Tell the truth: Have you stuck to your New Year's resolution to change your silly betting habits? Or have you drifted back into your old destructive patterns of betting?

I pose these questions because this time of the year, heading to mid-year, is the time when good intentions are likely to collapse, for a number of reasons. You might have got bored, you might have struck some losers, you might still be chasing a profit, and so on.

All these aspects of betting can combine to set off the affliction that overpowers most punters at some time in their betting life: the 'psycho babble' that changes good intentions into broken dreams.

It's this same battle with the mind that compels the majority of punters to miss golden opportunities, to make poor decisions, to bet small amounts on winners and large amounts on losers.

The battle in our minds is a very real one, as much a part of our racing life as anything else. Every day, the punter is asked to make more important decisions than even the most high-flying businessmen.

One of the vital challenges in your betting career is to beat the demons in your mind. You do this by setting goals and sticking to them, by applying sensible principles of selection and staking, by ridding yourself of doubt.

The latter is always going to be around, like a mosquito you keep brushing away but which you never manage to 'splat'. The key is to eliminate as much doubt as you can, or to 'stay out' when the doubt rages and refuses to go away.

Most punters bet by the seat of their pants. There is lots of last minute panic as they finally stab at a selection and race to the tote window to put the ticket through the machine. These same punters will never have a staking plan in mind. They'll bet any old way, sometimes scoring, most times missing out.

The punter who can overcome the effects of 'psycho babble' are the ones who will have a greater chance of succeeding in the long term. But how do you control irrational impulses? How do get the discipline to stick to what you know you should do?

In this series of articles, we are going to bring you the views of a wide cross-section of experts, most of whom have fought their own battles against 'psycho babble' and who have emerged from the long tunnel with some sensible advice for anyone who cares to listen.

Some of what they say may seem simple. But that's the point. It is often the simplest of advice that has the desired effect. In the case of betting and its attendant miseries, simple advice can unlock many doors.

My colleague The Optimist has written much on this very subject. He is a punter who has tamed his personal demons, though he is the first to admit he continues to make mistakes. What he has done, though, is perfected his technique to the point where mistakes are kept to a minimum.

Words of wisdom, then, from The Optimist? He says: "I think the best I can say is that the punter should look and learn. Look, on one Saturday. Go to your local TAB or club and don't take any money with you.

"Just stick around and watch. Look around and see what goes on. Can you see yourself in others? Just have a think about what you are like on racedays with money in your pocket. Is there anyone that reminds you of yourself?

"You'll see all types. Take a notepad with you and jot down what you might have done on impulse if you'd had money with you. I believe that 9 times from 10 you will be totally amazed by what you discover.

"By going to the TAB with nothing, and then marking down what you would have done, you can find out a great deal about yourself. I know that my colleague Brian Blackwell does this once a month. He doesn't have a bet. He stays at home, marks down what he would have bet, and just watches them run around.

"Brian tells me that the lay-day has saved him a lot of money! In other words, a break is as good as anything else. It gives you a chance to clear your mind."

NEXT MONTH: 20 ways to beat 'psycho babble' by some of the world's leading bettors.

Click here to read Part 2.
Click here to read Part 3.
Click here to read Part 4.
Click here to read Part 5.

By Richard Hartley Jnr