A T T H I S P O I N T in the book, you’ve been presented with a wealth of strat- egies and practices that can enable you to optimize both your mental and tactical poker game. Now, how do you implement them? How do they go from words on a page to skills that are practiced, learned, and impactful? Obviously there are a number of things that need to happen, but without some level of self-discipline, it will be very hard to actually accomplish any of them. Many players love the autonomy that poker grants them—but that comes at a cost and with greater responsibility. Nobody else can be held accountable for the quality of your game. Nobody else is going to set your goals, deadlines, and schedule—it is all on you. Being self-disciplined is of the utmost importance in poker, as it is what drives you to be consistent and effective in the work you put into your game. It gives you the greatest chance to fully leverage all the resources out there—including this book—to reach your potential. And as a poker player, you know that if you’re not putting in the work, you’re actively falling behind.
Discipline is something you are exposed to very early on in life. Your parents, teachers, and other authority figures most likely disciplined you in an effort to teach you right from wrong, form healthy habits, and create structure in your life. When you are young, the necessity for self-discipline
is minimal, since the authority figures in your life have the role of imposing the rules and structure that you can’t yet handle. You’re handed dead- lines for homework, curfews, and expectations for your future. And then at some point, you’re set free—you become fully responsible for your- self. You need to set goals and create the structure you’re so used to other people establishing for you. To do all of this effectively, you need self-discipline.
Self-discipline for a poker player can sometimes be problematic. Players are often drawn to poker because it is a job where they don’t have a boss, and they love the idea of not having to answer to anyone. The type of player who is attracted to the game for this reason is most likely also a player who doesn’t want to have to set and abide by rules or structure, or answer to anyone—including themselves. This can account for the prob- lems that plague many poker players. Whether it’s breaking a stop-loss, not playing enough, or gambling on blackjack, there are numerous ways in which problems with discipline can manifest. It is undoubtedly a skill that nearly all players believe could be stronger.
As a player, a good way to measure your self-discipline is by looking at the goals you have achieved. No matter the size or complexity of your goals, if you are able to achieve them, you have a good level of disci- pline. This is important to establish, not just because it can shed light on your lack of discipline, but it can also prevent you from becoming exces- sively disciplined. If you’re not able to balance your workload with the freedom and fun that being a poker player affords you, many problems— resentment, burnout, exhaustion, among others—could arise.
Players tend to think of self-discipline as something they either have or they don’t. It is important to recognize that this is not the case. Instead, a range exists just like it does in any other skill. There are times when players display a high level of self-discipline, and there are times when they severely lack it. The problem is that players hold themselves to this mythically high standard that’s only attainable on the occasions when they’re highly motivated. On those occasions, they often wonder, “Why can’t I be like this all the time?”
The answer is the same for why you can’t play your A-game all the time. When attempting to improve your self-discipline, rather than forcing your- self to fulfill unrealistic expectations, build off of your areas of strength. This way you can make steady progress and not experience major setbacks, disappointment, or extreme highs and lows.
When you start to feel that you are lacking discipline, it doesn’t mean you have completely lost control—the skills that are trained to the level of Unconscious Competence can’t just disappear. For example, even when you are really low on discipline, you still complete a warm-up before you play, never gamble on sports after you lose, and only add more tables online when you can handle them. It is the skills that are still in the process of being learned that disappear when you’re having problems. For this reason, it makes sense to start the process of becoming more disciplined by focusing on your self-discipline C-game. In order to do this, you first have to get a very detailed picture of what that C-game actually looks like. Start by answering these questions:
- What are the specific mistakes that you make when your level of self-discipline is at its worst?
- What’s the first sign that your level of self-discipline is becoming a problem?
- When are you most likely to be lacking self-discipline?
- Do problems occur more when you’re winning or losing?
- Where do you struggle to maintain self-discipline—at the tables or away from the tables?
- Do you tend to forget the important things you need to be doing? If so, do you make excuses for why they don’t get done?
- What are the excuses you tell yourself or others?
- What specifically improves your level of self-discipline?
As you’ve done with other assessments, regularly take notes about the ways in which you lack self-discipline until you have a solid picture of
your self-discipline C-game. Focus especially on taking notes immedi- ately after instances where you’re at your worst. Even though it’s hard to have the self-discipline to take notes, these are the best times to be gathering data. Try injecting goals or inspiration to spark some motiva- tion. Remember, your goals in poker are on the line, and potentially your ability to continue playing. Develop a sense of urgency to create a clear picture of your worst level of self-discipline so you can prevent your game from being derailed.
Occasionally, just going through this assessment process is enough for players to make the necessary changes. Most often, though, they’ll need to dig deeper into their issues surrounding self-discipline and put in some additional time and effort. Breaking down the following five concepts strongly connected to self-discipline can facilitate this process.
• Taking responsibility • Following rules
• Work ethic
• Time management