Champions aren't born: they’re made. Through hard work, dedication and small, incremental changes, average people can transform themselves into legends. This include you!
Regardless of how you feel about yourself right now, know this: there is a champion inside you waiting to come out. So, if you want to be the best version of yourself, I’ve got great news. Not only is it extremely attainable, but the formula isn’t complicated. There is one ingredient that’s a non-negotiable to see this process through, though, and that’s patience. It’s the one ingredient that most people are lacking, and it’s why they don’t become who they want to be.
I’ve been that guy many times in the past: the guy wanted the quick fix, the easy out, the high. The guy who wanted everyone else to take care of my responsibilities for me. I dreamed of a day where I could sit on my couch, smoke the days away, order room service and watch movies to my heart’s content. “If I only had enough money to do absolutely nothing, then I’d be happy.”
Boy, was I wrong.
Multiple times in my life now I have put in the hard work to reach financial independence, and multiple times I have tried out ‘living my dream’, and I can tell you it’s fun for about a week or two, then it gets old. Real old. It also gets lonely, depressing and extremely boring.
The biggest challenge is that once I got into this state of being, it was hard to snap out of it. It was hard to snap back into a state of being centered around moving towards something I was passionate about, or to snap into a state of being that had deep appreciation for the world around me. In short, going after highs - dulling myself with drugs and alcohol and not taking care of my body with movement or my mind with high quality ideas and beautiful music and art - led to me becoming a very dull, very lazy person. And I thought I would be stuck there.
The biggest problem with getting into this state was that it isolated me from other people - other people who could help me along the path to getting the most out of life and enjoying it fully in the process. This whole idea of ‘not doing anything’ - of being able to just chill 24/7 - leads to a lack of appreciation for putting in effort, which is what helps us become who we really want to be. Also, people who are making their dreams come true typically want to be around other people doing the same things, so striving to just be able to relax and hang out all day doesn’t lead to being in the company of people who make things happen.
I’m sharing these personal insights with you because I have gone through similar experiences and I want you to know you’re not alone. You’re not the only one to think that living a life of zero effort would be rewarding. That it would be a dream. The truth is, having done it for many years, and having tried it’s opposite, I’ve learned that a life that’s enjoyable is a life that involves a lot of living, and a wise investment of energy. It’s a life that involves overcoming challenges, and a life that involves aligning ourselves with other people who are ‘going through the struggle’. It’s the hard work that transforms us. It’s the experiences that increase our appreciation, and it’s those traits that really encompass a dream life.
The ability to work hard and persevere in the face of adversity.
The ability to appreciate the little things in life as well as the big things.
In my personal experience this has been the formula for happiness… and I bet I’m not alone.
So, whatever your dream or your goal is, if you’re willing to work for it, you can have it. It will require time, it will require effort, and it will most certainly require patience, but it can be yours. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but everyday you apply yourself you can get one step closer to having the life you want to have. By implementing the tools of reflection and appreciation, you can enjoy every step of the way and celebrate every small victory you earn.
If you’re reading this article I assume you’ve read Part 1.
So, at this point you should:
- Know what you want.
- Have an empty mind and an openness to your intuition.
- Have created a winning environment which meets all your basic needs.
With those things in place you can really start making drastic gains. In this second part of the series, I’m going to share with you the FIVE steps to making that happen.
Step 1: What do you want?
As mentioned, you should already know this, but it’s important to reinforce it because this is the target you are aiming for. This is the thing, place, person, feeling that you will use as your compass to determine if you are making decisions that are helping you get closer to your goal or decisions that are taking you further away from it.
My goal for the 2017 WSOP is to win the Main Event (much like every year). But the difference is this year I don’t have competing agendas. I’m not trying to play as many events as I can in order to win a bracelet, I’m not spending 30 days in the Rio hallways at my booth to promote the Gripsed brand, and I’m not overextending myself by living in a loud environment that’s more geared towards having fun and messing around (which is all well and good, but for me it has to be in small doses; it can’t be where I go to sleep and wake up on a daily basis).
Last year I saw what happens when someone puts all their effort and attention into one event with no alternative plans. My old roommate Griffin Benger played one event at the WSOP: the $10’000 buyin Main Event. He reached the final table (every poker player’s dream), ultimately taking 7th for $1.2 million dollars. Granted, Griffin is an extremely talented player. He was someone who was capable of achieving this feat from having put in the hard work for years and years leading up to this week. But what was different for him this year vs. other years (where he’d reached day 5 and day 6) was that he had no distractions, no alternate plans, and he had a full tank of gas from not having been in Vegas for six weeks.
Tony Gregg is another great example of someone who set his mind towards one single thing and he achieved what he desired, winning a world title. In 2013, Tony decided he wanted to win the $111,111 One Drop High Roller at the WSOP and he meditated on the idea twice a day every day for six months leading up to the event. This led him to having revelations, like when he should study hard (4-6 months before competition), when he should rest (2-3 months before competition), and when he should prime himself and get in the flop (the month before the competition we travelled to Macau and he played high stakes cash games daily as well as a $1,000,000 HKD buyin tournament to desensitize himself to the high stakes he’d be playing for in Vegas). He was the literal bubble boy in that tournament, and he said it was one of the best things that ever happened to him, because now he had experienced the worst case scenario in a high roller event and it wasn’t all that bad. He had completely eliminated his fear.
It can be hard to be honest with ourselves, especially when we want to protect a part of ourselves that once served us but no longer does. And this is exactly what I’m doing different in 2017 that I haven’t done any year previously. I’m cutting out my bad habit of smoking marijuana on a regular basis. In this way, I’ll be able to clear all the fog out of my mind and get my energy reserves back.It will also increase my resilience, which will be required to handle the stress of the WSOP 2017 Main Event. In 2012, Greg Merson decided he was going to sober up and go on to win all the money, which is exactly what he did, winning the $10k 6-max for $1 million and the WSOP Main Event for $8.3 million. In overcoming his addiction, he gained a lot of willpower, self respect and self-confidence. Despite seeing those changes I didn’t want to do the same because I had convinced myself everything was fine: I was getting decent results, I was putting in hard work, I was building up a legitimate business and helping others… but I was stressed out and medicating myself to balance out my unhealthy approach to work and life.
Every action has a reaction, every substance has a function but also a cost that comes with it and marijuana is no different. Regular marijuana use over the long term decreases our drive, decreases out willpower, decreases our motivation and leads to us being dull, unemotional, unexcitable human beings. This has been my experience at least. And by being in this state I needed more and more extreme things to give me the least bit of excitement. The little things in life didn’t do it for me anymore, so I needed extremes, and when I can’t find those, I get depressed. Chronic marijuana use also leads to heightened levels of anxiety, paranoia and a greatly lowered level of resilience - not good for a poker player. And while it’s certainly, ‘not that bad’, being dependent on something was keeping me from being the greatest version of myself, and I was - I am - tired of being a lesser version of myself. I’m tired of not being the champion that I know deep down I am capable of being. And to harness that inner strength, I have to let some old habits die. They served me once but they don’t serve me anymore.
In the past, when I have stopped using substances like marijuana, alcohol, and cigarettes, I started to feel very powerful. I started to feel a very strong energy rushing through me, and to be honest it made me uncomfortable: I didn’t think that I ‘deserved’ to feel that good. And so I would go back to my old habits and bring myself down a notch. You see my inner story, my inner monologue. I thought I was someone who was small, quiet, and not deserving of feeling my full inner strength, and this was a story, a dialogue, a way of seeing myself I had to let go of if I wanted to become someone else.
Step 2: Who do you have to become to deserve what you want?
The reason it can be hard to get what we want in life (right now) is because we’re not the person deserving of that thing; we’re not the person to whom that thing comes naturally and easily. We may lack the habits, the traits, the general way of being that that person would have. For example, a world class poker player (take Doug Polk, for example) is someone who works extremely hard on a daily basis, looks to learn from new people, share what he knows with new people, is open to feedback, and never stops moving forward.
Daniel Negreanu is another great example of someone who identified what he wanted, and then recognized who he had to become in order to achieve those things. And he learned from absolutely everyone he could in the process of becoming the greatest version of himself, which is the person deserving of the #1 spot he coveted. He was open, willing to put in the work required, and never stopped making moves towards his dream.
If you’re someone who doesn’t want to put in hard work - who doesn’t want to put in the effort to bring things to them - odds are those things aren’t going to appear in your life. If however, you’re someone who’s willing to make changes, go through the hard stuff, and admit to your bad habits and your limited beliefs and then make the effort to change them, you can become the person you need to be to deserve what you want. What you want will fall into your lap, because that’s the most likely scenario. You’ve set yourself up for it.
What happens to us in life is the result of the actions we take and the choices we make. When we are focused in our efforts and concentrated on that one thing, we make changes to our daily behaviors to become more in alignment with deserving that thing. It’s the small moves that add up to make the big difference, not one big move that changes everything.
Have you ever heard the quote that luck is what happens what preparation meets opportunity? That’s basically what this is all about. The preparation is the transformation to becoming the person you need to be to deserve what you want, and the opportunity is the ‘what’ you are seeking.
“The harder I work, the luckier I get.” -Samuel Goldwyn
It’s the stuff you don’t see on TV that makes all the difference: the time in the gym, the time in the kitchen, the time in the lab, the time in reflection, etc.
Since deciding I wanted to win the Main Event in 2012 I have gone through so many life changes in the effort to become the person who deserves to win it. I knew that I couldn’t just wish it; I couldn’t just say it over and over and have it happen. But saying “I’m going to win the Main Event” on a daily basis helped me out because it led my mind to think about what I would need to do to make that happen (i.e. the power of a single point of focus).
First, I needed mentors, and so I bunked up with some of the best players in the world: Greg Merson, Tony Gregg, Calvin Anderson, Griffin Benger, Mark Herm to name a few. I needed to spend time with people who were doing what I wanted to do so I could see what went into getting the results (especially those little habits; those behind the scenes things that don’t show up on the highlight reel). Each of these mentors taught me many things, and I will share one teaching from each of them in this article.
Greg Merson taught me that you have to have a clear mind and be focused on your grind. Sobriety is essential if you’re someone who has trouble controlling your addictive tendencies (which is the group that I fit into). You need to set goals for how many hands you want to play to keep your game sharp, and then you have to pick your spots for where you’re going to test your skills, but you can’t give in to the urge to play everything - that addictive nature of needing more more more. You need to pick your best spots, your best game, and stick to them.
Tony Gregg taught me that you need to take care of your mind and your body. Tony is a big proponent of meditation and yoga because as he says, “It just feels so good.” He was the first one in poker I saw doing activities outside the game, like going to retreats. I thought the man was crazy because in my mind the only thing that mattered in life was playing poker hands and making as many dollars per hour as possible. I wasn’t seeing the big picture. I remember when railing Tony in the $1,000,000 buyin One-Drop someone asked him if he could only do yoga or play poker for the rest of his life, which would he choose? His response? “Yoga… and it’s not even close.” Tony’s someone who sees the big picture,and knows that while poker is a great game, there’s more to life than just that. Tony helped me recognize that in taking care of my body and mind, my poker game would improve as a result, but more importantly, my general enjoyment of life and outlook would improve.
Calvin Anderson taught me that a good diet and a good support system are essential to success. Whenever I’m living with Mr Anderson, he has a fully stocked fridge of fresh fruits and vegetables, and he’s in the company of his wonderful girlfriend Kami Hudson who always makes sure everything is in order. Before our Sunday sessions he would make sure we loaded up at the grocery store with everything we might need to get through the long, mentally draining days, because making decisions takes a lot of energy. I remember thinking Cal was crazy when he went to a ‘fruit festival’ to learn more about diet and ended up becoming a vegan for a period afterwards. But less than six months later he was hoisting his first WSOP Bracelet and it was clear to me that diet made a difference - a big difference.
Griffin Benger taught me that it’s important to keep your spirits up while playing. It’s important to have fun and enjoy the process as much as possible. Unlike cash games where it’s easy to win a majority of your sessions, tournament poker involves losing a lot of the time (like 80-90% of the time) and this is disheartening for all but the most emotionally absent people. To withstand the swings of tournaments the options are to a) become a robot b) find joy and pleasure in the ridiculousness of the whole thing, so that you can maintain a positive attitude and a good state of mind. Griffin showed me it’s important to take days off, to do things that make me laugh, to smile and feel good, like watching a good movie, playing video games, or just sharing time with loved ones for example. When I first saw Griff’s behavior I thought it was childish and a waste of time, but what I learned over the years is that while it’s important to nurture our inner adult (the one that achieves and gets things done) it’s important to nurture our inner child as well (which loves to laugh and play). Otherwise, we’ll wind up completely tense and hard as a rock. Playing, laughing, singing, dancing, keep us young and keep us relaxed, which puts us in a state to enjoy our life experience, and there’s no point in maximizing profits if you can’t enjoy them once you have them.
Mark Herm taught me that we have to work on weak spots and we have to look at our dark side. Being a positive thinking junkie, I was all about thinking positive thoughts, doing the right things, and getting better and better and better. But what I was failing to recognize is that the parts of myself I was ignoring were holding me back. They were playing out in the background of my mind and leading to self defeating behavior. Mark taught me that the only way to feel free, to express ourselves fully and to enjoy our lives to the fullest is to make peace with our shadow self. To acknowledge, love, and accept those parts of us, and then work on healing them and shifting them to be more helpful to us. Ignorance may be bliss, but awareness and admittance are what lead to transformation. Mark too was someone who had faced his addiction issues, and who had attended programs in area he was uncomfortable about, and in doing so - in facing his fears - he built confidence and gained skills which would allow him to master those areas.
Since spending time with these mentors and realizing there’s more to life than poker, and realizing there’s more to playing a great poker game than just knowing the strategy, I have made the investment in myself: my light side, my dark side, and my physical and mental health. I have spent months in ashrams doing yoga, meditation and inner work daily. I have attended mystery schools which open the door to examining those parts of myself I’m not proud of. I’ve changed my diet, I’ve changed my approach to exercise (from doing none and from overexerting and abusing myself, to doing exercise and stretching that is just what I need: no more, no less). I’ve changed my sleeping patterns, and now I’m facing up to my addictions (marijuana, workaholism, internet addiction, money, etc.) which will free up the energy for me to work on the deeper challenges that I have.
I suffer from anxiety, especially social situations. I’ve gone through bouts of depression. There is a history of manic-depression in my family, so I’ve got a lot that I was born with. But that doesn’t mean I can’t work with it: it simply means I need to be at peace with it. I need to be at peace with myself, I need to love myself 100%, and once I’m doing this, then I can get aligned towards moving towards my goals. And that’s exactly why I’m sharing this with you. I don’t need to hide behind some veil of secrecy. If I do that how could I ever get the assistance I need? How could I ever be of assistance?
Change is hard, but it’s easier when we have supporters and people who have worked through the same challenges.
I think a world champ is someone who has a good knowledge of the game, a good knowledge of himself, and the full acceptance of someone who is aware of their strengths and at peace with their weaknesses. This person has a strong mental game, a strong physical game, a strong support network, and an unwavering belief in his ability to achieve what he sets out to do. I think the world champ is someone who doesn’t sweat the small stuff, who isn’t affected by the natural ups and downs that come with luck, and who knows that hard work and steady application of good habits will yield the results they want. That’s who I’m trying to be.
Step 3: Why do you want it?
Having a strong ‘why’ is essential to keeping you on track. Knowing what you want is great, but if you don’t have a strong why behind it, then when the going gets tough, it’s easy to throw in the towel. If, on the other hand, you have a strong ‘why’- say, people counting on you - then you’ve got to push on through when the going gets tough.
Your ‘why’ is your secret weapon that lets you tap into extra reserves of energy. When your brain thinks that you’re in a life or death situation, it will pull out all kinds of resources you didn’t know you had.
When I first decided I wanted to win the Main Event it was coming from a place of need. I wanted to win the Main Event so that I wouldn’t have to work another day in my life. And I wanted to win the Main Event so that I could experience the ultimate high. As I mentioned earlier, I had been very numbed from my years of chronic marijuana use and high stimulation from multi-tabling all day. It took a lot for me to ‘feel’ anything.
But that ‘why’ wasn’t very strong. My underlying reason wasn’t powerful enough to get me through the tough challenges along the road. I would always look for the easier way to get what I wanted instead of pushing through. And that certainly served me well, and I achieved a lot in the process, but I wasn’t living up to my highest potential because I wasn’t challenging myself.
If my ‘why’ was that I wanted to be the best, then I would accept I would have to play against the best. If my ‘why’ was that I wanted to be able to take care of my friends and family for a long time, now I’d be more motivated, since it wasn’t just about me: it was about other people. I had people counting on me, and people who I would be happy to win for.
But if I’m honest, at that time in my life, I was going through a lot of emotional pain. I was very lonely. Spending days on a computer is not the most socially engaging activity. Winning money was a great rush, but it wasn’t helping me feel more connected. And the truth was I thought if I won the Main, if I was the champ, that people would know me and I would get more love as a result. And this just showed my misunderstanding of the nature of socializing. I thought that love and fame were the same thing, which they’re completely not. In fact, even after Greg told me that winning it all was weird because people looked at him differently now, I couldn’t understand.
The truth is, love comes to us because we give love to others. It doesn’t matter what we’ve achieved in life, if we’re selfish, uncaring and self-centered, it’s pretty hard for us to receive genuine love. If, however, we give freely to others of our time, energy and attention, then we will receive genuine love and appreciation in result. This was a big wake-up call for me. It wasn’t about what I’d achieved, but about who I was being that would impact how the world would treat me.
And so I made some shifts in my life, starting with being friendly to my old friends and family. I made an effort to connect with them more, to give up my own agenda sometimes to play their agenda and have a richer family experience. I did the little things in life that led to feelings of appreciation: loving plants, loving animals, loving food, loving everything I could. And once love was back in my life I could change my motivation for why I wanted to win.
I want to win the Main Event so that I can provide for a future that includes all the things I desire: a nice home, the ability to eat fresh healthy food everyday, a little bit of entertainment to keep me in a positive state of mind, a retreat center for the Gripsed Community where people can come to recharge, re-center and reset, the ability to travel and spend time with the people I care about, the ability to meet new mentors, the ability to attend courses and workshops to improve my healing skills, and the ability to travel to volunteer and share my gifts and life lessons with people who need it the most. I don’t want to be under financial pressure of needing to grind all the time, but in being financially free I don’t want to do nothing. I want to serve others to the best of my ability because I’ll have an abundance of energy to offer.
This is my motivation for winning the Main Event or acquiring a similar amount of money through other means of hard work. I want to be able to build something great: a place where people can come together and we can really experience that feeling of community. Because it’s no fun to be alone, and I know I’m not the only one who feels this way. This is my real dream, this is my ‘why’. It’s not about winning the Main Event: it’s what winning the Main Event would facilitate, and the reason I picked the Main over all other tournaments is because it’s the one with the most media attention and the one that could help my story reach the most people.
But make no mistake, unlike before when I wanted to win because I wanted the fame for myself, now I simply want to have the reach so that more people who are seeking can understand what the process is to find lasting health and happiness. This is about everyone.
Step 4: How will you become the person you need to be?
This is where planning and listening to your intuition are very important. If you aren’t getting the results you want, you probably need to start doing things differently. If you’re not listening to your inner wisdom, or are deliberately ignoring some of the things it’s telling you (because you don't like hearing them) then you’re making things harder for yourself than they need to be.
Becoming a better version of yourself requires CHANGE. And while it’s uncomfortable, the fact that things are constantly changing is one of the only things we can be sure of in this life, so you might as well sign up for the ride. Change is hard, but the pain of staying the same is harder to handle and it only gets worse the longer we resist.
So, it’s important to identify what you need to change to become the person you need to be. What new skills and habits do you need to acquire, and what old traits and habits do you need to let go of to fully embody that greatest version of yourself?
Some of those things may be changes that can be made in the short term. Some may be things that require a longer time to change, like three, six, nine or 18 months. But they can happen and this is where planning is key.
If you tell yourself to change something this week that requires something more like a year, you’re going to feel stress and anxiety because your mind won’t be able to figure out how to make the necessary changes in such a short time frame. If, however, you just ask your intuition to identify what changes would help you, and then map out over a longer period when you’ll make each shift, then your system can calm down. You can plan out the time to learn the skills you need to be able to tackle the bigger things rather than getting stuck on, “I don’t have the skills for this - this is impossible!” and giving up.
“We overestimate what we can achieve in a day, and underestimate what we can achieve in a year.”
Planning sets your mind at peace because it knows what its tasks are: it knows where to focus, it knows what to do, and it’s occupied. It will also spend its time during waking and sleeping hours thinkings of ideas to support the process. This is why checking in and listening to your intuition on a regular basis is so important - because you can access the new insights which may shorten the process and allow you to realize things sooner by trying alternative methods.
Making plans will save you time, but never being willing to deviate from plans may cost you time as well. So make the plan to get the process starting towards becoming who you need to be, but be open to the surprise teachers and helpers along your path.
When I started out playing poker, I pretty much did everything on my own. I learned from books and I learned from training sites and I played poker by myself in my apartment seven days a week. I studied as much as I could, I put in extra hours customizing my heads-up display to have all the right stats and popups to streamline my playing experience. I game selected like a boss and even site selected so I could have access to weaker players and to better deposit bonuses. And I did absolutely fantastic with this process. It was a great way to build a bankroll and how I took my first $100 and spun it up to over $100k over the course of two years.
As I evolved in the poker world and started meeting new people, new opportunities presented themselves to me. I had the chance to work with mentors and learn a lot faster. But due to my shyness and struggles with social anxiety, I wasn’t comfortable opening up to these mentors and really paving the way for great change. I learned a lot from watching them and spending time with them, but I wasn’t comfortable sharing my weak points, my pain points and thus only got maybe 30% of the benefit I could. I also limited myself by not attending events I was invited to where I could connect with more like-minded people and really start to build that essential second family and feeling of love I talked about.
When the mentors moved on with their lives, instead of seeking out new ones, I mostly went back to my old methods, trying to learn everything from books, videos, programs and doing it all myself. I made things much harder than they needed to be because I was sticking with my original plan rather than listening to my intuition. My intuition told me things like “learn how to cook: food is what brings people together” or “spend more time listening to music and bringing joy back to yourself. People love being around happy people” or “take programs like Toastmasters which will help you improve your social skills and make you more comfortable in social situation” or “open up to people: let them know about some of your vulnerabilities so they can connect with you more easily”. But instead of listening to it, I just told myself that I (my ego, my mind) knew what was best for me, and stuck to that plan. It got me results, but probably at a much slower pace than need be. And it also came with a lot of tension, because I was trying way harder than I needed to, rather than going with the flow of life.
The past couple of years I started listening to my intuition more. I started listening to my friends more, and opening myself up to receiving help. It’s been a hard process for me because I come from the school of wanting to do it all myself or thinking that I know better than others, but that’s just old childish patterning and ignorance: old ways of thinking which need to be let go of so that I can learn new ways of thinking.
I don’t need to be the best, I don’t need to do it all on my own, and I don’t need to learn everything fully before I try it. It’s OK to get in there and learn from experience, and to go share the journey with others (both the highs and the lows) so that we can grow, learn, and improve together. It’s also nice to have people around because then we can laugh about the ridiculousness of it all, and learn to not take things so seriously.
When we have love around us it’s a lot easier to lighten up, and that lighter way of being is the one that cultivates a positive state of mind - the one that leads to sustainable motivation to keep on going.
Step 5: When will you have made all the necessary changes?
Deadlines are essential because to be blunt, they get your ass in gear. When there is a time sensitive date, your mind will get to work on organizing the tasks: which ones to do when, which are most important, and which ones must be done before others to make those others possible (like learning certain skills). Without deadlines, we can just sit on the couch and twiddle our thumbs, or spend all day everyday immersing ourselves in pleasurable, stimulation chasing activities, because what’s the rush? We’ve got our entire lives to get that project done.
On the other hand, with unrealistic deadlines we will go into a mode of overworking, overexerting, and ultimately exhausting ourselves. This may work in the short-run, but is not a sustainable long-run strategy, and for those big changes we need to make in life, they usually relate to long-run projects which require sustained effort.
The short run approach will lead to getting a lot done (but not always at the highest quality) and then needing to take a break and losing that ground. It’s like working extra hard in the gym to get those quick gains only to end up sustaining an injury which takes you out of the game for six months. Or like cramming for an exam which gives you the info to pass the test but leads to you forgetting the information less than a week later. Or trying to build up a bankroll really fast, only ultimately going bust and being forced to sit out of the game or desperately asking other people to invest in you. It’s not a good feeling and not a good long-run strategy.
So again, planning serves to put an end to this irrational and unhelpful behavior, because you can actually see the big picture. Setting a deadline for the full transformation gets your ass in gear, and setting mini deadlines for all the tasks along the way ensures that things get done when they need to so that you can keep moving forward.
If you don’t have a “when” you’ll never get started, but if your “when” is unrealistic, you’ll overdo it, and not actually have the time to integrate what you’re aiming to achieve. Therefore, you’ll stay the same person you always were, just a little more tired, and a little more mentally bogged down.
I’ve been blessed to have a photographic memory in my younger years, and the ability to retain information for a short period of time word for word, letter for letter. When it came to mathematics and times tables I was able to do everything in my head and didn’t need to write out my work. For me, this meant that school wasn’t the most challenging thing (the tests at least).
I was able to cram for everything the night before and receive pretty solid grades without much effort. Even if I hadn’t been to class for a whole semester, all I had to do was spend three days with the textbook, identify what was most likely to be tested and commit that to memory. If I really, really needed help I would enlist the use of study drugs, and it worked flawlessly.
What I didn’t realize in doing this was that I was creating very bad habits for my adult life, and for my career as a poker player where it’s not about memorization, but moreso about understanding, embodying and application. When it comes to learning SKILLS rather than FACTS, simple memorization doesn’t cut it. Consistent practice is required after learning the theory. And since practice was something I didn’t learn in my teen years, it became much harder to pick it up in my 20s.
When I first started playing poker, I would take my time with learning new theory, and then go to the tables and apply it consistently, over and over until I understood it. When there was a limited amount of books and training information available, this was enough to get the job done. But then - BOOM - a whole lot more resources and training sites came out and I didn’t know how I was going to learn it all. So I went to my old methods of cramming - jamming theory into my mind. When I played my sessions, I would feel overwhelmed and under confident, because there was so much I thought I had to implement to play right.
There are two things I learned from this. The first was that my mindset was flawed. Because I thought I had to learn it all right now, I didn’t commit to the fact that I have an entire lifetime to learn this information. I wanted to be the best RIGHT NOW. I wanted to be the champ RIGHT NOW, and so I had to learn every bit of information that was out there RIGHT NOW.
The second thing I learned is that it doesn’t matter how many facts you have in your mind if you can’t apply them when it’s time to grind. He who is confident in his abilities and knows he has the skills to do well at the level he plays is more prepared than he who knows too much and doesn’t know which skills to access or apply when the time is right. Also, poker inherently is a game that’s going to stay the same for the most part. The players may change, the popular style may change, but the amount of variables are limited, and there’s only so much you need to learn strategy-wise before it’s time to focus on other areas, like mental game, physical game, self-confidence, support network, etc.
The funny thing is, it’s usually only when a major tournament is around the corner that I get into this process of thinking I need to learn more. Because I really want to win every event I play, but in tournaments there’s so much that’s outside my control, that I just need to relax and know that if I feel great I’m probably going to play great, and given all the work I put it in the past, that’s going to be enough to take me a long way. If, however, I cram, I’m sending myself the message that I don’t know enough to do well in this event. I’m showing myself that I am doubting myself and that’s the opposite of confidence. How likely am I to make great decisions at the table when I’m filled with doubt rather than confidence?
I even have recurring dreams of being in high school or university and hearing that there is a test that day which I’m not prepared for, and I don’t know what to do. However, when I’ve had the mindset that I’m more than fully prepared, that I’ve got this, that I believe in myself, those dreams don’t come up, and my feeling going into the event is confident, and it’s reflected in my play.
In 2012 when I had my second deepest run in the Main Event and my most successful summer at the WSOP (over $200k in profits) I didn’t spend any time studying strategy during the summer. I spent my summer enjoying the company of friends, doing simple things that were good for me like going to yoga, hanging out in the pool or on the grass in the backyard looking at the sky. I played a few tournaments when I was in the mood and did well because I felt good. I felt energized. I brought my A-game and I was thankful to play. It was a treat and something I got to do, rather than a grind; something I needed to do.
I was able to do this because I’d done my studying beforehand in January, February, and March. I’d done my practicing in the months leading up to the series so I was in great form. And so when it was time to show up and play, that’s what I did, and I was able to enjoy the process because I wasn’t stressing myself out or telling myself I wasn’t good enough to compete. I told myself I was going to win the Main Event, and I believed it. That confidence (combined with my skills I’d developed) brought me to day five, and saw me having a piece of the winner. Yes I’d been working on my railing and supporting skills as well as my poker skills. Mental game FTW!
Planning was absolutely key, and using deadlines, knowing when the big day was, knowing when the other key events were, and knowing my travel plans allowed me to prepare appropriately.
Compare this to 2009 when I didn’t plan things out as well, and I decided I wanted to play 15 events that summer, plus blog for a new website, plus take care of myself on the road (did I mention I knew nothing about cooking or nutrition at this time?). After exhausting myself, bricking all but one event, and adding in some extra events because I was just chasing any feeling of winning, I went online to look for answers. I thought it must be my strategic game (it couldn’t be that I was simply exhausted and trying to do too much in such a short time). So I found PokerVT and joined up, I watched every video Daniel had put up and learned some new moves.
I learned a play called the Johnny Chan play, which involved floating the flop out of position against a c-bettor with a wide range, and then leading out on the turn to take the pot down. Needless to say, I decided it would be a great idea to try this in my next tournament, Day one of the Main Event, and I bluffed off a quarter of my chips only to get shoved on my by opponent. That year, I busted the Main Event before the dinner break on the first day - my poorest performance in the Main Event ever.
That was followed by a month of depression, a loss of my relationship, and a whole lot more negative things. As I mentioned before, every action has an opposite reaction and every choice has a consequence. And short-term minded thinking doesn’t usually yield long-term results because it doesn’t factor in the big picture: it doesn’t look at the impact of things.
What happened that year? I didn’t plan appropriately. I tried to do too much in a short period of time. I overexerted myself and I doubted myself. This is why when it comes to going after big things in life, following the key steps and adding in that key ingredient of patience are essential to success.
So this year is very different.
I’m not expecting a ton from myself, and I’m doing everything that I believe is required to succeed. I’ve made a lot of changes over the years to become the person I need to be to be deserving of winning the world championship. And I’ll continue to do the same year after year, learning new skills to help me, taking them time to practice, apply and understand them. I’ll continue to apply the habits that have worked for me in the past, and let go of ones that haven’t.
By following this formula, my chances of winning become better and better every year. But more importantly, every year I feel less and less like I need that “WHAT” which initially motivated me to start taking action, because I’m becoming who I want to be. I’m enjoying the learning process every step of the way, and that’s where the real treasure is in life: in the journey, not in the destination. When the self help gurus tell you to “act as if what you desire is already yours” it’s because that feeling belongs to the person you need to be, and when you’ve become the person you need to be, you’ve already won.
Part Two of this article was inspired by a podcast by Daniel Negreanu at fullcontactpoker.com on the Mental Game of Poker. It featured three mental game coaches who I have worked with and respect very much: Jared Tendler, Elliot Roe, Tommy Angelo. Also it starred Daniel himself who is a master of personal transformation and a world class example of someone who has been through the process and walks the walk.
If you’re interested to learn more about this, I encourage you to check out that podcast.
And if personal transformation is something you’d like assistance with, I also offer private coaching sessions to help people through this process. I can tell you from firsthand experience that it’s much easier when you’ve got someone helping you and keeping you accountable.
Please let me know what you thought of this article in the comments section. Give me your feedback, suggestions and throw in any relevant questions you have on this topic. I’d love to hear from you, and I’d love to learn from you. Let’s become the best people we can be together, let’s do what we can to build up our confidence so we can feel our best and play our best!
Hope to see you at the final table! Let’s get stackin!