Lee Davy talks to Daniel Negreanu about life after the Choice Center, dealing with the loss of his first love, and why he believes in aliens.
Daniel Negreanu was voted the Global Poker Index (GPI) Player of the Decade, he has won six World Series of Poker (WSOP) bracelets, covering all three continents, he is the only player to win two WSOP Player of the Year titles, he has won two World Poker Tour (WPT) titles, sits proudly at the top of the all time live tournament money charts, with close to $30m in earnings, and is a true ambassador for poker through the work he does as a member of PokerStars Team Pro.
But it’s the confidence to shoot from the hip that I find most alluring. He is not afraid of vulnerability, as well as sharing his point of view on anything, and this is why he such a valuable conduit for the poker community.
I sat down with him to talk about his life, and this is what he had to say.
*This transcription is a shortened version of the 60-minute audio.
How are you feeling emotionally in the early weeks of the series?
“I got to be honest, I have enjoyed this WSOP more than any other that I have played. I have enjoyed the experience and the process. I haven’t won anything, or had any good scores, but I am loving it.”
“I don’t associate my self worth with my poker results. There was a time in my life when that wouldn’t be true, but I have had enough success in my life that no matter what I do in my poker career, from here on in, I will never feel like a failure. It comes down to being at peace with what is.”
You recommended a book by Melanie Joy called Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs and Wear Cows. It was an incredible read. How did it make you feel?
“It was in line with a lot of questions that I ask people on a regular basis. If I ask people if they would eat dog, they usually act disgusted. But what is the difference between eating a dog and a cow? Is it because the dog is cuter? Why would people eat pigs, but not dogs? Is it because you think dogs are smarter? They are interesting questions to raise, and ponder. Even if you don’t want to become vegan, this books helps you become conscious about what you are eating, and why?
“It’s disgusting how animals are treated these days. It’s torture. When people see it on a plate, and eat it, they are not connecting with what’s going on. I’m not asking people to become vegan, but at the very least be compassionate for these animals that are providing you sustenance.”
During an interview with Evan Jarvis he told me that there is the physical growing up process, and then there is waking up process. When did you wake up?
“I would say the last few years. It typically takes an event that sends you down the path of introspection. Around 2011, I was in love with Amanda Leatherman, when she broke my heart. It was a very humbling experience. Coupled with the death of my mother I started to read Eckhart Tolle books, and speak to someone professionally. I found the meetings very productive, and I was having them on a weekly basis.
“My agent Brian did a course in town on emotional intelligence called Choice Centre. I did the course and had a lot of breakthroughs. I learned to look at that event in a way that was empowering, rather than me being a victim of it.”
I notice that you journal on a daily basis. What are the kinds of things you write about?
“It’s a combination of things. During the WSOP it’s a different type of journal. In the morning, or night, I will outline how I want my day to look. Other than that, I write about my emotional state. It’s like having a conversation with someone. There is a lot of evidence that shows that writing things down allows you to be more present.
“I learned this trick when I was on a course called Masters. Imagine I am at a poker table, and I am angry because a guy just rivered me in a stupid hand. I go through this process where I separate my thoughts from my feelings and my physical sensations. I may say to myself: “this stupid dummy has just ruined my chances by playing a hand stupidly.”
“First I ask what am I feeling? Anger. What are my physical sensations? My feet are tapping, my blood is boiling and there is a rage in my chest. I am now present to my current situation. Now I ask what do I want to be? I want to be focused, joyful, calm, peaceful and empathetic. It sounds easy, but the more you do it the quicker you snap out of those moments that you might otherwise get lost in.”
What do you struggle to come to terms with in life?
“There are a few people in my life who have done me wrong. They really took a shot at me and I still haven’t forgiven them. Letting go of that anger towards them is something that’s curbed, but not completely gone. When I see them, or hear their names it sparks rage in me.”
Why can’t you forgive them?
“Justice has not been served. I had some people blackmail me, and they haven’t been punished for it. I know it doesn’t make sense; it’s gone, and it’s not my life anymore, but there is this part of me that wants to see them suffer. I see one of them from time to time, and when I do I want to punch him in the face and break his nose. I have been good. I haven’t punched him once.”
What are main reasons you have been so successful?
“One of the key reasons for my success is at the core I believed that I could do it. I have an idea of what I want to create. If I don’t believe I can do it, then why put any effort into it? I need belief. Once I have belief then action comes into play. I have an unbreakable confidence to figure things out, and to be able to adapt and stay relevant whilst continuing to thrive in any environment.”
What holds you back from being even more successful?
“In poker, I am no longer interested in putting in the work to grind the tournaments throughout the world. I did all that so I could have the life that I have today. So instead of running simulations for 3-4hrs, I am at the gym, playing video games, or soccer. I don’t have the drive to work 70hrs per week on my poker game anymore.
“In life, I found that I was never comfortable around powerful people or celebrities. I always left them alone when in their company. I never wanted them to feel like I may use them for who they are. The type of people who schmooze up to them disgusts me. This means I never allow myself to be like that. By becoming aware of this I am more compassionate towards people who schmooze. I also realize that there are some great relationships that I can have with these people. I have been open to having these relationships, changed my actions, and the trajectory of my life has changed a lot in the last 6 months because of that.”
Do you ever get lonely, if so describe those moments?
“I don’t get lonely despite being alone a lot. I am quite an introvert. I like spending time on my own. I like reading, watching shows, playing video games. I always have people around me like my assistant, my working out buddies, and my golf coach. I don’t get lonely, and it’s probably one of the reasons that I am in single.”
Do you miss love and intimacy?
“I have only ever been in love once – to Amanda Leatherman – but that feeling is fading now, it’s not as prevalent as it was. I don’t think I do miss it. There is a great passage in The Mastery of Love by Don Miguel Ruiz. He says, “Nobody gives you love. You experience love when you give it.” When I help people out I feel the reward, and the love. I feel it coming through me, and perhaps that’s why I don’t feel devoid of love.”
When you and Amanda split up did you feel the need to fill that space in your heart, or did it close up?
“It closed up, I shut down. There was a lot of anger deep inside. The way I viewed women for a long time changed. Trust had been broken and it was difficult for me to see myself breaking out of it in that moment. The truth of it was I didn’t even know that stuff was happening until later when I did some work on it.”
As I age the things that are important to me, and the way that I think, changes dramatically? What’s going on in that head of yours as you become wiser?
“I did a lot of reading, and the course at The Choice Center. It has put me down a very different path. In a lot of ways I am the same person, but the way I view the world, what is important to me, and what I want to create in my life has changed. In my 20s all that mattered was being the best in poker. I still want that, but it doesn’t define me. It’s not who I am. I have tried to broaden my horizons.
“I am living the dream life I wanted when I was 17. I wanted to play sports, video games, and hang around with my friends. I am doing that. Will it look differently in a couple of years? Absolutely. If I get married and have kids I will be happy, if I get married and don’t have kids I will be happy, but if I don’t get married and don’t have kids I will also be happy. I love life.”
What thoughts and feelings does religion, God and spirituality bring out for you?
“It’s interesting. I have discussions with a lot of people who define themselves as atheist. There has to be a leap of faith on both sides. There is no concrete evidence either way. So all you have is a leap of faith. I think agnostics are interesting. The people who say they don’t really know, intrigue me more. Sometimes atheists can be very aggressive in their views, and that can put me off.
“I believe in God. I believe in a higher power. I am not religious. I also believe in aliens. I think it’s absurd to believe there are no aliens in this vast universe.”
The other day I read that a NASA scientist said we could all actually be part of a computer program like The Sims.
“That’s really funny because a friend of mine read that article and he said that if it were true, he would like to be the guy who is playing me because he must be really good.”