Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Wise Mind

When I am playing live poker it is rare that I bring up my career in medicine. Conversely, quite often I bring up my poker experiences while caring for my patients. Today I found myself bringing up emotional detatchment in poker.  This  concept of turning off emotion can also be important as a means to manage ones weight and health in general.

In poker emotion can be disastrous. If you fly off the emotional meter and self indulge in anger, fear/anxiety, despair, frustration and even confidence you put yourself in a position to make some seriously poor decisions. Likewise, being aware of and understanding others emotional state improves your ability to make better decisions. Controlling ones emotions might be more a matter of perspective than inherent ability. Our brain is an organ. Just like our hearts, lungs, kidneys and liver. Organs do things typically without our consent. Our brain is no different. In many ways it is designed to protect us. The knee jerk emotions and thoughts that our brain manifests are not necessarily in our immediate control. Fortunately this unwelcome mood swing usually needs help to progress. Fueled by internal dialogue, the emotion is reinforced and exacerbated.

Insomnia for example is frequently associated with mental rumination. Our brain sends messages about what we need to do tomorrow or what we should have done today. Frequently we choose to engage it. "The files! I can't believe I forgot to do that today. Holy crap what will Carl think? Oh no. I forgot about Carl..." and on and on. We can choose not to engage the brain in dialogue the minute our first thought pops into our head. "Thank you brain for trying to protect me, but no thank you." Easier said than done. Sure. Start practicing it when you identified an unwanted thought/emotion. The brain can be a dangerous place. Don't get lost in it.

Direct triggers from the outside world can also start an emotional cascade. For many the weight on the scale is a particularly brutal emotional trigger often degrading decisional abilities. Detaching from these emotions clears the path to making better decisions necessary to achieve a healthier weight.

I am not suggesting that we strive to become vapid emotionless individuals. I am suggesting we learn to temper unwanted or counter-productive emotions by tapping into a place we don't consider. Psychologists use a form of therapy called DBT (dialectical behavioral therapy) that embraces the concept of the "wise mind." The wise mind is the non-judging mind. It is the mind that knows absolute truth. Who knows if this wise mind is a structure in our brain or if it is our "higher being/soul/spirit." We have all experienced it and we can tap into it by deliberately paying attention to it. The wise mind, the place where the rational and emotional minds perfectly negotiate, can help us in managing our health, but more importantly in poker.

Just kidding.

Dominic L Ricciardi, MD


Read more about the wise mind and DBT.


  1. DBT is very useful. I've been exploring it for a few months. The wise mind is not devoid of emotion, but rather, I like to think of it as the union of the emotional and logical minds. Purely logical mind, doesn't always make the wisest decisions as emotion will bring us to a caring perspective that can be more beneficial in relationships. It's a very difficult place to stay in. It can be far easier to stay logical and emotionless or emotional and logic free.

    Hm...I could write a blog post

  2. Congrats on your recent big score. Must have felt good.

  3. Just reading these comments. lol. Thanks Memphis! Yes Captain, I agree with you completely, would love to read about your thoughts if you published them!