opponent likes to play small pots, disappoint them by making big bets and raises, if they like to take the thinking out of the game and play big pots preflop – flat call and take them to the later streets where they’re hating life.

Perhaps the best example of this idea was when Andy Beal, the maverick Texan banker, came to Vegas to play the high stakes players there and try to break them. He was a naturally aggressive guy who had worked hard to become decent at limit poker but he was also bringing one significant edge - endless mountains of cash! Using this cash he got the players to play at limits they hadn’t played at before (up to $100,000 - $200,000 limit with millions as the buy in!) in an attempt to take them out their comfort zone and into his. Losing 5 million wouldn’t affect his net worth or lifestyle all that much, losing 5 million would put a huge dent in the Vegas poker economy and affect the players at a personal level. Unfortunately for Andy the level of degeneracy among players like Phil Ivey and Ted Forrest (and their expertise at the game, let’s be fair) meant it didn’t really work. However it was a valiant try and really, could be have found a better use of five million dollars?!

So this idea has two big implications. The first is to constantly think about your opponents and ask how to make them uncomfortable, what do they not want to play against? The second is for your poker career as a whole. Ask how can I push myself to play better, learn faster and improve more? What can I try that I haven’t tried, and what can I achieve in poker that I haven’t achieved yet?

Right, back to the duvet. Can’t believe I got out of bed for this…

Tags: Nick Wealthall