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Mental Game & Life Strategy

The ability to set goals and the discipline it takes to achieve those goals without letting the rest of your life suffer are two of the most important things you need to master in order to improve as a poker player and begin getting serious about becoming a pro. One of the best parts of playing poker is getting out into the real world, playing in person, meeting new people and going on crazy adventures. This is also the riskiest part of the game because it takes you away from your comfort zone, and leaves you playing without your safety net. The solid footing of any healthy lifestyle depends balance and control, and a thriving poker lifestyle is no exception. Set realistic goals and learn to govern yourself so that you’re always working towards achieving your goals without letting the other, more glamorous things hinder your success. 

Table strategy is great to know, but you'll also need to understand how to manage yourself off the table to maximize your edge - and here’s where things get personal. I invite you to keep up-to date on my life and times as a poker player, and learn from my experiences so that you can learn from my triumphs and avoid my mistakes.  Any pro poker player will tell you your  mind is your most powerful weapon. Sharpen it, nurture it, rest it and give it peace so you can take to the tables - and your life - with killer confidence. 

ABC's of Goal Setting

Evan Jarvis

The second major revelation I had while playing the Universal Championship of Poker is the game changer: I'm talking about goal setting, my friends. 

If you've never set a goal in your life, then you probably can't appreciate the power of this tactic. You've probably also not got many of the things you want out of life. 

Leading By Example

There's a reason guys like Phil Ivey and Tom Dwan made bracelet bets for millions of dollars. It's because simply playing the WSOP preliminary events wasn't enough to stimulate them, and it really wasn't worth their time compared to what they could be doing or by what they could be making by playing a big cash game. By playing those bets - those targets, those additional payoffs - it gave them the motivation to follow through and play those bets in which they would have otherwise had no interest. 

The other benefit, of course, is that winning those bracelets is great for one's poker reputation. A bracelet alone isn't going to be enough to motivate a truly exceptional and motivated player, which is why goal setting - adding additional pay offs - has the potential to turn mundane tasks into something quite stimulating because the reward is suddenly something that interests you and is worthwhile. 

And that's what happened for me in the UCOP. 

Normally playing a single $100 freezeout everyday, all day for 6-8 hours is not going to be something that stimulates me as a poker player and as a person. But what they did for the UCOP is say that if you can get the most points overall in this series then we'll pay $10,000 euros, and that was enough to get my attention.

The other thing about the challenge is that it’s a reasonable amount of time. The UCOP was spread over 8 days, and I felt I had what it took to grind all-in for a week. 

If it was three weeks of playing, on the other hand, there is no way I would have been interested. It is 

just too far outside my version of reality; from me taking a break for a month after the World Series of Poker, to going in for three weeks for potentially 12+ hours a day. No way. But 6-8 hours a day (with perhaps a few longer ones) for 8 days? Sure, I could do that. 

With this in mind, I want to talk about the ABC's of goal setting. This is goal setting at its simplest and most accessible. 

A) Attainable. This is the first principle of goal setting. If the goal is outside of your abilities - of what you feel capable of - you're going to give up easily since you see no light at the end of the tunnel. A really great exercise to determine just what is attainable for you is to look at what you have accomplished in the past, and then aim to improve on that 10%-50%. Anything more than that is going to be too much of a challenge and seem unrealistic. As a result, you won't attain your goal. 

B) Big Enough. The pay off for completing your goal has to be big enough to be enticing. If the reward is too small, you won't see how the juice is worth the squeeze - and it's got to be worth the squeeze, my friends. Otherwise, you'll realize you could achieve the same satisfaction doing something else. 

C) Challenging. If the goal isn't challenging, it's not going to be engaging, it's not going to be stimulating, and it's going to feel like a complete waste of your time. 

Here's the thing: if you don't feel challenged, it probably is a complete waste of your time. Of course, if the goal is too daunting, then we're going back to the 'A' of the ABC's. Not attainable? Then it isn't going to happen. You don't have to lower your standards, but you will have to readjust them.

Areas of poker where it is best to try to make those 10%-50% improvements include:

  • Your win rates
  • The number of tables you play
  • The number of hours you put in on a session
  • How many hands you get in on a month
  • How much time you spend studying and reviewing your hands

If you're not used to setting goals and/or you don't use any software that tracks your results, I'd encourage you start. 

Getting Started

The easiest way to set an attainable, big enough and challenging goal is to look at the averages of what other successful players in the format have reached in terms of the numbers and the key measurements and aim for somewhere between 50%-80% of that. 

You don't have to look at the elite players; you can aim for 50%-80% of the numbers of average winning players and go for that. You know it's attainable because someone else has done it. 

If you find this is still too much, too fast, don't be afraid to set your sights on the lower portion of these percentages; you're still challenging yourself, and the reward will still be enticing enough, but it will also still be well within your reach. 

You can also re-evaluate each week and raise the bar then or each month so you can experience growth and move towards the big goal - the dream - whatever that may be for you. 

Reward and Punishment

We've already talked about how rewards can motivate us, but so can punishments. I'm not talking about public flogging, but trying to avoid discomfort can be just as motivating as trying to achieve pleasure. 

This doesn't only apply to poker, either. Here's an example: I had a friend who had been trying to quit drinking for years, but could never get past the two week mark. He'd tried promising himself rewards (new tech gear, a trip, etc) if he made it to a month, but it wasn't working. No matter what he promised himself, it didn't motivate him enough. 

So, he decided to give another friend $1,000 from his savings. As soon as he made it four consecutive weeks without drinking, he would get the money back. Until then, it was with his friend. Indefinitely. 

He parted with enough money to motivate him, but not so much that he couldn't make ends meet without it. He'd still have all his basics covered, but no luxuries. And luxury - even little ones- as it turns out, is something it is hard for him to live without - as is the case with many of us. 

So, this week's homework is to write in the comments section your goal - the one thing you want to improve on 10%-15% - and then a week later, I'd like you to come back to this article and respond again with how much progress you've made and how you feel about that progress. 

Keep coming back and evaluating and re-evaluating until you are ready to get out there and get stackin'.

Watch the video version below...