Phil Hellmuth Preaches Positivity at SXSW

The Forrest Four-Cast: March 3, 2018

Hugh Forrest
5 min readMar 3, 2018

A winner of 14 World Championships at the World Series of Poker, Phil Hellmuth is also the author of numerous books, including the New York Times Best Seller “Play Poker Like the Pros.” Additionally, he works as a TV commentator and personality (he’s known as “the Poker Brat”), a businessman, an advisory board member to two companies and a tech investor. Now he wants to inspire a global audience to become better, to think bigger, to do more, and to ultimately achieve their dreams. His new book, #Positivity: You are Always in the Right Place at the Right Time, opens up his tool kit for success.

Hellmuth will discuss this new book at 5 pm on Monday, March 12, in the Austin Convention Center, Room 10AB. He will sign copies of his new book directly afterward at 6 pm in the SXSW Bookstore in Room 10C of the Austin Convention Center. This brief interview gives you a taste of the energy he will be bring to Austin for this year’s event.

Have you been to SXSW before?
I have been to SXSW one other time, last year, and I LOVED it! It was so fun to meander down a random street, hear some live music, and then, when I heard something compelling, to just pop into that bar/club and have a drink and enjoy the music. And Kimo Sabe Mezcal threw some terrific parties as well!

You’ve credit much of your success to your commitment to thinking positively. For people living in the startup culture where success can be fleeting and many ideas won’t come to life, how do you suggest dealing with failure?
Most of the super successful entrepreneurs in the world have had to deal with failure, over-and-over. Their power was that they kept starting new things, accumulated wisdom from their mistakes, and understood that failure is part of the process. Whenever I have had a dark period, I envisioned, and believed that the future was bright. Sure, the present didn’t look great, but I believed in the future, and I didn’t have to drink alcohol, or do drugs, just survive until my time came.

It’s one thing to control your own behavior and outlook, but when the world is filled with terrible news, many people struggle to stay positive. How do you cope with things beyond your control?
I do not dwell on negative things, especially news and politics. After Trump won the election, some of the people that I see everyday at local businesses went crazy! I heard one woman, whom I respect, say, “I’m going to organize students to NOT pay back their student loans.” Huh?!? Young adults destroying their credit, and their lives, because you’re upset; really? I am neither a Democrat nor Republican, but the amount of vitriol was just plain hurtful to those that had it! I repeat: Hate Hurts You! That’s one of the chapters in my book. I put up with it for a couple of weeks, and then I tried to tell people to chill out, that no U.S. president could bring down the USA, then my wife said, “Be careful, you’ll be viewed as a big Trump supporter.” Too much hate, of course. My wise super-successful friends who were for Hillary, were upset for a week, and that seemed more reasonable to me.

In your book you talk about “The folly in hating others and the wisdom in forgiving them.” Do you think it matters to do this with people you aren’t going to meet, like politicians and other people in positions of power?
Of course you should clear your life of hate!! I have a three-step process for getting rid of hate in my book #POSITIVITY, and I’ll reveal that during my SXSW speech. Imagine, for a second, the person you hate the most in the world. Got it? Well consider this: that person isn’t even thinking about you right now! So why are you thinking about them, ever? Why not clear that hate and fill it with more productive, healthier things?

Many people, especially in the technology world, are confronted with relentless hate from trolls. How do you deal with that?
Man, I have tons of trolls! And it took years to understand the truth: when you’re a celebrity, no matter who you are, you will always have haters. Personally, I “block” and “mute” all of my haters on social media, who has time to listen to them? To explain to them why they are wrong?
Someone took a cheap shot at me recently, and it went global in the poker world. I was bummed out because this person lied, exaggerated and listened in my phone call. I was both furious, and upset, but I thought, “She probably wasn’t lying in her mind. She just doesn’t remember the whole story.” Luckily, the poker world, for the first time ever, rallied around me.

You suggest that many people fail to achieve their goals because they don’t take that first step toward success. Why do you think that is?
Most of the world doesn’t understand a simple truth: they are in the right place at the right time, almost every day. Once you understand this, then your eyes are open to looking for opportunities every day. Opportunities pass by everyone every day, the most successful people on the planet keenly understand this!

In a world where popularity can be measured by likes, clicks and mentions, what’s your advice on keeping your focus on achieving more?
I have a great chapter in how to deal with success. Elon Musk told me that he ignores success, he keeps his head down, and keeps moving forward. Too many celebs, CEOs and athletes have their self-esteem rise and fall based on outside forces. Write down a Blessings list and get happiness out of that, regardless of what the world is saying: panning you OR praising you.

Hugh Forrest serves as Chief Programming Officer at SXSW, the world’s most unique gathering of creative professionals. He also tries to write at least four paragraphs per day on Medium. These posts often cover tech-related trends; other times they focus on books, pop culture, sports and other current events.



Hugh Forrest

Celebrating creativity at SXSW. Also, reading reading reading, the Boston Red Sox, good food, exercise when possible and sleep sleep sleep.