LEARNING TO LEARN

Learning is incredibly complex, and knowing how to best approach it can be difficult. It’s quite common for poker players to feel overwhelmed with the sheer amount of material and formats available today. Great attention has been given to keeping the information in this section simple, yet potent. By the end, you’ll be armed with an advanced method of learning poker. Whether you’re a new player or a nosebleed regular, these are the four steps that are key in learning to learn:

• Define how you learn
• Improve your C-game
• Solve your learning errors • Make continual progress

Define How You Learn

“Efficiency is doing things right; effectiveness is doing the right things.” —Peter Drucker, educator and management consultant

There are players with an innate talent for learning poker, just as there are players with an innate talent for playing it. Learning and playing are skills that typically aren’t thought of separately because better players are assumed to be better at learning. While this is generally true, many tal- ented players lack essential learning skills. This allows other less-talented players, who are better learners, to gain an edge. These two skills together are a powerful combination.

To become more skilled at learning, you first need to understand the range that exists in your current skills. Players don’t regularly assess their ability to learn, but it’s just as important as assessing tactical or mental game skills. Just as you did when analyzing your A- to C-game range, start with the biggest areas of strength and weakness, and then fill in everything in between. The following questions will help get you thinking:

  • What does your approach to learning look like when you’re highly motivated to work on your game?
  • What does your approach to learning look like when at your very worst?
  • What are your biggest learning strengths and weaknesses?
  • Do you benefit from talking with other players about hands?
  • How often does a mistake distract you while playing? Does a mis- take ever get stuck in your mind long after you’re done playing?
  • Do you avoid working on your game off the table and instead learn mainly by playing?
  • While watching a video or reading a book, do you have specific areas of your game in mind? Are you actively trying to under- stand the material and looking for information that can benefit your game?
  • Are you a visual learner, or do you learn better by experiencing or hearing something?
  • Do you learn better by working on your game independently, or by talking with other players?
  • If you study or talk over hands with other players, why is it valu- able to you? What does it provide that you can’t get by work- ing alone?
  • Thinking back to when you were in school, what were the most enjoyable and effective ways that you studied or learned?
  • What bad habits did you develop in school that are still a problem today?

A simple way to improve your learning is to do more of what already works for you and less of what doesn’t. That may sound obvious and overly simplistic, but have you ever taken a step back to ask if what you’re doing to learn or develop skill is actually working? It is standard for poker players to question their decisions at the poker table, but it is far less common, yet equally important, for them to question their approach to learning.

Fixed and Growth Mindsets

Some of the most groundbreaking research on learning in the last 20 years comes not from how you learn, but your attitude towards it. Carol Dweck, Ph.D., the author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success8, has spent most of her career studying achievement and success, and she found two distinct ways in which people think about their own ability. She calls them the “fixed mindset” and the “growth mindset.” The fixed mindset believes ability is static, predetermined, and unlikely to improve beyond current capability. The growth mindset believes that talents and abilities can be developed through training and hard work.

People with a fixed mindset tend to be biased towards seeking out information that confirms the view they have of their ability. One of the classic examples of a fixed mindset in Dweck’s book is John McEnroe, winner of seven Grand Slam titles in tennis. She observed that his insis- tence on arguing with umpires is a textbook example of a fixed mind- set—he argued in order to preserve his image of greatness, rather than recognize errors that he could have learned from. Although McEnroe was a tennis legend, Dweck highlights a number of areas where his fixed mindset potentially held him back from further greatness: for example, not playing mixed doubles for 20 years after being beaten

in straight sets. People with a growth mindset are much more receptive to hearing new things that challenge their beliefs. Dweck draws on a huge range of examples from the world of sport, business, enter- tainment, parenting, and education, and illustrates how the top achiev- ers in almost all fields exhibited traits of the growth mindset. From Thomas Edison and Tiger Woods to Winston Churchill and Michael Jordan, they all embraced their failures and constantly strived to grow.

As a poker journalist, I have interviewed most of the big names in the game. The one thing I have noticed above all else is that the consis- tently successful ones are still actively working hard on their game and love to discuss hands like most of us did when we first started playing. They have reached the highest levels of the game, and their commit- ment to learning and growth is what got them there and what keeps them there. The variance in poker makes it perhaps easier to maintain a fixed mindset than in most fields. You can dismiss your losses as bad luck where you did nothing wrong, instead of looking for areas where you can make improvement. Players with a fixed mindset don’t have to remain fixed. Just look at Phil Hellmuth, whose nickname the Poker Brat came directly from his similarities with John McEnroe. In recent years, he has recommitted himself to improving his game and that has translated into both success and respect at the tables.

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