Self Awareness

There’s nearly nothing more valuable in life, and at the poker table, as self awareness. A serious lack of self awareness is debilitating to one’s goals for several reasons. First, you’ll be blind as to how and why you function the way you do which will prevent you from making the best possible choices.

Secondly, you’ll have much more difficulty understanding someone’s motivations, desires, and choices. The more self aware you are, the more insight you’ll have into not only these areas for yourself, but also how and why others are functioning the way they are. This is a huge bonus when you’re deciding how to play the turn against an aggressive gambling opponent with second pair.

Self awareness is a lifelong pursuit. It’s obviously not going to be something where you’ll have instant ah-ha moments, and suddenly understand yourself and others. Even if you have many enlightenment experiences, which are generally suddenly flashes of insight, you’ll need to take those insights and really test them and understand them in order to fully integrate them into your life, and at the poker table.

Taking some time each week to reflect upon your actions, and be honest with yourself about areas you need to improve will make you a better poker player, and a better person. Some of the best and most recommended ways to improve in this area are, but aren’t limited to, as follows:

The biggest obstacle to self awareness is ego, as people usually call it. I personally like to call it my “projected construct.” It’s the part of me that I constructed over many years of life lessons, what people told me I was or was not, and the views and opinions I chose to adopt about the world and how I got here.

It’s a complete mental construct that we use to interface with the world, and connect with others. And not to get too deep, because this is, after all, a poker book, it’s ultimately not who we really are. It serves a purpose, and can be a great asset, but can also be a great hindrance. You ultimately make the choice in how you use it to obtain the dreams and desires you have from this life. The self awareness trick is that you learn how to use it to its fullest, and don’t allow the bigger part of yourself to be used by it.

There are no instant answers in this area, but putting some time into this aspect of your life will pay big dividends long term. It may take a decent amount of initial time investment, but if you do it early enough in life, you’ll reap many years of rewards from it. That being said, it’s never too late to reflect, and learn about yourself.

Perceptiveness

Perceptiveness goes somewhat hand in hand with self awareness. Generally the more self aware you are, the more perceptive you’ll be because you’ll have a greater understanding of human psychology and motivations. That’s not always the case though, and I’ve personally seen some very self unaware people who were pretty perceptive. When you have well developed perceptiveness, you’ll be able to more accurately predict how others are going to act, or react to your actions at the poker table.

The ability to read, react to, and anticipate your opponent’s actions is a huge skill to have in poker. You want to be able to know that when you raise the flop with a bluff for the second time, how you expect your opponent to react against your play. Being perceptive enough to read into their thought process will allow you to force other players into poor decisions and make big mistakes.

When you have well developed perceptiveness, you’ll be able to see things that others around you commonly cannot. If you couple this with self-awareness, you’ll have the proper insight to know how to act on what you’re seeing. If you commonly have the feeling that other good poker players at the table are making plays that you don’t quite understand, then you’ll probably want to put some work into this area. A few things you can do to help improve your perceptiveness:

  1. Pay attention. It’s easy in today’s society to find a million ways to distract yourself. Everything from iPods to cell phones and TV’s will be an easy out to keep you from paying attention to what’s happening at the table.
  2. Watch what others are doing, and always make an effort to figure out why they are functioning the way they are. Keeping your mind thinking about reasons behind actions will help you recognize when similar situations arise in the future.
  3. Work on reading body language. Not a ton of work has been done in this area for poker, but there are a few books on the subject. In general though, if you pay attention and put A + B above together, you’ll learn to form your own conclusions about body language and how it relates to tells at the poker table.
  4. Work on increasing your memory. Since you’ll be paying attention more, and forming more conclusions about your experience, you’re going to want a good memory bank to pull from and access that information.
  5. Learn to trust your intuition and what how your body reacts to situations it encounters. This is sometimes called “trusting your gut.” There’s some truth in the expression since your stomach or heart tend to be organs that you can sense and feel more readily when you’re reading a situation and using your intuition to influence your decision-making process.

Keeping your attention at the tables by making good notes will lead to good reads and increase your perceptiveness against your opponents. Learning to blend and use your rational mind to understand hand ranges and math, and trusting your intuition, will become a deadly combination.

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