Practice in sub-optimal conditions. High-pressure situations often include more uncontrolled or random factors. Therefore, it’s important for you to train in different and challenging ways, in order to perform consistently, regardless of external circumstances. Practice when you’re tired or hungry, or choose a cold or noisy environment.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Jared Tendler, MS, LMHC, a leading expert in how your mental game impacts performance. His roster of clients spans 45 countries and includes esports athletes, financial traders, some of the top poker players in the world, a top-ranked pool player, and several PGA Tour players.
The author of two highly acclaimed books, The Mental Game of Poker, and The Mental Game of Poker 2, Jared is currently writing a book on The Mental Game of Trading and is the host of the popular podcast, The Mental Game. In addition to his writing and 1:1 coaching, Jared also previously served as the Head of Sport Psychology for the esport organization Team Liquid. He was a key driver of their success as they won multiple championships, including The International 2017 (DOTA2), the Intel Grand Slam (Counter-Strike) and four League of Legends Championship Series (LCS) titles.
Jared’s straightforward and practical approach to coaching has helped numerous clients solve their mental game problems and perform at their highest levels. After earning a Master’s Degree in Counseling Psychology (MS) and becoming a Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC), Jared began his coaching career in 2005.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
Thanks for the opportunity. I’m Jared Tendler, mental game coach and author. My job is to help traders, investors, athletes, PGA Tour players, poker players and other professionals remove the emotions that negatively affect decision-making and performance. I have clients in 45 countries, including some of the top professionals in their fields. I’m also the former head of sport psychology for the esport organization Team Liquid, where I’ve been an integral part of recent championships across many of their teams.
In terms of my childhood backstory, I grew up surrounded by family and friends who believed that I could do whatever I put my mind to, and their belief was unwavering. I got constant reinforcement and encouragement and was given the opportunity to try and fail. My grandparents, parents and their close friends always provided support, advice and motivation. In my late teens and early twenties, whenever I would fail (e.g. shooting a terrible round in a big tournament, or failing a big test), their words were always in my head, so I didn’t doubt that I could recover and find a way to be successful. Even when the failure was painful, I was able to pick myself up easily because of the people who supported me. In some ways, that led to overconfidence, an issue that I had to later conquer.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career as an entrepreneur or business leader? We’d love to hear the story.
I got into the field of mental game coaching from my experience as an aspiring professional golfer. In college, I was a 3-time All-American and won nine tournaments, but I continually choked in major national events and couldn’t find the answers I needed from sports/golf psychology. As is common with a lot of entrepreneurs, my career was born from believing there had to be a better way. I got a master’s degree in counseling psychology and spent 3,200 hours of supervised practice to get licensed as a therapist, but never with the intent to be a therapist — instead, I wanted to understand how to better solve performance issues in golf. In 2005, I started working with golfers and quickly built up a roster that included players on the PGA, LPGA, and Korn Ferry Tour, as well as top-ranked juniors. My success with golfers has since led to me to expand my audience, and I now work with poker players, traders, pool players, esports professionals, sports betters, lawyers, and entrepreneurs across many industries.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?
My grandfather immigrated from Poland before WWII. He came to the country with nothing, yet became a successful businessman through his wits and ability to partner with the right people. My father started a real estate company in 1981 when home mortgage rates were 18%, and also found a way to create a successful business. They were both smart, and they hustled. From a young age I was interested in business and did everything from selling candy on the bus to cleaning houses, detailing cars, and working odd jobs. I was hungry to be successful like they were, and that drive also fueled my passion in golf, and my desire to play on the PGA Tour.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
I’m not sure if it qualifies as funny, exactly, but the first thing that comes to mind is a spectacular failure that happened early in my career. I was coaching an LPGA player through some performance issues, and amazingly she won her first tournament on tour right after our first coaching session. She used the things we talked about and it immediately made a difference. I was super excited, and we doubled our efforts. But I let my excitement get the better of me and that reached a tipping point during an event where I watched her play an event in person. Rather than staying back and observing, as the most seasoned coaches did ( later learned), I was on the ropes, up close and cheering on every shot. It was way too much! She ended up playing horribly that day and subsequently fired me. It felt like a punch to the gut, but it was self-inflicted. I was so excited to be in a position that I had dreamed about — working with a tour player in person — that I wasn’t thinking about my own role. The experience taught me to be more strategic about everything I do or say with a client. There must be a plan. Of course, the plan may need to be adjusted as we go, which is fine. But if I’m out there trying to help people improve their emotional stability, I need to walk the talk.
The road to success is hard and requires tremendous dedication. This question is obviously a big one, but what advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your success?
There’s no shortcut to success. It’s understandable to want things to happen quickly, but if you are looking to build a career that can sustain itself over the long term, you need to put in consistent hard work to develop a skill set that makes you invaluable — “so good they can’t ignore you” as Cal Newport says. Having a set of skills that are invaluable to the marketplace is another key to financial security. People often mistakenly think that financial security comes from having a nest egg, but that’s actually not accurate. Having a financial cushion may make life easier, but valuable skills provide another form of security.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
I’ve read a lot of profound books in my life, but the most significant change in my worldview came in my first year of college. I was required to attend a liberal studies class that provided a large overview of different disciplines, from philosophy and history to technology and innovation. That class and the textbook that accompanied it, entitled Human Dilemmas, made me realize just how little I knew. As I mentioned before, overconfidence was a problem for me when I was younger, and this class put me in my place academically and intellectually. It was humbling to know so little, but also incredibly exciting because it helped me to realize how much opportunity there is in the world to find your place and make something great.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
“You don’t really understand something unless you can explain it to your grandmother.”
— Albert Einstein.
This may not seem like a typical life lesson quote, but it has guided my work and life. If someone doesn’t understand what I’m trying to communicate, I take the responsibility for improving my competency and figuring out how to explain it better. That dedication has provided an endless stream of feedback and the opportunity to improve my skill as a coach, speaker and author.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
These are exciting times for me because, after three years of working on this project, I’m getting close to the finish line on the release of my newest book, The Mental Game of Trading: A system for solving problems with greed, fear, anger, confidence and discipline. The book is designed to permanently correct the most costly errors in trading performance. Even though the book is written for traders, it’s accessible to anyone who has an intense desire to perform at their highest levels. My previous two poker books were enjoyed by professionals across a wide spectrum, and that’s, even more, the case with this book. You can sign up here to be notified when the book becomes available at the end of March 2021: https://jaredtendler.com/thementalgameoftrading/
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. As a business leader, you likely often face high stakes situations that involve a lot of pressure. Most of us tend to wither in the face of such pressure and stress. Can you share with our readers 3 or 4 strategies that you use to cope with the burden of stress?
My profession is a bit unique in that I’m tasked with the job of helping professionals face high stakes situations — whether that’s a poker player trying to win the World Series of Poker Main Event and the 8 million dollars first prize, or an esports team trying to win world championships and the 12 million dollars first prize, or PGA Tour players and traders with millions of dollars on the line. But personally, I also need to be sharp mentally to be effective in critical moments.
Here are a few strategies that have helped me and my clients:
- Certainty is key. Your certainties include elements like your capabilities, performance history, past successes, and things you learned from prior failures. When you have a list of things you can be certain about, it helps to shield you from the uncertainties inherent in high-pressure situations. Take time in advance to write them all out, and study the list until you know it like the back of your hand. Then you’ll automatically be more solid/stable when you find yourself in a high-stakes situation.
- Solidify your C-game. Excelling under pressure doesn’t mean that you perform perfectly. In many cases, high-stakes situations take place within highly dynamic and chaotic environments. High-level competition is first and foremost a battle of who is stronger where they are weak. Minimizing and developing an awareness of your weak points can significantly improve your advantage. It is way more common to “win ugly” than to win playing perfectly. Most often you have to stay in it and find a way. That’s where a strong C-game comes in handy.
- Don’t let the feelings of pressure distract you. The physical sensations of pressure cause us to focus on them because they are atypical to how we normally feel, and that alone is distracting. But in truth, they are not consequential unless you succumb to the distraction. This lesson was driven home for me while qualifying for the US Amateur Golf Championship, where I faced a very difficult 4’ putt for par on the first hole. My hands were visibly shaking. I backed off and told myself it didn’t matter, trust the line, trust your training and I drilled the putt. Although I didn’t qualify, that moment made me realize that the physical experience of pressure didn’t compromise my execution. In the past, it had, because I thought there was something wrong. Many people view feelings of pressure negatively, but they aren’t inherently negative, unless you focus on them that way, or allow the pressure to distract you from focusing on the details that are critical to your execution.
Aside from being able to deal with the burden of stress, can you share with our readers five strategies that you use to optimize your mind for peak performance before high pressure, high stress situations?
Here are 5 strategies that have helped me and my clients to optimize for peak performance in high-stakes situations:
- Develop the right energy. This is the most important factor for peak performance. You simply cannot get there without it. For some people, the right energy will look super-intense, and for others it will be more calm and Zen-like. Everyone needs to understand what the right energy looks like for them individually and learn how to produce it more often.
- Prepare in advance. Once you understand what kind of energy works best for you, develop a routine that prepares you for high-pressure situations. In addition to the reliability for producing optimal energy, a routine provides a barrier to stress and allows you to more easily focus on the specific details that you need to be successful.
- Clear your mind. When it comes to being your best, there is no room for random thoughts. So don’t overtrain beforehand, and reduce the amount of information and stimulation you take in prior to the high-stress situation. Perhaps even taper down the amount of general and competition-related data you consume several days in advance to keep your mind more clear.
- Solidify your decision-making process. Many high-stakes situations require rapid decision-making. The process by which you make decisions is a commonly overlooked skill. It can be improved by detailing out the process in its entirety or just training the specific elements that disappear under intense stress. Like a routine, strength in your decision-making process creates another buffer against stress.
- Practice in sub-optimal conditions. High-pressure situations often include more uncontrolled or random factors. Therefore, it’s important for you to train in different and challenging ways, in order to perform consistently, regardless of external circumstances. Practice when you’re tired or hungry, or choose a cold or noisy environment.
Do you use any special or particular breathing techniques, meditations or visualizations to help optimize yourself? If you do, we’d love to hear about it.
Diaphragmatic, or belly breathing, has been well documented in the scientific literature as a simple, yet effective, type of breathing for lower stress, for the simple reason that it absorbs more oxygen compared with breathing through your mouth and into the upper chest.
That said, I’m not one to suggest that any of these techniques are the answer to handling stress or pressure. They are great tools, but they don’t actually get to the root of the problem. When it comes to optimizing performance at the highest level, you need to develop a system to remove negative emotions that are impacting you. Emotions are just signals of deeper flaws in your wiring, and in the way you approach competition. If you are able to remove them, your performance will be better. This is essential, in order for you to be your best in high-pressure situations.
Do you have a special technique to develop a strong focus, and clear away distractions?
It all comes down to training. Focus is like a muscle — there’s no shortcut to developing physical strength, and mental strength is the same. People are often falsely lured into thinking they can have long periods of deep focus easily, because of the few times they were highly inspired by a deadline or a particular project. But these instances are the equivalent of someone summoning the superhuman strength required to lift a car off of a person pinned underneath it. You can’t reliably reproduce that strength, or level of focus, day after day. When you think of developing strong focus consistently, you must think about it like building muscle or physical endurance. That means steadily increasing week over week, pushing yourself when it’s hard, and resting and feeling good about your progress after a good workout. That’s key to recovery, so you can come back the following day, refreshed and ready to continue working.
We all know the importance of good habits. How have habits played a role in your success? Can you share some success habits that have helped you in your journey?
I tend to feel more creative early in the day, so in order to avoid having the day unfold randomly, I like to plan it out the night before. When things are going well, I find that creativity and planning go hand in hand. I’ve also found that my environment matters, so I’ve devoted a separate space for creative/developmental work, where there are fewer distractions and it’s easier to walk around. Being in that environment immediately makes me feel more creative, because it activates the memory of what has happened in the space before. It’s an intentional way of developing a feedback loop.
What is the best way to develop great habits for optimal performance? How can one stop bad habits?
In terms of developing great habits, realize that you can’t do everything at once. That’s a common mistake — inspiration strikes and you try to deploy 10 new techniques to optimize your performance, but after a month it all falls apart. I think the key is selecting one, maybe two, of the most basic bad habits that cause you to underperform and work on them consistently until you reach the point where you can sustain a level of competence or improvement easily.
The key to stopping bad habits is to recognize and change them in the moment that they occur. That’s the front line where change happens. It’s also helpful to try changing your perspective, and thinking of them as something you are good at, e.g. “I’m a fantastic procrastinator.” If you view bad habits as skills you’ve developed over time, it’s easier to view them as re-trainable.
As a business leader, you likely experience times when you are in a state of Flow. Flow has been described as a pleasurable mental state that occurs when you do something that you are skilled at, that is challenging, and that is meaningful. Can you share some ideas from your experience about how we can achieve a state of Flow more often in our lives?
Achieving flow in your personal life is very different from achieving it in a performance environment. I actually don’t believe that flow requires skills or challenges. When you are in a state of flow, time goes by more quickly, you feel more connected to nature and to others, and everything feels more meaningful. But you do not necessarily need to attain mastery of an activity in order to achieve flow.
That’s said, when you have a clear mind, you tend to be more open to what’s in front of you. So, it’s important to develop a cool-down routine from work or previous activities before starting a new one. Take notes, to help offload the mind’s responsibility for holding onto thoughts and information. Put things away in the physical environment to help minimize distractions so that you can get further into what you are doing next.
Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
The movement I want to inspire is one where people are motivated to resolve their emotions. Too often people regard their emotions as something irrational. They try to trick their mind or work to rationalize, deny, avoid, ignore, deflect, project, distract, numb, or desensitize themselves to their emotions. They even use healthy options like meditation, yoga, and exercise, among other less healthy options to manage their emotions. But the problems continue to pop back up, like weeds that aren’t pulled out by the roots. This cycle creates significant ups/downs in performance, and that affects people profoundly on a professional and personal level.
The real key to unlocking the next level of performance is to recognize emotions as signals, investigate their underlying causes, and correct the flaws at the heart of their problems.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂
Daniel Kahneman, an Israeli psychologist and economist notable for his work on the psychology of judgment and decision-making, as well as behavioral economics, for which he was awarded the 2002 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences (shared with Vernon L. Smith). He is one of the foremost psychological thinkers of the 20th century — like the Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods of psychology. I feel that our work is very complementary, and would love to get his advice and guidance.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Thank you for taking the time to ask great questions and doing this with me.