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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. 

Goal Setting for Poker

Evan Jarvis

Photo Credit: Jhong Dizon | Flickr

Photo Credit: Jhong Dizon | Flickr

If you're like many, the mere mention of 'goal setting' is enough to switch your brain to auto-pilot. After all, we're inundated with the term in meetings, lectures and presentations. Almost anyone who has been a part of a team (be it in an office or a fast food restaurant) has heard about the S.M.A.R.T approach to goal setting. This well-meaning – and demonstrative – acronym aims to stress the importance of setting goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-targeted – hence, S.M.A.R.T.

Catchy, right? 

Well, yes, but if you’ve ever sat through a seminar on applying S.M.A.R.T goals to prepping hamburger garnish, it’s enough to make you want to chew your head off. For many of us, a snazzy acronym simply can’t make some prospects interesting – and herein lies the crux: goal setting is invaluable, but for it to be an attractive objective, you will have to be interested in what you are setting goals to achieve. 

Why Goal Setting is Critical to Playing Winning Poker

Systematic and educated goal setting is absolutely critical if you want to succeed in practically anything in life, and the bigger and riskier the dream, the more detailed your goals should be. This means goal setting for poker is a non-negotiable, unequivocal must. Poker is big, and poker can be risky - especially if you’re not sure what you're doing. Goal setting keeps you on track so you DO know what you are doing every step of the way. What’s more, according to the experts, setting goals will encourage you to push through obstacles and likewise encourage you to try harder and focus more intently than you otherwise might have.

The principles of goal setting for poker are much like the principles of goal setting for anything. However, when it comes to poker, I believe you can refine the S.M.A.R.T goals a little bit and narrow your focus to three more specific elements of goal setting. 

The 3 S’s of Goal Setting for Poker

You've got to keep your goals small, time specific, sustainable. That’s it. That’s all I want you to focus on. Let’s take a closer look:

1) Small.

Are you a newbie vowing to win the next WSOP? This goal is probably a bit too broad to be attainable. Notice I said 'to be attainable'. I did not say it was necessarily unrealistic. I mean, anything's possible, so a complete newbie could very well win the next WSOP - and if they did, I'd bet my bottom dollar it wasn't a fluke. You can win a hand by fluke, not an entire tournament. I'd bet this player set goals and gradually worked their way through them to ensure success. Goal setting is a multi-step process, so huge goals are going to be too broad to be useful. Likewise, the road to playing winning poker also has many steps, so you absolutely must establish tiny, attainable goals to serve as mini-steps along the way to your ultimate goal. The diminutive nature of these goals will allow you to bear down and really focus on perfecting each and every aspect of your game, thereby creating a solid foundation for your ultimate vision. 

2) Time Specific.

Procrastination is the boil on the butt of goal setting, so to keep things moving along, you'll need to establish firm timeframes to complete each step in your goal. Just keep in mind that establishing strict deadlines does not mean you should be feeling major, crippling pressure - hence my stipulation about realism. Anxiety is not an ideal forum for learning, so you need to make sure you give yourself enough time to thoroughly develop your new skill. You also need to make sure your deadlines are not so generous that they encourage laziness or allow for you to lose focus. This means establishing appropriate timeframes will depend largely on what you are trying to achieve each step along the way. 

Let's say you're an experienced player and your overall goal is to play in a big tournament. If part of your goal involves learning more about solid strategies for continuation betting, for example, you can probably knock this one of your list in a month of consistent play. If another part of this goal is to get healthier so you can better endure the physical and mental demands of extended tournament play, you will want to give yourself anywhere from a few months to a year to complete this goal, depending on where your health is to start. (If you're in pretty bad shape, getting healthy for tournament play could be a goal on its own!) The point is to set clear deadlines so you don't let yourself off the hook. Do what you have to do to stay on schedule - write reminders on your calendar, or set up notifications on your phone. Just stay focussed.

3) Sustainable.

This is the biggie. It doesn't matter how small or time specific your goals are, if either the steps or the overall goal is not sustainable, you will fail. You have to be able to maintain the momentum needed to reach your goal. Take a look back at our previous example: if part of your goal is to get healthier for tournament play, and you commit to exercising for one hour a day six days a week, but you are also a full-time student with a full-time job who also plans to get in some serious sit 'n' go action regularly, then this time commitment is most likely unrealistic and as a result, unsustainable. Think of your goal as a marathon; you've got to pace yourself to make the long haul - and snag the big ones.


Whatever your goal, remember to tailor your goal setting to you. Sure, you can adopt ideas from others, but if those ideas don’t gel with your game, find something that does. The three simple strategies I've outlined here for you are meant to serve as the framework to support your goals. It’s up to you to fill in the specifics. Feel free to contact me if you need help with your game plan.

Here's a couple more resources to keep you going as well: