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6 Ways Poker Can Help Build Your Confidence

6 Ways Poker Can Help Build Your Confidence

Poker today is a global phenomenon and the figures are rising all the time. According to research commissioned by the non-profit PPA (Poker Players Alliance) around 70 million Americans play poker live and/or online – that’s more than 20% of the population. Another 100 million are thought to play the game worldwide.

Why then, is poker so popular? There must be more to poker’s attraction than its showbiz allure. On one thing, enthusiasts of all levels tend to agree: poker can build self-confidence, which might be the single most transferable skill of them all… Here then, are some suggestions as to why this might be so:

Conquer Maths Anxiety!

Maths anxiety, first identified in the 1950s, is the chronic fear of maths. If the prospect of doing maths brings you out in a cold sweat, the chances are that you too suffer from maths anxiety.

Maths anxiety is a fear of numbers. It’s surprisingly common – in the UK for instance, it affects some 16 million people; about a quarter of the population. It’s also surprisingly well-studied psychological condition, with research indicating that the panic induced by having to do math is so intense for some people that sometimes it even activates your brain’s “pain matrix.”

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For sufferers, grappling with a maths problem releases stress hormones associated with the fight/flight reflex you could expect from confronting, say, a hungry tiger. Imagine the selfsame response, but provoked by something as banal as having to measure a carpet or decode a phone bill. Relax though, for help may be at hand.

As with any skill, mathematics gets easier, the more of it you do. The trick is to practise without at any point thinking of it as doing maths. And that’s where a game like poker comes in. The very mechanics of the game, the calculation of ever-shifting odds, is maths in motion. It may not feel like it, but during the course of play, your brain is making hundreds of percentage-based computations. At the green felt table, your brain can crunch all those numbers naturally and fearlessly, because it thinks it’s just playing a game.

Know The Measure Of Your Hand

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    Confidence is, in many ways, tied to competence. As you amass knowledge in a subject, confidence in your abilities grows proportionately. When you first begin to play poker, you’ll be either timid or reckless. But you will certainly not be good. You’ll make beginner’s mistakes. As you get a feel for the game, your play will become more assertive (perhaps overly so). Eventually a player reaches the enlightened state of knowing just what it is they know, and what they have yet to learn. And there’s always something. So, be confident in your abilities, and learn to recognise your limitations. This applies to all walks of life. Unless you have absolutely no idea what you’re doing, in which case…

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    Learn How To Bluff!

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      Poor Le Chiffre, betrayed in the ultimate high-stakes game by the shedding of a single ruby tear at a critical moment. Oh, the heavy hand of irony. A fictional playboy villain is hardly representative, but everyone, player or not, has a “tell”, a visual or verbal tic or cue that signals the onset of a sudden anxiety, a spasm of nerves or excitement. Some of these tells fall into what science calls microexpressions – incredibly brief in duration movements of the facial muscles, lasting only 1/25th to 1/15th of a second.

      In poker, it is as crucial to successfully conceal your tell as it is to read that of another. If you find your opponent’s tells, you can spot when they’re bluffing. And vice versa. As each round progresses, you are called to check, bet, fold, call or raise, according to standard poker rules. Each of these actions are expected to show what you believe about your hand. Is it good or are you bluffing? What about your opponents?

      The ability to spot a tell has a range of applications that go way beyond poker. On any given day you can expect to be lied to from 10 to 200 times, and more than 82% of these lies will slip by undetected, so learning how to spot a lie or a bluff is a useful skill in its own regard. Unconvinced? Just ask Pinocchio – who would have made for a much worse poker player than Le Chiffre.

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      The Importance Of Eye Contact

      Eyes are the proverbial “windows to the soul.” A steady gaze appears to denote frankness and confidence. The key word here is appears.

      Failure to maintain eye contact is perceived as weakness, unreliability. Doubtlessly, the other extreme is equally unwelcome – everyone must surely feel the need to blink occasionally. In fact, the average person will blink 6-10 times per minute – less than this is just plain scary, whilst a higher blink rate tends to signal attraction, anxiety or excitement. Or possibly a slipped contact lens. Maintaining good eye contact is a crucial skill – especially for salespeople, managers and pretty much everyone, when it comes to interpersonal relationships.

      Dress To Impress?

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        Professional poker players are often snappy dressers. Picture the archetypal riverboat gambler, suited in linen and silks. Compare this image with a modern-day celebrity player – fashions have changed of course, but still the poker player is, more often than not, impeccably tailored.

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        His/her image is a projection, the physical manifestation of ‘confidence’ – and in poker, confidence born from skill translates as wealth, to be measured in winnings. A “good” player may dress expensively (not necessarily ostentatiously); it’s part of their bluff, they are dressing to impress. Often, to intimidate. At the same time, you may notice a lot of poker pros do the exact opposite: they choose generic getups. This way, their opponents will possibly underestimate them, which in effect gives them an advantage. There’s also something to be said about comfortable clothes – being physically comfortable allows you to be more efficient in any situation. A 2012 Northwestern University study confirms all this: “enclothed cognition” is the influence that your clothes have on your psychology and mood, and it was proven to make a huge difference.

        What can we get out of all this? Simply taking a moment to think about what your attire conveys about your personality is enough to help you make better choices. Let’s not forget, if your clothes make you feel confident, you move in an all-together more attractive manner. Which by happy coincidence makes you appear more confident than perhaps you really are. A virtuous circle.

        Sharpen Up Your Conversational Skills

        Poker is a social game. Other players are involved. You’ll have to sit near them and everything, there’s really no avoiding it. At semi-regular intervals, you’re going to have to talk to them; unless you’re actually playing a robot, conversation will be exchanged.

        You may be the shyest person in the world, a wilting violet in a dark and shadowy corner, but through playing poker, a veritable spotlight will freeze you in its beam each and every round, and you’ll have to learn to deal with it. That’s not bad at all. Even if you choose not to put them to use very often, social skills are very important in life and can make all the difference when you’re trying to land that dream job or even get a date.

        There are indeed many social, mental and psychological benefits to playing a simple, enjoyable game like poker. But perhaps the biggest one of all is the card game’s capacity to help you strengthen your self-confidence. So unwind a little, smile, crack a joke as you play; after all, if you play your cards right, you could be sitting at that table for a long time…

        References & Sources for Further Reading:

        1. mathgoodies.com – Understanding and Overcoming Anxiety
        2. impactfactory.com – Use Eye Contact to Create better Relationships
        3. phoenixcounsellingnw.co.uk – Building Self Confidence
        4. pokerstars.com – Understanding the Rules of Poker
        5. careerproinc.com – How to sharpen Your Communication Skills

        Featured photo credit: Entrepreneur via entrepreneur.com

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        Last Updated on January 15, 2021

        7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

        7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

        The popular idiomatic saying that “actions speak louder than words” has been around for centuries, but even to this day, most people struggle with at least one area of nonverbal communication. Consequently, many of us aspire to have more confident body language but don’t have the knowledge and tools necessary to change what are largely unconscious behaviors.

        Given that others’ perceptions of our competence and confidence are predominantly influenced by what we do with our faces and bodies, it’s important to develop greater self-awareness and consciously practice better posture, stance, eye contact, facial expressions, hand movements, and other aspects of body language.

        Posture

        First things first: how is your posture? Let’s start with a quick self-assessment of your body.

        • Are your shoulders slumped over or rolled back in an upright posture?
        • When you stand up, do you evenly distribute your weight or lean excessively to one side?
        • Does your natural stance place your feet relatively shoulder-width apart or are your feet and legs close together in a closed-off position?
        • When you sit, does your lower back protrude out in a slumped position or maintain a straight, spine-friendly posture in your seat?

        All of these are important considerations to make when evaluating and improving your posture and stance, which will lead to more confident body language over time. If you routinely struggle with maintaining good posture, consider buying a posture trainer/corrector, consulting a chiropractor or physical therapist, stretching daily, and strengthening both your core and back muscles.

        Facial Expressions

        Are you prone to any of the following in personal or professional settings?

        • Bruxism (tight, clenched jaw or grinding teeth)
        • Frowning and/or furrowing brows
        • Avoiding direct eye contact and/or staring at the ground

        If you answered “yes” to any of these, then let’s start by examining various ways in which you can project confident body language through your facial expressions.

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        1. Understand How Others Perceive Your Facial Expressions

        A December 2020 study by UC Berkeley and Google researchers utilized a deep neural network to analyze facial expressions in six million YouTube clips representing people from over 140 countries. The study found that, despite socio-cultural differences, people around the world tended to use about 70% of the same facial expressions in response to different emotional stimuli and situations.[1]

        The study’s researchers also published a fascinating interactive map to demonstrate how their machine learning technology assessed various facial expressions and determined subtle differences in emotional responses.

        This study highlights the social importance of facial expressions because whether or not we’re consciously aware of them—by gazing into a mirror or your screen on a video conferencing platform—how we present our faces to others can have tremendous impacts on their perceptions of us, our confidence, and our emotional states. This awareness is the essential first step towards

        2. Relax Your Face

        New research on bruxism and facial tension found the stresses and anxieties of Covid-19 lockdowns led to considerable increases in orofacial pain, jaw-clenching, and teeth grinding, particularly among women.[2]

        The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research estimates that more than 10 million Americans alone have temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ syndrome), and facial tension can lead to other complications such as insomnia, wrinkles, dry skin, and dark, puffy bags under your eyes.[3])

        To avoid these unpleasant outcomes, start practicing progressive muscle relaxation techniques and taking breaks more frequently throughout the day to moderate facial tension.[4] You should also try out some biofeedback techniques to enhance your awareness of involuntary bodily processes like facial tension and achieve more confident body language as a result.[5]

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        3. Improve Your Eye Contact

        Did you know there’s an entire subfield of kinesic communication research dedicated to eye movements and behaviors called oculesics?[6] It refers to various communication behaviors including direct eye contact, averting one’s gaze, pupil dilation/constriction, and even frequency of blinking. All of these qualities can shape how other people perceive you, which means that eye contact is yet another area of nonverbal body language that we should be more mindful of in social interactions.

        The ideal type (direct/indirect) and duration of eye contact depends on a variety of factors, such as cultural setting, differences in power/authority/age between the parties involved, and communication context. Research has shown that differences in the effects of eye contact are particularly prominent when comparing East Asian and Western European/North American cultures.[7]

        To improve your eye contact with others, strive to maintain consistent contact for at least 3 to 4 seconds at a time, consciously consider where you’re looking while listening to someone else, and practice eye contact as much as possible (as strange as this may seem in the beginning, it’s the best way to improve).

        3. Smile More

        There are many benefits to smiling and laughing, and when it comes to working on more confident body language, this is an area that should be fun, low-stakes, and relatively stress-free.

        Smiling is associated with the “happiness chemical” dopamine and the mood-stabilizing hormone, serotonin. Many empirical studies have shown that smiling generally leads to positive outcomes for the person smiling, and further research has shown that smiling can influence listeners’ perceptions of our confidence and trustworthiness as well.

        4. Hand Gestures

        Similar to facial expressions and posture, what you do with your hands while speaking or listening in a conversation can significantly influence others’ perceptions of you in positive or negative ways.

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        It’s undoubtedly challenging to consciously account for all of your nonverbal signals while simultaneously trying to stay engaged with the verbal part of the discussion, but putting in the effort to develop more bodily awareness now will make it much easier to unconsciously project more confident body language later on.

        5. Enhance Your Handshake

        In the article, “An Anthropology of the Handshake,” University of Copenhagen social anthropology professor Bjarke Oxlund assessed the future of handshaking in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic:[8]

        “Handshakes not only vary in function and meaning but do so according to social context, situation and scale. . . a public discussion should ensue on the advantages and disadvantages of holding on to the tradition of shaking hands as the conventional gesture of greeting and leave-taking in a variety of circumstances.”

        It’s too early to determine some of the ways in which Covid-19 has permanently changed our social norms and professional etiquette standards, but it’s reasonable to assume that handshaking may retain its importance in American society even after this pandemic. To practice more confident body language in the meantime, the video on the science of the perfect handshake below explains what you need to know.

        6. Complement Your Verbals With Hand Gestures

        As you know by now, confident communication involves so much more than simply smiling more or sounding like you know what you’re talking about. What you do with your hands can be particularly influential in how others perceive you, whether you’re fidgeting with an object, clenching your fists, hiding your hands in your pockets, or calmly gesturing to emphasize important points you’re discussing.

        Social psychology researchers have found that “iconic gestures”—hand movements that appear to be meaningfully related to the speaker’s verbal content—can have profound impacts on listeners’ information retention. In other words, people are more likely to engage with you and remember more of what you said when you speak with complementary hand gestures instead of just your voice.[9]

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        Further research on hand gestures has shown that even your choice of the left or right hand for gesturing can influence your ability to clearly convey information to listeners, which supports the notion that more confident body language is readily achievable through greater self-awareness and deliberate nonverbal actions.[10]

        Final Takeaways

        Developing better posture, enhancing your facial expressiveness, and practicing hand gestures can vastly improve your communication with other people. At first, it will be challenging to consciously practice nonverbal behaviors that many of us are accustomed to performing daily without thinking about them.

        If you ever feel discouraged, however, remember that there’s no downside to consistently putting in just a little more time and effort to increase your bodily awareness. With the tips and strategies above, you’ll be well on your way to embracing more confident body language and amplifying others’ perceptions of you in no time.

        More Tips on How to Develop a Confident Body Language

        Featured photo credit: Maria Lupan via unsplash.com

        Reference

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