Meditation for Gamblers: Can Meditating Help You Win?
Meditation has long been a popular practice around the world. But in particular, over the last few years, it seems like the word “mindfulness” is cropping up everywhere. We see it online and in advertisements, read about it from pundits and thinkers. It seems to show up in just about every context.
It might leave you wondering whether mindfulness, and meditation in general, could have any potential benefits for gamblers.
The answer is “yes.” In this article, we are going to check out some evidence-based reasons to consider meditating as a gambler. We will also talk about research on meditation and gambling, any potential drawbacks you should know about, types of meditation to consider, and how you can get started.
But first, let’s talk about the basics, and discuss what meditating is.
What is Meditating?
Meditating actually encompasses a pretty broad umbrella of activities.
Merriam Webster defines meditation like this:
To engage in mental exercise (such as concentration on one’s breathing or repetition of a mantra) for the purpose of reaching a heightened level of spiritual awareness.
Cambridge offers this definition:
The act of giving your attention to only one thing, either as a religious activity or as a way of becoming calm and relaxed.
While there is a rich history of meditation in religious tradition, it does not need to be a religious activity or even a spiritual one.
On the contrary, you can think of it as something very mundane if you prefer, rather like brushing your teeth.
You will discover that there are numerous different types of meditation out there, any one of which you can modify to meet your needs. So, there are essentially unlimited options for how you want to bring the practice of meditating into your life.
Key Point: Meditation refers to a broad range of activities in which a person focuses the mind.
Has There Been Research Into Meditation and Gambling?
Now that you have that foundation of basic understanding, let’s talk about meditation and gambling.
The first thing you are probably wondering is whether there has been any research into gambling and meditating.
The answer is “yes,” but unsurprisingly, most of that research has focused around problem gambling rather than the regular healthy pastime of gambling. Nonetheless, the results are at least encouraging.
For example, here is a case study which reports, “Given the prominence of distorted thinking among problem gamblers and the difficulty in modifying them, mindfulness meditation holds promise as an adjunctive intervention to help problem gamblers learn to cope with gambling-relevant cognitive distortions.”
You can also take a look at this study, wherein participants with gambling cravings were assigned to either a control group or a group that did audio-guided mindfulness-based meditation exercises.
The participants who meditated had a “significant reduction in gambling cravings which highlights the potential benefits of meditation practice to reduce gambling cravings.”
So, if, by any chance, you do sometimes struggle with problem behaviors as a gambler, you may find that meditating helps to get those behaviors reined in a bit.
But are the potential benefits of meditation for gamblers solely restricted to reducing problem gambling behaviors? By no means.
There are quite a few additional potential benefits. In fact, they are backed by science. It is just that nobody has specifically studied them in a gambling context.
But we can take a look at those benefits and discuss them in that context ourselves.
Key Point: There is research specifically into meditation and problem gambling which suggests that meditating may help problem gamblers.
8 More Potential Benefits of Meditation for Gamblers
Now that we have talked about the research into how meditation might help problem gamblers, we can talk about the other potential benefits it might have for gamblers in general.
Decrease Stress Levels
Get Better Sleep
Stress and gambling can have a complicated relationship. For some people, the emotional rollercoaster of gambling can be stressful. Others, however, turn to gambling for stress relief.
Most of us probably experience a mix. There are times when we might get stressed at a losing streak or by the amount of work we need to put into improving strategies at the poker table.
But other times, we might find that our stress fades away as we lose ourselves in the flow of pushing spin on a slot machine or as we rejoice in how much our skills have grown with poker or other casino games.
Regardless, if we are able to reduce stress, gambling can be more enjoyable. We can also approach it at our best physically and psychologically.
There has been a lot of research that has looked into meditation and stress reduction.
For instance, here is a small control-based study titled, “Stress Reduction through Mindfulness Meditation.” The researchers reported, “techniques of mindfulness meditation, with their emphasis on developing detached observation and awareness of the contents of consciousness, may represent a powerful cognitive behavioral coping strategy for transforming the ways in which we respond to life events. They may also have potential for relapse prevention in affective disorders.”
As another example, here is a study in which meditation participants and controls both watched a stressor film. The researchers checked the heart rate and phasic skin conductance of both groups and also their self reports and scores on personality scales.
The researchers found, “Meditators and the meditation condition habituated heart rate and phasic skin conductance responses more quickly to the stressor impacts and experienced less subjective anxiety. Meditation can produce a psychophysiological configuration in stress situations opposite to that seen in stress-related syndromes.”
It should also be noted that in people with chronic stress, the branch of the nervous system called the “sympathetic” branch tends to be overactive compared to the “parasympathetic” branch. It may also be harder to switch rapidly between the two in accordance with life events.
As this study explains, “Meditation practices help to bring about sympatho-vagal balance with parasympathetic predominance among experienced meditators and also in novice meditators with less practice.”
In that manner, meditation may help to restore balance to the nervous system.
So, if you want to reduce stress while gambling, meditation may be worth a try.
Key Point: You may be able to reduce stress by meditating. In doing so, you might be able to handle some of the more stressful aspects of gambling with more equanimity.
When you only get a few hours of sleep and try to gamble, you may as well be playing inebriated. You are sluggish, your judgements may be compromised, and you will likely be more prone to mistakes.
So, it makes sense as a gambler to try and get an adequate night of sleep each night. That way, you are able to wake up fresh and ready to give yourself the best shot at profiting the next day.
Research shows that meditating may help to regulate sleep. Another paper reports the following effects of meditation on sleep in various studies:
- Both slow wave sleep (SWS) and rapid eye movement sleep (REM) may improve through meditation.
- One may experience more sleep cycles when one meditates than one would otherwise.
- “Vipassana meditation practices help to retain the flexibility of autonomic activity during different stages of sleep.”
- Meditating may help to control cortisol and catecholamine levels by regulating the hypothalamo pituitary adrenal (HPA) Axis.
- Vipassana meditators may have higher levels of melatonin than non-meditators.
So, there may be quite a few mechanisms through which meditating could enhance sleep.
Key Point: If you meditate, you may enjoy better sleep quality. That might help enhance your performance when you are gambling.
Do you have a hard time remembering basic blackjack strategy? What about your interactions with specific poker players? Do you sometimes slow down when playing video poker, because you suddenly forgot what you are supposed to do to make an optimal play?
If you want to enhance your memory to improve as a gambler, meditating might help you do it.
The PubMed study looked to see if working memory capacity would improve in adolescents who tried mindfulness meditation.
The researchers reported, “Participants in the mindfulness meditation condition showed significant improvements in WMC, whereas those in the hatha yoga and waitlist control groups did not.”
Let’s look at another study on mindfulness training [MT]. The researchers concluded, “In summary, we have demonstrated that intensive MT can benefit performance in a visual working memory task. After a month of intensive MT, participants are faster and their RTs [response times] are less variable.”
There is one thing that you might want to watch out for with respect to memory and meditation, however, and that is the possibility of also increasing recall for events that never took place.
Have a look at this study called “Increased False-Memory Susceptibility After Mindfulness Meditation.”
The researchers predicted, “Because mindfulness meditation encourages judgment-free thoughts and feelings, we predicted that participants in the mindfulness condition would be especially likely to form false memories.”
And lo and behold, that is actually what happened. Participants were assigned to a mindfulness group or a mind-wandering group. The researchers ran two experiments. They explained:
“The overall number of words from the Deese-Roediger-McDermott paradigm that were correctly recalled did not differ between conditions. However, participants in the mindfulness condition were significantly more likely to report critical nonstudied items than participants in the control condition. In a third experiment, which tested recognition and used a reality-monitoring paradigm, participants had reduced reality-monitoring accuracy after completing the mindfulness induction. These results demonstrate a potential unintended consequence of mindfulness meditation in which memories become less reliable.”
So, meditating might help to improve your working memory. But keep in mind that there is some research that suggests that people who meditate may also be more likely to form false memories.
Key Point: If you want to improve your working memory for games like blackjack, it is possible that meditation might assist you.
When you are in the midst of a losing streak, or you are facing a tough opponent at the poker table, do you struggle with your anxiety?
If so, you may be wondering whether meditating could help.
A lot of the research into meditation has focused on the possible impact of meditating on treating anxiety disorders.
Here is an example of a study you can look at on this topic. The researchers found that “training in mindfulness meditation in the context of a group stress reduction clinic for medical outpatients showed statistically and clinically significant reduction and symptoms of anxiety and depression in patients with the three core anxiety disorders (generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and panic disorder with a agoraphobia).”
You can look at another study here into the effects of a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program. The results say, “These results suggest that MBSR may have a beneficial effect on anxiety symptoms in GAD and may also improve stress reactivity and coping as measured in a laboratory stress challenge.”
Whether you have an anxiety disorder or you simply want to reduce your regular levels of anxiety, it seems that meditation may be able to help.
If your anxiety becomes more manageable, that could translate to the following in the casino:
It might be easier to take calculated risks (i.e. playing a poker hand you know you should, but might be too afraid to otherwise).
It may be easier to handle your anxiety when you are in the midst of a losing streak, reducing your chances of becoming desperate and doing something foolish.
If you dream about gambling professionally, becoming less anxious might make the idea of putting in the necessary time and work more approachable. You will not be as afraid of failure (which helps a lot, since success in such a field is built upon failures).
Key Point: Some research suggests that anxiety symptoms might decrease in people who meditate. If you struggle with your anxiety when you are gambling, this may come as welcome news.
Increase Positive Feelings
Sometimes, if you can balance out more negative feelings with positive ones, it becomes easier to manage your emotions overall.
Psychology Today writes, “In a landmark study, Barbara Frederickson and her colleagues ( Fredrickson, Cohn, Coffey, Pek, & Finkel, 2008 ) found that practicing seven weeks of Loving-Kindness Meditation increased love, joy, contentment, gratitude, pride, hope, interest, amusement, and awe. These positive emotions then produced increases in a wide range of personal resources (e.g., increased mindfulness, purpose in life, social support, decreased illness symptoms), which, in turn, predicted increased life satisfaction and reduced depressive symptoms.”
How is this relevant to gambling?
Well, it might help you to boost your emotional regulation abilities. If you are focused on the good things—i.e. that you are having a good time regardless of whether you win or lose, or that you are grateful for the wins you do have—you are probably less likely to tilt during a string of losses.
Key Point: You can increase positive emotions when you meditate. By doing so, you could feasibly help mitigate some of your negative emotions.
Increase Your Ability to Concentrate
You know now that you may be able to improve your memory by meditating. But what about other aspects of cognitive performance like your ability to concentrate?
The Columbia University School of Professional Studies reports that meditating may “increase focus and learning concentration,” and also “improve memory and attention span.”
Time says, “A recent paper in the journal Psychological Science tries to identify brain functions that are actually enhanced by meditating. The study shows that intensive meditation can help people focus their attention and sustain it — even during the most boring of tasks.”
The study also found that those in the meditating group “were able to pick up visual cues” more effectively than the controls.
If you are playing a game of pure chance like slots, concentrating is not overly important. You can let your mind wander without much in the way of consequences (so long as you do not lose track of time and money).
But for a lot of other games where skill is involved, you do need to be able to focus. For example, if you lose focus in blackjack, you might make mistakes with the basic strategy, and play in a less-than-optimized way.
If you lose focus in video poker, you will slow down and/or make mistakes. If you are trying to play video poker for a living, either of these issues may make it impossible.
It is also pretty easy to lose focus in poker, or to glance at your cards, misread them, and then make a bet without stopping to realize you screwed up.
So, you can see why being able to concentrate more easily and increase visual alertness and recognition would be very valuable to you as a gambler.
Key Point: Studies show that people who meditate are able to focus more effectively and also pick up more readily on visual cues, both skills that are very useful to gamblers.
Improve Emotional Regulation
Do emotions hit you like overpowering waves, sweeping you under? Do you feel like you are out of control when they strike, just flotsam in the ocean?
If you answered “yes,” it could mean that regulating your emotions is not something that comes easily to you.
Research shows that meditation may be able to help improve emotional regulation.
In the casino, that can be a huge help in many respects, but particularly with respect to reducing the tendency to go on tilt.
Key Point: When you meditate, you may be able to improve emotional regulation. This can help you to stay level-headed while playing casino games and reduce tilting.
Another intriguing benefit of meditation may be a reduction in the tendency to criticize oneself.
This study looked to see whether self-compassion would increase and self-criticism would decrease through the practice of loving-kindness meditation (LKM).
The researchers found that this was indeed what happened, and that depressive symptoms also were reduced through the practice.
As a gambler, it is important to be able to be critical of your actions. Doing so is necessary if you want to learn from your mistakes and avoid repeating them.
But learning how to be critical of your actions is not the same thing as criticizing yourself with negative self-talk.
When you are overly self-critical and lack compassion towards yourself, it is easy to get locked into a pattern of self-loathing that actually can interfere with learning and making change.
You remain mired in your negative beliefs about yourself and your capabilities, and on an unconscious level, may be driven to continue to “prove out” these beliefs to yourself through repeated mistakes.
Moreover, you may come to believe that you do not deserve to win, and may go out of your way to punish yourself for your perceived defects through unnecessary losses.
So, if meditating can help you to be more compassionate towards yourself and reduce critical self-talk, it might be a more powerful tool then you may expect in helping you to move forward from mistakes and improve your performance in the future.
Key Point: Some types of meditation may help to reduce self-criticism and improve compassion toward yourself. Doing so can help you to recover more quickly from mistakes and avoid repeating them in the future since you will have less motivation in the form of adverse beliefs to punish yourself with unnecessary losses.
Are There Any Possible Drawbacks to Meditating as a Gambler?
You have seen that the possible benefits of meditating for gamblers are significant. But are there any potential disadvantages you should be aware of?
Well, we have already talked about how meditation might be associated with an increase in the formation of false memories.
But there are a couple of other possible drawbacks as well.
Anxiety and Depression
For one thing, some people do experience adverse reactions to meditating.
In fact, this article reports, “About one in 12 people who try meditation experience an unwanted negative effect, usually a worsening in depression or anxiety, or even the onset of these conditions for the first time, according to the first systematic review of the evidence.”
One of the researchers, Miguel Farias at Coventry University in the UK, is quoted as explaining, “For most people it works fine but it has undoubtedly been overhyped and it’s not universally benevolent.”
So, if you find that for whatever reason, meditating seems to increase your anxiety or depression, it could simply mean it is not an ideal fit for you.
But it is also possible you simply have not found the method of meditating that is suitable for you. One type of meditating might increase your anxiety, while another might alleviate it.
It is also possible that by modifying a method that is problematic for you, you can turn it into something that helps you instead.
Another possible drawback to consider is that the entire goal of meditating is to reduce mind-wandering.
Mind-wandering gets a lot of flak these days; it seems in vogue to look solely at its drawbacks.
But you can find an interesting counterpoint in this article, which explains, “Mind-wandering (MW) is among the most robust and permanent expressions of human conscious awareness, classically regarded by philosophers, clinicians, and scientists as a core element of an intact sense of self.”
What exactly are the roles of mind-wandering? The article suggests the following:
It may be involved in literally maintaining a coherent sense of self.
Mind-wandering allows us to simulate possible future events while referencing the past, and is therefore useful in planning our actions.
When our minds wander, we are exercising our associative thinking abilities, finding connections between ideas, spotting patterns, consolidating data, and fostering learning.
Training your mind so you can stop it from wandering at will may be quite useful. But if your goal in meditating is to try to put a stop to mind-wandering altogether (not an unusual wish among practitioners following certain spiritual paths), you might want to rethink that.
Doing so may reduce your abilities with respect to planning and learning. As for the self, whatever your beliefs about its nature might be, it is at the very least a useful tool your minds needs to function.
Key Point: Most people who meditate find it beneficial for a variety of reasons. But some people do experience an increase in depression or anxiety. Going too far in reducing mind-wandering could also have adverse effects. But you can probably mitigate or avoid these issues simply by choosing an approach that is suitable for your needs.
Types of Meditation for Gamblers
There is no single form of meditation that is “best” overall or for gamblers in particular. So, what types of meditation can you try? Here are just a few examples of popular practices:
- Loving-Kindness Meditation:
- Guided Meditation:
- Vipassana Meditation:
- Progressive Relaxation:
- Breathing Meditation:
- Visualization Meditation:
- Moving Meditation:
The most popular form of meditation in the western world is probably mindfulness. This is also the type of meditation for which you will find the most research. When you perform this type of meditation, you observe your thoughts without judgement, and you do not attempt to deliberately interact with them. In fact, if your mind wanders, you do not judge that either. But you do your best to stay present and not get swept up in your thoughts.
If you want to try a form of meditation that gives you something specific to focus on, mantra meditation might be worth considering. As the name implies, you repeat a sound, phrase, or word again and again as a mantra, and use that as an anchor for your awareness. You can try doing it aloud or in your head.
With this type of meditation, your focus is on the good feelings and intentions you possess toward other people, the planet, your pets, or anything else you care about. While you concentrate on wishing the best to other people, you also try to open yourself to feelings of being loved as well. You can focus the practice inward as well to cultivate self-love.
Another option is to consider guided meditation, where you listen to an audio file or watch a video. This may be especially helpful if you are a beginner altogether at meditating, or if you need something specific to focus on outside of yourself.
The translation of this term is roughly “special seeing,” but the meaning is more along the liens of “seeing things as they really are.” It seems to be a subset of mindfulness, or a more traditional Eastern approach, or an overlapping category, depending on who you ask. Once again, it involves simply being in the present and observing what is taking place in the present simply “as it is,” and ascertaining that this is what is “real.”
This type of meditation is sometimes called “body scan meditation.” You progressively tense muscles and relax them. You can, for example, start at your feet and work your way up toward your head or vice versa. It may be a useful practice if you are someone who needs something to “do” during meditation in order not to feel anxious.
There are quite a few different meditations that involve focusing on or controlling one’s breath in one way or another. There is, in fact, a surprising amount of variety in this category both with respect to specific instructions and effects (case in point, one form of breathing meditation gives me panic attacks, while another helps me fall asleep).
There are many forms of meditation that involve some type of visualization or another. In fact, there are pretty much endless possible variations in this domain. It is yet another good option for those who want to “do” something as part of their focusing, rather than simply observing.
You do not have to sit dead still on a cushion to meditate. If you like doing it that way, more power to you—go for it. But if you find doing that stressful, it is perfectly okay to do some yoga, go on a walk, dance, or do anything else you want. You can then focus on the physical activity, or practice mindfulness, or use whatever other technique you like.
Take note that this is not an exhaustive list of all meditation practices. You will find so many other options if you do your research.
There is also not a single correct way to practice any particular form of meditation. You can adapt any type of meditation you want to serve your needs. All that matters is what is correct for you and gives you the results you are looking for.
It might even be possible to combine meditation with gambling in some contexts.
Take a look at this interesting New York Times article. It describes the appeal of slots as “less about risk and excitement than about maintaining a hypnotic flow of action.”
When you enter that state of hypnotic flow, you often lose track of how much time has passed, and you stop focusing on yourself and your problems. This is one of the reasons why playing slots can be so relaxing and refreshing.
Indeed, since there is less of a focus on your ego and you are fully in the moment, the experience has some commonalities with some of the common goals of meditation.
Still, if you try practicing mindfulness while you play slots, you will notice some differences in that state.
Mindfulness is more “deliberate,” whereas flow is something that just happens. Flow comes about organically, but mindfulness is cultivated.
With flow, you do not have to put in effort, but with mindfulness, you may continuously need to redirect your attention back to the present.
It is easy to imagine that this could potentially have benefits for gamblers who easily lose track of time and money, but are looking for a way to prevent themselves from overspending.
Indeed, being mindful in the moment might actually reduce some of your experience of “flow,” but since you are being more deliberate as you play, you are more likely to be aware at all times consciously of exactly how long you have been playing and how much money you have to play with.
On the flip side, however, if you are trying to cultivate mindfulness without judgment, you could conceivably be less attached to your money while you are meditating and become indifferent to how rapidly you are spending it.
The easiest fix for this is probably to set goals and limits for yourself strictly before you start playing, and not give yourself the freedom to make new decisions as you are playing.
You could also modify the practice a bit, being mindful and non-judgmental of your thoughts and emotions as you are gambling, but still make judgments about the amount left in your bankroll.
You can see how a practice like this might also conceivably increase your emotional regulation while you are playing. You might still feel anxiety or disappointment during losing streaks, for example, but you will not judge those reactions so negatively.
That may make you more tolerant of them, and less likely to go on tilt in an attempt to change your thoughts and emotions aggressively.
Key Point: There are numerous different forms of meditation you can try, any of which might conceivably benefit you as a gambler. You can also try combining meditation and gambling.
Will You Win More Money if You Meditate?
By itself, meditating will not cause you to win more frequently when you gamble or to score larger jackpots.
But it may help you give yourself a better chance at such opportunities. If meditating turns out to be beneficial to you, you may increase your chances of success in the casino by:
Staying calm when your luck turns sour. The less you allow negative emotions to get the better of you, the less likely tilting becomes. If you can avoid tilting, you can preserve your bankroll.
Remaining in the present and deliberately attentive to your bankroll. If meditation teaches you how to keep returning your attention to what you are doing, you will be less likely to drain your bankroll while under slot hypnosis without realizing what took place. You will have more control over the rate at which you spend money, and will be able to stop yourself and switch to another game in time if you do not want to lose it all at one machine.
Making fewer decisions that are anxiety-based. If you shy away from opportunities to win at cards because you are anxious, you might find yourself snapping up more of those opportunities in the future.
Making fewer errors because of lost sleep. Getting a full night of sleep every night with the aid of meditation can lead you to feeling and functioning at your best as you gamble. This can make a huge difference if you are a tournament poker player.
Focusing more easily and making fewer mistakes. You will be able to concentrate on whichever casino games you choose to play with fuller attention for longer periods of time, losing less of your bankroll through errors. You might also be able to play through longer sessions with less psychological fatigue and less of a reduction in your performance (again great for tournament players).
Being kinder to yourself when you lose money. If you do not get down on yourself when you lose money, you are less likely to try and punish yourself by losing more.
Avoiding problem gambling. Research shows that meditation is helpful for problem gamblers. So, it seems reasonable to expect that it might also be helpful for preventing problem gambling in the first place.
Key Point: Meditating will not cause Lady Luck to favor you. But it can help you position yourself for success.
How Can You Get Started?
There are many approaches you can take for making meditation part of your life as a gambler, but here is a basic prospective plan with simple, straightforward steps.
- Choose which type of meditation you want to try.
- Read up on the method in question, learning how it is done.
- When you have a quiet moment to yourself, give the technique a try. You can start with just a minute or two of meditation if you want.
- Try the method again the next day, and the day after. Take note of how it is working out for you.
- If you like the method so far, continue practicing it on a daily basis if you can, or every couple of days. You can also try increasing the length of your sessions if you feel up for that.
- If you mostly like the method, but there are some things about it you do not, you can try making adjustments to it until it suits you. Do not like the method at all? Try another one.
- Once you have a meditation technique you like and you are practicing it regularly, take notes about changes in your life both on and off the casino floor. Are your emotions more regulated? Is it easier to bring yourself into the present moment? Are you less anxious? Note that the full effects may not be obvious until you have been regularly practicing for weeks or months.
- If you want, you can try meditating on the casino floor if the method you chose is compatible (i.e. practicing mindfulness while playing simple games of chance).
That is all there is to it. Getting going with meditation is fast and easy. It only takes a few minutes a day of your time, and the benefits may surprise you.
Conclusion: Meditation May Help You Focus While Gambling and Regulate Your Emotions
Now you know all about how meditating may be useful to you when gambling.
Going by the research, meditating may help you reduce anxiety, increase positive emotions, improve emotional regulation, concentrate more easily, enhance working memory, alleviate stress, get more sleep, and even reduce harmful self-talk. Meditation may also be helpful for problem gamblers.
Disadvantages are few, and you should be able to avoid them just by picking a type of meditation that suits your personality and neurology.
Getting started is as simple as reading up on the basics of a form of meditation that interests you, and then taking a couple minutes at some point in your day to give it a try.
You probably will want to try a given method at least a few times before you make up your mind about it, as it can take some time to learn to meditate. It is simple, but not necessarily “easy.”
Remember, it may take you a few tries to find a method that you like, or to modify a method to fit your needs.
But once you make it a regular practice, it may help you to ride out the highs and lows of fortune in the casino with greater equanimity, to concentrate during long sessions playing blackjack or poker, and to stretch your bankroll further.
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